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Archive for the ‘CELTA’ Category

The importance of preparing ambidextrous teachers – developing skills for face-to-face and online contexts (guest post)

When I attended the Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) symposium on 12th September 2020, I found Kate French’s talk to be particularly useful. There is a recording here. Kate kindly agreed to write a guest post summarising what she shared.

The CETA Symposium was held online and brought together teacher trainers from over 49 different countries. It was an excellent opportunity to share knowledge and experience, particularly regarding teaching and learning during the pandemic.

As with all areas of life during COVID-19, teacher trainers and training courses in 2020 have had to adapt and react to the ever-changing circumstances and follow the sometimes contradictory guidelines emerging on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order to save jobs and businesses and satisfy our ‘clients’ i.e. those wishing to complete and/or gain a teaching training qualification this year.

My own session at the conference was about the 100% online CELTA qualification and the aim was to synthesise the aforementioned guidelines and conclusions. The aim was not only to raise awareness for Centres that have yet to take advantage of this exceptional opportunity, but also to offer a review and possibly standardise delivery and ‘best practice’, which is what has always characterized the face-to-face and blended CELTA award, and which has led to its undoubted reputation as the ‘gold standard’ pre-service teaching training course. Therefore, I was very flattered to receive Sandy’s invitation to write a post for her blog to summarise the findings and offer them to an even wider public.  It was also very timely, as I have just started tutoring on our second full-time, 100% CELTA course and wanted to make adjustments and improvements to our own course in response to:

  • recent recommendations from Cambridge Assessment English
  • CELTA assessor suggestions
  • previous candidates’ feedback
  • results of a brief, facebook survey I sent to teacher trainers (60 responses)

but most importantly for the following reasons:

  • The certificate awarded at the end of the course is exactly the same as for the face to face and the blended formats – there is no mention of the delivery format on the certificate.
  • The same criteria have to be met by candidates in order to pass the course.
  • The candidates, although studying and teaching 100% online, need to be prepared to teach in both online and face to face contexts post-course.
  • Employers will expect candidates to have the essential skills to teach in both online and face to face classrooms.

You can find our conclusions and ideas for achieving these in this table I have compiled:

Note from Sandy: the table is incredibly comprehensive and is an excellent starting point for anybody planning a CELTA course from this point forward, covering as it does all of the Cambridge recommendations for online courses so far, and lots of tips and ideas from Kate’s own experience and research.

Kate French started her TEFL career in Poland, at IH Bydgoszcz, before moving to Argentina two years later. [Note from Sandy – I didn’t know about that connection before!]
She has worked at International House Belgrano in Buenos Aires since 1995 where she has been ADoS, DoS, In-company Coordinator, and Head of Teacher Training. She is currently DoS and Teacher Trainer, overseeing the online classes during the pandemic and tutoring on the institute’s full and part-time 100% online CELTA courses. Kate is also a Cambridge ESOL and IELTS examiner, and a CELTA assessor.

CELTA trainers, do you have anything you’d add? Change? Questions you have about the online format? It’d be great to get a discussion going!

Online CELTA: the trainee perspective (guest post – Nadia)

Nadia Ghauri was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Yawen’s post appeared yesterday). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Nadia!

Make no mistake, doing the CELTA course ‘online’ did not make it any less ‘intense’! In fact, that will eternally remain one of the defining features of this course. Initially, when I was notified that the course would be moving online, I was a little hesitant. I was looking forward to meeting people ‘in real life’ and the physical classroom experience. I quickly came to realise, however, that it was becoming increasingly important to develop my skills in a virtual environment. No one can predict what the world will look like at the other end of the pandemic, including the world of EFL teaching. I realised it was important to be as open-minded as possible to adapting and learning about how I can do things from my own home. What’s more, the ‘virtual’ teaching skills and knowledge that I am now equipped with are, of course, transferrable to physical workspaces. The spectrum of lifelong communicative, organisational and planning skills will be useful for any career path that I pursue.

 

One of my biggest tips for doing the online CELTA is to keep organised and arrange your notes every evening. The CELTA trainee guide that is emailed before the course suggests 12 headings for notes. I naively thought this was a bit much…only to find myself adding ‘Assignments’ and subfolders too! Although I had a physical folder I did not use it much and just shoved in a few odd papers. Bookmarking also becomes your new best friend. Back your computer’s files onto a cloud or a memory stick as this avoids any scares when technology decides to mess with you. Having named folders from the get-go made it a lot easier to sift through my notes when doing assignments and uploading documents to the Cambridge ‘moodle’. It also means that when I start teaching and want to get hold of a useful resource, it will be easier to navigate through the abundant materials that the trainers generously shared with us.

Secondly, a huge tip is recognise that the virtual CELTA is both a personal and shared learning curve! You’re meant to be making mistakes from start to finish. I remember in week 3 when I switched to teaching the Upper Intermediate group I suddenly felt that the progress I had built up in the first two weeks had come crashing down. In fact, this was an integral part of my personal growth which also helped other trainees to learn about what sorts of things they should do or avoid. There’s also the notorious technical issues to which we have to adapt. I had my fair share of breakout room backfires but as a result I’m a lot more confident in using them and think they’re essential for group learning! The change in both students and TP tutor halfway through stretched me in new and different ways that further enriched my learning experience. It was also more reflective of real-life teaching because it’s inevitable that at some point you will teach different levels, have to work with new staff and adapt to different kinds of problems. Being exposed to different teaching methods and feedback styles widens our understanding of ourselves, each other and the demands of teaching. Spoiler alert – in week 4 there is no magical moment where everyone’s lessons culminate in perfection (though I did find all 5 of my fellow trainees’ final lessons marvellous). However, it was amazing to look back and see just how much progress we had made in less than a month! The CELTA course gives you the firm foundations for teaching English, but it for us to decide how we build upon these! Learning to teach is an experiential process that I don’t think ever ends. The trainers are there to help you and now I realise that sometimes when they pushed us, it was because they wanted to get the best out of us! I was so grateful for the time and support my trainers gave me, especially when I emailed them at some rather unholy hours!

My third tip is to take time out! When doing a virtual course there is an extra strain on us because we are sat in front of a screen hours on end. I found a number of great yoga videos on YouTube for stretching out afterwards. I also avoided screen-time as much as possible in my precious free time. CELTA also floods you with a lot of information day in day out. Our brains need time to process this, so try and get a decent night’s sleep! (Admittedly, I started having CELTA-themed dreams week 2 onwards!) On the weekends I would meet up with friends, go for a run or cycle just so that that I could have a bit of a breather physically and mentally. It’s also a great idea to have a WhatsApp group with fellow trainees. As we weren’t all physically in the same place, it was a lot harder to socialise compared to normal or know how others were finding the course. At the start in particular, I couldn’t tell if it was just me or not who was feeling quite overwhelmed with the workload. Reaching out to others and having a small chat with them beyond the training hours is a good way to build up a super support system and to boost morale!

One of the biggest things I have enjoyed is the opportunity to have met and worked with trainees and learners living across the globe be it Peru, Poland, Kyrgyzstan or Hong Kong! Meeting all sorts of wonderful people is definitely one of the biggest perks of doing the course. You may even be lucky enough to get 18 people across 3 different time zones singing happy birthday to you (at least we can blame bandwidth for it being a little off-key…!) Overall, the online CELTA has been an invaluable experience and I am excited to see where it takes me and my fellow trainees.

Nadia has recently finished her BA in languages. Fuelled by tea, she loves trying out new foods, meeting people and discovering new places, preferably all at the same time!

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Online CELTA: the trainee perspective (guest post – Yawen)

Yawen Jin was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Nadia’s post will appear tomorrow). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Yawen!

My experience

I heard before I started CELTA that I could only sleep three hours a day on average during the four weeks. Therefore, I felt very complicated feelings. I signed up and tried to pass the interview because I had great expectations for CELTA, but at the same time, I was afraid that I would not survive. A friend even told me that on the first day of her face-to-face CELTA course last year, one of her classmates left the class crying because of stress and never went on with the class. Maybe what she said was exaggerated, but after experiencing it, I also felt that the course intensity, homework and lesson preparation content were quite a lot. However, in the end, I did it, and the rest of my classmates also did it. It has been proven that if you attend classes well, participate in discussions, help each other, complete tasks on time and do what trainers suggest you do, you can and you will survive. So, there is nothing to worry about. There will be nothing to lose by taking this course, and there will be a lot of growth for each of trainee.

Now, let’s talk about my experience over the last four weeks. The first two days of the first week I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I used to feel anxious in order not to feel too much pressure. Therefore, I rechecked my schedule, reviewed the input lessons, confirmed what I had to do, and right after I had done these three steps, i.e. I made a detailed plan, and then the pressure came on me. It took me a long time to prepare for one lesson, often up to eight hours to make a high-quality PowerPoint and write a lesson plan. It was often necessary for me to stay up until three in the morning, sleep for about five hours, and continue on with a full day of classes. Besides, there were one or two assignments (four in total) to be written every week, and the first weekend I had no rest at all. Even when I was sleeping, the dream was about how to prepare for the class and there were fragments of the input classes.

At the beginning of second week, I felt my mental and physical state was very bad, so I asked two classmates to talk about it. Because there was no private communication before, I didn’t know what other students were like and how they felt about the course. But after the communication, I found that everyone was happy to help each other, such as sending me the methods and websites to relieve mental stress and improve sleep quality. In fact, I found my classmates who looked very energetic had to work very late as well, but they had been working very hard. I felt that even though we were attending classes online, we were all in a group rather than a single person. Then I became more and more accustomed to CELTA’s rhythm, and the time for class preparation was reduced. After each teaching practice, the trainer and other trainees need to give comments on each class. Often the evaluation contained a lot of affirmation and encouragement, and also included objective suggestions. In this process, everyone had more confidence. For example, in the beginning many of us felt that they have little strengths, and lots of weaknesses, but after some time we thought we actually had some advantages. For me, when I was in the third TP, I suddenly released myself and no longer felt nervous. Others commented that they found the strength of my personal charm and self-confidence. This is due to my every effort and every encouragement and recognition from my lovely trainer and trainees in the team. (Another important point is that I learned a lot of useful information and skills from the daily input lessons, and then used them in my own TP, which often produced some good responses.)

By the third week, each group had to change a trainer. The new trainer of our group is a very energetic person who loves education and is willing to discuss and solve problems. (The owner of this blog, Sandy :p) Her requirements were more strict than the previous trainer, which made our workload heavier. And in my observation of her classes, I could say that student-centered teaching method achieved the best degree in my opinion. That is to let the students learn by themselves or let students help each other to learn then achieve the learning outcome. When I was learning educational theory in the uni, I knew the benefits of such a teaching concept and thought I could do it if I wanted to. But after the first two weeks of TP, I tried to spend more student-time each time, thinking that I did quite well, and it seemed that STT might not be added any more. But her demo lesson made me stop being self-satisfied and feel that there was so much to improve. For the first TP in the third week, I agonized for three days but still didn’t reduce the TTT much. Then I communicate with her for a while, she found out I give yourself too much pressure, so she gave me some advice on her experience and her, and told me she had also frets about how to reduce TTT in the past and every step grows through experience. The most important point is that this course values the growth of each trainee, so do not be too anxious.

Therefore, I tried to prepare for the class with a relaxed mood. Although it took a lot of time to increase STT, I made great progress. It should be mentioned that after the members of our group gradually got used to the new trainer, everyone’s growth was remarkable, that is, the so-called strict teacher produced brilliant students. And as the team members got more familiar with each other, everyone was supporting each other and cheering each other on. Although the first half of the third week seemed to be harder than the first week, the rest of the one and a half week were very happy. It is no exaggeration to say that up to the last stage, I felt sad for the end of the course, because this praiseworthy experience, the good atmosphere of mutual support and the fact that I enjoyed every day of lesson preparation and teaching, they made me feel happy and fulfilled.

There are a lot of details to remember these four weeks. First of all, the three trainers were very patient and supportive, and they encouraged trainees to deal with the problem actively and they shared a lot of resources. They all have different teaching styles, and we can learn different teaching methods from their courses. It should be mentioned that in these four weeks they were offering help and support to each trainee. Secondly, even if trainees are from different countries, different cultures and different languages, we always cheer each other on. We were happy to share our own stories, sometimes also talked about our own country’s culture, future plans and interesting views. It’s an amazing experience and I’m sure everyone learned a different kind of wisdom. For example, I feel the power of others to believe in their dreams, and also found different life attitudes. It was all fun and gave me courage. Thirdly, it’s important to believe in yourself. At the beginning of the course, it is necessary to adapt to the pace, but after the initial adaptation period, everything will become more interesting. As long as you can find the fun, it won’t be as difficult as you thought. In the end, you will be glad to have taken such a valuable course. I do love CELTA and the people I met in it.

Tips

  1. Do exactly what trainers say

The trainers are experienced teachers, you can discuss questions with them (because there is no standard answer for some questions). But in the general direction, especially the suggestions for improvement must be followed (just my suggestion). This will definitely help you progress faster and more efficiently.

  1. Manage your time and materials

You need to be clear about your goals and plans for each week to help save time. You also need to organize your documents every day, whether it’s printed or in a folder on your computer. It’s important to keep your documents in order!

  1. Prepare the materials you need

I bought books that might be useful (including Teaching English Pronunciation, Grammar for English Language Teachers and Learning Teaching) before the course started. In this way, I won’t be in a hurry when I need materials (in fact, I don’t need to buy any books myself. The trainer has distributed the resources we needed, but I like reading paper books). Prepare white board, white paper and notebook at the same time.

  1. Watch your diet and sleep

When you’re in a high-intensity class, not eating well only makes your body feel more uncomfortable, and you don’t get as little sleep as the rumored average of three hours. The time required to write each assignment is not ten hours, but three to six hours is enough if you concentrate (and even less if you are a native English speaker).

  1. Find some help and don’t be alone

People under high pressure tend to be mentally fragile. If only a person silently thinking and suffering, will only make themselves more painful. Communicating with other trainees will help you solve problems, maybe help you with practical problems like preparing for class, or maybe relieve pressure. People will meet different difficulties, and it’s helpful to try to ask for help. Me, in particular, had planned to learn and digest the stress on my own from the beginning, so I felt extremely anxious. But it’s much better to talk to someone.

I’m Yawen Jin. I have been teaching young learner English in an educational institution for two years. I then completed a master’s degree in Education Studies at the University of York, followed by CELTA in July 2020. In the future, I will continue to engage in the English teaching industry that I love.

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Professional Development beyond CELTA (guest post)

When a Twitter account called What they don’t teach you on CELTA started to pop up on my stream I was intrigued. Looking at their tweets, it seemed they were trying to fill the gap in post-CELTA development that I’m hoping ELT Playbook 1 also helps with. This is one of my main areas of interest for all the reasons Chris Russell describes below, so I was very pleased when he agreed to share the story behind the site and the Twitter account with us. Thanks Chris!

As for many of us, lockdown has been a strange time for me. Along with some colleagues, I’ve spent most of it furloughed and with a desire to do something productive with all that time on my hands. Fortunately, my colleague Stephen, an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and examiner, identified a problem waiting to be solved.

He got a few of us together on Zoom and asked us to think back to our early days of teaching, and all those moments we cringe at: the overly-ambitious lesson plan; the activities that fell flat; the grammar explanations that confused more than helped. CELTA and equivalents are great courses, but there’s only so much that’s possible within the confines of a month-long course. They should be one of the first steps on a journey in learning to teach, but for many it seems that their professional development doesn’t progress much after it.

As we thought of those moments, we wondered if there was a way of others finding a kind of shortcut. Especially those not lucky enough to work in a school with a supportive manager and opportunities for professional development. For teachers who have some experience, but aren’t ready to be thinking about doing a Delta or Master’s yet. We toyed with a couple of names, but ultimately settled on What they don’t teach you on the CELTA.

The name is a little tongue-in-cheek, and not intended as a criticism of CELTA per se, but an acknowledgment of its limitations. It can’t teach you everything. Cambridge are quite open about this: it falls under the ‘foundation to developing’ stage of their teaching framework, rather than ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’. We also noted the number of job opportunities that simply require a CELTA-qualified candidate, without asking for relevant experience or offering sufficient support to newly-qualified teachers, perpetuating the myth that CELTA is the final destination, rather than a first step, in ELT.

So, with our combined experience as teachers, teacher trainers, DoSes and language learners, we got writing, trying to help others benefit from our experience. We thought about what we wish someone had told us in our first years in the classroom, from the websites we now can’t imagine living without to knowing how to deal with classroom cliques. We’ve also thought about the things we do in class now, almost as second nature, like correcting students effectively and dealing with being observed. We don’t intend to imply that none of what we discuss is actually covered on any CELTA courses! However, expecting trainees to retain all that knowledge from such an intensive course doesn’t seem realistic, and so we hope some reinforcement will prove useful.

We know there are lots of other resources out there, but we don’t feel there are enough aimed at this audience – likely time-poor (planning and teaching 25 hours is a very tough ask at first!) and in need of a bit of guidance. The industry churns out lots of CELTA graduates, but how many really last in ELT? I’ve seen some have an initial unfulfilling year and never return – could some more support and development have helped them have a better time and retained them? Those staffroom tears and breakdowns that I’m sure many of us have seen really shouldn’t be the norm. I’ve also seen plenty of teachers with many years of experience, but whose teaching ability seems to have stagnated early, doing a disservice to their students and perhaps limiting their job satisfaction.

A blog certainly won’t solve all those issues but we hope to provide some help as well as to start a conversation around this issue within the industry. If nothing else, writing it has helped us reflect on our journeys within ELT and been a mixture of interesting and cathartic, emphasising the good that can come out of blogging and reflection – another important tool in professional development!

Chris Russell is a CELTA- and Delta-qualified English language teacher who has been working in ELT for 8 years in the UK, Spain and Poland. He recently took on the role of school director at Alba English in Edinburgh. He blogs with some colleagues at https://notoncelta.com and tweets at @ChrisRussellELT.

Online CELTA week 2: settling in

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week two. Here’s week one.

Do you feel you have bonded with the group in the way that you would on a face-to-face course?

SM: As I am working on a large course and have not done very many input sessions, I feel like I only really know my TP group. This is not that unusual for a CELTA course in my experience, as you spend so much more time with the teachers you are observing.

I observed sessions on the first two days because I didn’t have any input until Wednesday of week one. This was partly to see how online input sessions might work, but also to give me an idea of all of the trainees because I suspected this might be an issue. I have also talked to the other trainers about all of the trainees, so I feel I know a little about them. However it’s nowhere near as much as if it was face-to-face because you don’t have those little chats in between sessions.

I noticed when I was doing the first input session of the week that when I went in to break out rooms for the first group task, the teachers were having a chat about their weekend (input morning, TP afternoon). I think that the first session should perhaps include an opportunity for the trainees to chat with each other as they are missing that on this course – social time needed. ask us for extensions – CELTA is not the end of the world

 

On the other hand, I feel like I know my TP group better than normal because we are dealing with their everyday lives in the background. For example, we have talked about their children when we’ve seen or heard them, and discussed things you can see in their home behind them.

SW: That was one of my big surprises of the week – we ARE bonding. There’s almost more intimacy because you’re staring at each other’s faces and there’s no escape. We have TP in the morning and input in the afternoons. I normally open up breakout rooms 15 minutes before the first session. I leave my camera on so they know I’m still there but have my mike off. That was especially important this week when I was supporting trainees through the challenges of the end of week two. They can chat together, but they know whether I’m at the computer or not so are aware that I might be listening.

Week two is often exhausting and overwhelming, both for the trainees and the trainers. In one input session towards the end of the week, I gave the trainees thirty minutes to vent and to share with each other. Some of them had got to the stage where they didn’t want to have their cameras of microphones on because they were so overwhelmed. I let them talk to each other, but also encouraged them, and reminded them to wait until they’d slept to make any big decisions about what they’d do next. This point in the course is always challenging, and we were still able to help each other. 

How do you stay connected to your co-trainer(s)?

SM: What I miss most is socialising with the other trainers during the course though – I’m normally ‘on holiday’ while doing the course, using the opportunity to explore a new place. My co-trainers are either in the same position, or (adopted) locals who are happy to show me around. However, there are lots of similarities to a face-to-face course. It’s the first time I’ve worked with both of my colleagues, though they’ve often worked together before. As a freelancer joining a course, I always have lots of questions. tech support + making templates, I enjoy the fact that (as in any good team) we’re able to share the different areas of knowledge. My co-trainers have done the course online before and are much more experienced CELTA trainers in general. I can bring my experience of teaching on Zoom over the last few months, and my confidence with technology.

Our trainees are all teaching pre-intermediate using the same TP points. During lessons, we can WhatsApp to discuss the lessons if we need to. This is made much easier because we’re all watching the ‘same’ lessons at the same time – we don’t need to describe the TP points to each other. We’ve also started sharing other things in WhatsApp: photos out the window, bits of information about what we’re doing in the evening, or what we did yesterday – all the things you would normally chat about. 

SW: I’ve worked with my colleague on one course before, and I trained him up originally, so we know a bit about how we both work. We have one online meeting a week, and keep in touch on WhatsApp apart from that. This feels quite different to the constant communication you have on a face-to-face course, every time you’re in the trainers’ office before, after and between TPs. It also feels different outside work, as part of the experience of being a freelancer generally includes socialising with other freelancers, as Sandy described above.

What effect has being online had on your input sessions?

SM: In the first week I only had two input sessions and one video observation with a few minutes for a little input afterwards. I did two phonology sessions which I decided to completely rewrite. This obviously took a while! I based it on mistakes I had observed in the demo lessons with the pronunciation of the words ‘squirrel’ and ‘bear’. I think I will share these input sessions on the blog soon as I was very pleased with how they worked – to time, hitting all the important points, and having a noticeable effect in my trainees’ TPs. 🙂 

This week I had a session on vocabulary which I had also rewritten because my views on what it is important to know about in the vocabulary session have changed in the last couple of years since I did the input my previous CELTA course. This took me 4 hours on Sunday night, creating new materials for the session, getting bogged down in materials from old versions of it, overplanning it, then boiling it down and writing the handout. Then the first two activities both took twice as long as planned, so I ended up ditching two activities anyway. I still think the trainees came away with most of what they needed as the two things that went were a revision of lesson stages and planning activities from upcoming lessons (though obviously it would have been nice to still have these).

 

The other input session I have done is authentic materials, and I did that largely as I would in the classroom, using the same presentation, but with breakout rooms for discussions, including a jigsaw discussion. I did this by renaming the breakout rooms (Pros 1, Pros 2, Cons 1, Cons 2 etc.), handwriting a list of names for who they needed to pair up with afterwards and then manually creating the rooms for the second round. Normally I would have a carousel of authentic materials around the room for the final stage and trainees would move from one to the next. We normally have about 30 minutes for this. This week we had 15 minutes because everything takes a little longer on Zoom. I set up a Google doc which you can see here. The trainees could find any authentic materials that they had in their homes or online, and I could give them immediate feedback because I could move from one group to the next and see everything they were writing in the document very quickly without having to decipher handwriting! I could add and highlight comments which they could deal with when they were ready, rather than interrupting the discussions. I think this worked really well, and took a lot less time to plan than the other input sessions.

I’ve been lucky to be able to take my time with my planning because it’s a large course so inputs are shared between three of us. I think it would have been a lot more exhausting on a smaller course, and I’m not sure I’d have had the luxury to change as much (though there have still been some late nights!)

SW: This week I realised that most of my input sessions were entirely paper-based. I’ve often travelled for courses so I took my folder of input sessions with me. I kept thinking of digitalising them, but never did, and now I’ve been forced to. I always had some online sessions, but mostly what I’ve been doing is turning paper versions into digital versions – it’s a lot of work to turn them into something that functions online. It can be a challenge having everything ready for the input in time.

Having said that, it’s been really interesting to try and keep activities like mingles and different grouping as part of the session. You can still make it quite interactive. Sometimes I thought of ways I could do some of these things, but they would be way more energy than they’re worth for the return on them. One thing that worked really well was in the functional language session. Normally I would cut up exponents, functions and contexts for trainees to match in a mingle, then sit with their partner. This time I gave each group one column each, and they came up with the other two. They were really engaged with this.

For me, the whole process has been great because we can get stuck as trainers doing the same session in the same way for a long time, and this becomes repetitive. This is a chance to rethink all of our sessions – we have no choice. The content is still there, but how are we going to make it into something trainees can learn from in terms of teaching techniques too? 

What are the logistics of observations, especially using breakout rooms?

SM: I’m using a desktop computer with two screens, so have Zoom displayed on one and feedback on the other. When I join the room I’m the host. I make all of the other teachers co-hosts. I ask them to change their names to ‘Teacher XYZ’ and I change mine to ‘Trainer Sandy’ so we’re all grouped on the participants list.

I hand over the host role to the teacher and they make me a co-host. You lose a host role and become a normal participant when you hand it over. Because it is my room I can reclaim the host role if that is a problem but I don’t normally need to do this.

 

When teachers make breakout rooms for students they also divide the observers between the rooms. Only the main host can set up breakout rooms. However if you are a co-host, after you join a breakout room you can see the list of all the rooms and move between them whenever you like. Sometimes I follow the teacher to see what they see, and sometimes I stay in the rooms separately to see what problems students have with the activity and whether this is because of them or because of the teacher. By staying in one room with the breakout room list open, you can also get a feel for how long the teacher is spending in each room. We have mostly only had two or three rooms in the lessons I’ve observed.

If there haven’t been many students, I’ve suggested that we stay in the main room, but the teacher switches off their camera and microphone to give the students space to do the task alone. In feedback, we discuss what would happen if you’ve got 10 students and how this would influence the lesson, for example how feedback stages need to be different on returning from a breakout room.

 

During the break between each lesson, the teacher hands over the host row to the next picture. Teacher to then makes teacher one a co-host. At first I needed to remind them to do this but by the end of this week, they were doing it confidently without my intervention.

SW: I’m observing on a tablet and using my laptop to type feedback. I think the functions are more limited on a tablet, though I’m wondering if I can change that and will try again to move around the groups next week.

Trainees always put me in a BOR to see what the students are doing. I stay in the same room because of my tablet. I’ve noticed that trainees are monitoring well and coming in and out regularly to check in with students. When our class sizes are quite small, we have conversations about dealing with limited numbers of students. I suggested that teachers put students in breakout rooms as private time, but pop in and see how they do. Maybe next week I could suggest that students stay in the main room but the teacher puts themself in a breakout room to give the students space.

I didn’t specify what to do with the other trainees while teachers are first learning what to do with Zoom. It cant be overwhelming thinking about what to do with breakout rooms when you have so many people to deal with. I told teachers to put TT in capital letters after their name to help teachers see who is and isn’t a student. I think the mid-course changeover is a good time to change this, and get them to start putting observers into rooms too. 

What good things have happened this week?

SM: Because everything is typed on our course, preparing stage 1 tutorials was very easy. I normally type them anyway, adapting them from my typed feedback. On this course I could make a single table with strengths and action points and copy things across from TP feedback ready to edit them. Instead of trying to make them fit into the little box in the CELTA 5 booklet when you print them out and mess about with scissors and glue, it took about 5 minutes to copy and paste all of the information across to the portfolio on Moodle.

Over the course of the week, the trainees have started to hand over control more to the students. This normally happens at this point on a CELTA course, but I still think it’s worth mentioning because of a comment from one trainee in TP prep. She said ‘But I just want to teach them!’ when we were discussing how to help students with new vocabulary without presenting each item one at a time before doing an exercise (something which I’ve never seen suggested as an approach on CELTA, but which about half of trainees do themselves despite being explicitly told not to!). This reminded me again of the long shadow that the apprenticeship of observation casts over new teachers. We talked about how there are many ways to teach and lecturing is just one of them. The TP prep group reflected on when it is they learn best, and whether this comes from having something explained to them or trying it themselves, finding solutions, making mistakes, and getting feedback. The conclusion was that the latter is better, and I started to see the effect of this towards the end of the week. I think one problem is that the teachers haven’t seen very much of other models yet, because they’re only in week 2 of the course and they probably have thousands of hours of lecturing to contend with. This is an area I want to continue to think about.

 

The final interesting thing from this week and the one I’m most impressed by on the part of the trainees came from a 10-minute discussion about the use of the word ‘good’ at the end of feedback on Tuesday. During TP feedback, they have been writing notes about each teacher from that day. The word ‘good’ appeared 24 times in about 450 words of comments in our Google Doc on Tuesday, including 5 times in consecutive comments for one teacher. We discussed how as feedback it’s not very useful because it’s not specific enough. We also talked about what kind of comments you would make if that was a problem and contrasted the two approaches, and also talked about the value of specific feedback for students. Their feedback has always been pretty great for the stage of the course they were at, but the next day the difference made me so excited I jumped up and down at the computer. 🙂 On Wednesday, it appeared 17 times (12 from one pair of teachers!) in about 620 words of comments from all six trainees on three lessons – it had been replaced by really valuable, insightful feedback. They had noticed so many specific things, and were able to describe them in a beautiful level of detail which I have rarely seen even at the end of a CELTA course. They also inevitably noticed things I had not seen. We discussed this change afterwards and the trainees said that because they knew that they needed to put specific examples and not just write ‘good’, they were paying much closer attention throughout the lessons.

SW: The way the trainees supported each other when one trainee was talking about quitting mid-week was amazing. The chat lit up – they were all sending her fantastically supportive messages.If that had happened in person, I’m not sure everyone would have said something to her. Everyone can join in, including the quieter people. The online element could allow for more communication between trainees in difficult situations. The bonding and the support and commiseration over where they all were and how they were all feeling on Thursday continued on Friday – they opened up and were really greeting each other at the start of Friday’s sessions. 

The other great thing that happened on Thursday and Friday was the moment in the course when you see trainees break bad habits they’ve been getting feedback on, something clicks and they succeed. This is not unique to being online – it always happens at this point in the course. There was so much of that at the end of the week. Watching them gain confidence because of that, contributing more, growing and transforming as people and teachers is fantastic. It’s difficult to understand if you don’t experience or see it, and trying to persuade potential trainees of this at interview and earlier in the course can be a challenge. As a trainer, you have to keep trainees with you and encourage them not to give up, trying to convince them that the stress and struggle is normal for this point in the course. Other people have done this before, and you can do it too. And the trainee who was thinking about quitting? She taught an amazing TP on Friday. She’d got some of the stress out of her system, received an outpouring of support, and came back super strong with a great lesson.

What problems have you had this week and how have you solved them?

SM: Last week I mentioned that I was surprised at how few technical problems I had had. I spoke too soon! This week I had a power cut at the end of feedback, luckily when I was only speaking to two teachers about assignment questions and we’d pretty much finished. However I’d made a recording of the feedback session for a teacher who had to leave earlier and I thought I had lost this. Zoom recording only converts into a file when you close the room. I was very happy to find that when I restarted Zoom the next morning the recording was still there. Thank you Zoom!

 

I also got kicked out of Zoom randomly for two or three minutes during one TP. I didn’t miss anything important, but it made me realize that I could end up missing quite a lot. I told the trainees that if any of them noticed that I’m not in the room, they should press record straight away. Only a host or a co-host can record a meeting, and you have to have this function turned on in the settings. Luckily the meeting doesn’t end if you get kicked out and it’s your Zoom room. Somebody else is randomly allocated the host role if you are still the host. When you rejoin the meeting, you need to ask the teacher to make you a co-host again.

A couple of students have dropped out because of internet, but normally immediately come back. Some have to leave early because of work – but slightly changing numbers during TPs is normal on any course.

SW: I tell trainees to sit closer to the router if they have a connection problem. One trainee has to sit next to the router as it was on a different floor in her house. That seems to be working.

Another trainee has had technical problems and has been finding workarounds to avoid excessive teacher talk. For example, she has somebody else play the listening and/or downloads the listening so it’s not using as much bandwidth. This is reflective of the kind of real-life problems trainees will have to deal with in the classroom and online after the course, and at least now they have the support to help them resolve them.

My internet kept dropping out in one particular input session and I have no idea why. I sat by the router and it was much better. It’s the same as in the classroom – when there’s a problem, you give the trainees something to do while you try and resolve it. I was setting up an assignment, so told them to keep reading it if I dropped out again and ask me questions whenever I made it back.

What other tips do you have?

SM: Write down all of the Zoom codes that you need in a clear table on a piece of paper which you can keep next to your computer. This is invaluable when moving quickly between rooms, for example when input has finished and TP prep is about to start. The main course tutor sends out links for TP each morning to all the trainees.

 

I train my trainees on any course to name their files consistently. When you have a lot of computer files appearing in your inbox every day you can waste a lot of time trying to work out which generic plan belongs to which teacher. The formula I always use is TP1 Bob lesson plan, TP1 Bob materials, TP1 Bob feedback, etc. It keeps all of the files together in a logical order, and makes it easier when sending them back to the trainees. Shared screen to show them why this is useful/important to me

SW: I have all of the Zoom codes on a post-it notes. Going into the week 3 changeover, we’ll send out one email with all the links so everybody has the links in one place

Get as much done ahead of time as you can. This is particularly true of planning input, especially if you’ve previously done things in a paper-based way.

Above all, enjoy the process of thinking about and discovering new things, and rethinking old things in a new way. Don’t try to make the course exactly what it is face-to-face. Keep the integrity and standards of course, but remember that it’s a different environment. Just as you would as a freelancer moving between schools, you’re doing the course in a different place, each of which has pros and cons. You ask yourself: How does it work in this centre? When you teach somebody else’s timetable, you look how things change when they’re in a different order. So treat this in the same way: look how things change when you do them online. It really refreshes your practice. Enjoy the advantages – they do exist! 

WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE US TO TALK ABOUT?

Thank you to those who commented on last week’s post here and elsewhere – I hope we’ve been able to answer your questions. Let us know what else you’d like us to discuss in the comments below.

How to write CCQs (concept checking questions)

As every CELTA trainee knows, a CCQ is a Concept Checking Question. What they often don’t know is how to approach writing them. They can be the bane of trainees’ lives and they took me a long time to get my head around. Don’t worry if it takes you time as well. Here’s my advice for how to go about it.

Step 1: Research the language

Vocabulary

Choose a marker sentence containing the vocabulary in context.

Look up the word/phrase in a good Learner’s Dictionary, for example:

Even better, look it up in two or three and compare the definitions. Write them all down. You’ll need these later.

Make sure you are checking the same meaning as the one you are teaching. For example, ‘ages’ in the sentence ‘It took me ages.’ is not the same as in the sentence ‘The Iron and Stone Ages were a long time ago.’

Grammar

Identify two or three ‘marker sentences’ from the context which make the use of the grammar clear.

Use the language information in the course book you are using to learn about the grammar point at the appropriate level for your students. There may also be extra information at the end of the course book unit, in the final sections of the course book, and/or in the teacher’s book or work book. Use the information you find to write the meaning or use of the grammar point in your own words. Aim not to use the grammar points in your explanation. For example, if you are explaining the present perfect don’t use the present perfect in your explanation. 

If you want to beef up your understanding or the course book is confusing you, use a grammar book designed for teachers. I recommend Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener (Amazon, BEBC) and Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott (Amazon). Both of these will tell you about problems students might have with the grammar point, and suggest some ideas for CCQs. A new book aimed at helping new teachers with grammar is Learning to Teach Grammar by Simon Haines (Amazon, Delta, BEBC) – I haven’t used the book, but the previews look like it would be incredibly useful. [All Amazon links are affiliate links in this paragraph.]

As with vocabulary, be careful to research the exact area of the grammar which you are teaching to the students. For example, present continuous for actions in progress and for future arrangements are two different areas of meaning which need two different explanations (and therefore CCQs) when you first start teaching grammar.

Step 2: Boil it down

Take your definitions of the vocabulary item or your explanation of the grammar. Reduce it to two to four key words or concepts that you express in as few words as possible. Occasionally you need more than four, but this is very unusual. Here are some examples.

Vocabulary

It took me ages to understand CCQs.

I eventually understood CCQs.

  • Oxford definition: at the end of a period of time or a series of events
  • Cambridge definition: in the end, especially after a long time or a lot of effort, problems, etc.
  • Macmillan definition: at the end of a process or period of time in which many things happen
  • My reduction: at the end, after a long time

finally understood CCQs.

Grammar

I’m going to meet my mum tonight.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided before I speak
  • In my head, not my diary

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my head

I’m meeting my mum later.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided before I speak
  • In my diary (probably)

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my diary

I’ll meet you later.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided now (as I speak)

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided now

If you’re struggling with this process when describing tenses, it can help to change the verb to another tense and think about the difference between the new and the old sentence. As you can see in the examples above, there are subtle differences which hold most of the time (often enough for you to help students understand them!) 

Step 3: Make your questions

Look at the keywords you have created. Turn them into questions (sometimes easier said than done!)

The easiest questions to create are yes/no questions, but I don’t believe that the learners necessarily process the language if they only answer yes or no. I prefer questions which get the students to repeat the keywords I have identified to summarize that area of language. The best CCQs:

  • Are as short as possible. Don’t be polite or bury the question in unnecessary fluff: get to the point.
  • Are in the present simple or past simple.
  • Don’t contain the target language! (So no present perfect in your question about the present perfect.)
  • Use only language below the level of the students.
  • Require thought to answer.
  • Can be endlessly reused every time you check the meaning of that grammar point or vocabulary area.
  • Can clearly show the difference between similar grammar points in an unequivocal way with only slight variations (see below).
  • Are in a logical order starting from the biggest part of the meaning and moving to the most specific. Consider it like a flowchart, with each CCQ taking you on a different path, leading to a different tense/word choice (Read the examples below, then read that bullet point again if it didn’t make sense on your first pass!)

Here are examples taken from the key words above. Always keep your target language in a marker sentence to make the questions clearer.

Vocabulary

Decide if the word can be shown with a picture or an item of realia, or demonstrated through mime. If so, stop here. However, you might want to use one or two CCQs to supplement the picture or the mime to clarify the boundaries of the meaning e.g. the difference between ‘chair’ and ‘armchair’.

The three example words I’ve selected can’t be easily shown using any of these methods, though a timeline or gesture or series of words (don’t understand, don’t understand, don’t understand, understand!) might help to emphasise the idea of a long time. That means it’s important to have CCQs in case a student is confused about how to use the word.

It took me ages to understand CCQs.

  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
  • (optional) Is ‘ages’ more formal or more informal? More informal.

I eventually understood CCQs after reading this blogpost.

  • Did I understand at the start or the end? At the end.
  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.

I feel like I finally understand CCQs.

  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
  • Was it easy or difficult for me to understand? (Probably) difficult.

Notice that the order of the questions reflects the order of the concepts in the dictionary definitions. This can be a useful guideline – it works most of the time.

Grammar

I’m going to meet my mum tonight.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
  • Is it in my head or in my diary? In my head.

I’m meeting my mum later.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
  • Is it in my head or in my diary? In my diary.

I’ll meet you later.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Now.

Step 4: Use them when you’re planning

One of my least favourite phrases on a lesson plan from somebody who is new to teaching: “Ask CCQs”. Please please please tell me exactly what you’ll ask and what answers you expect to hear from the students. This is far easier and more efficient than trying to think of them on the spot in the lesson – I still write exact CCQs on my plans now.

Complete any controlled practice exercises yourself which you plan to give the students. For each answer, use the key words you wrote in Step 2 to help you decide why that is the correct answer.

Step 5: Use them in the lesson

You can use CCQs to check if students understand the marker sentences. Make sure that the context the sentence is from is very clear. Don’t use isolated, decontextualised sentences as this will make it harder for the students to answer the questions correctly.

You can also use CCQs to help students decide if they have the correct answers in controlled practice exercises when they are choosing between different words or tenses. Having very short, clear keywords makes this efficient. CCQs which require the students to repeat the key words can reinforce the meaning for the students. This is where including reasons with the controlled practice answers in your planning will make things more efficient in the lesson, and make more learning happen.

In summary

  1. Research the language.
  2. Boil it down.
  3. Write your questions.
  4. Use them when you’re planning.
  5. Use them in your lesson.

Trainers, what other CCQ advice do you give?

Teachers, what other problems do you have with CCQs?

Useful links

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to concept checking both grammar and vocabulary. 

Here’s a fun introduction to CCQs.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar explaining how to create and use CCQs.

Useful links for CELTA is a collection of hundreds of resources to help you during your course.

Mistakes trainees make in CELTA TP (teaching practice)*

*or “5 things no CELTA trainer ever said but which they see on every course!”

Albert Einstein, with 'I didn't say that' in meme font

Please don’t do these things! Read on to find out what to replace them with and why.

Spend 10 minutes lecturing students about grammar

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.

If you’re not confident with this area of grammar, the task might be asking them to match rules to examples, with all of the examples taken from a clear context introduced earlier in the lesson. Often this is what a grammar box does in a coursebook (a light version of guided discovery), if you’re using one. Focus on the form, drill pronunciation, and give them controlled and freer practice activities. This is called present-practice-produce or PPP. While it’s not always the most efficient way of teaching language, students can still benefit providing they get enough practice and feedback on their performance.

If you’re a little confident, get students to start with an activity where they have to produce this specific language point. A controlled practice exercise can be turned into a mini test (in a test-teach-test or TTT model), which you can use to find out which parts of the grammar the students are having problems with. Check carefully whether the exercise tests their knowledge of meaning or form, and consider how you can test their pronunciation too. One activity I like is to give them a couple of minutes to say all of the sentences as quickly as possible in pairs. Don’t put them on the spot in open class to do this as that might put them off English for life if they struggle! Once you’ve gathered information about what they can and can’t do, fill in the gaps with your teaching, for example, by revising the negative form only because they’re already OK with the positive form. Test them again at the end of the lesson. This is a good approach because it allows you to target your teaching to the problems they have, instead of the broad brush approach of TTT.

If you’re very confident, give them a fully communicative speaking or writing activity which might lead them to using the target language of your lesson – you can adapt this from a freer practice exercise in the coursebook. An easy example would be having students tell each other a story at the beginning of a lesson on past tenses. You can find out the range of tenses they’re using (only past simple and past continuous? only present tenses?), as well as spot problems with form and pronunciation of the language you’d like to focus on. Then choose one or two grammar (or lexis or pronunciation or discourse) areas to focus on in your teaching to upgrade their language. Give them more opportunities to practice, perhaps with controlled practice, but most importantly with another speaking or writing activity where the focus is on communication, not accuracy of language, but where they can use the definitely use the target language. This is called task-based learning (or TBL), and is a useful approach because the focus is primarily on communication using all of the language resources at students’ disposal, not only using the specific target language the teacher has chosen for today.

Present all vocabulary items separately before students do their first vocabulary exercise

This might feel like you’re being helpful, but it removes all of the challenge from the vocabulary exercise, generally takes a long time, and reduces the opportunities students have to struggle a little, make mistakes, and get feedback – where the real learning happens. If we’re not struggling, we’re not learning.

Instead, let the students have a go at the exercise first. If they work alone, give them a chance to compare in pairs before you check their answers with them. Make sure you have analysed the meaning, form and pronunciation of all of the words in your lesson plan, just in case, but you don’t need to go over all of them with the students, only the problem words.

Even better, let the students work in pairs to do the exercise. That way, they can support each other with questions they find challenging and learn from each other. You can also hear them pronouncing the words. When monitoring during the activity, you can identify which words you need to check the meaning of more carefully and which ones you need to drill.

This might mean you go from looking at the meaning, form and pronunciation of eight words, to the meaning of two, the pronunciation of four, and checking the spelling of two other problem words. As you can imagine, this will take a lot less time, and students will be more engaged because it’s only dealing with their problems, instead of going over ground they’ve already covered before. It also means more time for the all important practice and feedback on it.

Read every question from a comprehension exercise aloud before you start the activity

While it’s great that students are aware of the questions before they do the reading/listening activity, this means students are listening to you for a long time. If you’re displaying the activity too, they’re trying to read and listen at the same time, which we normally do at different speeds. While this can help some students, for others it will interrupt their processing and make it harder. If you’re not displaying the questions, the students are trying to work out how much attention they should be paying – should they answer the questions? Remember them? Or what? If you ask students to read out each comprehension question, you’re generally putting them on the spot (they’ve rarely rehearsed) asking them to pronounce things that were meant to be read not spoken, and possibly are quite challenging. Other students are struggling to understand what they’re hearing, and again possibly getting distracted by the written form of the questions.

Instead, if it’s questions for a listening activity, give students 1-2 minutes (depending on how many questions there are) to read the questions in silence. You can give them a little task if you like e.g. underline any words which you’re not sure about. I don’t tend to do this though, as I’ve either already taught them a challenging word or two from the questions, or they’ll ask me themselves if they don’t know it and I’ve built up a relationship of trust and asking questions openly. It might also be worth highlighting the pronunciation of one or two words with strange sound-spelling relationships, such as queue, to prepare learners to notice it in the audio. Then ask learners if they’re ready to listen and play the audio.

If it’s a reading, it’s generally enough to highlight one or two words students might not understand in the questions, trying to elicit the meaning where possible rather than just telling the students. Then let them do the reading – they don’t necessarily need separate time to read all of the questions first.

Drill all the answers

After a reading or listening activity, you don’t need to drill the correct answers as students are answering the questions. It shifts the focus of the stage from ensuring that students all have the correct answers and know why they’re correct, to a pronunciation drill. If they’ve already got an answer with a similar meaning, they’re likely to start doubting themselves. They might not want to volunteer an answer if they’re worried about pronunciation. It can particularly confuse students when you shift back and forth between asking for an answer, drilling a version of it, asking for the next answer, drilling it, etc. as they don’t know what to focus on: the answers or the correct pronunciation?

Instead, make sure the students have all of the correct answers first. Here are a few ways to do this (some of them are Zoom-specific):

  • Teacher nominates students for verbal feedback (what we most commonly see, but this can take a long time and be very teacher-centred)
  • Students nominate each other.
  • All students answer the question verbally. (works well for short answers e.g. a, b)
  • Thumbs up/down if you agree with my answer.
  • Reveal the answers on PowerPoint from behind boxes – one at a time / all at once
  • Move pictures or words to provide visual support to oral feedback.
  • Type on the screen to provide visual support to oral feedback.
  • One student reads out all of the answers, the others say if there are any problems.
  • Display the answers with a couple of mistakes. Students have to find them.
  • Zoom: Type in the chat box – everybody types the same answer at the same time, controlled by the teacher.
  • Zoom: Type in the chat box – 1 student types each answer, e.g. Student A types 1, B types 2, C types 3, etc.
  • Zoom: Use the stamp function in annotate to tick/cross statements. (tell them it’s under ‘view options’ – only on computers, not phones)
  • Zoom: Get students to send answers only to you in the chat using the private message function.
  • Zoom: Students type all the answers, but don’t press enter until you tell them to (especially good for two or three short answers)
  • Zoom: Write longer answers in Google Docs/Padlet, preferably while doing the activity rather than afterwards.

If there were any major pronunciation problems which really impeded communication, make a note of them and go back to them once the students have all of the correct answers. If they didn’t impede communication, it’s OK not to worry about them.

The teacher must be in complete control of everything the students say and do throughout the lesson

This includes but is not limited to:

  • Lead ins which are a question and answer session between the teacher and the whole class, with only one student speaking at any one time
  • Long teacher-centred grammar presentations
  • A complete lack of pairwork or groupwork, only whole class, teacher-mediated activities
  • Feedback stages which consist of the teacher nominating each student in turn to basically repeat when they just said during pairwork

While each of these activities may (very!) occasionally be useful, if you never give the students any space or freedom to experiment with the language during the lesson, they won’t learn. Again, if we’re not struggling, we’re not learning. If you try to make sure that everything they ever produce is perfect, some students will shut down completely and stop trying to communicate. If you fully dominate the lesson, the pace often drops, students lose engagement and (particularly with kids and young learners) you start to have problems with classroom management as students don’t want to be there. I once heard this salient reminder from a feedback session (substituting my name for the person concerned): “Remember, Sandy, it’s not the Sandy show. You’re there to help the students, not do the work for them.”

Instead, hand over control to the students as much as possible. Set up pair and group work and monitor from the sidelines, being prepared to help when needed. Do this right from the start of the lesson, and take yourself out of the question. Find other ways to work with grammar (see the first point above). Vary your feedback stages so they’re not as teacher-centred. Let them decide how long activities should take, or choose which game you’re going to play (if they already know a couple). Give them opportunities to make the lessons and the language their own.

(A tiny bit of theory)

If CELTA trainers never tell their trainees to do these things, why do they happen on so many courses? I think I’ve seen all five of these things on every course I’ve done!

My feeling is that the apprenticeship of observation has a lot to do with it. This is a term coined by Dan Lortie in 1975 describing the fact that we spend many hours in classrooms as students and therefore form very fixed pre-conceptions of what a teacher should do and be. For many trainees, CELTA is the first time they’ve encountered a student-centred approach to teacher, where the aim is to set up the conditions for students to learn and facilitate activities and practice, rather than lecture them and control everything. When planning a lesson and not sure what to do, trainees are unlikely to remember a minute or two the couple of hours or so of a demo lesson or an observation showing them how we’d suggest they do a particular activity, especially if the trainee doesn’t really believe this is the ‘correct’ way to teach. Instead they fall back on ‘tried and tested’ methods of teacher control, lecturing, and reading aloud and nothing much changes until they get trainer feedback.

I know some trainers try to combat this by doing an early session on the course encouraging trainees to think about what being a good teacher actually means and how we learn both inside and outside the classroom. This helps trainees to uncover their beliefs and begin to question them straight away. I’d be interested to know what other ideas people have for resolving this issue, or at least bringing it to light as quickly as possible.

Online CELTA week 1: Compare and contrast

On Monday 6th July I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences over the next few weeks. This is a long post as it sets the scene, but hopefully the others will be a little shorter!

What’s your previous experience with CELTA?

Sandy speaking at InnovateELT Barcelona

SM: I’ve been a CELTA tutor since August 2014. In 2014-2015 I did courses full-time around the world, and since then I’ve just done courses in the summers in between my other job as a Director of Studies. I didn’t do a course last summer as I started my MA, so my last course was in July 2018. All of the courses I’ve done have been full-time, four-week, face-to-face courses.

Stephanie Wilbur headshot

SW: I became a CELTA tutor in June 2015 and I’ve have been working as a full-time trainer since then. I worked as a Teacher Training Manager from 2016-2017, when I did a course every month. Since then, I have been a freelance teacher trainer working on CELTAs and other training courses in the Middle East, Latin America, Central Asia, the US, and Europe. In that time, I have worked on full-time and part-time CELTA courses, but they have all been face-to-face up to now.

What’s the context?

SM: My course has 18 trainees based in a wide range of locations: the UK, Italy, Andorra, Poland, Romania, Jerusalem and Gibraltar; they’re from the UK, Ireland, China, Italy, Russia, Poland, Romania and Germany. Our students are also from many different countries: Turkey, Brazil, Chile – some living at home, and some based in the UK now. It’s one of the most international courses I’ve worked on. As I’m based in Poland and the course is run from the UK, time zones are a little confusing, and we’ve definitely had one student who’s arrived an hour early because of this! The other two trainers are based in the UK and have previously run online CELTA courses, so I’m definitely benefitting from their experience.

SW: I’m based in Slovakia and working on a course run from Gran Canaria. There are 11 trainees, all based in Gran Canaria as far as I know. They’re from Gran Canaria, Morocco, Poland, the UK, Ireland, Ukraine, and Argentina. Our students are all Spanish from different parts of Gran Canaria, mostly lawyers who are also participating in online courts sometimes have to miss some lessons. They’re mostly in their 30s and 40s. My co-trainer is in Gran Canaria.

How did you originally feel about online CELTAs?

SM: When I first heard about online CELTAs back in March, I was really worried that they would not maintain the standards of the face-to-face course. It’s hard now to put my finger on why, but I think I was worried that the technology was new to most of us as trainers, and we wouldn’t know how to train teachers to use it properly if we weren’t fully confident with it ourselves. I was concerned about how CELTA criteria designed for a physical classroom would map onto an online environment, and I also wasn’t sure how the extra layer of dealing with technology would impact on trainees who already have a lot to get their heads around. I originally felt like CELTAs run fully online should be a separate course with separate certification. As a recruiter, I was concerned that CELTA graduates from online courses would not be ready to stand in front of a classroom full of people and confidently teach them, and that as a school we would have to do a lot of extra training to get them to that point.

SW: Initially, I wasn’t completely sure about whether trainees who’d done courses online would feel fully prepared to teach in a classroom. I feel like a lot of trainers initially thought that online versions of the course wouldn’t be as high quality and we were biased against it. When we realised things weren’t going to change overnight and the world was changing, we started to open our minds more and we started to see what opportunities this situation has to offer. I’m still deciding how I feel about this, but in the near future current CELTA trainees will certainly be more trained for the environment we will probably have to teach in. There’ll be a much more blended world afterwards – we don’t know what level of safety there will be, but more people will teach, work and learn from home. However, the success of the online CELTA will depend on who the trainers are and what they’re bringing to trainees’ attention. Employers need to know what training they have to do after an online course to get teachers ready for the classroom. As trainers, we need to make it clear to trainees how it’ll be different face-to-face.

How do you feel now? Why?

SM: Over the past few months I’ve followed a lot of discussions between CELTA trainers who have been running courses online. I’ve also built up my own experience with Zoom, and learnt a lot from my colleagues at IH Bydgoszcz and other IH schools. I’ve completely changed my mind about CELTAs run fully online, and now know that they’re here to stay. They’ve offered so many people the chance to do the course who wouldn’t normally be able to.

The trainees I’ve seen this week are already better at giving and checking instructions and demonstrating activities than some trainees in week 3 of face-to-face courses I’ve worked on before. Their reflection is already deeper and more productive. They’re more aware of the students right from the start of the course: normally they’re so focussed on what they’re doing as teachers, that they forget the people in front of them. As on every course, the trainees are immediately taking what they learn from observing each other into their lessons the next day, but I feel like it’s happening across the board with the whole group, instead of just the stronger teachers doing this. These are all things I’ve seen reflected in discussions with other trainers.

There are a few possible reasons for this: not having a commute or having to get used to living somewhere new frees up time to focus on the course. Everyone being in their homes means trainees are relaxed, and therefore more able to take in what’s happening in input and feedback. When we observe lessons, our cameras and microphones are off. That means that if you need to stand up and move around, or have a snack, or have an emotional reaction to what’s happening in front of you, you can do it without fear of distracting the teacher. This makes it easier to maintain concentration when you’re observing. Trainees aren’t spending ages cutting things up, fighting with a printer or a copier, or worrying about where *that* bit of paper has disappeared to, so they’ve got more mental space to focus on what’s actually happening in the lesson and what the students are doing. Trainees are also not as aware of or distracted by the other people watching them – instead of looking for the trainer’s reaction to something they’ve just done, they just get on with it. Students might feel more confident too as only one teacher is obviously focussing on them, rather than a rather intimidating seven!

I’ve also really enjoyed the input sessions I’ve done, as I’ve been able to demonstrate various ways to use Zoom, and have also been able to incorporate technology much more easily. For example, when I asked trainees to look at a couple of websites which are useful for learning phonetic symbols, they didn’t have to find and start their laptops before they could explore the sites. Another benefit has been how easy it is to observe my colleagues. I’ve been able to watch a couple of their input sessions and they’ve watched mine, while still being able to get on with other work in the background.

SW: We know this is likely to continue for a long time. The reality might be that these trainees are more prepared for the next year of teaching than traditional teachers who are adjusting, fantastically but have old habits to break. New teachers don’t know any other way of teaching. What we’re providing them with on an online CELTA is a good thing for the future.

Technology skills are a big factor – logistical things like which link to use to go to TP (teaching practice) or input can be quite confusing. Trainees fresh out of university are generally not having a problem as they already have the technology skills and their study skills are fresh. They’re very supportive with those who are finding it harder. I emphasise that the trainees are there to support each other, as I do on every course. We have a couple of people who were unfamiliar with technology before they started and that’s been very challenging for them and us. They weren’t completely prepared for the learning curve of moving to an online environment and the pressure that adds on top of CELTA. Dealing with Google Docs, learning to use breakout rooms, understanding where to find all of the documents – we had one person drop out because of this learning curve. Some people might feel like they have to do a CELTA course because they want the qualification and now there’s time to do it. There’s pressure on them, so they dive in without being fully prepared. On the other hand, some people love all the online courses they’re able to do and get really into it. One person really enjoyed learning all of the technology that was completely new to them, and now knows how to talk about it and use it in the classroom after just one week.

Our trainees all had a 45-minute unassessed TP with feedback before they did TP1. That meant they’d had more lessons and some feedback by the time they got to TP1 – they’re further on before they got assessed for the first time. They were more insightful already at this point, and trying more challenging things. For example, some trainees were already negotiating meaning with their students in TP1. The pressure is off, and it’s not so scary by the time you get to the assessed part. I’m meant to be running my first face-to-face course since the pandemic soon, and I’d like to carry this over from the online CELTA so that they have unassessed TP before they get the pressure of assessment.

Observing lessons is much more comfortable and relaxed than in a classroom. 2.5 hours of TP always feels like a long time to sit still and observe. At home, we can move around, stand up, or stretch, and it doesn’t look awkward. I’m using my tablet to watch the lessons, with my laptop open to type everything up. Trainees aren’t watching our reactions all the time, they’re just thinking about teaching.

What are the challenges of the online CELTA and how have you dealt with them?

SM: Our course had extra sessions the week before the main course to introduce some of the functions of Zoom, particularly breakout rooms. We sent out a short tech questionnaire before the course, asking how familiar trainees were with Zoom, word processing software, presentation software, and internet functions. We also checked what kind of computer they’re accessing the course on and whether they have any recurring tech problems. This was a very useful needs analysis to help us find out who needs what tech help straight away. Trainees also had a 20-minute unassessed TP to familiarise themselves with managing the tech while teaching.

There was a big storm here yesterday and I thought I’d have a power cut, so I asked a trainee who was observing to start a recording if I dropped out of the lesson so I’d be able to watch it later. I think I’ll prepare a trainee to do that each day regardless of the weather from now on.

When trainees have had internet or other tech problems, I’ve had to decide whether their TP should be extended for a few minutes or not to compensate for this. Luckily our TP is at the end of the day, so I have the flexibility to do this.

The strangest thing for me is that I don’t feel like I know all of the trainees after a week. We had a very short getting to know you activity on day one, but then had to show them the Moodle where they’ll upload all of their documents. I can’t chat to them in breaks or just before and after input sessions as easily, so although I know the six trainees in my TP group well, I’ve only had limited interaction with the other twelve in the two input sessions I’ve done. I observed sessions run by the other trainers on the first two days so I could see the trainees in action, but haven’t interacted with them much at all.

SW: Our course had an extra day the week before when trainees had a Zoom tutorial and watched demo lessons. I taught my demo from where I was on holiday, so didn’t participate in the rest of the day, which was run by my co-trainer. That meant that I missed out on getting to know you activities, so my first input session was a challenge as it felt a bit awkward, but this was much better by the end of the week. I’ve made a real effort to pair trainees up with those from the other TP group (as I do face-to-face too) so they can all get to know each other better. At first the trainees thought I was Slovak with a really good American accent. They didn’t realise I was American until my phonology session later in the week!

One teacher had internet issues during her lesson. The video and audio were breaking up, and she was worried that if she put students into BORs, they’d disappear. She decided to keep them in the main room, but this increased her teacher talking time and reduced the student-centred activities. It’s a challenge deciding what to do in feedback in this case, as she’d clearly made a decision based on the circumstances, but that meant students got less speaking practice.

What have you learnt this week?

SM: These are the tips I’ve picked up this week. 

  • When I was teaching on Zoom before, my students all had course books. On the CELTA course, they don’t have any materials, so they have to take a picture of the activity before they go into breakout rooms (BORs), either on their phones or by doing a screen shot.
  • When students are doing a reading, display the reading text on the screen and get them to take a picture of the questions. If they’re doing this task in BORs, they need the reading text in a document which one of them can share (e.g. a Google Doc link for the reading, and the questions on their phones).
  • When monitoring in BORs, switch off your camera and microphone to make it less intrusive. (Thanks for the tip Rebecca!) Scott Donald called this ‘ninja mode’, a term I’ve already stolen!
  • I’ve found I’m spontaneously interrupting trainees more to help with tech problems, for example when a reading doesn’t display or when their video is off (if the students haven’t told them). Normally I would only interrupt during TP if a trainee asked for my help. I think it’s OK to do this at the start of the course while trainees are familiarising themselves with the platform, but I’ve told them I’ll only do this in TP1 and TP2, and after that they should ask for help if they need it.

SW: I hadn’t been teaching on Zoom before, apart from one small conversation class, so I’m learning as we go as well. It can be a challenge sometimes, but it’s really beneficial learning from our trainees as well – they’re more familiar with some aspects of the tech than me. Because of lockdown, trainees know we’re probably new at the technology. This has levelled the playing field as we’re all learning from each other. You have to be open about learning along with them. I’ve found the Teaching English Online course from FutureLearn and Cambridge really useful. Here are some things I’ve realised this week:

  • Put all the links for rooms in one place to simplify things for trainees.
  • A Zoom tutorial before the course starts is essential.
  • Remind trainees that sometimes students should switch the camera off. This is the procedure I’m teaching them for reading lessons to students them some space.
  • You can move from one BOR to another directly, rather than going back to the main room each time.

How do you organise TP feedback?

SM: BORs are great for reflection on TP! I’ve adapted an idea from CELTA trainer discussions. I set up a Google Doc with a table for trainees to write strengths and action points for each teacher they saw. Above the table I display the criteria we’re working on at this point in the course, so they know what to focus on.

I did this in pairs in BORs, one teacher from that day and one observer, so there were three sets of criteria and tables in the document. I told them to start with other people’s lessons and finish with that of the teacher in the pair, i.e. if ABC taught and AD are discussing the lessons, they discuss B and C’s lessons first, then A’s. They have 15 minutes to complete the document and I look at their notes while they’re doing this but leave them in peace in the BORs.

For the other 15 minutes of our feedback, they read each other’s comments, then I talk about general strengths from all of the lessons and one specific strength and action point for each teacher. I also add any Zoom tips based on problems that day, and perhaps demonstrate one or two techniques trainees should find useful in future lessons.

Afterwards, I send them the link so that everyone has access to some written follow-up to the feedback from that day, not only the teachers.

This is different to how I’ve done feedback on face-to-face courses, when I often feel like we spend a lot of time on what problems there were because I set up more of a carousel, with each teacher getting individual feedback from each of the three observers, and having little time to reflect on the lessons they saw, instead talking about their own lesson three times.

I feel like this approach to feedback has been incredibly positive. Around 20-25 minutes of our 30-40 minutes are focussed on strengths, with only about 5 minutes on action points, and another 5 or so on how to work on the action points. Trainees are learning from and focussing on each other’s strengths, and I’ve seen them putting this into action straight away.

SW: I think it’s important to give trainees space to talk about things together without me being there. I leave them in the main room and tell them I’ll be back in 10 minutes. We also talk about the importance of trainees giving the students space, for example through activities with the video off, which creates a different dynamic. By removing yourself from the discussion by switching the video off or leaving the room, you’re not tempted to keep stepping in and solving problems. I used a Padlet I set up as their observation task. I started columns of positive points and constructive criticism for each teacher which trainees added to as the lesson went on. I could watch who was participating and what was happening, keeping trainees active in our morning TP.

What else would you like us to talk about?

Over to you: if you’ve got this far (thank you!), what questions would you like us to answer in the next three weeks?

Attention, please!

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA course in Strasbourg, and one of the things some trainees had trouble with was getting and maintaining the attention of their students. Here are some of the questions I asked them and tips I gave in feedback after the lessons.

Do they know what signal you will give them when you want them to pay attention?

If you tell the students what signal to expect before the activity, they are more likely to notice. For example, you could tell them that you will:

  • Clap your hands.
  • Say ‘stop’.
  • Press a buzzer.
  • Ring a bell.
  • Switch the light off and on again.
  • Use a call and response signal, for example: Teacher: ‘Macaroni cheese.’ Students: ‘Everybody freeze!’ (Thanks Rose!)
  • Put your hand up and wait for them to put theirs up too.
  • Countdown from 5, starting quietly, and getting louder as you reach 1. (Particularly good for speaking activities.)
  • When the background music finishes playing, the activity ends.
  • Stand in a particular place.

It’s good to get into routines with this, and always use the same signal for the same kind of activity. For example, I normally put my hand up to signal the end of a pair discussion.

Did you give everyone time to respond?

After you’ve given the signal to pay attention, make sure that you pause for a few seconds to let them stop before you start speaking. Wait for attention from everybody – don’t just start with the next instructions or feedback, as you’ll only end up repeating it!

Try praising students who are paying attention, rather than picking out those who aren’t, especially with young learners: ‘Thank you, Sandy.’ rather than ‘Sandy, stop talking please!’

Is the signal visible/audible to everyone?

If you’re giving an audio signal, make sure it is loud enough. If you’re speaking, you don’t need to shout, but do project your voice over the volume.

If you’re giving a visual signal, make sure all students can see you.

Are they deeply involved in the activity they are doing? Are they ready to finish? 

Monitor closely to find out how students are progressing with the activity. If they’ve only done half of the activity, they are unlikely to want to stop when you try to get their attention.

If you know that timing will be a problem before you start, try to change how you set up the activity. For example, tell the students to do as many questions as they can in 3 minutes, rather than making them finish the exercise. Getting them to check in pairs can help them to fill in the gaps in their answers.

Have short extension tasks available for students who finish very quickly, preferably ones that don’t require too much extra input from you! For example, ask students to:

  • Read a sentence from the exercise, remember it, turn over your paper, write it from memory, then check whether you’ve got it right.
  • Change the sentences so they’re true for you.
  • Turn over the paper and remember as many of the words from the exercise as possible, either speaking or writing them. Then look and check.
  • Start saying the sentences/words to practise pronunciation.
  • Decide what was the most interesting thing your partner said, ready to report it to the class.

Is there a valid reason for them to need to pay attention to you or the other students who are talking? (i.e. Why should they care?)

For example, some teachers interrupt speaking activities to get everybody’s attention to try to elicit a single word from the group that one student asked for. This is unnecessary, as you could just give them the word without stopping all of the other conversations.

During feedback stages, students might pay attention at the beginning, but drift off if the stage gets too long or boring. Think of how to keep feedback concise, and try to give them a real reason to listen to the other students.

How long have you required their attention for? Can they maintain focus for that long?

It’s difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time without drifting off and losing attention. Vary the activities and the interaction in the lesson, so that students aren’t just listening to you for long periods of time. Give them clear things to do and keep them active.

Do you truly believe that you have the right to their attention at this point in the lesson?

This may sound quite odd, but I’ve noticed that a lot of teachers feel like they’re being rude when they interrupt students, especially if the students are older than them, and/or if they’re inexperienced teachers. I think if you don’t believe that you need students’ attention right now, then there is less conviction in your voice, and they are less likely to listen to you.

What would you add to the list?

EU Parliament, with flags of all of the current EU nations flying in front of it

The EU Parliament in Strasbourg, which I visited during the course

Starting a CELTA? Brand new teacher? Lacking confidence? Read this…

This is a message I wrote a few months ago for a friend of a friend. She had just started a CELTA course with no prior experience whatsoever and was lacking confidence. Here’s what I said:

  1. Stop aiming for perfection. Perfect teachers are robots, not humans. Do what you can, then stop. A well-rested teacher with a 50% lesson is better for students than a teacher who is exhausted with a ‘perfect’ lesson. You’re teaching the students, not the presentation. And everything we do should be for our students. There’s no point killing yourself.
  2. Remember that everyone is assessed individually and the course is designed for people with no experience. The people with experience might be OK at the start of the course, but they sometimes struggle to accept feedback. You’re a blank slate so will probably develop more as long as you listen to the tutors’ feedback. Also, learn from their experience – ‘steal’ techniques and ideas from them. You’re also expected to make mistakes and need feedback. Otherwise your tutors have no job! Be open to all of the learning opportunities you have on the course, and know that it will take time for you to absorb them all, and you’re not expected to get everything in 4 weeks. Just do what you can and keep improving bit by bit.
  3. Ask for help from the tutors and coursemates. That’s what they’re there for. You will not be penalised for it. Teachers in good staffrooms ask for help all the time.
  4. Confidence takes time to build up, and will improve with experience. Know that you are doing your best at any given time.
  5. Try sitting down at appropriate points in the lesson – that can anchor you and make you feel less exposed. For example, when giving instructions and getting feedback.
  6. Remember that learning to teach is a skill, just like any other: playing the piano, playing tennis, learning to drive, learning English… You don’t sit down at a piano and expect to play Chopin instantly. You learn little bits, practise them, and gradually build up bit by bit, getting closer to your final goal. I’m 10 years in, a CELTA trainer, and a manager, and I’m not sure I’m at the Chopin stage yet. I’d be impressed if you are after 3 days! That’s one of the reasons I love this job: you never stop learning, both from those more and less experienced than you. Reduce the pressure on yourself and you’ll teach better.
  7. Have a minimum of 30 minutes every day when you do something that isn’t CELTA. It may feel like you don’t have time, but believe me, that 30 minutes will be your lifeline and your sanity, especially once you hit week three.
  8. They wouldn’t have accepted you on the course if they didn’t think you had the potential to pass it. That’s why there is an interview process.

These things weren’t in my original message, but might help too:

  • Useful links for CELTA is a list of resources to help you out throughout the course.
  • Here’s 5 minutes of pure, unadulterated enjoyment:

  • And here’s a picture of some kittens to calm you down 🙂

Stock photo from Pixabay (via Pexels)

Good luck! (and when you’re done with the course, look here…)

The CELTA Teaching Compendium by Rachael Roberts (a review)

As a CELTA tutor, I’m always searching for materials which will make life easier for my trainees, so when I saw Rachael Robert’s book The CELTA Teaching Compendium appear on the round, I knew I had to take a look. I wasn’t disappointed.

CELTA Compendium cover

Rachael’s e-book is arranged as a series of short entries based around key CELTA concepts such as ‘rapport’ and ‘setting up pairs and groups’. Each entry starts with a definition of the concept, telling trainees why it is an important area to know about and offering tips to deal with key pitfalls, like finishing a lesson early or realising you’re going to run over. There are often examples too, such as of stage aims or what and how to elicit. There was even a new idea for me in the pre-teaching vocabulary section, that of getting students to write a sentence connecting two or more of the items you plan to introduce. As Rachael acknowledges though, that idea only works if the vocabulary items are already half-known. The entries end with a summary of three bullet points pulling together the most important things to be aware of. In the pdf version, these are in a blue box, making them stand out clearly when you are skimming through. There’s also a bibliography of further reading at the end of the book, which I was pleasantly surprised to find my own Useful Links for CELTA page in 🙂

It took me ninety minutes to read the epub version from cover to cover, or whatever the ebook equivalent of that is, while I was at the airport on the way to my current CELTA course. I found it easy to access and highly practical. I also liked the way it addressed trainees directly, as if Rachael was in the room chatting to them instead of her words being on the page. Rachael’s sense of humour is also evident, and I laughed more than once while reading the Compendium, particularly when talking about how to use variety to manage pace when teaching young learners and adults. The sections are easy to navigate, with the concepts listed in alphabetical order, main concepts hyper-linked to each other within the text, and a contents page at the start. I also really like the cover design.

There are only two minor faults I can find with the book. The first is that there is no separate entry for context, an area which trainees often have problems with, though it is referenced various times in the book. The other is that Rachael’s suggestion that it’s a good idea to write the exact start time of lesson stages on your plan, which I believe can be quite confusing if you end up starting late.

The book is aimed at those currently doing a CELTA, and to those working within private language schools, with a reference to ‘what they’re paying for’ in the error correction entry. However, I believe it’s useful to anyone wanting to build up an understanding of basic concepts in language teaching, as it is so clear and practical. It’s also affordable, at just under $5. If you’d like to get yourself a copy, you can find more details at the round, and buy it in various formats from Smashwords and for Kindle from Amazon [the latter two are affiliate links]. Thank you very much to Rachael for putting this together, and for those involved in publishing it at the round – it’s definitely a valuable addition to our profession.

The pre-service TEFL certificate: 12 things I learned

Following in the footsteps of Matthew Noble and reblogging this…
(oh, and I learnt V3 from the Russians!) 🙂

DYNAMITE ELT

With industry veterans like Geoff Jordan, Hugh Dellar and others out there swinging their hammers at CELTA, I thought I’d take the opportunity to defend the pre-service ELT teaching certificate. Not the CELTA, mind you, but its oft-snubbed, dubiously legitimate little brother. I’m here to defend the humble TEFL certificate.

For the record, I completed a 120-hour TEFL program with 6 hours of teaching practice at the now-defunct ITC Prague (i.e. not an internet-only certificate). The instructors were Geoff Harwood and three other guys whose names I no longer remember (Geoff’s was written on my end-of-course certificate). ITC Prague (as I found out later) eventually failed as a business, but the teaching instruction these guys gave was excellent. The TEFL has had a sort of slow-drip effect on me, and some of what I learned only really struck a chord years later.

Looking back on it from 13 years…

View original post 2,655 more words

A few tips for mature entrants to the EFL profession (guest post)

At IATEFL 2015 Manchester I was disappointed to miss a workshop by Helen Dennis-Smith with tips for more mature CELTA trainees on how to enter the profession once they’d finished their course. I contacted her and she very kindly agreed to write this post for me. She’s now a teacher at Wimbledon School of English, London, UK. Helen Dennis-Smith headshotWimbledon School of English logo

My experience

I entered the EFL profession at the age of 56 in 2010, taking my CELTA in London and needing to sell myself into an overcrowded market place. My recommendation is to tailor the way you market yourself to carefully reflect the experience you have and the subsequent impact that this will have on your teaching.

My own experience looks like this:

Mind map showing Helen's experience, divided into previous experience: love of languages, Chinese primary school, business career, raising a family, primary and secondary schools, school governor; and impact on teaching: sympathetic to the difficulty of learning a new language, celebrate different types of education and value different expectation, not afraid to teach business of legal English etc, appreciate some of the difficulties of management and be supportive, not scared of failure, can attempt to understand what makes younger learners tick and empathise, appreciate the legal implications of health and safety, employment law, safeguarding etc

I recommend taking the time to complete this kind of exercise for yourself before applying for jobs. The market place is tough, and your application needs to make it as clear as possible that the school you want to work for is going to benefit hugely by employing a more mature teacher than a very young one.

The challenges and how we can rise to them

Having obtained my first job, my initial thinking was to work as many hours as possible in as short a space of time as I could. This was based on my research into the market place in London, where it had become clear that permanent jobs in good quality schools were given largely to DELTA qualified teachers rather than CELTA teachers. The result of that was that I was eligible to start my DELTA just two years after initially qualifying. This also potentially opens up pathways into management for anyone considering this.

It also seemed essential to consider the need to squash the lifecycle of a teacher into a much shorter time than most teachers.

I recommend watching a presentation given by Tessa Woodward, a former president of IATEFL, about the various phases of teaching: The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers.

In this video she suggests that we need to start tinkering with our teaching as soon as we have got through the initial survival phase. This implies that we will experiment with different teaching styles, approaches and activities and never be afraid to try something out. Younger teachers may take some years in the survival phase. We do not have such luxury!

By doing this, we also make ourselves more marketable, as we can talk from direct experience both in applications and at interview and indicate clearly that we are not going to get stuck in a conservative approach to methodology.

The final area I would like to highlight is technology. It seems to me very important to keep up-to-date with what is available in terms of technology wherever you are teaching, but it is also important not to attempt to be seen as “cool” by the students. For me, the best approach has been to let, to some extent, the students teach me! Enquire what they use and what they would like to be able to use in class and let them show you where to find it and then adapt it for teaching purposes. The students will love to be the teacher for a while.

Last of all, we need to remember why we started teaching English. We need to enjoy ourselves, so when you get that first, albeit seemingly elusive job, make sure you have fun!

If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me at hdennissmith@gmail.com or via the Wimbledon School of English website. You can also tweet me.

With thanks to Sandy Millin for allowing me to be a guest writer on her blog.

Update

I’m very pleased to announce that Helen has been awarded the Teaching English British Council Featured Blog of the Month award for September 2015 for this post. You can find links to all of the nominated blogs by clicking on the image below. Well done Helen!

Featured blog of th emonth

Useful links for CELTA

Anyone following my blog will know that CELTA took over my life in August last year (2014), and will continue to dominate until the same time this year (2015). I’ve been building this list in my head for a while, and it’s finally time to get it onto the blog.

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

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

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

Before the course

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

Ahmad Zaytoun has created an infographic that gives you the basics of what CELTA involves. Gabriela Froes shares 5 things she wishes she’d known about CELTA before she started, including tips for those with previous teaching experience considering whether to take the course.

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

IH London have some helpful tips for trainees. Nicky Salmon tells you How to survive a CELTA course, with tips from trainers and past trainees.

Seth Newsome wrote about his experience on the course, reflecting on the positives and negatives, with links to other posts he wrote about the process of doing the CELTA if you’d like a bit more depth. Tesal described the challenges of the course and what he got out of itRachel Daw wrote a week by week diary of her course, showing you what it’s like in depth: one MTW TF, two, three, four. Anne Hendler was interviewed each week by Matthew Noble, himself a CELTA tutor, on his blog: before the course, week one, week two, week three, after the course. Vincent Sdrigotti, an experienced teacher of French origin, wrote about the ups and downs of the whole 4-week course as well as the preparation he did before it started. Here’s one quick quote from that post:

Is the CELTA worth it? As a course and as an experience I would have to give a resounding YES!!!

Although the interviews on Adi Rajan’s blog are called ‘Life after CELTA‘, they give you a great idea of what different professionals at various stages of their careers got out of the CELTA course and why it was worth doing, even if they already had a PhD in one example! [Note: when I checked on 4/10/20, these posts aren’t available, but hopefully Adi will share them again in the future!] My favourite quote is from Vaidehi Kenia:

What running 5 miles daily for a month will do to your physique, the CELTA will do for your mind.

Since March 2020, fully online CELTAs have been possible. Two trainees from the first online CELTA I tutored on shared their experience and tips of their full-time four-week course: Yawen Jin and Nadia Ghauri. Trainees from a part-time fully online course run from Cork, Ireland share their experience and tips, and there are specific testimonials from Yuhi Fujioka, and from Philip Ryan, whose course was forced to move online half-way through when lockdown arrived.

If you’re still not sure whether to do the course or not, Chia Suan Chong, a CELTA trainer, describes 10 things she likes about the CELTA, all of which I agree with. If you’re a more experienced teacher, you might be interested in Jason Anderson’s research on how trainees who came to the course with experience feel like they benefitted from CELTA.

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

Martin Sketchley tells you how to prepare for the CELTA in 9 easy steps, with advice about choosing a centre, things to do before the course and advice about working with your peers.

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

Another area that people often find overwhelming is the amount of terminology thrown at them. ELT Concourse helps you out by introducing some of it. I’ve put together a Quizlet class with most of the terminology you might come across (though remember the same thing might have different names in different places!) If you’ve never used Quizlet, here’s an introduction to it.

If you’d like to do a course before your course, you could invest a little money in the ELT Campus Complete CELTA Preparation Bundle, online training in key ideas, teaching methods and concepts, as well as a grammar refresher.

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

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

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

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, teachers increasingly need to know how to teach online, particularly using Zoom. I have a post with Ideas for teaching group lessons on Zoom which provides a starting point of activities (most are not Zoom-specific and would work on other platforms). If you’ve never used Zoom before, you may want to buy a (very affordable!) copy of Teaching with Zoom: A Guide for Complete Beginners by Keith Folse (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links). ELT Campus have a set of webinars showing how to teach English online. Sara Katsonis describes her experience of being a CELTA trainee when the course had to move from face-to-face to fully online – she got a Pass A despite (or maybe because of?) the challenges.

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

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

By the way, when I did my CELTA, one of my fellow trainees got a Pass A with no prior teaching experience, so it is possible! However, in the courses I’ve tutored on so far, I’ve yet to see an A candidate. Update (May 2017): I’ve seen a couple of A candidates now, and they’ve been very hard-working, and followed all of these tips from Ricardo Barros, among many other things!

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Lesson planning

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

Nicky Salmon, a CELTA trainer, tells you how to write CELTA lesson plans to make the documents as useful as possible for you and your trainer, so that you’re ready to give your students the best possible lesson.

The ELT Concourse guide to lesson planning covers aims, procedure, staging and a useful checklist of things to consider when planning. They also show examples of present-practice-produce and test-teach-test lessons, along with a guide to helping you decide between these two possible ways of staging a lesson (there are many more!). Pete at ELT Planning lists lots of different ways of staging your lessons (though only the names) and explains why it’s been important to him in his post-CELTA career. Later he put together a post with a breakdown of how to stage different lessons, covering most (all?) of the main types of lessons you may teach on CELTA, both language and skills. He’s also got 12 tips for writing lesson plans, not all of which apply to CELTA-level courses, but which are still useful. John Hughes suggests a before/while/after you watch approach to video lessons, most of which works for reading or listening. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you a poster with suggestions for adapting materials and lesson planning.

Timing your elementary classes is a post I wrote in response to questions from my trainees about how to allocate timing when planning – it actually works for any level really, not just elementary. Jonny Ingham also has a guide to timing your lessons, as does CELTA Train.

Jo Gakonga has three webinars connected to lesson planning:

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

It’s important to provide a clear context for any lesson, whether it’s language or skills. Barbara Sakamoto explains why. ELT Concourse gives an example of context in action.

If you decide to create your own materials for your lesson, here are a few tips from the Oxford University Press blog.

The generally very useful CELTA Train blog has tips on considering anticipated problems and coming up with appropriate solutions, including examples for the most common areas.

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

Finally, if you’re getting stressed before your lesson, the Cambridge CELTA blog has some great tips on overcoming observation anxiety.

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Classroom management and activity set-up

Standing at the front of a classroom can be a scary prospect. If teacher presence is a problem for you, the Times Educational Supplement can help you get the students’ attention. I’ve written a post with tips on getting and maintaining student attention. These tips from Fernando Guarany could also help improve your confidence as a teacher, as will Emma Johnston’s 15-minute webinar on confidence building for teachers.

Other people have the opposite problem and talk way too much. Jo Gakonga has a webinar on teacher talk and language grading (12 minutes). Elly Setterfield tells you how, when and how not to grade your language. Here are some ways to become aware of excessive TTT (teacher talking time) and what to do about it, including ways of making your lessons more student-centred – it’s an ELTchat summary from Sharon Noseley. Here are other tips on getting the TTT/STT (student talking time) balance right. Finally, this is what the students hear when you speak too much/unnecessarily in class.

Both of these will affect your ability to build rapport with students. Chris Ożóg offers more tips on how to increase your rapport in a 10-minute webinar. Cecilia Nobre offers useful tips on how to build rapport when you’re not John Keating from Dead Poet’s Society (though he does many of those things too!)

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to getting instructions right. You might want to follow them up with instruction checking questions (ICQs) if there’s a potential for confusion, or one of these alternatives from Ben Naismith. If you’re not sure when to ask ICQs or which ones to use, CELTA Train can help you. Edward Evans has a 10-minute webinar about giving efficient instructions, including how to check them, as does Jo Gakongagiving clear instructions (13 minutes). She also has one on setting up and running activities (12 minutes). Marc Helgesen has lots of tips for setting up activities effectively and Chia Suan Chong has 10 questions you can ask yourself to improve your activity set-up. I have a post about how to break an activity down into smaller stages. Here is a 3-minute video of instructions for making a mini book by Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa – it’s designed for young learners, but the way she does it would demonstrates clear instructions that would work with adults too with only minor modifications. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you some golden rules for instructions. ELT Notebook summarises the whole instruction-giving process in a set of simple tips.

It’s important to remember the students’ names as quickly as possible. Adam Simpson gives you 10 techniques you can use to do this, as well as suggesting a few different ways to arrange the furniture in the classroom. Celeste Lalonde has some creative ways of putting them into new pairs and groups (though don’t spend hours planning this!). ELT Concourse has a guide to classroom organisation, with lots of useful diagrams, and another on grouping. Pete at ELT Planning reflects on the relative merits of different ways of organising the classroom.

Laura Patsko offers some general tips for a clear and useful whiteboard in the final section of her Whiteboard Wizardry blogpost. Peter at ELT Planning has a comprehensive guide to using the whiteboard with some very clear illustrations, including for classroom management. Anthony Schmidt also has examples of whiteboard use – there’s  no commentary, but it’s interesting to reflect on which layouts are likely to be more or less useful to the students.

Rachael Roberts explains how and why to monitor and provide feedback, and here are my tips on the same topic. Pass the CELTA shows how to monitor each kind of activity (reading, speaking etc) and some common problems trainees have. Karen McIntyre describes the many purposes of monitoring in a 10-minute webinar. Amanda Gamble offers many alternatives to the teacher eliciting the answers in open class at the feedback stages of lessons. ELT Concourse encourages you to consider how you’d give feedback in 6 different situations. Joe O’Hagen has a 10-minute webinar offering suggestions for providing feedback, particularly on speaking and writing activities, and Jo Gakonga has a 12-minute webinar.

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Teaching receptive skills

Reading

ELT Concourse ask what is reading, then show you how to teach it.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching reading skills (7 minutes). You can also watch Fergus in action teaching reading to an elementary class (22 minutes). Jo Gakonga has a webinar on exploiting reading texts (35 minutes). She also has an YouTube video showing how to set up a jigsaw reading activity and avoid the pitfalls (8 minutes).

Listening

ELT Concourse ask what is listening, then show you how to teach it.

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

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

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

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Teaching productive skills

Speaking

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

ELT Concourse looks at the differences between slips and errors, and how to handle errors in the classroom. They also ask what is speaking, then show you how to teach it. Simon Thomas offers tips on correcting students while speaking, and Zarina Subhan tells you why sometimes students don’t say much and what you can do about it, helping you to increase STT. CELTA train have created an infographic to help you decide how to respond to errors during speaking activities.

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

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

Writing

ELT Concourse ask what is writing, then show you how to teach it.

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

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

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Teaching language

General

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on analysing language and anticipating problems (21 minutes) and Fergus Fadden has a 7-minute one on language analysis. Pete at ELT Planning shows an in-depth example of analysis of a grammar item and a vocabulary one, plus general tips on how to analyse language. Alexandre Makarios explains why language analysis is important, gives an example of a poor one with tutor comments and offers tips to help you with yours.

Jo Gakonga also has a webinar introducing you to PPP, TTT and TBL – three different ways of presenting language, whether grammar, vocabulary or functions (35 minutes). It will tell you what the abbreviations mean! CELTA train describes ‘Presentation via a situation‘ a.k.a. situational presentations, and includes an example of one designed to introduce ‘used to’.

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

Another common problem is how to elicit language from the students and Damian Williams has some answers. Pass the CELTA has a step-by-step guide to eliciting including lots of examples of what you can elicit and tips on what not to do. Jonny Ingham shows you to how to elicit vocabulary when pre-teaching in a reading/listening lesson.

Anthony Gaughan has an 8-minute audio podcast for CELTA trainees on what makes good controlled practice and how to make sure students really understand. CELTA train talks about how to make sure practice activities have a real communicative purpose, and includes a few examples that could help you.

Grammar

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes an introduction to timelines, including some beautiful examples which I’m very jealous of. Joanna Malefaki also has examples of timelines and CCQs. Marek Kiczkowiak offers tips for producing effective timelines. Gareth Rees shows some of the possible conventions of timelines (i.e. what the symbols mean). ELT Concourse has examples and asks you to guess what they show, then demonstrates how to build up a timeline with learners in the lesson. Anthony Gaughan demonstrates how to teach form without terminology.

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Vocabulary/Lexis

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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Functions

ELT Concourse have a step-by-step guide to understanding and teaching functions, complete with lots of examples. If you’re still not sure what a functions lesson looks like or is for, this 5-minute example from a real classroom based on students renting an apartment should give you a better idea, as will this full step-by-step lesson from Pete Clements. Languages International have a pdf document you can work through to find out what functions are and how to teach them (go to unit 4i). When you’re filling in your language analysis sheet, this non-exhaustive list of functions might help you identify what function the exponents (sentences/structures) you’re analysing have.

Pronunciation

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

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

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

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

Nicky Salmon has put together a beginner’s guide to drilling. Julie Tice has tips on making drilling more fun and varied. Lee Shutler has some ideas too, and also talks about the benefits of drilling. ELT Concourse looks at the arguments for and against drilling, then provides examples of different types of drill. CELTA train does something similar, and throws in a video as a bonus at the end. Marc Helgesen’s tips about pronunciation, drilling and task repetition are in the second half of this post about classroom managementJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners, which includes tips on drilling (22 minutes).

Jo Gakonga has webinars on connected speech:

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Classroom techniques

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

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

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

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Observing and being observed

Rachel Daw summarised all of the things she learnt while observing her peers and receiving feedback on TP in the first two weeks of her CELTA course in CELTA Teaching Practice: some tips (an incredibly useful post!).

Martin Sketchley offers advice on preparing to be observed, much of which will serve you well in the real world too.

Nicky Salmon offers tips on how to reflect on your teaching during CELTA courses, including examples of language you can use. As she says, reflection is a skill which takes time to learn, but is one of the most important things you can do to develop professionally.

After the course, observing lessons is a great way to continue developing. Here’s a collection of online observations to help you.

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Teaching in different contexts

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

I have dedicated blogposts with links for business English teaching and doing the FCE (Cambridge First) exam (this one is for students, but should still be useful) – just one example of the many EFL exams out there. In any classroom you may have to test students, so this guide to testing from ELT Concourse will help you to think about the related issues. Teaching academic English is another possible avenue, and Adam Simpson has some tips to start you offJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners (22 minutes)

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Assignments

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

Jo Gakonga has a general library of freely-available reputable resources for all four assignments.

Focus on the learner

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

In the first part of the assignment you’re normally required to create a profile of the learner(s) you’re focussing on. These factors which affect learning from ELT Concourse may help you to do this.

You may also be asked to analyse the ‘learning style’ of the students. This article from ELT Concourse should provide some related food for thought.

Language-related tasks (language awareness)

See links in the Teaching language section of this post.

Skills-related tasks (authentic materials)

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

Lessons from the classroom

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

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

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Surviving the course

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to help you survive the CELTA from Alexandra Koukoumialou and 5 secrets to success on your CELTA course from Tanya Hacker, and another 5 tips from somebody who completed the course at IH Bangkok (I can’t find their name unfortunately!)

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

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

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

50 ways to take a break

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

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

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After the course

You’ve survived! Well done! Now what?

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

To help you Jonny Ingham tells you how to write a TEFL CV, as does Chris from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA (How to write a great ESL CV), and Karenne Sylvester explains how to avoid overseas EFL teaching job scams. Gordon Scruton gives you questions for a potential employer, plus all important social questions about life outside the school. Rachel Daw talks about her experiences getting work as a newly-qualified freelance teacher and shares examples of questions she’s been asked in job interviews, as well as comparing the relative merits of working for a language school and being a freelancer. Lorraine Kennedy gives you 10 tips for ELT teacher job interviewsAdam Simpson gives you general advice about what to say and do in job interviews. You can find out about different countries and potential up- and downsides of working there using the country guides at ESL Base, though do try to get in touch with teachers yourself too – it’s worth asking any school you apply for if you can speak to one of their teachers. Once you’ve got the job, Elly Setterfield has a very useful series of posts specifically designed for new teachers, answers questions such as’What should I pack?’, ‘What if I hate it?’, and with Teaching Kids and Teaching Teens 101s. She’s also written about how non-native teachers can improve their confidence.

Isabela Villas Boas offers tips for a great beginning in a new teaching jobRichard Whiteside has 3 things to help new teachers. Lewis Waitt tells you about how to survive your first year as a teacher. Michael Walker has 5 tips for new teachers. Rebecca Cope describes what it’s really like, from the perspective of being six months into her own first year as a teacher. Elly Setterfield offers tips for planning on a daily basis, as it’ll be hard to keep up the amount of detail you had to produce during the course. Jennifer Gonzalez offers tips for starting a job mid-year. Although they’re aimed at mainstream teachers, many of the tips are relevant for those of you who have completed CELTA.

To continue the reflective cycle you started on CELTA, you could keep a reflective journal, as recommended by Dale Coulter. Another option is to write your own blog, which I’ve found really useful. However you choose to do it, Jason Renshaw explains why reflection should be a vital part of any teacher’s development (and offers another suggestion for how to keep a reflective journal). Oh, and if you want to send a few pennies my way, you could investigate ELT Playbook 1, an ebook of 30 reflective tasks designed for new teachers, written by me and only costing around 5GBP/5.50€ 🙂 If you complete all five tasks from a single section, you can earn yourself a badge to put on your CV or social media, showing potential employers and/or students that you are continuing your development after the course.

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

Blogs are a useful tool post-CELTA, and this post by me will tell you how to make the most of them. One of the things I enjoy about blogs is periodic challenges which bloggers start and anyone can join in with. The #youngerteacherself posts kick-started by Joanna Malefaki are a great source of advice for beginner teachers, as experienced teachers look back and offer advice to their younger selves. A couple of years before this challenge Chris Wilson wrote 10 things he wished he’d known before he started CELTA. ELTchat also had a chat called I wish I had known that when I started teaching! If you’re thrown into a classroom with a horde of children or teens, you should find these posts by Elly Setterfield very useful: Teaching Kids 101 / Teaching Teens 101.

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

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

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

International House offer a range of paid courses to extend your knowledge in a variety of areas, including language awareness (IH LAC), business English teaching (IH BET), teaching young learners and teens (IHCYLT) and teaching online (IH COLT). They are offered online, face-to-face at some schools, and in the case of the IHCYLT, blended. You get a discount if you work for IH, and some schools will pay for your course completely if you work for them for a particular period of time. Adi Rajan has also put together a list of post-CELTA qualifications; although aimed at teachers in India, it’s relevant worldwide. ELT Campus also runs courses online, such as this one for teaching English to Young Learners.

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

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

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

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

If this list isn’t enough for you:

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For CELTA trainers

(Just so you don’t feel left out!)

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

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on ‘flipping’ CELTA input sessions. (22 minutes) She also has a wide range of resources for trainers on the ELT-training website, including lots of ideas for feedback.

Matt Noble regularly posts reflections on being a trainer on his Newbie CELTA Trainer blog, as does Ricardo Barros on his. Anthony Gaughan talks about a completely different way of doing CELTA on his Teacher Training Unplugged blog. He has also written an incredibly useful step-by-step guide explaining the process of becoming a CELTA trainer: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

John Hughes offers various ways of approaching lesson feedback. Felicity Pyatt joins the TEFL Training Institute podcast for an episode to discuss what to do when a trainee fails, which also includes tips for trainees on how to deal with the fact that they have failed an element of a training course.

If you’d like to work on your own skills as a trainer, you might want to get yourself a copy of ELT Playbook Teacher Training, my book of 30 reflective tasks in 6 categories, as you can see below (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links).

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant lots of things changed, including the sudden need for provision of fully online CELTAs. Brendan O Sé from University College Cork, Ireland, blogged about running their first fully online CELTA. James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni took their CELTA course online and offers tips for other centres doing the same. Angelos Bollas has a demo lesson with upper intermediate students on Zoom which you might want to use to show trainees how it works from a teacher’s perspective:

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Everything else

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

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

How to set up an information gap

Information gap set up reminder

What do you mean, you don’t understand? 😉 The face you’re pulling right now is the one which the students will show you if you attempt to set up a ‘complicated’ speaking activity and the instructions go wrong. Information gaps are activities which can work brilliantly if you set them up efficiently, and fall completely flat if you don’t.

Before we go any further, what exactly is an information gap?

An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps. It is often used in communicative language teaching and task-based language learning.

Wikipedia

They’re very common in coursebooks, and are often used to practise specific language points at the ‘freer practice’ stage of a lesson, but they can easily be used for fluency practice without a particular grammatical focus too. Boggle’s World ESL has some examples if you’re still a bit confused.

Here’s a simple guide to setting one up, including some potential problems so you can think about whether/how you’ll check instructions.

Step 1: Allocating roles

Tell your students what role they will take in the info gap.Don’t move the students yet! To make the rest of this explanation easier, I’ll say you’re doing one with two sets of information, so roles ‘A’ and ‘B’. A ‘C’ in brackets shows what you would do with an info gap with three sets of information.

Potential problems and possible solutions

The wrong number of students, e.g. an odd number when you need pairs.
Don’t work with the leftover student – you need to be free to monitor and help! Instead, have two As or Bs in one pair, and tell them how to share the work, e.g. take it in turns to ask/answer a question. Think carefully about who your two As/Bs should be to make sure you don’t end up with a strong student doing all the work or a less dominant student with no opportunity to speak because their partner won’t let them get a word in.

Students can’t remember which role you allocated.
Before you go any further, ask them to put up their hands to check they know who they are: “Who’s A? Who’s B?”

Step 2: Preparation time

Before your students speak, they need time to understand the task and work out what they’re going to say. Group As together and Bs together: AAA BBB (CCC) to prepare. For example, for a question and answer task they could work out the questions. For a ‘describe your picture’ type task, they could describe the picture they have to each other. This will give them a chance to rehearse and to ask you for any language they need.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students start trying to do the actual information gap.
Make it clear that this is preparation time and that e.g. they should only write the questions, not answer them – their partner will do that later.

Step 3: Information gap

Your students should now be ready to do the task. Regroup them AB(C) AB(C) AB(C). When they’re sitting in the right places, tell them exactly what they need to do. Something like this:

A, you ask your questions. B, you answer them. Then B, you ask, and A, you answer.

or

A, tell B one thing in your picture. B, tell A if it’s the same or different to your picture. If it’s different, circle it. Then B, tell A one thing in your picture. Find 8 differences between your pictures. Don’t look at the other picture.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students speak their own language.
This is natural if the task is too difficult for them. They may not have had enough preparation time, so you could give them more. Encourage them to speak English, and tell them you realise that English might be slower, but they need practice to help them get faster!

They look at each other’s paper/sheet/picture etc.
When giving your instructions, check carefully that students know they’re not allowed to look. You can also seat them back to back:

Back to back

or in two rows facing each other with a large gap between. Bear in mind that this may create noise issues, although that can encourage quieter students to speak more loudly to make themselves heard, and helps students to get practice with phrases like “Can you say that again please?”

Students forget to write the answers/circle the differences etc.
Check that they know what to do, and monitor during the activity so that you can remind them if you need to.

Step 4: Checking the answers

If students should now have all of the same information on their paper, they can compare their sheets side by side to spot differences/mistakes/missing information etc.

Otherwise, it’s good to return students to their original AAA BBB (CCC) groups to share the things they found out.

Step 5: Feedback

Don’t forget this stage! You need two parts:

  • Feedback on content: This can be as simple as ‘Did you find all of the differences?’ or ‘Did you both get all of the information right?’, followed by further checking of the problem areas.
  • Feedback on language: While you were monitoring, you were (hopefully!) taking notes of some of the language students were using successfully and any problems they may have had. Choose a few of these to focus on, and make sure you praise the good language too.

If I’ve done my job right, the image at the top should now make perfect sense 🙂 I made it off the cuff during a CELTA input session when the trainees asked me how to do this, and I thought it might be useful for others too. I hope it works!

One way to approach lesson planning for CELTA

I often see trainees who spend hours and hours producing beautiful materials, then have so little detail in their plan that they end up teaching a pretty poor lesson, sometimes even below standard. Another problem with organising planning time is failing to complete the language analysis sheet, normally a required part of planning from TP3 (teaching practice) onwards.

One trainee on my current course was having particular trouble with approaching their planning, so today we came up with this step-by-step approach to prioritising when doing lesson planning for CELTA:

  1. Write your main and secondary/subsidiary aims.
    If you don’t know this, the rest of the lesson is very hard to put together!
  2. Complete the (relevant) language analysis sheet.
    For many trainees, this is left to the end, and becomes a big scary thing that is just there to be put off and/or rushed at the end. By getting it out of the way right at the start, you know what you’re dealing with. The LA is designed to help you feel more confident in the lesson, and be able to deal with whatever the students throw at you related to those particular language points. It’s also the grounding for the language focus in your lesson, as it helps you to find out what you need to cover. Do include any CCQs you plan to use, because there’s nothing worse than writing ‘ask CCQs’ on your language analysis, then in the lesson wondering how on earth to phrase them! This is the best time to think about them, not in the middle of TP!

    Procrastination cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

    Sometimes the language analysis can be a bit like this. (Cartoon by Dave Walker, found via We Blog Cartoons.)

  3. Based on the aims of your lesson, decide what kind of lesson it is, and check what the main stages of that type of lesson should be.
    For example, if you’re teaching vocabulary, will it be text-based? Situational? Test-teach-test? Does the lesson include speaking skills? What are the stages of a speaking lesson? etc Don’t write procedure at this point, just the stage names.
  4. Decide which of the stages is the most important, and should therefore account for the longest activity(ies) in your lesson.
    In a writing lesson, this would be the writing stage, for example.
  5. Allocate the remaining time you have available to the rest of the stages you listed at step 3.
    If you’re teaching elementary and you need help, see here. You might still find some useful tips there if you’re teaching other levels.
  6. Now you know how long you have for each stage, it’s time to add the procedural detail.
    Exactly what will you do at each stage? How will you set up the activities? How will you give feedback? Do you need a peer check? And will you realistically be able to do all of this in the time you allocated to that stage during step 5? Can you make it more efficient? If you’ve allocated too much time, do you need to rethink step 5? And do you really, really have time to do that amazing activity you’ve just read about and really want to have a go at, even though it doesn’t really help you achieve your aims? Is there anything else you need to remind yourself to do?
    As a tutor, I’ve noticed that until it’s second nature, if it’s not in the plan, it’s not in the lesson, so if you want to do it, write it down. It’s not a 100% guarantee, but you’re more likely to manage it if it’s in the plan!
  7. Fill in the rest of the planning document, e.g. assumptions, anticipated problems/solutions, materials etc.
    By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what to write for all of these, since you’ve had plenty of time to think the lesson through.
  8. Finally, the fun bit! Prepare your materials.
    Now that you’ve completed all of the important paperwork you need to do, you know how long you have left to be able to dedicate to creating/adapting/cutting up those all important materials. Go nuts!

If you’re anything like me, your mind goes blank when you look at a computer screen (oddly enough, not when blogging, but I digress!) and you think much better with paper. I’d therefore recommended plotting out steps 1-5 roughly on paper before you go anywhere near the computer, and possibly 6 too if it helps.

The following four steps are optional extras, to be added if you have time to do them, or a particular problem with these areas:

  • Script your instructions.
    A great tip I got from my main course tutor in Sevastopol was to aim for instructions of three sentences of three words each. While this can sometimes be impossible, it helps you to avoid long embedded sentences of the “What I’d like you to do now is I’d like you to…” variety. Use imperatives. Something like: “Read this. Answer the questions. Work alone.” accompanied by pointing at the handout is good. It might sound harsh because there are no politeness markers in there, but it’s efficient and to the point.
  • Script ICQs.
    Seeing ‘Ask ICQs’ in a lesson plan without them being followed by said ICQs is one of my personal bugbears. As with CCQs in the language analysis, if you’re going to use them, script them. Make sure they only deal with potential problem areas, as otherwise they may well confuse the students more than if you hadn’t asked them. And remember that doing a clear example/demonstration can often negate the need for ICQs, and sometimes instructions too!
  • Create a skeleton plan of your lesson.
    If you get overwhelmed by looking at your complete plan during TP, this can be a useful way to give yourself a reminder without having to spend hours working out where you’re up to while the students are staring at you. A skeleton plan is a brief outline of the stages of the lesson, perhaps with one or two useful reminders.
  • Rehearse the lesson.
    If confidence is a problem, going through your plan one more time before the lesson, either alone or with someone else, can really help you to feel more confident, and more sure about what’s coming next.

This was a system I came up with off the top of my head today, so I’d be interested to hear whether it works for you. And trainers, do you use anything similar?

Timing your classes*

*or…

Tips I give my CELTA trainees, which kind of work, sometimes.

I’m now on my fourth CELTA course since September, and on all of them I’ve worked with the elementary students only (that will change next Monday when I’ll finally be with intermediate). Trainees are constantly asking me how to work out the timing on their lesson plans, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try to calculate some formulae to give them at least approximate guidance. Since I was always pretty rubbish at timing my lessons before I became a tutor, and haven’t had chance to see if I’ve improved yet, these notes are to help me in the future too!

A cartoon from XKCD about estimating the timing of a project: Aaaa! I'm so bad at estimating how long projects will take. - Don't panic. There's a simple trick for that. Take your most realistic estimate, then double it. - Okay, but... - Now double it again. Add five minutes. Double it a third time. - Okay. -30 seconds have gone by and you've done nothing but double imaginary numbers! You're making no progress and will never finish! -Aaaaaa! - Paaaaniiic! -Aaaaaa!

How we all feel 🙂

(July 2018 update: This was originally written with elementary students in mind, but actually I think the formulae work at most levels having now used them much more extensively!)

This is what I’ve come up with so far:

Starting the lesson

Make a note of the time you start, and calculate what time you should finish. Do this during the first activity before you forget. If it helps, write it vertically at the side of the board as a reminder. You’re less likely to erase it if it’s vertical than horizontal. To make doubly sure, draw a box around it. Enlist your TP groups’ help with timing, and ask somebody to give you a 5-minute warning if you think it’ll help.

Hampton Court Palace clock (24 hours on one face)

Hopefully the clock you use won’t be quite this complicated (my image)

Lead in

This shouldn’t be longer than 10 minutes in a 45-minute lesson, preferably closer to 5. Allocate a couple of minutes for greeting the students and setting the initial task, a couple of minutes for them to speak in pairs or small groups, then one minute for quick feedback. You should be setting the context/getting students into the topic here, not having a full-blown discussion.

Instructions

Always allocate 1-2 minutes for giving instructions and activity set-up, especially if you need to move the students/furniture.

Speaking

Students generally need about 1 minute per question, possibly each if they’re working in pairs/groups. Remember that at elementary they are probably translating the question into their language, coming up with the answer, then translating it back into English, no matter how much you might want them to operate in English only. That takes time!

For speaking tasks which required extended production, not just one or two sentences, you needed to allocate preparation (‘ideas’) time too, say 5 minutes give or take, depending on the task and the amount of support they get in the way you set it up.

Students also need practice time before performing in front of the whole class (‘language time’), when they can ask you for help. Again, depending on the way you set it up, this is going to be about five minutes.

Writing

As with speaking, students need both ‘ideas time’ and ‘language time’, though here the language time is when they’re actually producing their writing. Whether they’re working alone or in pairs, 10 minutes is probably about right in a 45-minute lesson, although again, this depends on the length of the text you want them to produce, and how much input you’ve given them before they write. Another way to work it out is to time yourself doing the piece of writing, then multiply that time by three or four.

Before students write, you need to allocate time to focussing on useful language from the text which the students can steal for their own writing. Set aside 5 minutes for this, maybe longer depending on how many things you want to highlight.

Reading

Reading for gist should be quick. That’s why it’s for gist – it’s to get an idea of the general topic and structure of the text, to prepare you for more detailed reading later. Set a time limit, probably 1 or 2 minutes depending on the length of the text, and stick to it. Don’t let the students keep reading after this – if necessary, get them to turn over their paper/close their books. Remember that you still need a peer check after this, which again should only be about 30 seconds, because if your gist task is appropriate it will only be a couple of relatively easy questions which don’t require long answers.

On the other hand, more detailed reading takes time, especially if students aren’t confident. I’d recommend 3-4 minutes for your average detail/specific information task, depending on how much the students need to reread/write. Again, don’t forget to allocate time for the peer check!

Listening

You don’t have so much control over time in a listening lesson, because the length of the audio determines it to some extent. That mean’s that when you’re preparing, you need to check how long the recording is! Work out how many times you’re going to play it, including the initial/gist activity, and (probably) one more repetitions than you expect, so that you can focus on any problem areas that come up during the lesson. You may also need to consider the time it’ll take to set up the tech, although hopefully you’ve done this before the class starts.

As always, don’t forget to factor in peer checks, perhaps between listenings as well as at the end of each stage, as this particularly helps weaker learners.

Presenting language

This is the major time sink in most lessons I’ve observed, especially if the teacher decides on a board-centred presentation. It’s hard not to keep talking when everyone is looking at you, and verbal diarrhoea eats time!

Two tips:

  1. Avoid long board-centred presentations if at all possible. How can you hand it over to the students?
  2. If you do have to do one, allocate about 15 minutes. They never seem to take less time than that! And in a 45-minute lesson, remember that’s a third of your time.Remember to allocate time for meaning AND form AND pronunciation. Again, do you have to be the centre of attention, or can you break it up somehow?

That’s not to say that T-centred presentations are a complete no-no, but make sure you’ve planned them thoroughly, and you know when to stop talking!

If you’ve managed to make it SS-centred, follow the tips in ‘language practice’ below.

Drilling

This depends on how quickly your students pick up new forms, how big the class is, how many pieces of language there are and how long each item you’re trying to teach them is, but it should be at least five minutes. Shorter than that and there probably isn’t enough repetition in there. Consider breaking it up a bit by getting students to repeat things to each other in pairs or small groups after the whole class stage and monitoring for problems. This takes the focus off you for a few seconds, and adds a bit of variety.

Language practice

Again, this depends on the type of activity students are doing and on how good your teaching was. If they still don’t really get the language, then this will all take longer. These are tips for controlled practice activities, based on the most common ones I see. For freer practice, see ‘speaking’/’writing’ above.

  • Matching: about 15 seconds per item.
  • Gapfill with words there: about 15-30 seconds per item, depending on the number of words.
  • Gapfill with no words (open cloze – students have to think of the words themselves): about 30-45 seconds per item.
  • Writing/rewriting sentences: about one minute per item.

Feedback

Reminder number one: feedback shouldn’t take longer than the activity you’re feeding back on, unless there are major problems for some reason.

Reminder number two: writing things on the board takes time. If you’re doing it, make sure you have a good reason why, and that it’s not just for the sake of having something to do. If the students are doing it, is everyone involved? What are the other students doing? Are they just watching? (It can be a good way of keeping fast finishers occupied, as long as they don’t end up doing it all the time.)

I’m not sure there’s a particular rule on the length of feedback, but it should make students feel like it wasn’t a waste of their time doing the activity, and it should round off the activity enough that students are ready to move on. Here are some approximate amounts:

  • Speaking/Writing: Allocate time for both ‘feedback on content’ and ‘feedback on language’, probably about 3-5 minutes for each, depending on how you set it up.
  • Reading/Listening/Controlled practice activities: 2-3 minutes, including dealing with any problems, unless students need to see the written form of the answers (especially for full sentences) in which case you may want to get them to write things on the board, which will take longer. To make it shorter, have the answers ready to show/give them.

Peer checks should be factored in before open-/whole-class feedback, probably 1-3 minutes depending on the length of the task and the difficulty students have had with it. Monitor carefully during peer checks so that you can make your feedback more efficient (read, faster).

In general

I’ve found that planning in nice round 5-minute units is generally the way to go. They normally balance out across the lesson. If I try to do odd 3/6/8-minute times, they always end up being 5/10-minute ones anyway! That means that in a 45-minute lesson, you have nine 5-minute units to play with. Use them wisely. 🙂

Planning your lessons

Remember that tasks fill the time allotted to them. A good night’s sleep is more important than a perfect lesson! If you don’t believe me, here’s a CELTA candidate’s (short!) take on it.

If you’d like some more tips about timing, Jonny Ingham might be able to help.

I hope these tips work for you, and if anyone has any others, please do share them. I know trainees will appreciate them!

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