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…

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.

Useful links about simultaneous hybrid teaching

[written 18th November 2021]

As we figure out new ways of working in light of the COVID pandemic, many teachers are being asked to teach hybrid/blended/concurrent classes. The definitions of these terms vary, but for the purposes of this post I’m talking about teaching simultaneously to some students online and some students in the face-to-face classroom. It demands a whole new set of teaching skills that very few of us are likely to have had before March 2020. This post is designed to share links and experiences that might help you. Feel free to add other links in the comments, and please let me know if any links are broken.

Thank you to colleagues on Twitter and Facebook who supplied these links.


Been there, done that

These links take you to teachers describing their experiences of teaching hybrid classes:

  • Jo Szoke’s experience of teaching hybrid, with 5 tips to help you
  • The Do’s and Don’ts of Hybrid Teaching by Larry Ferlazzo: part one features the experiences of Amber Chandler, Tara C. Dale, and Holly Spinelli and part two is from Deborah Gatrell, Amy Roediger, and Carina Whiteside. These two posts are from Education Week, which requires a subscription after a limited number of posts.
  • Subscribe to my blog for a guest post from Silvana Richardson, talking about how they implemented hybrid classes at Bell.

How to set it up

You might not have many options here, depending on the tech available where you work, but here are some ideas.


A 10-minute video with tips by Charlie’s lessons:



Back in the classroom


I’m currently waiting for my first group of 3D students since October 2020, and my first without social distancing since March 2021. I’m covering a few classes at my old school as a favour at the start of the year, which is also slightly odd as I’ve only ever been here as a DoS before, but the adjustment to that came surprisingly quickly.


It was simultaneously lovely and odd being in the same room as students. Mingles were a) possible with ease and b) a great sound to hear, and I took full advantage of this. We had at least 2 in each of the two lessons I taught. I was happy that I could still pick out individual voices from the crowd – I wasn’t sure if I’d have to tune back in again after a year of breakout rooms. We also had an imaginary ball when we did some getting to know you at the start of the lesson – who needs a real one?!

I found it much easier to keep track of emergent language on the whiteboard – as I mostly worked with very low levels on Zoom, I never really did much with this; there tended to be enough content already without adding extra language for the whole group (of course, I still supplied it to individuals who wanted it!)

My whiteboard from my first lesson (with B1.1 teens)

I’m still not sure how I feel about being in a room full of people who aren’t socially distanced and who mostly chose not to wear masks. I wore mine when I was close to them, for example when monitoring or when a student came over to ask a question. I also wore it most of the time when I moved around the school, though less so when I was just in the staffroom and there weren’t students around.

I’ll be teaching in the classroom for 2 weeks if all goes to plan, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it, as I have no idea when I’ll next get the chance!

Blog updates

Over the past two days I’ve done a bit of an overhaul of the pages on my blog.

I’ve updated these pages:

I’ve also added new pages:

The other recent addition to my pages is my new course: Take your time Delta Module One.

In fact, the only pages which hasn’t changed is My books – really need to write another one 😉

Take a look around, and let me know what you think. Are there any pages you think I should add?

Introducing the ‘Take your time Delta Module One’ course (by Sandy)

Many people working towards the Cambridge Delta can find it quite stressful, particularly the demands on your time as you try to fit it in around your job and your life. This course is designed to try to reduce the stress you might feel as you prepare for Module One, the exam. [Note: this post is also available as a page!]

Feet wearing flipflops, crossed in a hammock. 
Text reads:
Why should Cambridge Delta Module One be stressful?
Take your time on a Module One course with Sandy Millin.
Find out more and apply at:
Image by Roseli Serra from – used commercially with Roseli’s permission

What is Delta?

The Cambridge Delta is an advanced practical teaching qualification designed for people who:

  • have a minimum of 1 year of teaching experience, covering a range of levels and contexts – the more levels and contexts you have worked in, the more experience you can draw on during the course;
  • have a minimum English level of high C1 or above;
  • would like to develop their teaching practice to a higher level, and learn more about the theory behind English language teaching;
  • would like to progress into more senior roles with confidence, such as management or teacher training positions.

Ideally you will already have completed a CELTA or CertTESOL qualification, or equivalent 120-hour course with observed teaching practice. However, this is not a requirement and if you can prove that you have received regular in-service training and observation, and have engaged in regular continuous professional development throughout your career, you may still be able to complete the course.

The Delta course is divided into three modules:

  • Module One: Understanding Language, Methodology and Resources for Teaching
    This is theory-based. You prove your knowledge by taking two 90-minute written exams in one sitting, with a 30-minute break in between. You can study for this module independently, through a course, or with tutor support. I cannot currently provide this. My course will help you to learn this theory and prepare for these exams.
  • Module Two: Developing Professional Practice
    This is classroom-based and highly practical. You teach four observed lessons, and in preparation for each of them you need to write a detailed lesson plan and a background essay. You also complete ongoing reflective assignments as part of your portfolio of coursebook. You must have Cambridge-approved tutors for this module. Find a teaching centre.
  • Module Three: (1) Extending Practice and ELT Specialism OR (2) English Language Teaching Management
    You write an extended assignment detailed (1) a course programme or (2) a change proposal based on a specific context you have detailed in the assignment. You can complete this module independently or with tutor support. I cannot currently provide this.

The three modules can be taken in any order and at any time, though it can help to complete Module One first to give you the theoretical knowledge to help you with Modules Two and Three.

Find out more about the modules and ways to take the Delta on the Cambridge website.

What knowledge does Delta Module One test?

  • Knowledge and use of ELT terminology
  • English language knowledge, including of pronunciation features
  • Ability to identify language and genre features of spoken and written texts
  • Analysis of spoken and/or written learner language, including ability to identify learner errors, reasons for them, and priorities for further study
  • Testing and assessment concepts, and their applications to specific contexts
  • Ability to analyse ELT materials, including identifying their purpose(s) and how the materials fit together
  • Teacher roles
  • Second language acquisition
  • An awareness of different ELT methodological approaches, including their history

Format of Sandy’s Delta Module One course

  • 90-minute live group sessions on Zoom, once a week for 30 weeks. You can attend from anywhere in the world, providing you have a reliable internet connection, a microphone and (preferably) a webcam. Sessions will work better if you are on a computer.
  • Approximately 90 minutes of homework/preparatory work accompanying each session: these tasks will be directly related to your current teaching context and how the theory behind Delta Module One connects to your own teaching, and will also draw on your previous experience.
  • Your own optional reading/research – the more of this you do, the more prepared you will be when you go into the exam!
  • One complete mock exam to be completed in your own time a month before the end of the course, with feedback from me on your performance, and personalised tips for how to improve.

Why take Sandy’s Delta Module One course?

Most Delta Module One part-time courses are 10-12 weeks, with a few lasting for 20 weeks. However, by completing the course over a full academic year, you can take your time with background reading, and consider carefully how the theory which you are learning applies to your teaching. You should be able to process information in more depth and retain it for longer. While it might not be as relaxed as the hammock shows, it should be a lot more relaxed than a traditional short course, or trying to study by yourself.

The obligatory time commitment is only 3 hours per week, which you should be able to fit around even a very busy schedule. Of course, the more time you can dedicate to reading and further study, the more likely you will be to pass the exam! 3 hours per week for 30 weeks is approximately 90 hours – most Delta Module One courses recommend a minimum of 100 hours of study (10 weeks of at least 10 hours). The exact amount of study time you need will depend on your background knowledge and prior experience. I will share tried and tested tips to help you fit your extra study around your life, while still maintaining the more relaxed pace of this course, as well as personalised recommendations of what to read and how you can research areas you need to focus on for your development based on my wide-ranging ELT knowledge and experience. There will also be regular exam practice throughout the course, as well as at least one full mock exam.

You will be working with the same small group of teachers throughout a full academic year, allowing you to build up strong professional relationships and learn from each other.

Although I’m not a qualified Delta trainer, I have completed the Delta course myself, and I remember how stressful it was! I have many years of experience as a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, and have helped other teachers to successfully prepare for Delta Module One in the past. I cannot guarantee that you will pass the exam (nobody can!), but I will do my best to make sure that you are fully ready for it with this course.


  • October 4th 2021 – May 30th 2022 (one academic year, ready for the Wednesday 1st June 2022 sitting) – Zoom meetings on Mondays
  • Exact dates to be confirmed for February/March to December 2022 (one academic year, ready for the Wednesday 7th December 2022 sitting)

Please note that these dates include breaks for UK Christmas, Easter and bank holidays and the IATEFL conference.

You may be able to join a group up to 6 weeks after the start date if there are still spaces available.

Depending on my availability, I may be able to arrange closed groups with alternative days if there is sufficient interest.


Exact session times will be arranged according to the group members’ and my availability to provide the best fit around our timetables. Sessions will be recorded if one or more group members cannot attend that specific time.

Course size

Minimum 4 trainees, maximum 8 trainees. If there are fewer than 4 trainees, I may be able to arrange a reduced course with fewer contact hours over the same time period, or you will be able to defer your payment to a later course date.

Taking the exam

My course fees do NOT include the exam, nor does the fee include the price of the exam.

You will need to arrange to take the exam yourself in a Cambridge approved centre. You can find a full list of centres on the Cambridge website. You will need to arrange the exam directly with the exam centre, and you will pay them the exam fee. Depending on availability at your chosen exam centre, you can take the exam on the first Wednesday of June or the first Wednesday of December each year.

Course fees

  • £520 = Early bird (sign up and pay minimum 21 days before the course start date)
  • £570 = Full price (sign up and pay by the course start date)
  • There is a £20 discount each if two people sign up together, or £30 each if three people sign up together.
  • There is a £20 discount for current or former staff of IH Bydgoszcz or IH Torun – please tick the relevant box on the application form for further details. This can be combined with the multiple sign-up discount.
  • If you need to pay in 2 instalments, please tick the relevant box on the application form – you can pay 50% before the course, and 50% after session 15 for a small additional fee of £20.

I must receive your payment before you will be able to join the course.

You can pay via PayPal, Revolut, international bank transfer (please check any fees first – you are responsible for these), or card payment. I will send exact details regarding how to pay once you have been accepted onto the course.

Materials for individual sessions and one full mock exam will be included during the course, but note that you will probably need to buy some extra books to make the most of the course. The two main books I recommend are:

The cost of these books is not included in the course.

Cancellation and refund policy

  • If a trainee cancels in writing 21 days before the start of the course, they will be refunded the full amount, less administrative costs of £50.
  • If a trainee cancels in writing less than 21 days but more than 7 days before the start of the course, they will be refunded 50% of the full amount.
  • If a trainee wishes to cancel their course less than 7 days before the start of the course they are not eligible for a refund; however, in certain exceptional circumstances (grievance, medical conditions) they can defer their payment to a later course.

Applying for the course

If you’ve read this far, and you’re interested in joining my course, complete the application form. It should take around 20-45 minutes to complete, depending on the depth of your answers.

If you are suitable for the course, I will send you a pre-course task to check the level of your written English. I will also arrange a 20-30 minute spoken interview with you to discuss the course and your suitability for it. If these are both satisfactory, you will be offered a place on the course. The place is provisional until I have received your payment.

I will consider applications in the order of application, and places will be allocated until the course in question is full or until the start date of the course, whichever is first.

CrowdScience – learning as you get older

BBC World Service’s CrowdScience is one of my favourite podcasts, as the listener questions are fascinating and it features experts from all over the world.

BBC World Service CrowdScience logo

One recent CrowdScience episode was particularly relevant:

Why is learning stuff harder as you get older?

Have you taken classes to learn a new sport or musical instrument or a language? It’s hard work! Why is it that as children we effortlessly absorb new skills and we don’t as adults?

That’s what 50-something listener Gary Grief wondered about playing guitar. Do you need to play more frequently as an adult to attain the same level of expertise? Does the 10,000-hours theory still apply?

Presenter and budding tabla-player Anand Jagatia embarks on a musical journey to discover what neuroscience can tell us about muscle memory and learning. Do musicians and sportsmen share the same challenges? By understanding what’s happening in the brain, can we learn how to learn better?

With tabla-teacher Satvinder Sehmbey, neuroscientist Dr Jessica Grahn, viola-player Dr Molly Gebrian and sports scientist Prof Yannis Pitsiladis.

CrowdScience episode page, retrieved 15/5/2021

The whole 30-minute episode was fascinating, and I’d recommend all teachers listen to it. My favourite part was the metaphor about learning being like creating tracks in a very deep snow field, that you have to keep going over the ‘correct’ route again and again for it to stand out and become easy to follow, and that when you first start learning something it’s hard to work out which of the single sets of footprints is the ‘correct’ or most efficient one to follow.

CrowdScience is also a good podcast for learners to listen to because there is a wide range of different accents, and because it’s for the World Service the speech is generally a little slower and clearer than programmes intended for home service stations. There’s also normally clearer signposting of topics in the programmes.

TEFL Commute: part of the team

I’m on the ‘About Us‘ page now, so it must be official! I’m very happy to say that Ceri Jones and I will now join Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and James Taylor as part of the TEFL Commute podcast team. In season 13 you can hear Ceri and I co-presenting the episode ‘Women‘, and I join Shaun and Lindsay for ‘Young‘. You’ll also hear me do a few drop ins throughout the series based on the (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas blog, and taking part in the round table discussion about podcasts at the end of season 12. I’ve really enjoyed our discussions so far, and I look forward to many more.

If you’ve never listened to The TEFL Commute Podcast before, here’s the full list of previous episodes: I’d recommend the ‘Who’s Zooming Who?’ episodes as a great starting point. Enjoy!

All change!

I came to International House Bydgoszcz in September 2015, having been Director of Studies in a very different, much smaller school (IH Sevastopol) for a year, followed by a freelance CELTA trainer for a year. When I came to Poland, I thought I might stay for 5 years. It’s now my 6th year, and my last.

I’ve learnt so much from the job and the people I’ve worked with, but now it’s time to move on and let somebody else take their turn. I’m very happy to say that my colleague will take over from me as the next DOS, and I wish her the best of luck with the position, in what is one of the best schools I’ve ever had the privilege to be in contact with.

As for me, I’ll be moving into the world of freelancing from October 2021. I’m aiming for a combination of teacher training (CELTA and non-CELTA), materials writing, and perhaps also some teaching and consultancy work. If you have a project you think I might be a good fit for, please do get in touch. I also plan to continue my work on the ELT Playbook series, so watch this space for announcements of new titles or subscribe to the blog or facebook page. I’m excited about taking the next step, and look forward to continuing to share what I learn with you.

The first photo of me in Bydgoszcz, August 2015

How things have changed!

Question: Who wrote this?
My natural instinct is always to go to the board, and I seem to end up spending a relatively long amount of time there. The students’ eyes glaze over, and they end up none the wiser. My explanation normally includes example sentences, perhaps timelines or pictures if relevant. I use concept checking questions, and I always have some kind of context, or at least I’m pretty sure I do.
Answer: me in January 2013, after I’d been teaching for five years in pretty supportive environments with professional development!
One of the things I love about my blog is seeing how I’ve developed as a teacher over time. I came across this post when I was looking for something else, and I’d completely forgotten I ever wrote it.
The irony is that about four days ago, I wrote Mistakes trainees make in CELTA TP (teaching practice) in which I said:


That’s definitely not how we learn grammar: by listening to somebody else tell us about it for ten minutes, often in confusing, over-complicated language, with only minimal examples. Also, the students have probably heard versions of the lecture before. The problem isn’t whether they can understand your lecture and explain the rules to somebody else, it’s whether they can actually use the language.

Instead of lecturing, get the students doing a task showing whether they can use the grammar as soon as possible.

Clearly I knew that it was a problem seven years ago, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Things have changed though (I hope!) One of the trainees who observed my demo lesson two days ago said something like:

I’m worried because your lesson was so student-centred and you didn’t talk very much. I always talk a lot because teaching in [my country] is about telling the students everything.

We have a lot of work to do to help teachers move away from the idea that teaching = lecturing. Just do a search for ‘teacher’ and look at the range of stock photos you see. Here’s one:


(We’ll ignore the fact she looks like isn’t wearing any shoes!)

We need to see and show a lot more examples of students working with teachers in a less teacher-fronted way. Some of the videos here might help, though some of them also have teacher-fronted work.

What else can we do in initial training and when working with new teachers? How can we help them move past the images of teaching they have in their heads from media and from their apprenticeship of observation?

A post-Corona SWOT analysis (guest post)

As the last few months have proved, it’s impossible to know what the future holds. However, we’re all trying to figure it out, especially those of in education trying to work out what schools will look like.

To that end, I’ve written a very speculative SWOT analysis with a few ideas about the possible future of private language schools. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and is often used by businesses for strategic planning. This article from MindTools tells you how to do one.

You can read it on the IATEFL blog. I’d be interested to see in the comments what you think of these ideas.

Blackboard reading strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats

A week to go online: Well & Will Language Academy (guest post)

This story of how one Spanish school moved online was originally written in the ‘Language school management in the time of COVID-19‘ facebook group on the 21st March 2020. I asked Alex Fayle if he would like to share it here, and he kindly consented.

When the nearby city of Vitoria was the first Spanish city to close schools, we knew it was only a matter of time before the San Sebastián schools would close as well. As Academic Director, my first reaction was panic. I run half the academy and I was terrified that my teachers would find themselves on the street in no time. Given that our tag line is “It’s the people” I couldn’t let that happen.

Not to my teachers, and more importantly, not to our students and their parents. If students were suddenly without class, they would have no social contact, and no structure to their days. For the sake of their parents’ sanity, I knew we had to be prepared before schools were actually closed.

Many people recommended Zoom, but we went a different route. We already use Google Drive and Google Docs, so we looked into Google Meet. And since our initial desire was to create a straight substitution for face-to-face classes with online classes, Google Meet provided us with a tool that offered everything we needed.

So, we wrote messages to parents, created 64 recurring “meetings” (one for each group) and got teachers set up with technology to be able to work from home. On the first full day of cancelled classes, we had an 85% attendance rate. The same the next day. And on the third day when the Monday classes had their second weekly class, we were up to our usual attendance rate.

The amazing thing wasn’t organizing all that. Many of us have experienced that pressure, the extra hours and the satisfaction of completing the challenge of getting up online in such a short time. What left tears in my eyes were the responses from parents, from students, and from teachers.

I knew I had a great team before this crisis happened, but as the academy owner said to the teachers (via our shared WhatsApp groups): “In hard times, we show who we are, and I can see only beauty here.” Every single teacher stepped up, overcame the huge learning curve and continued to give class. Actually no, they even managed to give what I believe are better classes, geared to engage and educate students.

Students who hated English a week ago are now asking their parents if it’s time for English yet.

And parents are sending message after message thanking us for giving structure to the suddenly chaotic lives of their children.

Looking back at these hectic two weeks, I ask myself how we did it, and I realize we did it because we didn’t have a choice. Our passion for what we do made it one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. And it’s that passion that is going to make us infinitely stronger when we come out the other side of all this.

Alex Fayle, the DELTA certified Academic Director at Well & Will, has – apart from his passion for English – a drive to organize and streamline. With a Masters in Library Science and as a former President of Professional Organizers in Canada, he has worked in many organizing-related fields, from records management and business process engineering to personal coaching.

Academy Description

Well & Will Language Academy, based in the city of San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country, is more than just a language academy. We are a learning institution built on trust and personal responsibility that inspires students to expand themselves and their horizons through the medium of English. We focus on the delivery of language and on transferring the passion for English from teacher to students, making English an integral part of their lives.

A mini action plan for 2019-2020

Here are three things I’d like to work on in my teaching this year:

  • Systematic revision/recycling of language.
  • Include more reading, perhaps through a book chart.
  • Use notebooks systematically with my students.

If everything goes to plan, I’ll be teaching a low-level teen class. I only have three hours a week with them and we use a coursebook (that won’t be changing), but I think all three of those things are doable without a lot of extra time needed.

What are you working on in your teaching? And how would you suggest I do those things?

Reducing my environmental impact

Here’s a list of some of the things I do to try to reduce my impact on the environment. They’re not particularly earth-shattering, and I’m very aware that I fly far too much, but maybe if we all did lots of little things, it could make some kind of difference. I also realise that I’m privileged to be able to make some of these choices and that not everyone can do this.

  • Recycle as much as I can.
  • Write on scrap paper.
  • Reuse envelopes.
  • Don’t use straws.
  • Drink water.
  • Use just enough water when cooking or boiling the kettle.
  • Use charcoal in a glass jug to filter my water, rather than plastic water filters.
  • Use clothes and washable sponges instead of disposable plastic-based sponges and kitchen roll.
  • Use toothpaste tablets/DentTabs instead of toothpaste.
  • Use shampoo bars instead of bottled shampoo.
  • Use soap bars instead of soap from a dispenser.
  • Dry my hands on my clothes instead of using paper towels or a hand dryer.
  • Write with pencils instead of pens.
  • Save pens to be recycled.
  • Switch off lights when I leave a room.
  • Switch off my phone at night.
  • Never leave things on standby.
  • Switch off my computer completely.
  • Take my own bags shopping, including for fruit and veg.
  • Choose products in paper metal or glass instead of plastic if I can.
  • Almost never order takeaways.
  • Make my own bread and cakes instead of buying ones wrapped in plastic.
  • Keep my electronic devices for as long as they are usable, rather than replacing them every couple of years.
  • Only charge my devices when the battery has run down, and unplug themonce they’ve charged.
  • Walk or use public transport – I’ve never wanted to learn to drive, partly for environmental reasons.
  • Have reusable water bottles.
  • Eat almost no meat at home.
  • Reduce the amount of dairy I eat.
  • Choose the most local fruit or veg.
  • Eat what’s in season.
  • Buy only as much food as I need and eat all of it before it goes off or freeze it if I think I won’t be able to.
  • Use my own lunchboxes to take away leftover food from restaurants.
  • Only buy clothes and shoes when I really need them.
  • Buy clothes from charity shops or secondhand instead of new.
  • Use to pass on books I’m unlikely to ever read again.
  • Use a solar-powered lamp in my bedroom.
  • Use a solar-powered fan.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • Put extra clothes on or use extra blankets before I choose to turn up the heating.

What haven’t I thought of? What else do you do?

Sorting the attic

I’m currently trying to sort through piles of paper which I’ve built up in my mum’s attic over the past 15 years. As you can imagine, it’s something of a journey of discovery. Here are some notes I found from a presentation on FCE speaking activities I attended 10 or so years ago. It looks like a fun activity, but I can’t find any notes which explain how to set it up or run it. What would you do with it?

P.S. I’m not sure my art skills have improved much since then!

Adding choice and reflection to teen classes (guest post)

I was introduced to Helen Chapman at IATEFL Liverpool this year and I’m really glad I was (thanks Phil!) 🙂 She has lots of fantastic ideas for the young learner and teen classroom, both of which I’m sadly lacking, so following her on Twitter and reading her blog have been useful. A few days ago she posted an intriguing image of a lolly stick and some whiteboard graffiti on Twitter, and I asked her if she’d tell me more in a guest blog post. Here’s the result:

I’ve been a fan of adding a review/reflection stage to lessons with teenagers for the last few years, and more recently, I’ve been trying to include an element of choice in my classes. I’ve found this to be a really beneficial use of class time.

Why add a review/reflection stage?

Reviewing learning immediately after that learning has taken place aids memory. It can also anchor that learning, and make it more meaningful.

I like adding this stage at the end of the lesson, so learners can have a chance to breathe (as the main bulk of the lesson is done) and also take stock of what we’ve done in the lesson. It’s also totally learner-centred, and can contain satisfying short tasks which give a sense of achievement.

As it’s a quiet, reflective time, it’s also a nice opportunity to chat to students one-to-one, and get a good look at which tasks they prefer doing, and where their strengths lie. This means I can write really personal comments on student reports at the end of term, even for a relatively large class.

Why include learner choice?

Offering choice is a way to motivate and engage teenagers, as it is more likely they’ll be spending at least some of the lesson doing something they enjoy. It also makes them feel they have some agency in their own learning, which avoids teens feeling patronized (helping build rapport with you).

So often we ask learners to compare answers, or show each other what they’ve been working on, but they’ve all been doing the same task – teenagers may not see the value in that (show your group your list of suggestions to help the environment… when everyone in the group has a list of suggestions to help the environment!). Giving choice actually makes teenagers want to listen to what their classmate says, or to see what they’ve been working on. It sparks a genuine curiosity.

How can I include reflection and learner choice in my teen classes?

Why not try lolly sticks? Prepare different reflection/review tasks on each stick. Colour-code the tips of the sticks by activity type.

In the last 15 minutes of your lesson, have learners choose a lolly stick at random. As they are colour-coded, learners can choose the colour that corresponds to something they most feel like doing.

I like to let the learners know that they can switch lolly sticks if they want. Someone may not fancy drawing something that day, or may prefer to do something silently alone. I think teenagers like the flexibility, and it also shows that, as teachers, we respect their moods and preferences. Everyone has bad days where they may prefer to work alone on something!

What kind of review tasks work?

I like to include a range of activity types, such as:

Finding links and seeing patterns

  • Find a link between the last three lessons we’ve done.
  • Look through your notebook at the vocabulary we’ve studied in the last month. Organise the words into 4 categories.

Free speaking / Getting to know you

  • Ask one classmate ten questions about themselves.
  • Write ten facts about yourself or a classmate.
  • Chat to a classmate for four minutes – about any topic.

Class admin

  • Make a revision card for an absent classmate.
  • Design a three-minute starter activity for the next lesson.
  • Review a classmate’s notebook. Give oral feedback.

Reflection on learning

  • Write a tweet summarising today’s lesson.
  • Write about your favourite part of this lesson.
  • Draw graffiti on the board to show what you learnt today.
  • Draw a picture of what we’ve learnt in the last month of lessons.

Vocabulary building

  • Read a paragraph from any part of your Student’s Book. Write down four words you want to remember.
  • Look at the vocabulary list in the back of your Workbook. Find 5 words you don’t understand. Look them up and write the definitions in your notebook.
  • Look at the vocabulary list in the back of your Workbook. Find 5 words you know, but don’t use often. Write sentences demonstrating the meaning of the words.

My teen groups couldn’t do this!

Of course your teen group may struggle at first. After all, they make almost no choices for themselves in life, and almost certainly not in their learning. Their schools may encourage rote learning, and may control teenagers’ learning by keeping them in lock step. You need to support them in making choices and working on something independent of you, or their classmates.

How can I make this work for me?

  • Set up a routine in every lesson, so learners know what to expect.
  • Explain the rationale behind a stage like this. Teenagers are able to have this conversation with you, and you may even like to negotiate with them as to how long this stage should be.
  • Support the learners the first few times they do this. They most likely will be looking to get the ‘right answer’, or will be waiting to be told what to do. You’ll need to encourage them but also make it clear that this stage is not for the teacher to check or correct. You may wish to comment on what the learners are doing, and respond to the content, but this stage is it about the teacher’s evaluation.
  • Make it clear that you value the work they are doing during this stage. I like to mention it in termly reports, and during parent-teacher meetings.

I don’t have time to prepare this!

You’ll notice that the activities are not dependent on the content of the lesson. This means you can reuse the same lolly sticks every lesson. If you prepare them once, you can keep them in a box in your classroom and just get them out every lesson. You can also use the same set for different teen groups. No photocopies, no extra preparation- simply a meaningful stage for the last 15 minutes of every teen lesson.

Since I started including a reflection stage and some choice into my teen lessons, I’ve noticed they are more engaged, motivated, curious and reflective learners. Try it, and see if it works for you!

Helen Chapman is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. Currently based in Morocco, she has also taught in Spain, Poland, Portugal and the UK. Her interests include Early Years, Primary (especially developing the whole child) and EAP. She is also fascinated with exploring teacher beliefs, and with the integration of learner reflection in lessons. She writes an Early Years and Primary ELT blog ( and tweets @HelenChapmanELT

ELT Playbook Teacher Training now available!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover

ELT Playbook Teacher Training launches today! It contains a selection of 30 tasks to help trainers to reflect on what they do, centred particularly on areas that seem to cause the most problems for those new to teacher training. These include transitioning from teaching to training, planning training, giving spoken and written feedback after observations, and running workshops and input sessions.

It’s now available as a paperback through the BEBC website and can be shipped all over the world. If you’re at IATEFL Liverpool 2019, you can get 25% off at the BEBC stand (stand 17) in the exhibition. You can also find information about lots of other independent authors and publishers at stand 2.

As with ELT Playbook 1, you can share the results of your reflections using the #ELTplaybook hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, or in the ELT Playbook facebook group. Once you have completed all five tasks in any section, or all 30 tasks in the book, you can claim badges to display on your social media profiles or CV.

ELT Playbook Teacher Training all badges previewHere’s a sample task and the full list of all of the tasks in the book to whet your appetite. Looking forward to seeing people’s responses to the tasks!

Christmas homework for teachers (guest post)

Following on from Katie Lindley’s Christmas homework for students last year, Charlotte Giller was inspired to create some relaxing Christmas homework for teachers to do. 

If you are a teacher who finds it hard to even occasionally put yourself first, you might like to consider that our well-being impacts directly on our learners’ achievements. As Sarah Mercer observed in her insightful webinar for the IH Wellbeing season earlier this year, happy teachers make for happy and successful learners. So take time these holidays to rest, relax and recharge and use the plan below to help you timetable this. If you struggle to do it for yourself, then you can do it for your students 🙂

Christmas homework for teachers 2018 (by Charlotte Giller)

Charlotte GillerCharlotte Giller is an English teacher and trainer based in Valencia, Spain.

Reference: “Language Teacher Psychology” Ed. Mercer, S. and Kostoulas, A (2018) Multilingual Matters

Bonus task: Self-talk and teacher confidence (ELT Playbook 1)

Here’s a bonus task to complement the ‘Teacher Health and Wellbeing’ section of ELT Playbook 1, a book I self-published this year which is designed to help early career teachers reflect on their teaching. Download the task as a pdf (Self-talk and teacher confidence), or read on…

Teacher health and wellbeing
Self-talk and teacher confidence

Task: 25 minutes
Reflection: 25 minutes

Make a list of things which you say to yourself about your teaching, for example ‘I can’t control this class’ or ‘That board race went really well’.

Categorise them into positive, negative and neutral.

  • ŸWhy do you think you say these things to yourself?
  • Would you say them to a friend?
  • Do you think your students or your colleagues would tell you the same things?
  • How often do you say them to yourself?
  • For those on the ‘positive’ list, how did you arrive at this point? How could other teachers do the same?
  • For those on the ‘negative’ list, what do you think are the roots of these issues? What effect do they have on your confidence? How can you diminish their effects?
  • What effect does your confidence have on your teaching?

Via your blog, share one of the positive things that you say to yourself. Describe how other teachers can reach the point where they can say this to themselves too. Use the #ELTplaybook hashtag on Twitter or facebook.

Record yourself talking about the effects of confidence on teaching. Refer to your own experience if you want to.

Draw a picture of what’s going on inside your head when you teach now. If you want it to change, draw a second picture of how you’d like it to look.

In your teaching journal, write about the roots of one of the negative things you say to yourself and how you could diminish the effects of it.

ELT Playbook 1 cover, showing title, a pale blue book, and the author's name (Sandy Millin) with a computer mouse coming out of the 'y'

If you want to continue reflecting on your teaching, why not get your own copy of ELT Playbook 1 from Amazon (ebook or paperback) or Smashwords (ebook)? [affiliate links] You can also find out more by looking at the ELT Playbook blog, where you can see examples of badges you can earn, as well as a sample task from the book.

Doctor Classroom

It’s been a long day. At least, long by the standards of my current job. I got to work at 10, and didn’t really stop until 9, even planning two lessons while I was eating at the local shopping centre this evening, because I know I won’t have time tomorrow. It’s the busiest time of year, with a new batch of teachers, timetables still in flux, lots of placement testing, one-to-one students waiting for timetables, constant questions, and the inevitable teething problems that go along with all that. Freshers’ flu is very much in evidence, with quite a few of the teachers suffering from all the new bugs we’ve been exposed to, and I’ve been hovering on the edge of a cold all week.

But despite all that, I feel great 🙂 I covered a late lesson this evening, hence the long day, and I feel like I spent the majority of it giggling. It’s a great group, who gel brilliantly and are very supportive of each other. They’re open to correction, and because they’re advanced, it’s possible to have some in-depth conversations about language with them. They regularly made me laugh, and I forgot about the cares of the rest of the day. The injection of teaching was just what I needed 🙂

Coursebook review questions

Following my recent post about coursebooks, Ian Parr asked on Twitter if a site existed for teachers to write reviews of coursebooks. As far as I know, there isn’t one, but I think it would be great idea, as at the moment I think the only way I know about which coursebooks to use are from publishers’ reps and word of mouth. I don’t think I’ll be setting such a site up any time soon, but if I did, these are the questions I would like people to answer about the coursebook they are using and the context they’re using it in:

  • Which book and edition are you reviewing?
  • Which country are you in?
  • Is the group monolingual or multilingual? Which languages do they speak other than English?
  • Do your students have any literacy challenges in English or their other languages?
  • Is the book localised as far as you are aware, or is it an international edition?
  • What age(s) are you teaching?
  • Are your classes organised by level, age or some other criterion?
  • Approximately how many students are you working with in an average group with this book?
  • What kind of facilities do you have? For example are you using a whiteboard/blackboard/projector/IWB…?
  • How much teaching experience do you have a) in general; b) in this context; c) with this level/age group; d) with this book/series?
  • To the best of your knowledge, how much learning experience do your students have a) in general; b) in this context?; c) with this series? For example, how many years have they been learning English in a private language school?
  • How many lessons do your students have and how often? What percentage of the course do they use the coursebook for? How easy has it been to select material from the coursebook for your students? What has helped/hindered you to make these decisions?
  • How long is your average lesson? Do you feel having the coursebook helped reduce your planning time?
  • Who chose your coursebook? Were you involved in the decision? If yes, in what capacity? For example, did you teach test lessons?
  • What is the balance of skills and language in the book? Is there enough of both?
  • What kind of topics are included in the bokk? Are there any which your students found particularly engaging or boring?
  • Are the reading/listening texts at the right level of challenge?
  • Are speaking/writing tasks engaging and communicative?
  • Is new language introduced and practiced in context? Is the meaning clear? Are there enough examples of practice activities? How much support do your students need to understand beyond the help the get from the book?
  • How easy is it to adapt the coursebook to the needs of different students in your group? For example, are there extra activities you can give to students who need more help?
  • Is it easy to navigate the book? For example, how clearly labelled are references to grammar explanations in other places?
  • Does the audio use a range of voice types (gender, age, accent, nationality, etc)? Is there a range of text types? How closely do the extracts reflect authentic use of English?
  • Are images included to support the students? Or are they just used as decoration? How clear is the layout? for example, is there text on top of images anywhere?
  • Which extra components have you used? For example resource pack, workbook, CDs, tests? Did you feel they really suppemented the course or were they unnecessary?
  • If you used the teacher’s book, do you feel it helped?
  • Overall, what are the most challenging things you have found when using this coursebook? What are the most positive aspects of it?
  • Would you use this book again with the same group of students? What other contexts do you think it might work or not work in?

I know there are a lot of questions here and I would be surprised if anybody answered them all  but you never know. What would you add to the list?

Image taken by Sue Annan, from the ELTpics collection and shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

Time out

A couple of hours of playing Chinese chequers (my set is almost exactly the same as this one!), chatting, and eating take-away pierogi – the perfect ending to the week.

What did you do to take time out this week?

Hampton Court Palace clock (24 hours on one face)

Classroom Management Techniques by Jim Scrivener (a review)

Classroom management techniques cover

This book is full of useful ideas covering a very wide range of classroom management issues. Every school should have a copy, not just language schools. It includes such useful areas as:

  • Avoiding chaos when rearranging the room
  • Being yourself
  • Finding the right voice tone
  • Helping the group to work together
  • Training students to listen to each other
  • Justifying pair and group work to students
  • Dealing with small disruptions
  • Starting lessons

It’s great for new teachers and more experienced ones, helping you to deal with problems you may have, or giving you new ideas you may not have thought of before. Every technique is broken down into clear steps, and they are often accompanied by diagrams or images to help you understand them.

I decided to read it from cover to cover, to give me an idea of the contents. Throughout, I kept thinking which teachers at my school would benefit from the different techniques or chapters. It also has a comprehensive contents page and index, meaning you can find whatever you’re looking for quickly and easily. Of course, I don’t think every idea would work in my classroom, but then, I’d be disappointed if I found a book where that was the case!

Why not get yourself a copy? [And if you use this link, I’ll get a few pennies too!] 🙂

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: The things I missed

Or at least, some of them! At a conference this size, it’s inevitable that you miss some sessions you really wanted to attend. In this post, I’ve collected individual tweets and video links to some of the presentations and events I found interesting, but which don’t fit easily into any of my other categories for posts this year.

A history of IATEFL

Richard Smith and Shelagh Rixon have written a book called A History of IATEFL, which is being sent out to all current members, and will soon be available to read online. There was a celebration evening on the Wednesday night of the conference which I couldn’t attend – by all accounts, it was fascinating. I’m really looking forward to reading the book once I get my copy.

Mike Hogan has this to say from the Business Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event:

George Pickering summarises my job as a DoS at the Leadership and Management Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event:

You can find out more about the Hands Up Project and get involved through Nick’s website.

I definitely feel like this applies to me – I was born in 1985, and just about remember life before the internet, so am pretty sure I can class myself as a Millennial. The longest I’ve stayed in any one job was three years (in Brno), I may still be in my current job in 2020 but I’m not 100% sure, and I’ll probably end up as a freelancer at some point.

Consistently including assessment and evaluation on my courses is definitely an area I need to develop.

I agree!

A talk I wish I’d been able to attend, as I think it would build on what I’ve learnt from Laura Patsko’s blog: Is CLT fair to introverts? and Conferencing for introverts

I find it interesting that ‘time management’ appears on the list as an element of ‘non-verbal communication’. I’d never thought of it like that, but I suppose it is.

I found Harry Kuchah-Kuchah’s plenary fascinating a couple of years ago, and wish I could have found out more about how their teacher association research has developed – I hope he writes about it elsewhere.

This could be useful after a conference (like now!) or a training course as a way to sum up what’s changed.

NWES looks like it could be helpful for thinking about future plans and developments at a school.

This AAA framework is one a lot of people could do with remembering! 🙂

Although this is about providing extra online practice, I think most of these criteria apply to any and all homework tasks.

Women Speakers ELT

I’ve just added myself to the database of women speakers set up by Nicola Prentis and Russ Mayne. The aim is to collect profiles of female speakers who would like to advertise their availability to speak at conferences, to help organisers to have a gender balance in their presenters. If you would like to be added to the database, you can complete their contact form. You can find out more about the research which prompted this database and the criticism/replies to it here.

Sandy presenting at the TipTop conference 2014, Sevastopol

2015 in review

I always find these stats interesting, though I’m not sure if anyone else does! Apparently I’ve shared 98 posts so far this year. This will be number 99, and I’ll try and write another one in the next few hours to get a nice round 100. 🙂

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 210,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 9 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Activities for Christmas and New Year (‘Sundays with BELTA’ webinar announcement)

Sandy - Sundays with BELTA square poster

On Sunday 13th December at 16:00 CET (and what’s that in your timezone?) I’ll be doing a webinar for the Belgian English Language Teachers Association, which anyone can come along to. I’ll be sharing easily adaptable activities for Christmas and the New Year. You can find out all the details by clicking here or on the poster above. See you there!

Xish learners…

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

…want you to present the grammar clearly.

…want you to focus on grammar.

…don’t want you to focus on grammar.

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

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

…expect the teacher to know all of the answers.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

San Diego

My review in the TEA journal

[2/9/2021 – Note that these links appear to no longer be active.]

ELT News is the journal of the Austrian teacher’s association, TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). The latest edition features my review of one of my favourite podcasts. You can find the full table of contents, complete with links to all of the articles. There’s something for everyone: business English, younger learners, activities, polemic, and entertainment. My favourite article is ‘Unhand me Sir, for my husband, who is an Australian, awaits without’, which I would heartily encourage you to read 🙂

Pouring tea
Why not grab a cup of tea and read the journal? Photo by Dace Praulins from eltpics, used under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

Follow IATEFL 2015

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

IATEFL online Manchester 2015

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

I wish I had time to write on my blog at the moment…

…but I don’t!

Things I want to write about…

  • the 6 month anniversary of the Crimean referendum (yesterday)
  • the many many many many things I’ve learnt in the last year (I arrived in Sevastopol on 20th September 2013)
  • the process of training to become a CELTA tutor
  • being a CELTA tutor (it’s day 3 of my first course as an Assistant Course Tutor)
  • interesting things I’ve seen in Sevastopol (that have nothing to do with the military or Ukraine v. Russia)
  • recipes for people on a really restricted diet (dairy-free, gluten-free, less than 15 ingredients in total!)
  • any of the other 101 ideas in my drafts or in my head.

Looks like they’ll just have to wait…


This is my 300th post!

I started my blog in October 2010 with a post detailing my resolutions for the new academic year, my final one working at International Brno. It was 128 words (those were the days, I hear you cry!) and could be boiled down to this:

to use more technology in my classroom

The interim 298 posts have been a voyage in professional discovery. Coupled with the many blogs that I read, the conversations that I have on social media, and the conferences I’ve been lucky enough to go to, as well as the professional support I’ve had from all of the great IH schools I’ve worked at and my Delta, my blog and the ensuing comments have encouraged me to reflect on what I do in the classroom and really think about why I do it.

Going back to my original post, I now use a lot more technology in the classroom, but I’m also much more aware of when it’s not appropriate. I’ve learnt how and when to apply it, and I’m constantly experimenting with technology, among many other things. This is just one example of how joining the online teaching community has shaped my teaching.

In addition to what happens in the classroom, my writing style has developed hugely thanks to my blog, and I’ve branched out from being purely professional-focussed into sharing other aspects of my life as a teacher, including some of the bad bits, and some of the things I am witness to thanks to living in other countries and being from the UK. I’ve also learnt a lot about putting together posts, the most important of which is to always include an image – it makes it much easier to share it, and a bit more interesting to look at. It breaks up the text a bit too!

Statistics map
This is where my readers have come from since February 25, 2012. Thank you!

When people come up to me and say they’ve read my blog, there’s always a little voice in my head saying ‘Wow, how did that happen? How did I get to this?’ When I first started writing it, I wondered what I could add to all the great blogs I’d already been reading for a few months and I thought ‘No-one will ever read mine’. I decided to write for myself, and looking back over the blog is a great record of my professional development. I still write what I want to write, when I want to, without worrying about any kind of schedule, but now I know that someone somewhere will hopefully find each post useful, and I love the discussion/comments/other posts that come out of what I write. They make me think and inspire me to keep writing.

Last week, largely thanks to the TeachingEnglish British Council facebook page, which I cannot recommend highly enough, I reached over 300,000 views on my blog. This happened at the same time as my highest single day’s views (11,011) from this guest post by Tereza Eliasova on praise and feedback, which also meant that in May so far (it’s the 6th as I write this) I already have more views than I have had in any other month in the nearly four years I’ve been writing my blog. I find this phenomonal, and slightly scary!

That first post still only has 20 views, and about a quarter of my posts have less than 100 views. At the other end of the scale, these are the all time top five posts:

  1. Useful FCE websites – 28,292 views
  2. I am *super* impressed! (guest post) – 13,415 views
  3. How I’m learning Russian – 8,395 views
  4. Key Word Transformations with Modals of Speculation/Deduction – 7,503 views
  5. Online resources for Business English teaching – 7,053 views

The second/third ones were written this week, and those views came almost exclusively from TeachingEnglish British Council on facebook. The first post is almost always the one that gets the highest number of views in any given week. I wonder how much that will change over the next 100 posts? 🙂

How to challenge yourself

Challenge considered

This was a lesson plan in the form of a presentation I put together for the weekly 90-minute English Speaking Club at IH Sevastopol. The notes for the plan are visible when you download the presentation (in the notes pane, normally found under the slides):

Here is the SMART goals jigsaw reading (jigsaw reading is where you divide a text into sections. Student A reads part A, B reads part B, C reads C and so on. They don’t see the other parts. They then work together, with or without the text, to build the meaning of the whole by sharing information from their own parts.):

There are also tapescripts to accompany the two videos, which could be mined for language if you choose (that wasn’t the purpose of this club):

It was the first topic for the speaking club for 2014, and hopefully we’ll revisit the goals the students set for themselves later in the year. Unfortunately I was ill, but my colleague taught it and said it went well. Let me know what you think!

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it. [I find this truly incredible – thank you to everyone who has supported/read/followed my blog over the last year. Happy New Year!]

Click here to see the complete report.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (EFL activities)

This week my students have been reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I took my students on a trip to Durham (where some of the first two films were filmed) last week because one of them is a huge fan of the books, and while we were there we talked about reading in English. 

My class in the cloisters in Durham
My class in the cloisters at Durham Cathedral, where some of the Hogwarts courtyard scenes from the first two films were recorded

I discovered that they don’t really read in English, partly because it’s daunting, and partly because they can’t be bothered 😉 so I decided I’d make them do it by bringing it to class. We’ve done a whole range of activities based on the chapter, none of which included comprehension questions, but I’m sure you could write some if you wanted to. Let me know which ones you use, and if you have any more 🙂

Harry Potter

The first question was ‘What do you think of when I say Harry Potter?’ My students are upper intermediate, from six different countries, aged 18-30. There was clearly a whole range of opinions, but nobody was out-and-out negative. As feedback, I asked a list of questions, with students standing up if the answer was yes. I joined in with the standing up. Stand up if:

  • you have never read or watched any Harry Potter.
  • you have watched part of a Harry Potter film only.
  • you have watched a complete film in your own language.
  • you have watched all of the films in your own language.
  • you have watched a complete film in English.
  • you have watched all of the films in English.
  • you have read one or more of the books in your own language.
  • you have read all of the books in your own language.
  • you have read any of the books in English (one student had finished Philosopher’s Stone the day before!).
  • you have read all of the books in English.

The titles

On scraps of paper, students guessed what they thought the titles of the books are in English – one title per piece of paper, with a number (1-7) indicating which book. The students who had no idea became the teachers. They collected the paper and compared the answers against a list I took with me.

I then put the titles on the board one at a time, and we talked about what they meant and how they differed, mostly in terms of word order, from the translations. We also talked about capitalization.

The titles in Britain are:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

For students who didn’t know the books, we talked about the meaning of some of the words, especially goblet and phoenix.

The first page

To get into the book, I started off by asking students to read the first page (until ‘high chair’ if you have it in front of you). When they finished, they had to stand up. It wasn’t a race, but rather was designed to help them appreciate different reading speeds in class. Afterwards, I asked them two questions:

  • How did you read the page? For example, did you follow words with your pen? Did you underline words you didn’t understand?
  • How would you have read it in your own language?

The aim of these lessons was to reduce the students’ fear of reading in English. One of the things I did the first time I tried to read a book in German was copy every word I didn’t know onto a long list. After 2 pages I had about 100 words, and I stopped reading because I was so depressed! My class weren’t that bad, but I strongly believe (from personal experience) that:

If you don’t understand a word, keep reading.

If you see a word you don’t understand three times, keep reading.

If you see a word 10 times and you still don’t understand it, it might be important. You should probably look it up.

Especially in children’s fiction, ‘difficult’ words are generally explained. If a ‘difficult’ word only appears once, then the likelihood of it being essential to a story are slim. We came back to this point at various points during the week, and I think the students are a lot happier to continue reading now.

Adjectives and nouns

Before reading the first page, I handed out this sheet:

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to. For some reason, the word cloud doesn’t always appear properly. If that happens, once you’ve downloaded and opened the file, right click on the word cloud and select ‘arrange’>’bring to front’ or ‘in front of text’. You should be able to see it and move it to wherever you want on the page.)

I challenged students to think of as many adjectives as they could that would collocate with each noun. i had to tell them that ‘people’ and ‘sky’ were two separate words.

Once they’d read the first page and we’d had the discussion above, they returned to the sheet and found the corresponding adjectives from page. Here are the answers:

(no) finer boy

thin, blonde woman (Mrs. Dursley)

dull, grey Tuesday

greatest fear

big, beefy man

good-for-nothing husband

the last/unDursleyish people

cloudy sky

anything strange/mysterious

very large moustache

strange/mysterious things

good reason

small son

most boring tie

screaming baby (Dudley)

Throughout this exercise, and the ones following it, I tried to discourage students from using dictionaries. Instead, they had to use what they know about the world and about Harry Potter in particular to guess what words meant and try and explain them to me so I could confirm, or help them change, their guesses.

As revision, they said the nouns, and their partner had to say which adjective collocated with it.

For homework, they used the BYU-BNC corpus to check which of their collocations were correct – I showed them how to do this during class first.

Peculiar events

On pages 8 (from “None of them noticed…”) to 11 (to “a whisper about the Potters…”), Mr Dursley witnesses, and misses, a series of strange events. Students worked in pairs to highlight the strange events, again without using dictionaries. They then summarised the events using key words, and we talked about how often each description was repeated, and the fact that even if they didn’t understand the description the first time it appeared, they usually did by the last time. These were the key words and events I came up with:


owls flying in the day

page 8: “None of them noticed a large tawny owl flutter past the window”. 

page 9: “owls swooping past in broad daylight”

page 10: “there have been hundreds of sightings of these birds flying in every direction since sunrise”

page 11: “Owls flying by daylight?”



page 8: “a cat reading a map” “It was now reading the sign that said ‘Privet Drive'”

page 10: “…the first thing he saw […] was the tabby cat he’d spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall.” “It just gave him a stern look.”



page 8: “…there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks”

page 9: “This lot were whispering excitedly.” “‘The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard -‘”

page 11: “Mysterious people in cloaks all over the place? And a whisper, a whisper about the Potters…”



page 9-10: “The man was wearing a violet cloak. He didn’t seem at all upset at being almost knocked to the ground. On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passers-by stare: ‘Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!’ And the old man hugged Mr Dursley around the middle and walked off”


shooting stars

page 10: “instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they’ve had a downpour of shooting stars!”

page 11: “Shooting stars all over Britain?”

Peculiar words

Once they’d identified all of the events, the groups had to try to work out the meaning of any of the words they didn’t understand in the lines they’d highlighted. I emphasised that they should focus on these lines, as these are the important events here.

After they’d guessed as many as they could, each group was allowed to choose one word from each page, i.e. one from page 8, one from 9, one from 10, and one from the top of 11, to look up in the dictionary.

They then mingled to share their words.

Fan pictures

The website Harry Potter companion is a repository for everything you ever needed to know about the Harry Potter universe, and many things you probably didn’t. They have chapter-by-chapter guides to all of the books. Each guide has a set of fan pictures accompanied/inspired by quotes from the relevant chapter. Here are the pictures from chapter 1 in a slide show, so you can print them out and cut them up:

Students had read the rest of the chapter (page 11 to page 18) for homework. Only one of them failed to heed the warning that the next lesson would be very difficult if they didn’t. Before looking at the pictures, we started the lesson with students verbally summarising what they could remember from the chapter. I put the pictures around the room. Students had to circulate and try to identify a quote which could be matched to each picture.

You can check the answers by going to the Harry Potter Companion.

Verbs and adverbs

I wrote these verbs on the board:

say, sniff, nod, blink, repeat, appear, whisper, behave, act, climb, sit, lay sth down, look up (emphasising that this is the opposite of ‘look down’ not the phrasal verb)

Students had to decide which adverbs you could use with each verb. Once they had as many as they could think of, they went back to the book and looked for more. While they did this, I checked their lists and we talked about why some of their suggestions were not possible. Finally, we put the adverbs on the board to check, and talked about some of the stranger combinations, like ‘blink furiously’.

Verbs and adverbs

Summarising the chapter

We spent a whole two-hour lesson today on writing a summary. In pairs or groups of three, the students had to summarise the main events of the chapter in not more than 100 words. Inevitably, they tried to include every event they could think of, which meant a lot of editing.

The groups swapped first drafts. They then had to improve on these and rewrite them, with a little help from some prompt questions on the board and some advice about what to look up in the dictionary. Examples of my prompt questions were:

  • Are all of the main ideas included?
  • Is tense use logical?
  • Are capital letters in the right places?

The second-draft summaries were excellent, but unfortunately I forgot to copy one to put on here!

Never judge a book by it’s cover

For our final two-hour lesson, we’re going to look at some of the different covers for the first Harry Potter book:

Students will:

  • identify the objects they can see on the covers;
  • describe some of the similarities and differences between the covers;
  • think about why those images were chosen for each cover;
  • decide which cover would make them most/least likely to pick up the book – disregarding the language barrier of course!

The great Harry Potter language quiz

The final activity of the week will be a quiz bringing together the language we’ve studied this week, so the Harry Potter fanatics shouldn’t have any particular advantage over the newbies!


All of the adverbs are one small pieces of paper, one per piece.

In a variation on the classic adverb revision game, the adverbs will be divided between the groups. They have five minutes to decide how to mime or act out all of their adverbs, without saying it. 

Each group will then perform, winning five points for each adverb another group guesses, and losing one for each one they fail to guess from the other groups. (this scoring system may be edited on consultation with the students!)


One word: pictionary. 

The rest of them

I’ve kept a list of the random words which have come up during the week. The final part of the quiz will be a backs to the board/hot seat game. In this game, students work in pairs. One student can see the board, the other is facing them and cannot. The teacher writes a word or phrase on the board. The student who can see it describes it to the one who can’t, without using any of the words on the board, or variations of them, and without translating. As soon as the student with their back to the board thinks they know what is on the board, they stand up and tell the teacher. Two points for being first, one point for any other pair who gets the correct answer but are slower.


Although I enjoy Harry Potter, I’ve only read them once, and watched them twice (once at the cinema, once on DVD) or sometimes a couple more times. I’m interested in the universe Rowling has created, but nowhere near as obsessed as some of my students. Her books are sometimes the whole reason they want to come to the UK! I was lucky, in that only one student didn’t really like Harry Potter at the start of the week, and two of them had never read or watched any of it, and they seem to have enjoyed the classes as much as the fans.

Sharing the richness of her language has made me re-appreciate how good her writing is, and how suitable it is for teaching, as well as the many layers of what she put together, no matter how much it might be sneered at by those who ‘hate’ Harry Potter. I’m sure there’s a lot more you can do with it too. The activities I’ve written about here, I came up with fairly quickly. You could use it to focus on so many different aspects of language. 

The best thing about this week, though, was that today, in our fourth of five lessons, two of the students walked in carrying brand-new copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Neither of them have read a book in English before. One of them had even decided that he would use each chapter to focus on a different kind of language, once he had read it. In chapter two, he had circled all of the verbs of speaking, and all without any encouragement from me.

And if that isn’t an argument for extensive reading, I don’t know what is.


12 from ’12

After the successful 11 from ’11 challenge which Adam Simpson did last year, he decided to run a 12 from ’12 follow-up. Not having much time to blog at the moment, it’s taken a while for me to reply to the challenge, so I hope it was worth the wait!

The biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in…

…and not related to teaching at all! Regular followers of this blog will know that my summer was mostly taken up with two things:

The Olympics

The Paralympics

where I worked as a volunteer, or Games Maker as we were called. It was an amazing experience, probably once-in-a-lifetime, and I still get tears in my eyes every time I talk about it. If you ever get the opportunity to be involved in a big sporting event, whether it has -lympics at the end or not, grab it with both hands. My posts about the Games include my selection of the best of my photos from back of house, the events I saw, the technical rehearsal for the Olympics opening ceremony and the athletes’ parade celebrating the success of TeamGB and ParalympicsGB athletes.

2012 Gold Medal in the British Museum
2012 Gold Medal in the British Museum (phot0 by Sandy Millin)

The teaching

Delta has taken over my life, and my blog. I explained what it is in this post, and have started a series of posts reflecting on some of the things Delta has changed in my classroom. There aren’t many yet, but more will be added over the next six months, time permitting!

In April I had one of the best weeks of my life at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow. I learnt a lot, and really enjoyed meeting so many people from Twitter and the teaching world. I wrote about it here. I presented about how to help your students take advantage of online resources.

In May I appeared in print for the first time. This was very important for me as it marked the next stage in my career. I’ve now had two columns in the IH Journal, and two articles in the IATEFL Learner Autonomy Special Interest Group journal.

I’ve shared quite a few posts with ideas for activities this year. These are my favourites:

And finally, at the start of the year I put together a list of Useful FCE Websites. This has become by far my most successful blog post ever, with three times as many hits as the next most popular post on my blog. Pretty good for a few hours’ work, even if I do say so myself!

Best of the rest

To stop this post sounding completely self-indulgent, I’d also like to share a few of my favourite blogs which I’ve discovered this year. These are:

Kevin Stein’s The Other Things Matter

Carol Goodey’s new blog

Chris Wilson’s ELT Squared (I think I discovered Chris’ blog this year, but even if I didn’t, it’s always worth recommending!)

Leo Selivan’s Leoxicon

That’s it!

I’ve had a very eventful 2012, which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m quite tired now though, so here’s hoping 2013 is a little more relaxing…

All quiet on the blogging front

Regular readers will notice that I haven’t been posting much recently. I haven’t forgotten about my blog, but a lot of things have meant that posting has taken a back seat.

  • I have been and will be travelling up and down to London for my role as an Olympics and Paralympics Games Maker, which I’m really looking forward to.
  • I had a week’s holiday in Brno, revisiting all of my old haunts. I also spent some time at home with my family.
  • I’ve applied for, and been provisionally accepted on, the Distance Delta course starting in August 2012. That will also allow a lot less time for blogging next year too.
  • With a friend, I’ve been trying to do more exercise – more swimming and more walking means less computer time. I’ve also been trying to spend less time in front of a screen generally.
  • I’m moving to a new flat next weekend, probably meaning a couple of weeks without internet, but also meaning that I have to pack!

I have a few ideas for posts, and hopefully some of these will make their way to a screen near you soon! Thank you for your patience 🙂

A post-IATEFL request/favour

During the IATEFL Learner Autonomy Pre-Conference Event, I met Robert Moncrief. He is currently doing a PhD investigating people’s ideas regarding and attitudes to obscene/offensive language use in English. For me, this is an interesting area of language, as for some communities it is used a lot, and others avoid it completely, and in most cases it is completely absent from the classroom. If you have a few minutes and want to help him out, could you complete his survey.

I am currently a PhD student in English Philology at Helsinki University. This survey is part of my final thesis.

It’s quick, easy and painless. My survey will take approximately 5-10 minutes of your time. Please note that answering the questions is anonymous and no personal data will be saved and used for purposes other than this survey, (no names, etc.)

The address of the web survey is:




At this time the survey is only open to those who teach or study English in a formal environment (i.e. High School/University/College etc.). At a later date I will consider opening it up to “laypeople”.

For further information please contact and thanks again for your kind help!

How can we get the most from conferences whether we attend or not? (an #eltchat summary)

This is the summary of the first #eltchat on Wednesday 14th March 2012. To find out exactly what #eltchat is, click here.

With IATEFL 2012 fast approaching and in the midst of the spring conference season, this #eltchat was aimed at helping both those who can and can’t attend conferences to get the maximum possible benefit from them.

Before you go

Try to research the people and organisations who will be there. Find people on Twitter if possible – this should make it easier to recognise new faces.

Research speakers you plan to see – this will help you to decide which sessions to attend.

Make sure your bags aren’t too full – there is always something which you must buy!

While you’re there

Go to sessions you’re most interested in, not just because you feel you SHOULD go to a certain session. Do you really want to see big name presenters or are you just attending for the name?

Don’t try to pack too much in. Conferences can be very ‘full on’. Leave space for downtime and reflection; your brain needs a rest sometimes.

You don’t have to go to every session. Make time to speak to people too!

Watch out for signs of overload and skip a session if you need to recharge, especially when the conference is over a number of days.

Ask other participants what they’re going to see as well – weigh their recommendations depending on what you know about them!

Find other people to share the conference with – you can see different sessions and compare notes, or see what you think about the same session: a bit like a scavenger hunt 🙂

Look out for people promoting their sessions on Twitter: this can help you to make face-to-face contacts while at the conference.

Get to sessions that are likely to be popular early (especially ones in small rooms) to avoid missing out on them.

It’s probably better not to talk to presenters just before their session, but afterwards it’s normally OK, although you might have to leave the room so the next presenter can prepare.


Notes may never be read again, but writing them can help you to process ideas.

Notes don’t have to be essays: they could just be marginal notes to yourself – whatever helps you remember. You could also try mindmapping or tweeting during the session, if wifi is available. Mike Harrison suggests this mindmapping app for iPad and iPhone, and linked to a guide about how to use it.

Many people post slides on the net after their presentations, or with permission you can take photos of slides during the presentation as notes.

You could also write up key points after the session rather than during it or create audio notes rather than written ones.

Evernote was suggested as a good way to synthesise your notes, as you can include videos, audio, pictures and even text! It is available on nearly all platforms and it uploads to the cloud, so you can organize your notes later on your computer.

Personally, I believe that the most useful ideas will stick anyway!

Here’s an amazing example of notes based on a presentation.

After the conference

You could provide a feedback session at your school, including some useful activities for other teachers, or sharing handouts and ideas with them. This might require you to take detailed notes during the conference.

Try to include one or two of the activities you have seen in your classes during the following 2 weeks. This helps to fix the activities in your mind.

“If I say “wow” afterwards, it means I want to use that in class, want to learn more.”

If you can’t go

Follow the associated hashtag on Twitter – this will give you many insights into the talks being held, and will also help you to find follow-up blogposts. You can still get a lot out of the posts, even if you don’t attend the conference, because it gives you time and space to reflect on the ideas posted.

You can often still download the conference timetable, and could plan your ‘ideal conference’, then try to find out about the sessions afterwards by searching for the presenters.

Don’t forget there are many free online conferences and seminars too! In addition, IATEFL will be streaming many of the sessions. Last year over 50,000 people accessed the online conference area.

Suggestions for conference organisers

It would be great for conference organisers to provide a webpage or wiki to collect all of the associated blog entries and other materials. Ceri Jones says TESOL Spain already have links and handouts on their website.

Another idea would be an interactive agenda which could be designed much like a study guide, a blank template with “big idea” notes and context and contact info.

The downsides

There can be quite a lot of work to catch up with afterwards.


Conferences: Spreading the Love (an #eltchat summary from this time last year!)

The IATEFL 2012 app

A page created by Marie Sanako for IATEFL 2012 related notes or blog posts – you can post links there yourself

IATEFL 2011 video sessions available on iTunesU

4th International Conference on Computer Supported Education, Porto, Portugal

Tips for conference attendees

A podcast episode about attending conferences, accompanied by a written explanation of the key points

Don’t forget!

The #ELTchat symposium will take place on Thursday 22nd March 2012, with a live #eltchat during the session and live streaming too.

My new blog: Independent English

As if two blogs weren’t enough 😉

I set up ‘Independent English‘ for students, with the aim of giving them ideas to help them practise English at home. I plan to post roughly once a week, with each post being a step-by-step guide which they can work through alone or with a teacher. If I have time, I will also record myself reading the post so that students can listen to it if they are not confident readers. It is probably best for B1/Intermediate and higher at the moment, although some posts may be suitable for lower levels later.

The first entry is about podcasts, including a list of links to (in my opinion) good podcasts for learners and native speakers to listen to.

There is also a facebook page for you to ‘like’.

Please feel free to pass the link on to your students, and/or to give me feedback on how to improve the site. Hope you find it useful!

2011 in review

Really like the way they’ve put this together, and it’s fascinating for me too!


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Thank you to everyone who’s subscribed to my blog recently, and sorry that my posts have been a bit thin on the ground. I’ve just started a new job and moved into a new flat, so am waiting for an Internet connection at home. Next week I’ll be on holiday, so there’ll probably be no contact from me at all, but hopefully normal service will be resumed on or around 5th August when I get the net at home.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of July, and I sincerely hope that your weather is better than what we’ve had in Newcastle recently!


My new blog: PLN Fun Finder

I regularly read tweets from our PLN about good books, travel ideas, recipes, fun songs and lots more. Because three blogs just ain’t enough, I decide it would be fun to try and crowdsource a set of ideas for us to relax with, in the process of which you might learn something too!

I kicked it off this evening with the first post, ‘Take a Photo‘, plus an ‘About‘ page. The idea is that the blog is curated by me, but written by many teachers, inspired by Barbara Sakamoto’s excellent Teaching Village. I’m looking for posts about anything and everything, from language to sport, from good books to the best places to visit on holiday, from a good video game to a tasty recipe. The only prerequisite is that it’s fun and relaxing.

Looking forward to seeing what you have to offer!