Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Archive for the ‘Guest Posts’ Category

Boardwork (guest post)

This is the second time I have had the pleasure of hosting a post by Amy Blanchard on my blog. The first time, it was all about Peace Boat, a Japanese scheme to promote peace and cultivate a wider understanding of different cultures. This time Amy is talking about her first conference presentation, which she did at this year’s InnovateELT conference. Over to Amy…

Amy's talk

(photo by Innovate ELT photographer)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to present at the third annual InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. The brainchild of the lovely people at ELTJam and hosted by Oxford TEFL, it’s become famous for a diverse and friendly crowd, relaxed and productive atmosphere, and innovative format: 10-minute plenaries in the garden, sessions involving learners, and 30-minute talks. I delivered one of these short sessions on the topic of using the whiteboard. No, not interactive, just the act of writing with a pen on the board. As a CELTA tutor, observing lessons and boardwork is a key part of my role. It’s something that frequently comes up in feedback. Yet there is no dedicated session on boardwork, nor did I have one on my initial training course.

Is boardwork still considered relevant in this era of technology, projectors and digital books? I think so, and attendance showed I wasn’t the only one, with a good mix of teachers and trainers alike.

The session began with a short discussion between the attendees: what do they write on their board? The following were all discussed as possibilities. Ultimately, teachers who know their students can make the best decision about which of the following might be useful to have on the board for their particular classes.

A menu

Seeing the content of the class in advance can be motivating for learners. Knowing what is coming up can make them feel more comfortable and give a sense of achievement when it’s done. Personally I use it more with my younger classes than with adults. My YLs often need to know that there’s something more appetising on the horizon, and they feel more secure knowing the routine of the class.


Again, this is not compulsory but can motivate students, especially if they are phrased in a way that makes the menu content make sense. So ‘telling anecdotes’ rather than ‘practising past simple’.


A few people used their board to highlight information for their students: course dates, exam dates, instructions to tasks, page numbers, and homework. Set homework immediately after the lesson component it refers to, and try to avoid leaving it to the end of the class; this makes it seem like an afterthought.*

Points system

Some teachers have a separate chart for this, or many now use Class Dojo or a similar system. Either way, seeing a visual representation of behaviour can be useful for YLs.

Errors for delayed correction

The majority of attendees use their board for noting down errors and give corrective feedback. One important thing to note – if you do write an error on the board, make sure you cross it out clearly. Leaving it on the board can reinforce it in students’ minds, even if you’ve told them it’s incorrect.

As we discussed these points, I drew areas on the board for each section. Have a system and be consistent in where you put this information. Learners find what they need more quickly if they know where to look.

Emergent language

The majority of the talk focussed on what all teachers said they use their board for: emergent language. This is ‘unplanned’ vocabulary which emerges during the lesson due to students’ needs. Giving students language when they need it is a huge part of our job and it’s important that we help them to the best of our ability. In order to clarify and consolidate this language, it’s vital we put it on the board. Remember that the students’ notebooks typically reflect what we put on the board. We need to consider what information we can add to the vocabulary to make it most useful for students.

One of the morning plenaries at Innovate was given by a polyglot, Lýdia Machová, who shared her tips for language learning. One of these was to learn vocabulary in context. Recording vocabulary with co-text (i.e the language with which it appeared) can help our students remember the meaning and give them a better idea about how it is used. Highlighting difficult phonemes, stress and features of connected speech helps them remember the pronunciation long after the lesson has finished. Using different colours to highlight dependent prepositions or the separability of phrasal verbs helps them learn even more, or – as Duncan Foord put it in his plenary, What Have Teachers Ever Done For Us? – helps resolve their doubts before they even appear. I demonstrated these points with the words photography, photograph and photographer. 

Amy's whiteboard, showing stress patterns for photograph, photographic, photographer, and vertical extension for call off (the wedding, the match, but not the flight)

One of my favourite ways of exploiting and developing new language is through vertical extension. By eliciting more examples from students, we can check their understanding and help students to use the word by highlighting common collocations. It can also be useful to point out things that do not collocate, as this is often a problem for students. I demonstrated this technique using the phrasal verb call off.

If our board is systematic and informative, hopefully our students’ notes will be, too. It’s very important to give students time to copy, so that they can concentrate while the language is being discussed. I recommend monitoring to ensure they copy accurately. This also gives shyer students the chance to ask questions.

Colours are important too. Personally, I’m a stickler for writing in black. Although everything looks clear when you’re stood up at the board, if you’re sitting at the back of the class, or have problems with your vision, red and green pens can be really hard to read.

By the end of the lesson, the board should be covered in lovely new language. Use the last 5 minutes of the class to review it, either through some extra drilling practice, or a game of Backs to the Boards/Hot Seat that just requires you to point at the language.

Encourage students to take a photo of the board. If you have an online platform or whatsapp group, they can share it (great for absent students!) or just keep them on their phone to flick through next time they’re bored on the bus. It’s also useful for the teacher to take a photo; an easy way of keeping a record of new vocabulary to recycle and consolidate in future lessons. Furthermore, taking a photo of your board is a wonderful way of reflecting on the lesson, and on your board work. You’ll see things you could have added or expanded, and ways to make things clearer.

Teachers are also sharing pictures of their boards on twitter, using the hashtag #ELTwhiteboard. It’s a wonderful place to connect with other teachers, to ask for advice and to pick up some great ideas for lessons. Get involved!

This was a 30-minute, streamlined talk that only had time to focus on a few aspects of using the board. The biggest omission is the issue of who writes on the board. Do your students write on the board? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @admiralwamy

* Ur, P. 100 Teaching Tips (Cambridge 2016) p.6 [affiliate link]

Amy Blanchard

Amy has taught English all over the world including many years in Spain for International House. She is now a freelance CELTA tutor and can be contacted at:

You cannot run before you can walk – reading in Arabic EFL learners (guest post)

I’m very happy to be able to share another guest post by Emina Tuzovic with you. The first time she appeared on this blog, she wrote about how to help Arabic students with their spelling. Now she’s back to tell us more about working with Arabic students, this time focussing on helping them develop their reading skills.

In the UK, a growing number of Arabic learners are joining English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and IELTS courses as they would like to enter British universities. Generally speaking, this group of students tend to have very good communicative skills; however, they considerably lag behind when it comes to reading and writing. As in the Anglo-American educational system, these skills are paramount, Arabic learners tend to struggle with their studies here. As a teacher, I often felt I didn’t know how to cater to their needs which led me to research this topic in more detail. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on reading and give you some tips which will hopefully help your Arabic learners improve this vital everyday, as well as academic, skill.

Now, think about how many times you have asked your students to skim or scan an academic text. While most of the students get to grips with the task, our Arabic students generally struggle with this. So how to tackle this problem?

I think what we teachers need to do is break things down instead of throwing our students in at the deep end. We should start with reading words, before moving on to reading sentences, paragraphs and finally the whole text. If we build things up, reading will suddenly become a less daunting process for our Arabic learners.

There are several reasons why they find reading challenging. Firstly, how much students read in their L1 usually predicts how much reading they do in their L2. Judging from what my Arabic students tell me, they don’t read that much in their mother tongue. This is reflected in their reading habits in English, where suddenly they are faced with a different script and a different orthography, as well as a different reading direction – all of these making the reading process much more challenging. As they lack exposure to print, they often do not accumulate a sufficient range of vocabulary. This, in turn, affects their reading comprehension, which is the reason why they do not want to read in the first place! This vicious circle needs to be broken.

Let’s start from the beginning. We need to tackle words in isolation first.

Vocabulary and word decoding

As we said above, vocabulary size plays a significant role in our students’ reading comprehension. Lack of vocabulary slows down the reading process and hinders their understanding of the text. Additionally, when I ask my Arabic students to read something for homework, they will often translate a lot of words, most of which are low frequency and therefore not very useful:

Translations by an Arabic-speaking reader of English

Therefore, in order to catch up with other groups of learners, I think it’s important for a teacher to prioritise useful, higher frequency lexis and monitor what vocabulary students actually record. For instance, I usually check the words they have selected during a speaking activity. I allow my students to look up no more than ten words per text which will force them to prioritise vocabulary that is worth looking up!

Secondly, like all other learners, they need to be able to guess unknown lexis from the context. One of the most useful lexical aspects for this group to focus on is word formation. It is a very important lexical process in Arabic therefore our learners will be able to identify with it. So whenever possible, I get them to extrapolate the root, notice any affixation and derive other parts of speech:

Word formation example

I would also strongly suggest pre-teaching vocabulary before reading a text. The next day you could do a spelling exercise as vocabulary revision. You can give your students an initial letter string with the exact number of gaps and get them to produce the word they learnt the day before:

  • st_ _ _ _ _ _ _ (strenuous)
  • acc _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (accidental)
  • sl_ _ _ (slope)

[Read more about how to help students with spelling in Emina’s previous post, and find out more about why it’s a particularly difficult problem for Arabic learners in one of my posts.]

Word decoding

Another reason for poor reading skills in Arabic learners is slow and inaccurate processing of words, (word decoding). When it comes to multisyllabic lexical items, my Arabic students often read the beginning of the word and then unsuccessfully predict the rest of it. Also, it is not uncommon that words get confused with similar lexical items (negative L1 transfer). This group of learners will tend to focus on consonants so century might become country, revelation becomes reflection, etc.

To fix this problem, one of the most important exercises to recycle vocabulary would be gapping vowels. This will help them not only to improve their spelling but also their word decoding:

  • c_rt_n               (carton)
  • _xh_b_t_ _n   (exhibition)
  • _cc_l_r_t_       (accelerate)

I think it is also essential for Arabic learners to learn to divide words into syllables which will also markedly improve their word processing (e.g. con-se-quence). They can clap/tap syllables and while doing so. I ask them not to look at the words as irregular spelling patterns will only confuse them (e.g. just think about how we pronounce common words containing ‘ea’ – meat, learn and heart).

Overall, I believe, starting with vocabulary accuracy is paramount. Once the visual form of the word is consolidated, students will decode it more quickly and as a result, they will eventually get faster at reading.

Sentence level

Besides working on accurate word decoding, I get my students to focus on the sentence structure at the same time. I think it’s really important to pre-teach sentence elements (S-V-O: subject-verb-object) and parts of speech (noun (n), verb (v), adjective (adj), etc.) as this will immensely help our learners ‘decipher’ long sentences and orientate themselves in a text. ‘Grammatical labels’ might seem superfluous; however, I’ve noticed once the students get the hang of those, it’s much easier for me to give instructions and explain various grammatical structures e.g. passive, relative clauses, participles, etc. As students gain the knowledge of the sentence structure, they will start processing sentences faster.

Another thing I do is give students the beginning of a sentence which they have to finish e.g. I went to the shop (to)…; My car stopped in the middle of the road (because)…. This is how they learn to predict the content and increase their reading speed.

Last but not least, it is already at sentence level that I get my Arabic learners to start noticing punctuation. We often analyse sentences and I get my students to answer the following questions:

  • Is there a capital letter? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a full stop? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a comma? Why is it there? (How is it different from a full stop?)

Try to do it every day (or as often as possible) until you see your Arabic students use capital letters and full stops automatically in their writing. While analysing the sentence(s) in terms of punctuation, you can also ask them to find the subject, verb, etc.

Complex sentences

In EAP and IELTS classes I have noticed that it helps a lot if we break down complex sentences. I get my Arabic learners to pay special attention to subordinate linkers (if, when, in spite of; however, etc.) as these do not feature very prominently in Arabic. After they have grasped the concept of sentence elements and parts of speech, I get them to focus on complex noun groups (consisting of head nouns, prepositional phrases, (reduced) relative clauses, etc.) as well as to notice the difference between active and passive. For example, I put a complex sentence on the board:

One surprising factor is the willingness with which the public in most countries accept the by now well-known risk of developing lung cancer in spite of the evidence of its connection with cigarette smoking published by WHO.

Taken from Nuttall (1989)

They can answer these questions either individually or in pairs:

  • Mark the beginning and the end of the sentence with a double-slash.
  • Can you find the linker? What does it express?
  • Divide the sentence into two clauses.
  • Can you find the head noun? Which verb goes with it?
  • What is additional information? Use a slash (or underline it)
  • Is published by WHO active or passive?             (passive)
  • What is missing before published by WHO?     (which was)

So in the end, we get something like this:

//One surprising factor is the willingness/ with which /the public in most countries accept/ the by now well-known risk /of developing lung cancer

in spite of the evidence/ of its connection with cigarette smoking / published by WHO.//

I try to stick to colour-coding and always use one colour for nouns, another one for verbs, etc.

Afterwards I give students another complex sentence which they have to break down answering the same questions as the ones in the grid. Alternatively, you can give them the key words beforehand and get the learners to develop their idea(s) of how to build it into a sentence first:

factor…willingness…public…accept …risk…lung cancer… in spite of…connection…smoking

How to extend the activity: After they’ve received, read and analysed the complex sentence in detail, you can ask them to cover it and go back to the key words. Now they have to try to produce the complex sentence just by looking at the key words. This will additionally consolidate their awareness of the English sentence structure.

Paragraph and text level

The analysis of punctuation continues when we read paragraphs and subsequently texts. If you teach multilingual classes, you can give these questions to your Arabic students separately on a piece of paper and tell them they need to answer the questions every time they read a text for homework.

  • How many full stops are there?
  • How many sentences are there?
  • Do all the sentences start with a big letter?
  • How many commas are there? Why are they used?
  • How many linkers can you see? Circle them.
  • How many paragraphs are there?

It’s particularly important for this group of learners to become exposed to whole paragraphs and texts as soon as possible. In this way they will be able to internalise the structure of a paragraph/a text which will also help them with their writing.

In order to generate interest in a text and for Arabic students to be able to identify with the topic, I would suggest tackling familiar topics for them (e.g. family and relationships, food, technology, customs and habits, weather, travel and transport, etc). In a multilingual class, I usually get non-Arabic students to explain various cultural references to them (e.g. the Beatles).

Other elements which slow down their reading

We’ve probably all witnessed many of our Arabic students using their finger in order to read in a line. To help them drop this habit (apart from the obvious: Don’t use your finger!), I would first of all use regular typeface, such as Calibri or Arial (not the ornate ones that look like script!), as well as font size 12+ as this will genuinely improve their word decoding skills and consequently their processing speed.

In order to help them follow the text on the line as well as to monitor their speed, I would get the students to use a ‘mask’ (see below). This will also discourage them from using their finger!

Mask for reading

Taken from: Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language by Nuttall (1989)

You can make it yourself by cutting a window in a sheet of paper. Get them to place it over the line and as they read, and pull it down to uncover the remaining text.

Another prominent feature which slows down our Arabic learners is subvocalisation (pronouncing words under their breath). Reading aloud and subvocalisation are commonly used when reading in Arabic, therefore this, in many ways cultural difference, needs to be pointed out early on in their learning process.

In order to read faster, as we all know, predicting the content is vital. I have noticed that stories often go down very well with Arabic learners. I give them a text and ask them to read the first paragraph. Afterwards they need to predict what will happen in the next paragraph, etc.:

It was a cold, dark night

Taken from: New English File Pre-Intermediate by Oxenden et al. (2011)

You can also give them a series of pictures and ask them to explain to their partners what they think happened before they read the story.

Extension of this activity: Afterwards they cover the text and tell each other the same story but this time in more detail, based on what they have read.


So we’ve finally come to the notorious skimming. This technique works well with students who are competent readers in their L1 and who can successfully transfer their reading skills into their L2. Apart from expanding lexis, if we want Arabic-speaking students to improve their skimming and pick up their reading speed, our students also need to learn to ignore non-key, usually low-frequency words and just continue reading!

I choose a text and gap every eighth word in it, next time every seventh, sixth word, etc.:

Read the text. Ignore the gaps.

Grace Simmons is only fourteen, and she speaks French, but she’s famous in Paris. She’s become a _______ model for a well-known _______ designer. Grace is from _____, Michigan. Her father is ______ car salesperson and her ______ is a teacher. Grace_____very unhappy as a _____ girl because she was _____ tall-almost six feet. _____ other children laughed at_____all the time and ______ had very few friends. ______ she was eleven years _____, Grace’s mother took her ______ a modelling school.

Taken from: More Reading Power by Mikulecky & Jeffries (2004).

How many words you gap depends on the students’ level and the lexical density of a text (the denser the text, the fewer the gaps). You can also gap grammatical words (determiners, prepositions, etc.) as well as adjectives and adverbs (basically words which are not absolutely essential to understand a text).

When we get our Arabic students to attempt to skim a text, I recommend selecting texts which are considerably below their oral level of proficiency. I don’t think there is much point in getting them to skim a text which contains a lot of lexis unknown to them. Another piece of advice would be, as mentioned before, to pre-teach new vocabulary.

I also get my students to skim a text more than once. But the most important thing is that they get into the habit of doing it on a daily basis, either in class or at home or even both! I also get them to time themselves and write down how long it took them to skim a text the first time, second time, etc.

Last but not least, it’s very useful to set up a reading routine. You can get them to choose the texts they want to read in their free time. I usually put a grid on the wall where they write down what they read the day before:

Reading grid

To recap…

Reading is a very complex cognitive process which requires a long time to ‘master’. Our Arabic speakers are in many ways disadvantaged as when reading in English, they are faced with a completely different writing system alongside considerable linguistic as well cultural differences (e.g. knowledge of the world; various cultural references) which influence their reading in English.

I believe we can help our Arabic learners a lot if we break things down, starting with words in isolation before moving on to higher levels of processing. In the same vein, I think accurate word decoding should be tackled before working on reading speed.

After skimming for the gist, I think it’s vital to do the post-reading analysis in terms of:

  • prioritising vocabulary and breaking the words down into syllables;
  • guessing key vocabulary from the context;
  • analysing the sentence structure (especially in complex sentences);
  • analysing how ideas are developed in each paragraph and in a text as a whole;
  • analysing punctuation.

All of these things will help our Arabic students improve their accuracy and speed when reading. This will build up their confidence which will motivate them to read more in their free time. And we all know developing extensive reading is paramount if you want to become a competent reader!

After employing all the strategies that I have outlined in this blogpost, the reading skills in my Arabic learners have improved significantly within a fairly short period of time. It did require a lot of time and effort on both sides but as I always say, hard work pays off! So in the end, the majority of my students got significantly higher scores in their IELTS reading as well as their writing, which got them a step closer to getting into a university of their choice. Vicious circle broken, mission accomplished! 🙂


  • Mikulecky, B.S. & Jeffries, L. (2004) More Reading Power (second edition) Longman
  • Nuttall, C. (1989) Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language Heinemann
  • Oxenden, C.; Latham-Koenig, C.; Seligson, P. & Clanfield, L. (2011) New English File Pre-intermediate Teacher’s Book OUP

About Emina

Emina Tuzović works as an English language teacher at the London School of English, predominantly on EAP, ESP and exam preparation courses. She has designed an online spelling module for Arabic learners of English for CUP as well as reviewed various syllabuses for spelling materials for the Middle-East market. She is currently completing the final year of a PhD on word recognition and orthographic awareness in Arabic learners of English at Birkbeck College, London.


Writing ELT materials for primary (guest post)

At this year’s IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event, Katherine Bilsborough offered us tips on writing materials for primary-age young learners. These were really useful, so I asked her to put together a blog post summarising them for you.

Writing ELT materials for primary can be great fun but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s somehow easier than writing materials for an older age group. It isn’t. It has just as many challenges but some might be less obvious at first. Following on from the talk I did at this year’s MaWSIG pre-conference event at IATEFL, here are five things to take into consideration for anyone thinking of writing for primary.

1 What does primary actually mean?

The term primary usually covers six years – a long period in the life of a child. Materials that are suitable for a year 1 or 2 pupil aren’t suitable for a year 5 or 6 pupil – for a number of reasons. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the age group for which you are writing. The best way, of course, is to teach this age group yourself, but this isn’t always possible. The next best thing would be to observe some classes being taught – but fortunately there are a few easier things you can do too.

When you know the age group for which you are writing, check out the kind of things they are doing at school by using the UK’s Key Stage classification. Once you know the key stage, you can go to sites such as BBC Bitesizeand look at what children are doing in terms of subject matter and activity types. Remember this is a site for British school children whose first language is usually English so the language used might be more complex that the language you need to use in an ELT context. A good place to go to get an idea of the kind of vocabulary and grammar your target users need for their age group is the Cambridge English Exams website**. The word lists are very similar to word lists in the syllabus of most course books, especially since more and more course books now include exam preparation materials.

2 Primary appropriateness

The most important starting point for anybody writing materials for primary children is appropriateness. There are lots of ways to interpret this but we all know what it means. Primary materials have all the usual no-no’s and then a few more. Publishers usually provide a list of things they wish to avoid. Many of them are common sense but others might surprise you. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with all of the potential restrictions to your creativity. It’s frustrating having to completely rewrite a story, for example, because you’ve included something that needs to be cut … and the story won’t work without it. This is why it’s also a good idea to run your ideas past your editor before embarking on a writing marathon. I haven’t given any specific examples here … that’s a whole blog post in itself!

3 Illustration

Illustration is important in primary materials and once again the importance of age appropriateness needs to be considered. Look at some storybooks for five-year-olds and then at some others for nine-year-olds. You’ll notice all kinds of differences. Not only obvious things like word count or language used but also themes, genres and art styles. I have heard that more and more photos of real-life people and objects are appearing in materials for ever-younger learners. This might reflect changes in their real worlds where they are watching an increasing number of youtube videos and have much more access to photos.

It’s worth investing in a scanner if you start writing primary materials. Editors, designers and illustrators appreciate getting a scanned sketch of your perception of a page. They also like to see more detailed drawings of story frames or pages where the illustration is key to the understanding of the text. It’s worth pointing out that one of the best things about seeing the final product is seeing the brilliant work of the artists in transforming your roughly sketched ideas into work of true beauty.

4 Instructions/rubrics

When it comes to writing materials for primary I think a good rule of thumb for an instruction is ‘the simpler, the better’. That’s probably the case for all kinds of materials, for all ages and levels, but with primary it’s especially important because in the case of the youngest learners, some might not be able to read yet. Have a look at the instructions in materials for this age group. Note how they change according to the age and how simple icons are used for year 1 pupils to support the learning.

5 Useful websites for a primary materials writer

All professionals have their favourite websites and primary materials writers are no different. Here are 6 of mine. If you have any others, let us know. It’s always great to discover a new one.
Paste a text and get an instant colour-coded version, showing at a glance where each word lies within the CEFR guidelines or the AWL (academic word list) guidelines. Perfect for adapting the level of reading and audio texts.
*BBC Bitesize archives for different UK curriculum key stages.
Easy-to-use, quick and simple recording site. Useful for sending your editor an audio of how you imagine a chant, song etc. sounding.
Age appropriate news stories from around the world (older primary).
Free online puzzle maker where you can create crossword grids and word searches quickly and easily. Other online puzzle makers make anagrams, jumble sentences and create other kinds of puzzles.
** Downloadable pdf wordlists for each level (Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET and PET).


Whether you are writing primary materials for your own classes or to share with others, for a blog, a website or a publisher, don’t forget the most important thing – have fun!

About Katherine

Katherine has worked in ELT since 1986 as a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She has published coursebooks and materials for all ages and contexts. Her primary materials include Dream Box, Ace! Oxford Rooftops, a new course book for OUP and a new online course for BBC English. She develops print and digital materials for the British Council and the BBC and regularly contributes to the LearnEnglish and TeachingEnglish websites. When she isn’t writing, she is gardening. Not having a blog of her own, Katherine enjoys gatecrashing other people’s blogs and was recently named ‘the interloping blogger’ – a title she approves of.

Katherine Bilsborough

If you want to find out more about materials writing, why not get a copy of Katherine’s new e-book How to write primary materials, written for the ELT Teacher2Writer site. (If you decide to buy it through Smashwords with this link, I’ll get a few pennies!)

Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training (guest post)

So I want you to tell me what you think went well, what you think didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time…

Sound familiar? If you’re a teacher trainer, academic manager or even just a teacher who has been through a training course, then the above is probably burned into your brain and has become a mantra. In initial teacher training, at least in my experience, these three points form the start of the post-lesson discussion. And the reason? Reflection.

Most teachers, I hope, would agree that reflection is a useful, maybe even vital, tool for professional development as it helps us dig into what we truly believe in order to then subject it to scrutiny, with the final goal being improved practice. The question I ask myself, though, is would someone on an initial training course (CELTA/CertTESOL) see things the same way? Do they see it as a route to professional competence or merely another hoop to jump through to satisfy the tutor on the other side of the table? Are the reflections that follow the prompts a genuine attempt to understand what just happened to them in the previous 45 minutes? Or strategic responses to tell the tutor what they want to hear? Or even in some cases an attempt to rescue a failing grade by showing real awareness of their class? Only one person in the room truly knows the answer to that question, but, again, from my experience I’ve had reason to believe that required reflection in such stressful circumstances doesn’t always lead to genuine reflection and may in fact be counter-productive.

I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I came to the conclusion that forced reflection will always be unreliable, so can you engage the trainees in genuine reflection during teaching practice?

The answer…? you can’t. At least, not all of them. Genuine reflection has to come from a place of genuine desire for development and if we’re honest, we have to admit to ourselves that that’s not where the majority of our future teachers are coming from.

In the end, the solution was a simple one: to teach the trainees the benefits of reflection for future development and more importantly how to go about it. This way if they are truly invested in their future development, the tutor can allow the time and space for reflection in feedback. However, for those not interested in future development and more concerned with the certificate they need to secure their visa to work abroad, there’s no need to make them squirm or to elicit the same strategic responses that waste the tutor’s time, their time and the time of their co-trainees.

In response, I’ve created a series of activities designed to lead the trainees through the reflective process and to provide a framework to guide reflection for those interested. This was incorporated into an input session during week 1 of a four-week course.

Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process

The session starts with a look at the stages of a reflective process and trainees organise them into what they feel is a logical order. The aim is to lead trainees away from the notion that reflection is simply looking back and highlight the importance of seeking to name the issue and, more importantly, to devise hypotheses for future action. As a kinaesthetic problem-solving activity it tends to generate a lot of discussion too.

I use this process taken from Rodgers (2002:851) which is a summary of John Dewey. However, the exact process isn’t so important. What’s more important is that there is a framework to guide the trainees.

  1. An experience is required to trigger some sort of reflective thought.
  2. The teacher seeks to interpret the experience.
  3. The teacher seeks to name the problem.
  4. The teacher seeks explanations for the problem and general questions are created.
  5. A concrete hypothesis is developed.
  6. The hypothesis is tested.

Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events

In this stage trainees consider typical classroom “problems” and seek to find potential reasons, encouraging them to think deeper than their initial knee-jerk reactions in the classroom. Once they’ve made a list of reasons they spend some time in groups discussing possible ways of addressing each of them in the classroom, which helps to encourage the hypothesis forming described in the stage 1.

The students spoke too much L1!

They got all the answers wrong to the grammar activity

Stage 3 – Categorising reflection

In this stage I get trainees to look at real reflections taken from recorded feedback meetings (these could also be written by the trainer) to highlight the different angles we can reflect from. They spend some time reading them and then categorise them according to what the teacher is talking about. For this I use four categories inspired by Zeichner and Liston (1985).

  1. Reflection which simply recounts the events of the lesson with no real analysis of them.
  2. Reflection which focuses on what worked and didn’t work and how they could address it.
  3. Reflection which focuses on why the teachers chose to do certain things in the lesson and what they hoped to achieve.
  4. Reflection which moves beyond the lesson and questions larger curricular issues.

There is typically a lot of grey areas here, which is good to generate discussion, and leads to the creation of questions to ask themselves to elicit each type of reflection. This has been identified by the trainees as a very important stage.

Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching

Using the reflections from the previous stage, trainees discuss what the teacher’s beliefs about teaching may be and then compare them to their own beliefs and discuss how aligned they are with how they think languages are learned. This stage should bring the reflective process to a logical conclusion and encourage more critical reflection.


Since introducing this session on the course, feedback has changed. It no longer starts with the holy trinity of feedback questions from earlier, but instead begins with something much simpler: “How do you feel about the lesson today?” Those invested in their own development reflect; not always in useful ways, but as with any skill it takes practice. Those interested in their grade often respond with “How do you feel about it?” or more commonly “Did I pass?” and that’s ok.


Rodgers, C. (2002) ‘Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking’ The Teachers College Record Vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 842-866.

Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. (1985) ‘Varieties of discourse in supervisory conferences’ Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-174

About the author

Dan Baines has been teaching English since 2004 and been involved in some form of teacher development since finishing his DELTA in 2008.  He currently works for the British Council in Prague and as a freelance Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor.

Dan Baines

Peace Boat (guest post)

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

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

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

Peace Boat ship

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

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

70th Peace Boat route map

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

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

T-shirt from the 70th Peace Boat voyage

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

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

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


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

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 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.


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

10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer

I was very happy to be asked to write a guest post on the ETpedia blog. John Hughes’ book has been very useful to me on CELTA courses recently, and I would highly recommend getting yourself a copy. If you use this link, I’ll get a few pennies too.

ETpedia cover

My guest post was 10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer. What tips would you add?

Delta conversations: Emma

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Emma Gore-Lloyd started teaching four years ago after doing her CELTA at IH Wroclaw in June 2011. She worked at IH Huelva in Spain, where she enjoyed presenting at the IH Andalucia and ACEIA conferences, and started the DELTA in 2014 before moving to work at the British Council in Madrid. She blogs at

Emma Gore-Lloyd

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? (i.e. in what order and did you do them in different places?)

I did an intensive Delta 3-2-1 course at IH Seville (CLIC). This intensive course starts with an introductory course for Module 3 [the extended assignment], which served to prepare us well for the other two modules and also, as it was the least demanding week, gave us a chance to settle in and get to know one another a bit.  Module 2 [the observed teaching] came next, and that lasted for 6 weeks. Last came Module 1, the exam preparation course. Because we had covered most of the input we were able to focus on exam practice in this time. Then in the new year when I started work in a new job, I got going on Module 3. IH Seville set us deadlines for each part and offered feedback on each part and a final draft before we submitted the final thing.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I chose to do as much as possible of the Delta face-to-face because I’m not a fan of online learning or of studying at the same time as working. My choice of intensive course was limited by the fact that I wanted to keep the summer free and start in September (most intensive courses seem to be in the summer), but luckily for me, IH Seville was close to where I’d been living, and I later heard that it has one of the best pass rates for the Delta.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

It was a great opportunity to fine tune my teaching skills and to read more of the literature – I feel much more knowledgeable about English language teaching now. This can also make you more critical and/or cynical, which could either be an advantage or a disadvantage! I really enjoyed doing the experimental practice as it was an opportunity to learn about something new and try it out in the classroom without the pressure of being observed. I’m definitely more confident about how to tailor a course to my students’ needs now. I made some good pals on the course too.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

Ha ha! All of it during Module 2! I would get up around 8 and try to do some yoga and then some reading over brekkie, before heading to school for the first input session at 10. The best part of the day was the breakfast break at 11.30. Then there was teaching practice, lunch, and often another input session. There may have been more input than that on some days or less – I can’t quite remember now! I’d get home around five and then work until about 11pm. Weekends were a bit more intense. It sounds awful, and perhaps it was a bit too much because I was ready for it to be over by the end of the fourth week – not great when the teaching practice that counts is in the sixth week! Module 1 was less full-on, which was great because we all had Delta fatigue by then. Module 3 was a bit different – I chose not to do much during the week when I was working and then spend the weekend focusing on it, but you could do it in other ways. I didn’t have much of a social life anyway, so it suited me to do it that way. If you’re organised and make a good headstart, it shouldn’t be too much of a headache.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Well, obviously I had to give up working while I did the intensive course (and I had to pay for it myself), but I was prepared for this and saved up. By the end of Module 2 I think we were all quite tired and it was hard to stay motivated during the module 1 prep course. At this point I was also concerned with finding work starting in January. If you find yourself in the same situation, don’t panic – job vacancies appear at the beginning of January too.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I got most of it over and done with quickly!  I was reminded that my choice was the right one when I was doing Module 3 at the same time as working. It dragged on forever! (It is possible to hand in Module 3 on the same day as the Module 1 exam in December, but that’s a bit full on and our tutors didn’t really recommend it). Doing Module 2 before Module 1 definitely made sense for me because we had already applied the knowledge we needed for the exam meaningfully and it was therefore more memorable. I imagine learning a list of terminology without having applied it would be a lot harder.

The face-to-face factor was definitely a benefit for me: studying with actual, physical tutors and peers (rather than virtual ones) can mean the difference between something seeming a bit dull and something being totally inspiring – for me, anyway. It can also be eye-opening to meet teachers who have worked in totally different environments, and it’s nice to be able to support each other as you go through the course.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Read Sandy’s and Lizzie’s posts on doing the Delta for excellent tips.
  • Start reading before the course and make notes on things that you think are interesting or that you disagree with.
  • Be organised! I found Evernote really helped me keep everything sorted.
  • Don’t expect to feel great when Module 2 finishes. It’s more of a weird anti-climax.
  • Take Sandy’s advice and have a holiday before and after Module 2 – you’ll need it.
  • Take the advice you give your students and plan your essays really well because there’s no room for waffle in those word counts.
  • Do as many past papers as you can for Module 1.
  • Keep to the deadlines your tutors give you for Module 3 so you can benefit from reading their comments.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

It’s hard to say, but because we had so much useful input in Modules 3 and 2, I might have been able to study by myself for the exam. However, the school gave us access to lots of past papers and examiners’ reports, and they are the best resource for learning what Cambridge want (providing an excellent test example to analyse for reliability) – and it was good to be with my study buddies.

Delta conversations: Joanna

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Joanna Malefaki has been teaching English for approximately 18 years. In the mornings, she is an online Business English tutor and in the afternoons, she teaches mostly exam classes as a freelance teacher. She has been teaching pre-sessional EAP for five summers now, and will be working at Sheffield University this summer. She holds a M.Ed in TESOL and the Cambridge Delta. She blogs regularly at You can also find her on Twitter: @joannacre

Joanna Malefaki

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

Well, I did the Delta slow and steady. I took lots of breaks. I did module one on my own. I didn’t do a course. I already had an M. Ed in TESOL, so when I looked at the reading list, I saw that a lot of the material overlapped. Also, some of my friends who had already done the Delta suggested I try to prepare for it by myself. That’s what I did. I read whatever I could get my hands on. I did lots of Module One past papers and read examiner reports very carefully. I then found a center willing to take me on as an external candidate (CELT Athens). I took the exam and passed. After that I took a little break. I then did a blended course at CELT Athens with Marisa Constantinides and George Vassilakis. I had weekend sessions (online) and I had to go to Athens for my observed lessons (I live on a Greek island, so I needed to travel quite a bit for Module 2). I passed Module 2 and then took another break. I then did Module 3 online with Bell. My tutor there was Chris Scriberras. I passed Module 3 last December.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I work full time. I did not take any time off in order to do the Delta. I was working about 40 hours a week and then there was also the extra-curricular teaching related stuff. That means I was really busy. I couldn’t commit to an intensive Delta nor go somewhere and do the course. This was the only option. The breaks were a way to help me avoid burnout. I don’t think that I would have finished if I had done the Delta full time and have a full-time job at the same time. I probably would have dropped out.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

I studied whenever I had time. I studied late at night and on Sundays. I cannot put it in numbers though. I feel I studied a lot, but not enough. I should have cut down on my working hours.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Where do I begin? On a personal level, I learnt that if you set your mind to something, you can probably do it! I learnt that I complain a lot when I feel overwhelmed and that I really like comfort food! ‘Have a break, have a Kit Kat’ was my motto those days!

I also met lots of lovely people who were doing the course with me. I met people from around the world and I now consider them my friends, my study buddies. I learnt that I love writing and particularly, blogging. I actually started blogging because of the Delta. My tutor, Marisa, said it will help me reflect. I wrote a post about what the Delta means to me for her Delta blog. After that, I started my own blog. Getting more connected and growing my PLN was another result of the Delta, and another recommendation of Marisa’s. I learnt so much while I was doing the course, and I am still learning as a result of the course.

On a professional level, I became more aware of some of my teaching ‘weaknesses’, moved away from bad habits and experimented a lot. I started paying more attention to the links between lessons and tasks. I looked more carefully at my students’ needs. I moved a bit further away from course books. I became better at lesson planning and learnt more about aims and objectives. I also tried out new tasks, approaches and techniques I had never tried before. I learnt a lot from the feedback I got regarding my teaching. I think I liked feedback sessions the most. They are really helpful and informative.

Finally, during the Delta I became once more, a learner. The assignment writing was an eye opener for me. You see, I had been teaching EAP, for a few months. I had been going on about academic writing, integrating sources, paraphrasing and plagiarism. I spoke to my learners a lot about supporting their arguments and so on. Only when I did the Delta, did I realise that all I had been preaching was actually very hard!! I walked in my learners’ shoes. Now, I know better. I also have more study tips to share with my students!

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Doing the Delta slowly is like a knife with two blades. You have time to breathe but you may lose the momentum. Getting in and out of Delta mode is quite hard.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I did not have to take time off work and I did the Delta at my own pace. Doing the Delta online allows you to be at home and save money and time.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

I would say that it’s a good idea to do the Delta when you have extra time. Don’t do it if you are too busy. The workload is very heavy and demanding, and if you really want to enjoy it, you need to have time. Take some time off. It is very hard to do the Delta if you are teaching 24/7.

I also think it is necessary to stay focused and be selective. When you are doing the Delta, you want to know/ learn everything. You have a plethora of information coming your way. This can be overwhelming, so you need to be able to identify what you need and what needs to go (information-wise). Trust me. If you do not ‘filter’ the information, you will end with loads of photocopies scattered around your study space.

Finally, allow yourself some time for everything to sink in, again because there is a lot of information. You teaching changes gradually and what you learn takes time to become part of your teaching.

Teaching English on Skype (guest post)

After meeting up with Sandy at IATEFL Manchester 2015 (having not seen each other face-to-face since finishing our university studies in 2008 – one of the reasons social media is great!) and chatting about the fact that I do most of my teaching on Skype, she asked me to write a guest post on her blog, and here it is!

I’ve been working as a freelance English teacher since the beginning of 2013, when I set up my business, Get Ahead in English. I’d just moved to Barcelona, and after teaching at SGI in London for a couple of years, was keen to see if I could strike out on my own! I built up to a full timetable of private students, almost all 1-1 with the exception of two students I taught together, and a group of three students in-company. I also started my first Skype lessons whilst in Barcelona. This was a 45-minute lesson with a student I’d taught face-to-face in London. We met once a week and mostly practised speaking, as well as email English. In this case, he didn’t have a webcam, which worked well as it gave him the chance to practise telephone English – in his job, he has to speak English to people without seeing their faces almost every day.
My husband and I moved back to the UK in December 2014 and I offered all my students in Barcelona the chance of continuing their lessons on Skype. Some were immediately keen, others said they’d prefer face-to-face (for example, those taking lessons in-company who felt they needed the motivation of a physical person appearing in their office every week) and some said they’d think about it (most of those have now started Skype lessons too!)


Most of the activities I do are not that different to those I did in face-to-face lessons. Instead of arriving at the lesson with printed handouts, I email them in advance, or send documents via Skype (there’s a paperclip symbol next to the chat box where you can attach files), and they arrive almost instantly. I also use this to send homework. To review students’ writing, I sometimes use the screen share function on Skype so we can look at their work together. I think some Skype teachers use Teamviewer, but I haven’t found it necessary.

It’s also very easy to look at websites together online – a student can send me something they’ve seen that they have questions about, I can send an article, or we can look at exercises together. Google images is also great when one of us is trying to describe something!

How different is teaching on Skype to teaching face-to-face?

As long as you both have a good internet connection and webcam, not that different at all! I have actually met the majority of my Skype students face-to-face as well, because I was teaching them in Barcelona, but I now have a few who I’ve never met in person. People ask if this is awkward, but I don’t think it is. One of the reasons I offer a free 30-minute consultation before students have to pay is to make sure the student feels comfortable with the format, as well as to check their internet is good enough and to conduct a needs analysis, of course!

One difference I have noticed is timing. When going to a student’s house or office, you arrive a couple of minutes early and by the time you’ve come in, sat down, they’ve offered you a drink and you’ve chatted about a new picture on the wall or something else you’ve seen, you’re at least 5 minutes into the lesson. With Skype, the lesson starts as soon as you press the “call” button! This also means that there are generally fewer distractions, which is nice.

Of course, there are sometimes technical problems. Touch wood, I’ve had fewer problems with my internet connection than I did with late trains/buses when teaching face-to-face! It’s important to have a strategy in place for these types of things though – do you still charge a student if their internet is broken? I ask students to give me 24 hours’ notice of any changes or cancellations, but treat those with less notice on a case-by-case basis. If my internet broke and we couldn’t do our lesson, I wouldn’t charge the student and we’d arrange another time to make up for it. This is yet to happen! We did have a power cut last week but luckily not while I had any lessons scheduled. Occasionally mine or my student’s internet connection will cut out for a minute or two during the lesson, but that’s rare and only for a short time.

How do I find students?

I’m lucky in that the majority of my students are ones I already knew. However, I’ve found a few new students through TutorFair and others through Blabmate. Be warned that with the latter, you’ll receive a lot more enquiries than paying students! There seem to be a lot of people looking for free lessons. However, for the £1.40/month fee, you don’t need many paying students to make it up. I would also say it’s important to have your own website so students can find out more about you.

Other advantages

I asked my Skype students to tell me what they most like about learning on Skype for a blogpost I wrote on my website, and the main thing they mentioned was convenience. They can take their lessons anywhere (even on a beach or in their pyjamas!) as long as they have an internet connection.

This is also an advantage for me, as my travelling time and cost is now zero. It also means that I have students all over the world, which is great to increase my client base, but also to learn about new cultures.

Last but by no means least, there’s the environmental factor. I print so much less now that I’m teaching online. A recent ELT chat highlighted the desire for teachers to reduce the amount of paper they use, and this is one way to do it!


I used to enjoy teaching face-to-face in Barcelona as it gave me the chance to walk around the city a lot and get to know it. This is slightly less appealing in rainy Manchester, but I do miss the exercise and variety!

Sometimes you can’t beat being in the same room as a student – they may have a book they’d like you to look at, and it’s easier to pick up on body language etc.

I haven’t taught any small groups on Skype but imagine that would be more difficult. Having had three-way conversations with friends on Skype, we’ve tended to end up with lots of people starting to speak at the same time as it’s harder to see visual clues. However, I’m sure you’d get used to it and would be good practice for meetings etc.

Overall, I really enjoy teaching on Skype. It’s comfortable for me and the student, it’s more environmentally friendly and it means I can teach students all over the world!

Julia Phang

Thanks a lot to Julia Phang for writing this post. It was great to catch up with her after so long, and the fact that she could write a guest post on a topic I often get asked about was an added bonus! If you’d like to find out more, you can follow Julia on Twitter and read her shiny new blog too.

Tag Cloud