101 low-prep ideas for exploiting coursebook activities (LanguageEd Day)

On Sunday 27th November 2022, I presented at the first LanguageEd Day, as part of this programme of speakers:

Here are the slides from the day:

This was a slightly different version of a talk I’ve done a couple of times before. Here is a full list of all of the activities from a May 2019 post, which you can also download them as a pdf or a .docx handout. You can also find slides from a similar webinar I did for IH Bucharest, plus a few extra links, in this post from June 2020.

EVE-LAC TESOL Mentorship Program (final presentations)

Having participated in one EVE mentoring program, working with teachers from Africa, I was very happy when the opportunity came up to do it again. This time there are 8 teachers from across Latin America, presenting on a range of different topics. My mentee was first to present.

[I will add a link to the recordings when they become available]

#Memes: preparing EFL learners for intercultural communication on social media – Jessica Rivas (Venezuela)

Jessica started by reminding us that memes can be offensive and not for everybody. Not every meme we see is one we can identify with.

Do we prepare our studenst to face intercultural communication on social media? To understand that social media is a bridge between different cultures? It comes with risks, challenges and threats like those of memes above.

Here are some ideas you can use to help our students to understand this:

  • Discuss. What are the characteristics of memes? What is the process of their creation? What is their relationship with culture? What concepts are involved in the meme?
  • Reflect. What is the purpose of the meme? Who is the intended audience? Who created it?
  • Introduce. What memes are related to the learners’ culture? What stereotypes or prejudices might they be sharing?
  • Compare. How does this meme relate to memes from similar or other topics? How does it relate to real life? How does it relate to other people’s lives?

This could also be a starting point for research done by students about memes they have seen.

An English teacher in a Honduran town with limited resources – Luz Milda Bohorquez Paz (Honduras)

This map shows were Luz lives in Honduras.

As English teachers, Luz says that we need to be empathic, adaptable, creative and tolerant. Love and passion should also be part of our job.

She works in an incredibly challenging context, with 620 students in public school, with only 2 x 45-minute lessons with her students each week. There are limited resources, no books, no copies, and a lack of government support. There are high levels of poverty, and many learners work in agriculture and go to school as well. There is limited connectivity. Luz has a high workload, and there isn’t enough practice time for her students. She has to find resources on her own, and be creative to design engaging lessons. She aims to empower learners so they know English is useful, and sometimes uses her phone to provide an internet connection. Luz encourages her students to create project work and work on topics.

In the future, Luz would like to create an audiovisual lab for her students. She is hoping to apply for grants and/or work with her learners to bring technology closer to her learners, engaging them more, exposing them to innovation, and providing access to opportunities with learners in other parts of the country of the world.

Prioritising Mental Health in a University Context – Patricia Gomez (Paraguay)

This is a definition of mental health. Patricia believes this is vital for university students to have, particularly to stop them from quitting their courses. At the university where Patricia works, only 10% of students graduate. Only 1% of the health budget in Paraguay is dedicated to mental health.

Patricia studied at the same university and felt very supported by her professors and classmates, but she felt the need for institutional support too. When she started her research she discovered that a Bienestar Estudiantil (student wellbeing) department exists, for wellbeing, but the office is 6km away from their faculty, and it’s hard to get around! The service has existed since around 2009, offering support with academic and administrative processes, and helping disabled students with access.

She interviewed some of her students in the English language program to find out what they knew about it. More than half of the students didn’t know it existed, and 94% of the 18 students didn’t know how to access the department. These are some things students said in her survey:

This is what the students wanted from the department:

Most of these things are actually provided by the service, apart from mental health professionals, but there is only one person responsible for a whole department.

Patricia suggests:

  • Create a wellbeing hub. She recognises it might not be possible to build an office or hire more staff. The University of Oxford describes this as “an online gateway that makes it easier for all to find and access wellbeing and support services.”
  • Build peer support networks. Train students to volunteer to be good listeners and help those who are struggling, and how to redirect students if they need professional help.
  • Promote wellbeing activities. For example sports, exercise and recreation, as well as socialising.

These should have a positive impact on our students.

Intentional teaching: engaging students with ADHD – Anabell Rodriguez (El Salvador)

Classroom management is often a challenge, especially for new teachers, and many teachers have little or no training for working with students with special educational needs. This can be discouraging for both students and teachers.

Before we start, Anabell reminded us that all our students have superpowers. We should see them with eyes that see what they CAN do, not what they can’t. We also need to work with other people in our organisation, and in our networks to learner more about strategies to help us work with our students. We need to work from the heart, and remind students that we love them and we want the best for them.

What happens in our classrooms and why?

  • Obtain adult attention. Students want adults to talk to them or look at them. Criticism and yelling are also attention, though it’s for negative reasons. We need to provide them attention for things that are positive, for example praising them for opening their books and being prepared for the lesson. They get a boost for this, and we reinforce positive behaviours. Students will then tend to perform these positive behaviours more.
  • Obtain peer attention. Students want other students to talk to them or look at them. Laughing, touching and fighting are also kinds of attention. Ask the students to do things which play to their strengths. For example, if a student is great at drawing, ask them to draw flashcards for you, then tell the other students who did it. In Anabell’s experience, that meant that a student was then asked to draw things for other students, and became much more engaged in the whole classroom environment.
  • Avoid or escape. The student doesn’t want to do the work or be in the room. They may also not want to be with certain peers. Students don’t have intrinsic motivation, so we need to work with extrinsic motivations. Encourage them based on what you know they like. For example, tell them that they can listen to some of their favourite music at the end of the lesson if they’ve worked successfully. Or let students work alone rather than making them work with peers.

Functional Behavioural Assessment and Behaviour Support Plans:

  • A: Antecedent e.g. when Maria is asked to do work in a group…
  • B: Behaviour e.g. …she gets out of her seat and walks around the classroom…
  • C: Consequence e.g. …As a result, she does not work with the group.

The hypothetical function of her behaviour is avoiding group work. Here are some possible solutions people came up with for this situation:

  • Ask her how she prefers to work, for example individually.
  • Assign people roles within the groups, so they are all clear what to do. Make sure she understands that she is needed in the group too.
  • Let her monitor the class with a specific role during the activity.

It’s important for us to identify the antecedents and consequences, not just the behaviours, to help us come up with alternative solutions.

The highlights of my teaching experience with young learners at Escuala Vera Angelita in Nicaragua – Fernanda Polanco (Nicaragua)

Fernanda’s school is in a rural area, and is a sustainable school, the first in Nicaragua. They are aiming to integrate all of the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. It’s located within a farm, producing organic food, which is used to feed the students and teachers, some of whom live at the school. There are also donors from the USA who provide things for the school. All of the students are girls who live on campus, who receive everything they need at the school, including food, clothes and healthcare.

Fernanda works to create classroom routines, including using technology like QR codes regularly. She uses a lot of collaborative work to promote interdependence between students. She makes use of the space in the classroom and the outdoor areas of the school to vary lessons.

To help students adjust to the classroom, she uses a ‘sandwich’ of English / Spanish / English. Later she reduces the amount of Spanish she uses once she knows that students feel comfortable.

Own languages are used by learners, regardless of what teachers do or say and they can also be used productively when children / teenagers work together in pairs or groups.

Ellis, 2021

There have been other challenges. Some of her students are complete beginners in English, and some don’t have Spanish either as they come from indigenous groups.

Practical ideas for pure beginners:

  • Story telling
  • Role plays
  • Guessing games (like mime)
  • Recording – students like to listen to their recordings, and this serves as self-assessment
  • Interviews
  • Board games – online and in-person
  • Real-life speaking

These are some of the resources Fernanda uses:

The use of social media in education – Larissa Nunez (Paraguay)

Larissa started by reminding us of some potential disadvantages of social media:

  • Can facilitate cyber-bullying
  • Can promote laziness
  • Can distract learners

Larissa talked about using TikTok for education. She started creating TikTok videos when working with a teenager, and this improved their relationship. There are lots of people using social media for education, including giving live online lessons.

We need to be as curious and innovate as we want our students to be.

She started to promote interesting tips to support her students, first on Instagram, and then on TikTok.

Direct app interaction activities:

  • Making videos – creating short videos using the target language
  • Duetting teacher’s videos, dialogues
  • Recording steps of a project
  • Putting math problems on video and asking to comment on the answers
  • Answering questions via the app

Indirect app interaction activities:

  • Researching a topic and writing a paragraph
  • Critical thinking – using videos for discussion or debate after watching videos
  • Telling the teacher about a TikTok that was funny, interesting, inspiring, that taught you something new, etc. (rather than ‘How was your weekend?’ as an opening question!)
  • ‘TikTok moments’ in the classroom: students can share a TikTok video for other students to see, e.g. study techniques, words they’ve learnt, or something fun in English.

TikTok is also somewhere teachers can learn tips and ideas. Jordan Cotten was one person Larissa found it useful to follow. She also found other teachers from Paraguay, sharing tips relevant to her context.

Advantages of using social media:

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Finding tips, ideas and resources created by other students – students are more likely to listen to each other than to their teacher!
  • Distance learning opportunities

On Instagram, Larissa is @misslarinf.

Teaching with magic – Krissia Diaz (El Salvador)

This was a very fun presentation, featuring puppets and magic tricks 🙂

Kris tries to make use of painting, singing, dancing and magic to motivate and engage her students. She was highlighted as an outstanding teching by the Ministerio de Educacion in 2021. Now she’s an instructor for Platzi, helping public school teachers.

Using magic tricks can help students to realise that it’s OK make mistakes. It fosters their imagination, boosts their self-confidence, and can help with content explanation. It encourages students to explain outcomes, going beyond surface explanations.

Professor Richard Wiseman, Jody Greig, Miss Nan, and Xuxo Ruiz are all teachers you can find online who talk about teaching with magic. Xuxo Ruiz has written a book called Educando con Magia.

[It’s best to watch the video of this one, as that will make the tricks and ideas clearer!]

Webcomics: in the EFL classroom – Analys Milano (Venezuela)

A webcomic is the younger sibling of comics. There is a sequence of frames with narrative development, with a link between images and text, in both. But webcomics are mainly made to be viewed via apps or websites and consistently published.

Why webcomics?

  • Vocabulary is learnt in context.
  • They are visually attractive, including having distinctive styles according to the authors.
  • They can motivate and inspire through their stories.
  • Students can relate to the stories and talk about their own related stories.
  • They promote reading comprehension.
  • They provide meaningful input.

Webcomics require intensive and extensive reading skills. They require critical reading, and understanding the relationship between context and experience. They also promote critical thinking.

How can you integrate webcomics into your classroom?

  • Focus on grammar: Find a grammar point within the comic and explain it to your classmates – why was it used there?
  • Complete the story: Missing frames, missing lines. Who got the closest to the original story?
  • Fandub: Take a part of the story and ask students to voice the characters themselves. They have to understand the feelings too, not just the words.
  • Translations: [I missed this one]
  • Focus on comprehension: You can link comics to other media, like related videos.

On Webtoon, there’s a comic called ‘Let’s play’, which Analys uses to help students understand social media influence:

We need to take our students’ interests into account – there are many different genres of webcomics. We can create webcomics to create reading habits. Comics can also help with mental health and self-awareness, for example as distraction during the pandemic.

Here are some helpful websites:

[Here’s an extra resource: https://ciell.eu/app/#/home if this is an area you’re interested in.]

Erasmus+ projects for language teaching (guest post)

Last week I organised an ELT picnic in Reading, my first attempt at setting up networking for Reading English Professionals. One of the attendees was Gonzalo Galian-Lopez, Director of Studies at Eurospeak in Reading, and he told us about an event he was organising to share the results of Erasmus+ projects he’s been working on. I found the idea of these projects to be really interesting, and I hope you do too. Thanks for writing this Gonzalo!


I work for Eurospeak, an educational institution based in the UK and Ireland which is currently involved in over 40 EU-funded projects. The Erasmus+ programme makes it possible for language teaching professionals to participate in EU projects funded to develop innovative resources for teachers and learners. First, I’ll provide a brief introduction to the Erasmus+ programme and then presents an Erasmus+ project that has seen the development of resources for grammar teaching. Next, I’ll outline a few other projects that are currently working towards the creation of more tools for teachers and learners.

What is the Erasmus+ programme?

Erasmus+ is an EU programme that aims to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe. With a budget of over €26 billion, it provides opportunities for mobilitiy and cooperation in the contexts of school and adult education, vocational education and training, and more. Some of the programme’s goals relevant to language teachers include (1) promoting language learning and linguistic diversity, (2) improving the availability of high-quality learning resources, and (3) improving the competences of educators. The programme is open to any organisation established in an EU member state, including such organisations as language schools and higher education institutions.

What does an Erasmus+ project look like?

Erasmus+ projects typically involve several EU organisations working towards the development of resources and products. They last between 12 and 36 months and include four stages:

  • planning;
  • preparation;
  • implementation of activities;
  • follow-up.

In the context of language teaching, Erasmus+ projects are often carried out by consortiums comprised of institutions with expertise in language education and result in the development of innovative resources for language teachers and learners.

An example of an Erasmus+ project for language teaching

Second-language learners generally achieve a good understanding of grammar rules, but their ability to use these rules in fluent, spontaneous communication is often very limited. The Teaching Grammar for Spontaneous Communication project is an initiative to address this issue. More specifically, this project aims to help language teachers gain new insight into how to promote the development of grammatical knowledge that learners can use fluently and spontaneously in real-time communication. The project launched in November 2020 and is now approaching its end. Led by Eurospeak, a UK-based language school, the project has seen the development of three innovative tools for language teachers and teacher trainers:

  1. A handbook on teaching grammar for spontaneous communication [Note from Sandy – I particularly like the grid on p27 as a way of thinking about the demands of a communicative activity, with examples of how it could be used on the following pages]
  2. A teacher-training programme on the same subject (available soon)
  3. A handbook on how to design effective CPD sessions

These resources have been informed by cutting-edge research and are packed with sample grammar practice activities. They will soon be available in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Romanian, and Latvian. To access the all the project’s materials and to find out more about the project, you can visit the project’s website or Facebook page.

More Erasmus+ projects for language teaching

There is a vast array of Erasmus+ projects related to language teaching. These range in aims and target audiences, which can go from upskilling teacher trainers to supporting self-directed learners. They also range widely in project results, which can include, for example, e-courses, curricula, handbooks, apps, websites, and games, to name a few. The table below provides an overview of a selection of projects to give a sense of what Erasmus+ projects for language teaching may look like and, in turn, to encourage the reader to find out more about these projects and make use of their results:

Learning Foreign Languages Online  Self-directed language learnersTo make it easier to learn a language onlineA database of free online resourceshttps://www.learninglanguages.eu/
DigiTiseTeachers in the 50+ age groupTo upskill teachers in using digital toolsA handbook and 10 MOOC coursesfacebook.com/Toolkitfor50plus
Augmented Reality for EFLPrimary School EFL TeachersTo train teachers to use ARAn AR apphttps://ar4efl.eu/
iCOMLanguage teachers and learnersTraining about formulaic languageAn app to teach formulaic languagewww.icom-erasmus.site
Professional English Skills for EmployabilityThe unemployed across EuropeTo provide professional English trainingA professional English e-coursehttps://pese-erasmus.site/
CoCoFeFemale refugees and forced migrantsTo increase communicative competenceAn e-learning platformhttps://www.cocofe.eu/  

Concluding remarks

The aim of this article was to provide an introduction to the Erasmus+ programme and to share some projects relevant to language teaching professionals. I hope that this article will arouse some interest in the Erasmus+ programme among the language teaching community and possibly create opportunities for future partnerships and collaboration with Eurospeak. I also hope that the projects presented in this article, and the Teaching Grammar for Spontaneous Communication project in particular, will be of interest and useful to language teaching professionals across the EU.

With a background in ELT and EAP, Gonzalo Galian-Lopez is research lead in several language-learning related EU-funded projects. His main research interest is in the role of practice in the development of grammatical knowledge, and he is currently pursuing a PhD in this area of SLA. His main professional aims are to continue working in projects which bridge the gap between SLA research and the needs of language teachers and learners.

Email: dos at eurospeak dot ac dot uk

Reflections on my first Take Your Time Delta Module 1 course

When I went freelance, one of the main things I wanted to set up was a more relaxed way of working towards the Delta Module 1 exam. I’d seen lots of people getting stressed by it (including myself!), and I thought there must be another way to prepare.

I was also saddened by the Cambridge grade statistics, which show that as many as 42.9% of people taking Delta Module 1 fail (in 2019). This is a huge percentage, meaning something must be going wrong. I know a lot of people take the exam without a preparation course, and though I suspect much of this is due to the cost, I also think that some of it is knowing how stressful the course might be. I don’t think they’re failing because they’re not good teachers, or because they’re not capable of success in the exam, but because they don’t understand how the exam works and don’t necessarily have the level of methodology knowledge required to take it yet. That’s not to say you have to take a preparation course: just that it will probably increase your chances of success if it’s a good course.

I decided to put together a year-long course, in contrast to the three- or four-month courses which seemed to be the norm. I wanted course participants to have the chance to apply what they learnt to their work, and not just cram for the exam. I also wanted them to have time to absorb the structure of the Module 1 exam and feel confident when walking into the exam room, so that they could concentrate on showing what they knew, rather than trying to remember exam technique.

My first course started in October 2021, with three participants, and a fourth joining us soon after the start. I’m so grateful to my first group for working with me on this experimental course, and giving me excellent feedback throughout to help me refine it. It’s been a really enjoyable experience, and I think I’ve easily learnt as much as they have about Delta Module 1 and what candidates need to know to take the exam. I’ve also learnt a lot about how to structure my course.

I started out with a syllabus for the first 13 sessions or so, covering one part of the exam per session. I expected that we would work through these sessions, do a mock exam, then be flexible in the second half of the course, focussing on the areas which the participants most wanted/needed to work on. This is largely what we did, but I’m not sure if the specific sessions I ran the first time round were always the most effective. It took some experimentation to find session formats which worked well, combining exam practice with reflection on teaching. I also needed to work out / remember what level of methodological knowledge pre-Delta teachers are likely to have – this really made me appreciate how much I’ve learnt about teaching because of and since completing my own Delta. I sometimes pitched things too high, or expected to get through a lot more in a session, because I forgot that this was likely to be new information for these teachers.

Homework was very flexible. Generally it was designed to feed into the upcoming session in some way, but sometimes it revised what we’d done in the past or introduced new areas of language. Based on a suggestion from the group, there were also optional extension tasks, normally something to read or watch, which they could do if they had extra time or were particularly interested in the subject. If the participants didn’t do the core homework, it didn’t stop us from completing the session. I think it’s important to recognise that teachers (all adults!) are busy, and that whether they complete homework or not is their responsibility – if they do, great, if they don’t, I tend to say that’s their problem! Most of the homework was something they could check themselves, and I started to factor in time for discussing their questions a couple of sessions into the course when I realised it was sometimes taking over the session but I hadn’t planned for it.

The course ran for 30 sessions, and ended up finishing three weeks after the Module 1 exam in June 2022, since all four participants decided not to take the exam in this sitting. They may take it in December, or they may not take it at all. Part of the joy of a course like this is that it can be very flexible, and respond to the participants’ needs. They made this decision in early April, so the final 10 sessions or so have been very relaxed, and have focussed on areas of their teaching which they wanted to work on, for example how to teach listening, not just test it, or how to choose a coursebook. We’ve also had general discussions covering lots of areas of teaching which have wandered all over the place in the session. Even though they haven’t taken the exam, all four participants have commented on how much they’ve learnt from the course, which is what I really wanted people to get out of it. The 90 minutes I’ve spent with them each week have been the highlight of my freelancing so far – I’ve enjoyed it so much 🙂

We’re already 10 sessions into the March to December course, for which I have two groups, and the lessons I’ve learnt from the first cohort are being put into practice. The sessions for the second cohort have a more consistent structure, and I feel like I’ve been able to scaffold their understanding of each section of the exam more solidly based on the questions the first cohort asked me. I then fed some of these new sessions back into the course for the first cohort, as there was three months of overlap. I’ve pushed the first mock exam to the midpoint on the course for the second cohort (after session 15), to give us a little more time to go over each section of the exam first, and particularly to focus on the more problematic areas. This still leaves us 50% of the course to be flexible and respond to the needs of the participants. Of course, because they are small groups, all of the sessions can be flexible to some extent too!

I’m really pleased that the idea of the Take Your Time Delta course seems to be working. I’ve had really positive feedback so far, and the course continues to evolve. If you’d like to join me on the next course, I’ll be starting both Module One and a brand new Module Three course in September. You can find all the information and sign up on the Take Your Time page.

And if you’d like to do some form of development but my course isn’t for you, why not take a look at the Courses by ELT freelancers page to see what else is on offer?

How to write a conference proposal and abstract

The first time I wanted to go to the IATEFL conference, I applied for a first-time speaker scholarship. As part of it, I had to write a conference proposal, including an abstract and summary, but I had no idea what they actually were. Thankfully Ceri Jones came to my rescue, talking me through what I needed to do and giving me feedback on what I’d written.

In my blog post, you will find:

While I can’t give you feedback (unless you decide to book a consultancy slot with me), I can hopefully offer you some tips to help you with your own applications to any conference, not just IATEFL. I also can’t guarantee that your application will be accepted, as there are often far more applications than spots for speakers, but hopefully these tips will improve your chances. I like the idea that ‘it’s selection, not rejection’, which I heard on this podcast.

Good luck!

[Note that scholarship applications for IATEFL Harrogate 2023 will close at 16.00 (UK time) on Thursday 23 June 2022. Speaker proposals are not yet open. They general open in July and close in mid-September, though please look at the IATEFL website for details.]

General tips

Here is a 30-minute talk by Madeleine du Vivier for IATEFL on How to write an effective conference proposal, which I suggest you watch in addition to reading the information below.

I think word count is the most challenging thing about writing a conference proposal: either being concise enough, or finding enough to say! I use wordcounter.net to keep track.

Make sure you save a copy of everything you send. I normally create a document for each proposal, including the title, abstract, summary, and any technology requests I’ve made. Then when it’s time to put together my talk, I can remember what I said I was going to do!

If your proposal seems interesting to the conference committee, but not quite what would fit, they may ask to revise parts of it. This is what happened to me for the 2019 conference. This won’t give you a guaranteed acceptance though: my proposal for 2017 was turned down, even after I rewrote the abstract.

What is an abstract?

The abstract is what people attending the conference see in the programme. This is how they choose which talk to attend. It is typically around 45-60 words long, or about 3-4 sentences. The exact requirements will depend on the conference you’re applying to, so it’s important to read their guidelines carefully. You will generally be automatically removed from the selection process if your abstract is too long or too short. The guidelines for IATEFL speaker proposals are available on the conference website.

The best way to get a feel for what to write in an abstract is by reading other examples of them. On the IATEFL Past and future conferences page, you can find links to programmes from previous years. When you read enough of them, you start to spot patterns of structure and typical phrases which are used again and again. Why not read 10 different abstracts from a past programme and see what you can ‘steal’ from them?

A more technical analysis

In About Language 2nd edition [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC], Scott Thornbury analyses three examples of real conference abstracts (on p190-191) from the English UK Teachers’ Conference:

Express yourself – getting students to communicate!

Students often struggle to express themselves and may lack confidence in their own opinions and insharing them. This workshop offers easy to use activities requiring few or no materials that will build students’ confidence and language skills and will get them talking and sharing their ideas. It is a practical, fun session and teachers will leave with a range of ideas that they can immediately use in the classroom.

Chrissie Florides

‘The ear of the beholder’: helping learners understand different accents

The use of English as an international lingua franca means learners will be exposed to a wide variety of accents, both native and non-native. How can teachers prepare them to cope with such diversity? This workshop features practical tasks, informed by relevant theory, which participants could try out in their own classrooms.

Laura Patsko

Getting unstuck – stretching out of our comfort zones

Our daily teaching schedule often takes up so much of our time and energy that we don’t have the chance to take advantage of opportunities to stretch ourselves of take on challenges in other areas. This talk will explore why we keep doing what we have always done – the classes we usually teach, the style, methods and technology we are comfortable with – as a basis to work together and ‘get unstuck’.

Marjorie Rosenberg

He summarises their purpose like this in the commentary:

These texts all have the basic structure of problem – solution, hence they replicate the structure of [an] advertising text […] while not overtly advertising, they do perhaps have a persuasive as well as an informative function.

Thornbury (2017: 332)

He goes on to talk about the linguistic features of abstracts like these:

As noted, the purpose is to inform/describe the content of each session, while perhaps emphasising both its relevance and usefulness. The audience is likely to be practising teachers, who will recognise the professional terminology such as ‘English as an international lingua franca’. At the same time, the writers adopt a non-academic, neutral, even infromal, register: ‘fun session’, ‘get unstuck’. The use of first-person plural pronouns in the third text (our, we), is deliberately inclusive. The net effect is to reduce the social distance and power differential between speakers and their potential audience.

The basic structure of all three texts is, as noted, a problem-solution one: the problems are presented in negative terms (struggle, lack, cope, so much of our time…) while the solutions emphasise the practicality and usefulness of the sessions: easy to use activities; a practical, fun session; ideas that they can immediately use; practical tasks…which participants could try out; a basis to work together… etc. The transition from problem to solution is marked by the noun phrase this workshop/talk, which also identified the kind of presentation it is. The assertive use of the modal will for prediction (teachers will leave… This talk will explore…) reinforces the writers’ commitment and preparedness.

Thornbury (2017: 332-333)

What is a summary?

A summary is used by the conference committee to help them select which talks would be the best fit for the conference. They will generally be the only people who see your summary – it will not be available to the conference goers. If there are similar talks proposed by other speakers, the conference committee might ask you to speak in a forum, where three speakers cover closely related topics.

For IATEFL, the summary is 200-250 words long. You can’t repeat any information from the abstract or title. You can’t include biodata. So what could you include?

  • A breakdown of the structure of your session: list each of the main parts and what you will do in them, ensuring that they will fit the time available.
  • What the audience will be able to take away from your session: specific activities, or specific new information they will be able to use.
  • Why the session would be helpful to your specific target audience.

The easiest way to understand what a summary does is to look at examples, so I have shared my past IATEFL proposals below.

Choosing a title

This is what grabs a potential audience member’s attention, so it needs to encapsulate your talk in some way, while also engaging their interest. At IATEFL 2022, the concise paper conference programme handed out to delegates only had session titles in it, with abstracts appearing in the pdf version of the programme which was available on the website. This put even more pressure on the titles!

All in all, quite a tall order! This is why I’ve left it until last. I think it’s a good idea to know what you’re talking about before you come up with your title, and often inspiration will strike while you’re writing your abstract or summary anyway.

As with abstracts, the best way to get a feel for possible titles is by looking at other examples of them. On the IATEFL Past and future conferences page, you can find links to programmes from previous years. You’ll probably spot certain patterns:

  • Colons and dashes are very popular: ‘advertising’ first, then a short description of what it means
  • ‘Bridging the gap’ is very common – it was actually part of my first IATEFL conference talk title, a talk I’ve done many times since 🙂
  • ‘Getting students to…’ is also quite common

Sandy’s examples

These are the conference proposals I’ve submitted to IATEFL conferences since 2012. You’re welcome to use them as inspiration for your own proposals, but please respect my work and don’t plagiarise them.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: What I think I know about materials writing


Over the years, I’ve attended many Materials Writing talks at IATEFL. I’ve been involved in producing materials for my classroom, for publishers and for self-publishing. I’ve also recently completed the NILE MA Materials Development module, meaning I’ve been able to add more theory to my practical experience of materials writing. This session brings together what I’ve learnt in the process.


I will begin the session with a brief explanation of how materials writing fits into my career, as well as why I decided to embark on an MA module related to materials development. I will then summarise general areas of theory which have caught my interest in my reading connected to the module. These include the evaluation of existing materials as a starting point for developing and adapting your own materials, possible frameworks for approaching materials writing, and what role different stakeholders (can) play in the materials development process. I will share top tips I’ve heard over the years for improving the quality of materials and their usefulness to students, including ideas of inclusivity and supporting learners with SEN, and some useful resources for attendees who’d like to improve their ability to develop materials. I also plan to discuss my own experience of the materials writing process, and how it has differed when working with publishers and self-publishing. Finally, attendees will consider how what I’ve learnt over the years could be applied to their own materials development. I will also briefly mention my own self-published materials. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provided some of the input for me to reflect on.

IATEFL Manchester 2020: What I’ve learnt about teacher training this year


I have recently completed the Trainer Development module of the NILE MA, meaning I’ve read a lot of theory about teacher education. In this session, I’ll summarise what I’ve learnt and how it has influenced my work as a teacher trainer and director of studies. You’ll also be able to consider how this theory might be relevant to you.


I will begin the session with a brief explanation of how teacher training fits into my career and why I decided to embark on an MA module on trainer development. I will then summarise general areas of theory which have come up repeatedly in my reading connected to the module. These include the importance of the apprenticeship of observation, helping teachers get at their beliefs, starting from ‘where teachers are’, balancing theory and practice, incorporating effective reflection into training, linking training to the classroom to increase its impact, and evaluating the effectiveness of teacher training. Throughout the talk I will link these ideas to my work as a teacher trainer and director of studies, showing how I have incorporated each into my practice.  Examples include changing the structure of workshops in our school so that they begin with brainstorming of proper knowledge, adding explicit reflection training into our in-house PD, asking for written feedback at the end of every workshop, and including forward planning stages in training courses so trainees decide how they can implement what they have learnt. Finally, attendees will consider how these theories could be applied to their own contexts. I will also briefly mention my book of reflective tasks for teacher trainers. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provides the context for my reading. 

[Note: I actually gave this talk at the IATEFL Online Conference in 2021.]

IATEFL Liverpool 2019: Examining the impact of a low-level of teacher L2 proficiency

I was asked to revise the abstract: ‘The proposals committee has asked that you please rewrite your abstract (50-60 words) so it is clear how the session is relevant to an IATEFL audience .’ I changed my title at this point as well, as I felt it was clearer and better reflected the new abstract. The talk was then accepted.

Original title:

Intermediate learner, beginner teacher: implications for teaching and training

Original abstract:

I am an experienced teacher and intermediate-level speaker of Polish who has been teaching the language to beginners for 18 months. I will reflect on what my relatively low level of proficiency means for my teaching and my students’ learning, use of L1 and L2 in class, and how my experience might relate to that of low-level teachers of English.

Revised abstract:

What impact does a teacher’s low level of L2 proficiency have on their students’ learning? What strategies can low-level teachers use to maximise L2 use in class? When should they use L1? Is methodology or language development more essential for teachers? My experience teaching Polish informs my thoughts on these issues, relevant to anyone working with low-level English teachers.


The talk will cover how and why we decided that it was appropriate for me, with my relatively low level of Polish and as a non-native speaker, to teach the beginner lessons at our school.

I aim for the lessons to include as much Polish as possible. I will talk about the extra preparation I have to do before lessons to achieve this and compensate for my level, as well as how I continue to work to improve my own knowledge of Polish, modelling this for my students. I will cover the interplay of English and Polish in lessons and how it has changed as my level has improved, and as I teach the same lesson for a second time having reflected on which classroom language I lacked the first time round. The talk will also detail some of the compensatory strategies I use in class to reduce the amount of language I have to use, while still providing as much exposure as possible to my students.

My Polish students are all English teachers at our school, and I will also include their reflections on the lessons from the perspective of both their teaching and their language learning.

Finally, I will reflect on how my experience might be similar and different to intermediate-level English speakers teaching the language, and what they and their trainers or managers might be able to learn from my experience. This will include training they may benefit from to counter gaps in their language knowledge. (=249 words)

IATEFL Glasgow 2018: Introducing ELT Playbook 1: independent professional development for new teachers


New teachers are often thrown in at the deep end. If they’re lucky, they are surrounded by supportive colleagues who can help them out. If they’re not, they need ELT Playbook 1. It consists of 30 tasks new teachers can use to learn to reflect on their teaching. I’ll also describe how trainers can base development programmes on the tasks.


ELT Playbook 1 is designed to fill a gap in the market for new teachers, regardless of whether or not they have a qualification. It’s a self-published ebook, which consists of tasks in a range of categories (such as upgrading skills, examining language and health and wellbeing), each supported by a quote from methodology books and a series of reflection questions. The tasks are rounded off with four different ideas teachers can use to round up their reflection: one each for a blog, a video/audio recording, an Instagram-style post and a private journal. It is designed to be accessible, almost like having a mentor/ trainer/ Director of Studies with you, even if you are freelance or in a school with no development. The price is affordable (£5), so it should be within the reach of as many teachers as possible around the world. There is also an associated community on social media so readers can start to develop a network of peers.

In the session, I will talk about why I decided to write the book, the way it is structured (as described above, and showing a few examples of tasks), how teachers have used it and participated in the online community since it was published in Autumn 2017, and how trainers and managers could exploit the tasks and reflection questions in their own professional development programmes. I will also invite attendees to suggest topics and tasks for possible future books in what I hope will become a series.

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Stitching together roles in ELT

I was asked to revise the abstract. I can’t remember exactly why, but in hindsight I think the whole proposal seemed quite wishy-washy – I don’t think it was clear what I was aiming to do in it. The talk was turned down.

Original abstract

There are many roles it is possible to take on in our profession, from teacher to manager, from trainer to materials writer, and so much more besides. It can be difficult to know what non-teaching skills are required to move into each of these roles and how you can develop them. Fear not: I’m here to help!

Revised abstract

There are many roles it is possible to take on in our profession, from teacher to manager, from trainer to materials writer, as well as volunteering with teaching associations. Whether you are new to the profession or more experienced, this presentation aims to make you think about how you can develop the skills to move into each of these roles.


The talk will suggest some of the skills which may be required for those who would like to try different branches of the ELT profession. These should encompass how to move into different teaching contexts, become a teacher trainer, step up to management level, get involved in materials writing and feedback, and (time permitting) volunteer with teaching associations. It will be based on my own experience of all of these roles, as well as research into other people’s experiences of working in each area.

I will look at how ELT professionals can build up their skill set in general, as well as specifically for each role, and how the roles can feed in to each other as part of a portfolio career. I will also offer tips about starting out in each of the other areas once people have gained teaching experience. Examples of skills to be covered include communication (upwards, downwards and sideways), time management, working with other people effectively, building up your professional profile and reflecting on your practice.

The talk should be relevant to early career teachers who would like to know more about different career paths available to them, as well as more experienced ELT professionals who are looking to move into different areas.

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Taking back time: how to do everything you want to


While I can’t give you Hermione Grainger’s Time Turner so you can travel back in time, I can give you tried and tested ways of getting those things done which demand your time and attention, or which you just never quite get round to, helping you to manage yourself and others and make the most of your time.


Time management is never easy – we’re all busy people with lots of things to do, from responsibilities concerning teaching, training or management to other people demanding our attention both at work and at home. How can we ever fit in everything we want to do? Through a combination of techniques, I have been able to successfully organise a team of 20 teachers, keep up my professional development through blogs and webinars, learn new languages and maintain a healthy work-life balance. In this talk I will share examples of these techniques and offer suggestions for how you can adapt them to your own situation. They include breaking down tasks to make them more achievable and less daunting, using to do lists, tracking what I do every day and creating new habits out of the things I want to achieve. I will give examples of how I use these techniques at work and at home and why they could work for you too, as well as how to apply different strategies to different goals. This talk would be particularly useful for managers and those interested in fitting professional development in around their current schedules, but would be relevant to anybody who ever struggles with only having 24 hours in the day!

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Making the most of student journals


I have used journal writing with students from all over the world, and have found that they are intensely rewarding for teachers and students. In this session, I’ll share ideas for how to set up a journal writing system and show examples of journals from my students and my own language learning.


Journal writing can be used in a wide variety of ways both inside and outside the classroom in order to provide regular personalised writing practice for students. In addition, they can serve many other purposes: providing a space for students to experiment with new language, encouraging them to reflect on their language learning, and helping the teacher and student to get to know each other better.

In this session, I will describe how I have interpreted journal writing with my students. I have implemented them with students aged 12-70 in both monolingual and multilingual classrooms. I have also experienced journal writing as a student of Russian and have learnt a lot from the process. This has fed back into my teaching and enabled me to experience first-hand the benefits of keeping a journal in a foreign language.

I will share the advantages of such regular writing for the teacher and student, address some of the potential problems involved in setting up and maintaining a regular journal system, including finding suitable topics to write about. I will also describe how to encourage students to join in, and give ideas for how to use the language students produce. Finally I will give you links to find out more about journal writing in other contexts.

IATEFL Harrogate 2014: Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening


“I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from my students on arrival in the UK. This workshop aims to introduce you to practical activities and materials you can use to help students transition from understanding scripted listening materials to feeling comfortable with real-world English.


Listening is the skill we use most in a second language. We have to understand speakers in many different contexts, of different ages, genders, levels of education, and with a range of accents, both native and non-native. However, this is rarely reflected in the classroom, where listening tends to be focussed on other students in class or on scripted coursebook recordings in ‘standard’ forms of English, mostly spoken by young to middle-aged adults (or overly excited children in the case of young learner materials!). Teachers also tend to focus on testing comprehension, rather than on teaching better listening skills. This results in students lacking confidence in their listening abilities and/or lacking knowledge of how to approach listening in the real world.

The aim of this workshop is to introduce and try out a range of activities and materials which you can use in your classroom to teach listening, rather than testing it. Some of the principles discussed will be based on John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom (Cambridge 2008), as well as my own experience in the classroom and as a second language learner. The workshop will also look at how you can make the listening you use in the classroom reflect the real world as much as possible. Finally, participants will be given the chance to share activities and materials which have worked for them, as well as discussing how to apply the activities from the workshop to their own contexts.

IATEFL Liverpool 2013: Bridging the gap between the classroom and the autonomous learner


What can we do to help students develop their autonomy? How can we encourage them to study outside class? How much input should teachers have in this? This talk will look at how these questions can be answered through the Personal Study Programme (PSP), created by International House Newcastle to support students in their learning.


It is well-known that teachers should teach learners HOW to learn, not just WHAT to learn. This is particularly true now that students have easy access to so much English online, and teachers are no longer always their first port of call for information about language. What teachers do have is knowledge of the language acquisition process and of the best way to use resources available to learners. Through this, they can help students become more effective learners. As well as learner training in the classroom, what else can we do?
The Personal Study Programme (PSP) is an alternative to the Self-Access Centre (SAC), combining elements of more traditional teaching with autonomous study. This talk will begin by looking at how PSP is similar to and different from a SAC, and how IH Newcastle has implemented and developed it. I will discuss the teachers’ role in promoting learner autonomy and delivering PSP, how it influences the way that we teach our non-PSP lessons, and how it fits into the overall structure of the school. Most importantly, I will examine what exactly students gain from participating in PSP, based on feedback gathered from students at International House Newcastle. I will also consider what changes we can make to PSP to continue improving the programme in the future.

IATEFL Glasgow 2012: Go online: getting your students to use internet resources


What factors help or hinder students’ uptake and continued use of online materials to aid their English learning outside the classroom?

What can teachers do in class to encourage students to take advantage of available materials and help them to overcome any obstacles?

This talk will detail the results of action research done in my classes.


For the last year I have been using Edmodo (a web-based interface designed for education and similar to facebook) to share materials, online activities and other links with students to extend work done in class. However, based on a survey I did at the end of the academic year only about half of the students have taken advantage of these materials.

As a result of this, I decided to research the factors which influence students’ use of online materials, as well as experimenting with activities and strategies which can be used in class to increase this usage.

In the session I will share the results of this research, in the following way:

  • a list of characteristics displayed by students who regularly use online materials to further their study;
  • a corresponding list for students who are more reluctant to use online materials;
  • a summary of the type of online materials which students find most useful;
  • practical ideas for teachers to use in class to encourage reluctant students to begin to exploit online materials.

By the end of the session, you should have the information and inspiration you need to encourage more students to exploit the wealth of materials available on the internet.

After you’re accepted…

Well done! I’d love to know which of these tips you found more or less useful when preparing your proposal.

You might want to watch my IATEFL talk on How to present at an international conference.

I hope to see you there!

Teach Play Love: Building bridges across cultural differences through performing personal stories remotely – Haneen Jadalla (Gaza) and Nick Bilbrough (UK)

The students and teacher who joined us live during this session, from Gaza and Argentina

One aim of the Hands Up Project is to make language learning personal and intimate. The teachers give the students freedom to write personal stories, and afterwards to create a remote theatre performance which will be done globally. They can tell their stories to the world. ‘They’ are kids in Palestine, and young people from around the world. They create a sense of community irrespective of their location.

The image above shows how it felt like everyone was in the same place at the same time, despite working remotely.

We are responsible for the future of our learners, but in the future they are going to be responsible for our future tomorrow.


Why do we need to link students with their peers globally?

  • Self-identification
  • Self celebration
  • Cultural diversity

The children stand tall in front of the screen that they are able to do something so special.

Intercultural framework

  1. Students in both countries are asked to write personal stories individually. Don’t worry about mistakes – they are the ‘golden gates towards learning’ (wonderful phrase!)
  2. Swap the personal stories between you and the other teacher.
  3. Both groups meet online through Zoom. They go into breakout rooms (or do this remotely) to turn the stories into scripts. This is when students start discussing ideas, assigning roles, negotiating. The teacher is there as a stage director, praising their efforts and scaffolding their learning.
  4. The students from both ends meet in their local context (face-to-face) to edit and reformulate the script. The teacher supports them by supplying vocabulary and by editing the script, reformulating the language to a higher level, making it more accurate and authentic. Students can see before and after the editing process.
  5. Rehearsing the story and assigning the roles. The teacher acts as a stage director and facilitator. Implicitly they’re showing intonation, pausing. Explicitly, they’re showing how to use the camera, how to work with the Zoom box as a theatre method.
  6. Performing the stories in front of the screen.
  7. The original authors along with other participants discussing the whole experience.

In the example Haneen shared, the children in Palestine didn’t have any awareness of Argentinian music or names. They started to learn this, and started to learn more about creating stage directions.

Victoria’s story

We were put into groups and given the story above, with 10 minutes to turn it into a play. It was so much fun! [This said by somebody who refused point blank to do drama activities until 3 or 4 years ago!]

It was great to see a performance by four members of the audience in the room (from the UK, India and one other country I don’t know), done live for the students from Argentina and Gaza who were joining us remotely in the session. One of them (Victoria) wrote the story you see above. Victoria told us how she felt about watching other people perform her story, then talked about her feelings when the police came to her house. Then the Palestinian girls told us about her feelings when performing the Argentinian story – it was a new experience for them. When they first met each other, they were very scared and didn’t know what to do, but after that it was an amazing experience.

We then watched recordings of student performances performing the same play.

Watching the videos, we saw how when producing the video, students took advantage of ‘hide non-video participants’, switching on and off cameras, changing names, using props around the screen, knocking on the camera, all to add to the theatrical experience of watching the plays. It was fantastic!

We also heard from the girls themselves talking about how they feel about being part of the project.

At the end of the session, the audience and the students who were joining us remotely sang the Hands up song together, which was a lovely communal experience, with inspirational words.

These children are the real stars, teaching us how to work together and learn from each other.

The Hands Up Project has been an amazing experience for me, and has inspired me. It’s amazing to have the opportunity to be here with you here today and to speak to you in English. I want to be a volunteer for the Hands Up Project in the future.

Dana, one of the students from Gaza

Haneen has given our students a voice. The students’ personal stories tell us about themselves, they are sharing their identities. They have created a bridge between our two schools, built from the bricks of our stories, stuck together with commitment and joy. We are honoured to be here with you today.

Maria Teresa Continental, the teacher from Argentina

There are three books of plays written by students as part of the Hands Up Project. You can buy them to use with your students or to inspire them to write their own plays. Get them at the Hands Up Project shop. I have all three of them, and can recommend them. Each play is very short – 3 or 4 pages maximum – and easy to learn and perform, but with endless opportunities for creativity from the students.

Teach Play Love: Remote theatre to build a sense of global belonging – Amal Mukhairez (Gaza)

Amal is the creator of remote theatre, and one of the longest-standing volunteers on the Hands Up Project. She created a piece of remote theatre by accident as she thought it was necessary to perform entirely on Zoom, and later they made it a rule that the children couldn’t move outside the screen or edit the video.

Gaza has been under siege for nearly 15 years. It has a huge impact on everybody’s daily life, wellbeing, learning and sense of belonging in the whole world. The learners have no problem with a sense of belonging to their country and community, but what about the whole world?

Global belonging

A lovely term that Amal created

Students lack motivation. They feel that the world is deaf to them, that nobody is paying attention to them. This makes the work of the teachers very challenging. If they feel there’s no connection with the world, they don’t see the point of learning English, the language of the world. This meant the teachers wanted to find innovative ways to push the students towards learning and give them a reason to learn. Remote theatre seemed to be the way to do this.

What is remote theatre?

A short script that is created by students. They then rehearse it, and perform it live on facebook or YouTube to a global audience. It can be performed at conferences, at a literature festival, at schools or at universities.

If you’d like to read some of these plays and use them with your students, you can buy the books from the Hands Up Project shop.

Another way that they have run these projects is linking groups of learners from different countries to create plays together, meeting via Zoom to write and rehearse.

If you’d like to watch an example of one of these plays, take a look at the Hands Up Project YouTube channel. For example, this one from Czechia and Palestine:

How does remote theatre build a sense of global belonging?

  • Plays with global themes, e.g. pollution, refugees, bullying
  • Students and teachers conversations during the rehearsals – they work hard to communicate in English to say what they want to say, and this process really helped the students to learn, not just language, but respecting each other’s opinions, listening to each other, understanding different accents of English
  • Finding a global online audience to perform the play for – this creates a connection with the outside world, as the students can’t travel outside Gaza
  • After the play there is a lot more – discussions, what happened in the play, what experiences they had while practicing. For example: How do you feel when you’re acting?

COVID was an excellent opportunity to do lots of collaboration globally (though Hands Up have been doing this for many years).

Students don’t just learn the language because there’s going to be a test at the end of the semester. They learn because they’re motivated to communicate.

The Hands Up Project provides a safe channel to do this.

Students wanted to share their thoughts about the project, and we saw a video of them telling us in Arabic about what they got out of it: friends in other countries, people hearing their voice and caring about their talent, support from teachers and students, learning about other cultures and religions, noticing that their are points in common between their different cultures, becoming more aware of people around the world.

In 2019, Hands Up won the ELTon award for starting the play-writing competition.

Teach Play Love: Power to the pupil: changing the teacher-learner dynamic – Raja’a Abu Jasser (Gaza) and Sara Wood (Spain)

A new aspect of the Hands Up Project focuses on how to empower the students, and change the teacher-learner dynamic. They want to create independent, powerful learners who are in charge of their own learning.

In most classes in Gaza, the teacher controls everything. From 1-10, how much of a control freak do you think you are in your classroom?

Raja’a started teaching 3 years ago. She is really enthusiastic about trying new ideas.

Students v. Teachers

The students come up with questions from Biology, Chemistry, Physics. They ask the teacher the questions. If the teacher can answer, they get a point. If they can’t, the students get a point.

The students are left to come up with their own questions, and the teacher doesn’t intervene until the students ask for it. Because the students have to be able to communicate the question and the answer, they are encouraged to reformulate and work with language to communicate what they want to ask.

The majority of Raja’a’s students aren’t motivated to learn English, because they feel that they won’t be able to leave Gaza, there’s nobody there who they can speak to, and there wouldn’t be a use for it in their lives. They are also studying in large classes.

With her 9-10 year old students with a very low level of English, Raja’a wanted to give them a reason to use the language from the coursebook in a communicative way. The students had to guess what the teacher is ‘going to’ do tomorrow. If the student gets the information right, they get a point. If the student gets it wrong, the teacher gets a point. The teacher can reformulate the language as needed.

The video Raja’a showed us demonstrated how excited the students were to do this activity. The atmosphere in the classroom was fantastic – if the students love the teacher, they’ll learn from you.

The reformulations Raja’a did as part of this activity are now an active part of the students’ language because they heard them in a relaxed environment.

The students got 5 points, Raja’a got 3 points. They were excited about this and felt empowered. The next day, they told the whole school that they had a competition with their teacher and that the teacher lost.

Collaboration, invisible connections, a little chaotic, powerful

Words Sara used to describe the Hands Up Project

Remote teaching

Sara normally works remotely with a teacher who is in the classroom.

In the example video we watched, the girls were telling Sara the story of Layla and the Wolf (similar to Little Red Riding Hood). They worked together to say what they wanted to.

During the story:

  • Heba’s decision not to speak sets the tone for the class. Why is that important?
  • Jana tells the story with the language available to her – what effect might that have on the class?
  • Sara (the student) overcomes a moment of doubt to continue the story. How does that benefit her and the other learners?

The whole process is confidence-building and empowering. They decided how to be in the class, including making a decision not to speak. As a teacher, Sara didn’t make her speak – she created a safe space for the student to make the decision to be silent. It pushes other students in the class to speak because Heba doesn’t want to.

The next step was to prepare for a retelling of the story, changing the location, the characters.

When there was a misunderstanding, the students helped each other because the teacher encouraged them to translate the word in Arabic, and teach it to her. They were allowed to correct the teacher’s pronunciation, and the students worked together to offer help. They all needed help, and they all provided help. This affected the atmosphere because it was one of equals, rather than a teacher-student power dynamic.

This is a really playful process. You can play with the different languages in your power.

Sara then retold the story with the students’ changes. She did it because she thought it would be a challenge for the students to do this spontaneously. She asked the students questions to elicit the parts of the story so that they were involved throughout the process, and using language they’d learnt connected to the story. The teacher feeds in language throughout the process to collaboratively build the story.

Throughout the whole process, the students have personal control of the language. They’re playing with it, and looking for ideas in their head. They’re learning a language properly in a way that they can actually use it.


  • Whose responsibility is it to understand?
  • Learning isn’t one-sided
  • Opportunities to take personal control of the language
  • Choosing when and how to speak, and the teacher allowing this
  • Learners’ contributions to a class aren’t purely linguistic – acknowledge all of their contributions, whatever they are

Teach Play Love: The show’s over – now what? Team teaching on Facebook Live – Dalya Saleh (Gaza) and Elena Deleyto (Spain)

During COVID, Dalya and Elena worked on facebook live to create lessons for students. Dalya’s worked with Elena since 2018, and this is the first time they’ve met face-to-face. Elena is a digital materials creator based in Mallorca.

The Hands Up Project team teaching project won an ELTon in 2021 for the innovative ideas of the way their project works. As Elena said, there are so many exciting things which HUP is working on.

Going to (with a puppet)

This is what one Live looked like on screen, with Dalya using a puppet to help with the language:

The Live chat allowed them to get feedback from students, teachers, parents, and get feedback about what’s happening in the lesson.

Afterwards, they re-edited the videos from the live lesson and used them again after the pandemic to create short clips. They had hours and hours of valuable materials which they didn’t want to lose. We saw examples of some of these videos during the presentation – I wish you could see them too!

They kept sections of the lesson which focussed on the key language, and added titles highlighting important structures. The clips also aimed to continue to promote interactivity by adding pictures and questions directed at the students. At the end of the video, there is a link to a digital activity, for example a WordWall matching activity. Absent students can still get practice opportunities.

Although the activity isn’t very complex, and won’t necessarily promote a huge amount of learning, the fact that students can watch a video and then do something successfully as a result of it can have a huge impact on the children’s confidence.

Guessing game

Facebook Live was selected to still have interaction, as children wouldn’t necessarily have been able to access a live Zoom lesson due to connection issues.

During the Facebook live sessions, when playing a game, Dalya and Elena took answers from the Live chat and called out student names so the students following the chat felt like they were part of the lesson. Using the clip again in a classroom lesson with the titles shows students how to play the game, and helps them to review the useful language.

Finding out about other people

When you have scripted conversations in a coursebook, but perform them on Zoom with a different person it brings them to life, especially when the two people are from different countries. It helps students to understand why English could actually be useful for them.

Principles to create quality videos (especially for young learners)

  • Short, no longer than 6 minutes
  • Need to integrate visuals, games and realia
  • Should serve specific purposefully engaging tasks
  • Use friendly language and body gestures
  • Use scripts and texts to clarify things
  • Advised to send PowerPoints to learners to build on what is in the video

Teach Play Love: Lessons in intercultural communication…from teenagers – Samir Naim Salama (Gaza) and Paul Dummett (UK)

One of the things the Hands Up Project does is to pair brilliant teachers from Gaza with brilliant teachers from other parts of the world to work together and play.

The first lesson that they learnt from their teenagers on this international communication course was the need to emphasise communication. How to communicate when language isn’t necessarily available, through other methods like mime, drawing and others. Mediating meaning wherever they can.

When we teach communicatively, the focus is actually often on avoiding miscommunication. Culture is seen as an iceberg with superficial differences (e.g. how you show appreciation for food by (not) leaving some on the plate), and underneath this there are hidden depths.

How true is this?

They’ve actually found that these differences are much less present than the commonalities between us. Those situations where there is a complete communication breakdown due to culture are actually relatively rare. This kind of approach can lead us to promoting stereotypes.

Cultural intelligence

[I really like this term] This is what they’re really interested in, rather than thinking about superficial stereotypes as culture.

What does it mean?

  • Being open to learn about other cultures, institutions and languages
  • Having knowledge of other cultures, institutions and languages

Teens and children can approach others without prejudice. They have a curiosity when they meet others to find out more about how they learn, which adults might not have.

Course content is built around…

1. Comparing lives and environments

2. Understanding individuals’ situations motivations (like examining a tree and its roots, rather than an iceberg)

3. Opportunity for collaboration – allowing students to work together in problem-solving tasks

Online ICC course principles

Activities from the course

Words & language

What word or expression do you use most often in your language?

What’s your favourite word in English? Why?

What noise does a cat/horse/dog make in your language?

Teach me the most useful word or phrase in your language.

What’s a saying in your language that you especially like? Why?

Free word association (e.g. sport, family, cool, afraid)

Senses and abilities

This helps learners to find common ground, and it taps into their immediate environment.

What can you see and hear right now?

What’s your favourite smell, taste, view?

What ability are you proudest of? Why?

What special ability do you wish you had? What would you do with it?


Describe a journey that you make each day. Help me visualise what you see, hear and smell. Perhaps describe a person you see every time, the sounds you hear every time, the smells you smell.

Name 1 good thing about your house/flat. And 1 bad thing.

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of home?

What do you like about the area you live in? What do you dislike about it?


Are there more wheels or doors in the world? (Thinking fast and slow) Put a quick answer in the chat box, then go to breakout rooms to have a longer, more in-depth discussion.

Your best news headline 5 years from now. (Brainstorm)

An important problem in your community and possible solutions (Brainstorming: selling others’ ideas) – put possible solutions into the chat, but another person has to sell that idea to everybody. It helps you to see things from others’ perspectives.

Promoting love and understanding

Teach Play Love: The Hands Up Project Belfast Conference 2022 – Why teach play love? / Things that make me…

Not enough conferencing this week 🙂 I had a free day in Belfast and found out that The Hands Up Project were running their online conference, so decided to attend. There will be separate posts for each talk to be kind to my iPad – I’ll add links here next week.

If you’ve never heard of The Hands Up Project, take a look at their website. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Nick Bilbrough set up a project to work with teachers in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. It’s designed to amplify the voices of young people in Palestine, and around the world. They run many innovative projects, including writing plays

Why Teach Play Love? – Scott Thornbury

Scott Thornbury, a trustee of The Hands Up Project, suggested the theme ‘Teach Play Love’ for this year.

Teach: Not just about the delivery of information, but it takes place in a particular place with particular people.

While other classes in the curriculum activate mostly the brain, the language class engages the whole body, its… [I missed the end of this]

Clare Kramsch

Play: language play is good for learners, because they can experiment with language and functions.

A person who can play with a language in creative and socially-effective ways – to tell a joke or a story – could certainly also buy an airline ticket. The reverse is not necessarily true.

Guy Cook

Drama is inherently good for language because it’s participatory, co-constructed, aural and oral, expressive, creative, transformative. Plays, like ‘Toothbrush’ and the rest of The Hands Up Project book, are a great way to learn.

Love: emotion is a very important vehicle for practising and learning language.

Things that made me go [emoji!] – Chris Sowton

In support of emojis

  • Powerful communicative tool, especially in challenging circumstances
  • Bridge gaps between teachers and students – a kind of inter language
  • Allow students the opportunity to express themselves in a way they might not otherwise

Blob trees are also a useful tool for this.

Teaching in Challenging Circumstances [https://tinyurl.com/TeachinginCC] is an open access book from Cambridge to support teachers with practical ideas.

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.

Paulo Freire

Here’s are some extracts from the book:

Countering dominant narratives about teachers

We need a more sophisticated understanding of what it means to be a teacher.

Ukraine: teachers as frontline workers

This was Chris’s first experience of working with teachers in a conflict area. They were webinars run by Cambridge – to have people in the same place at the same time talking about the same issues. Questions from teachers included:

  • What is the purpose of learning English right now? It speaks to a possible future, a brighter tomorrow. It gives parents respite from the situation they’re in.
  • How do I assess my students in a conflict situation? Moving away from traditional areas, thinking about progress in different ways. Just the act of being in class was a triumph.
  • What do I do when I hear an air raid siren going off in class?

What he learnt:

  • The challenge to think quickly and adapt
  • The value of collegiality and being in the same place at the same time
  • The importance of specialist skills and knowledge (e.g. drama, well-being, conflict) as teachers are on the frontline
  • The impact which making materials open source can have (thank you Cambridge) – we need to get great quality stuff out there so teachers can use it, and there’s so much great stuff which is sitting there not being used
  • It shouldn’t take a crisis to challenge widespread, systemic educational failure

Jordan: teachers as safe spaces

There is an emotional and psychological value place on learning language.

There is a strong motivation of students in refugee situations.

There is a difference in the way boys and girls are taught. In the girls class, there was much more engagement and a positive atmosphere. In the boys class, the teaching was much more teacher-centred.

Here are three extracts from a British Council report touching on these three issues:

What Chris learnt

  • The classroom can be a space for imagining different futures, which can reflect positively on the present
  • How talking about trauma in a second language can provide therapeutic benefit
  • Multilingualism should be valued more – and certified where possible (not just focussing on English). How can we create a certification process which values skills in multiple languages?
  • Languages are crucial for increasing all forms of capital, but the system doesn’t always support this: NGOs work in silos (due to funding), certification is hard to obtain, and tech-first/tech-only solutions (apps/websites will be the only answer – but it’s much more sophisticated than this)

Palestine: teachers as enablers of latent skills and knowledge

The extraordinary desire and demand for development.

When Chris does training, he has a 20/ 60 / 20 model in his head – 20% of participants will love everything, 20% will not be interested, and 60% will be in the middle. In Palestine, he had a 5 / 55 / 40 model – 40% were very engaged.

Teachers are agents of social change.

What Chris learnt

  • Even in highly challenging circumstances, teachers are willing to – and benefit from – play (e.g. a snowball fight)
  • There is a repository of latent creativity and skills which need – demand – an outlet.
  • Teachers can make the present palatable and the future desirable [I love this quote!]
  • The virtual world provides opportunities which the physical world isn’t always able to – and language is what can facilitate that. It allows for further support after face-to-face training, along with many other opportunities.

General: teachers as deskilled, disempowered, disregarded pawns

Individual constraints: a teacher who had been given training, but when she went back to her school her headteacher stopped her from implementing the training, even though she was keen and interested and wanted to do so. If other stakeholders are dragging you back, then your training can be more frustrating – you know what you want to do, but aren’t in a position to do it.

Stakeholder constraints: teachers in Nepal regularly feedback back about parental view on student-led learning = chaos and lack of discipline. We need to adopt a whole-school approach, and train everybody, not just the teachers.

Systemic constraints: emphasis on quantity rather than quality, we measure training in number of trainings run rather than impact they have. Start with the impact: what’s the change we want to see, and work back from that. This is particularly an issue with funding, including how frequently the funding happen – what change can you realistically make on a one / two year cycle? We end up with conservative approaches because the cycle is too short for experimentation.

National constraints: language policy in South Sudan (Chris’s EdD research), there is the choice of English as the Medium of Instruction for political reasons, but there are very few people in the country who speak it. This has an impact on people across the education system.

Geopolitical constraints: Somaliland – teachers are targets, and schools can be the locus of political violence. The school is often the only recognisable part of the state in a particular area.

Lebanon: teachers as humans with histories

People’s instinct is always to teach as they were taught. Breaking those habits is extremely difficult, especially in challenging circumstances.

Teachers greatly value the opportunity to share how they are feeling – but need prompting. Storytelling is one way to do this.

An activity Chris did:

  • Groups of 6
  • A piece of paper with 6 boxes per person: each teacher write a title
  • Next person: carry the story on – who are the characters in the story
  • Next person: draw a picture which represents that story
  • Next: write the first paragraph of the story

This is a way to explore how you feel through the cloak of anonymity. If you just gave a piece of blank paper to a teacher and said ‘write a story’, they would be unlikely to do this.

Another activity to link emotions to learning the alphabet:

This helps young students to realise that they can have a positive impact on somebody’s life. It’s a simple, but powerful approach.

What Chris learnt

  • The value of puppets – linguistically, pedagogically, psychologically – children make puppets, and teach them things, and learn hugely in the process
  • How learning materials can have positive psychosocial messages embedded – how important this is when other services are unavailable or severely constrained
  • Decontextualised research which has no clear practical impact and which is driven by outside interests is valueless. We have to engage with the people we’re researching

Indonesia: teachers as trusted guides

At a university: 60-70 people, arms folded, why are you here, resistant to change

At a language school: as soon as you walk into the school, there is an atmosphere of play. Children and teachers in the photos as you entered the school – what happens as you enter this space.

What Chris learnt

  • Teaching hierarchies based on longevity are complete and utter nonsense
  • Also true based on where you teach

Nigeria: teachers as professionals who need ongoing support

Little has changed in methodology over the past 20 years. This programme is new: TARL = Teaching at the right level. Mixing up 3 years at the school so that they’re split by level, not age, especially when there are very large classes.

However, lack of support in the field for teachers.

Multi-tiered cascades present challenges in the quality of delivery.

What Chris learnt

  • Radical thinking can help unlock ‘insolvable’ problems.
  • Delivering large programmes needs strong admin and structures – without this, it’s irrelevant how good the materials are
  • Materials can be a way of delivering support and CPD to teachers – the training is embedded
This was a lesson plan Chris created, which was translated into the local language. There was a lot of guidance for the teacher, but also the opportunity to do things their own way. The footnotes give training information.

Promote realistic, accurate images of teachers


For all of the slides and other resources from Chris, go to http://tinyurl.com/teachplaylove

Teach Play Love: All you need is love – Sarah Mercer

Like Sarah said, she’s never experienced a conference and a group of teachers who communicate love in quite the way this conference and this group of teachers have. It’s been an amazing day.

Sarah’s first confession: she loves watching Love Actually at Christmas (me too!) Why does she have to say it’s a confession?

If you make a film about a man kidnapping a woman and chaining her to a radiator for five years – something that has possibly happened once in history – it’s called a searingly realistic analysis of society.

If I make a film like Love Actually, which is about people falling in love, and there are about a million people falling in love in Britain today, it’s called a sentimental presentation of an unrealistic world.

Richard Curtis

Why are we so afraid to talk about love?

Boys don’t like French because ‘it’s all about love and stuff’.

It’s ‘not cool to be kind’, compassionate or talk about ‘love and stuff’.

Cf. Berlin, 2018; Williams et al., 2002
  • Age of reason and overdominance of ‘logic’
  • Hyper-rational perspective (disconnect from emotions)
  • Subordination of emotions
  • Devaluation of supposed ‘feminine traits’
  • Narrow view of ‘science’ – the scientific view of what counts as research (e.g. into emotions) has only very recently opened up

But if you talk to students and teachers in the classroom, they know that emotion is a key / unavoidable / essential [my adjectives] part of learning.

Love is conceived of particularly narrowly

When we see love as a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge and responsibility, we can work on developing these qualities.

bell hooks – All about love (2001, p.54)

These characteristics of love are also characteristics of a good teacher and a good classroom.

Love is to take responsibility

You enact love, it’s not just a feeling. When we love somebody or something, we don’t just feel, we act. We feel responsible towards that person or thing.

Love does appear in education but under other guises

(Barcelona and Coehlo, 2016)

Here are some of the terms which could be replaced by ‘love’ in the literature:

Pedagogical care is caring that our students don’t just learn, but that they grow too.

Teaching with love…

  • Love for ourselves
  • For the language
  • For our colleagues
  • For our students
  • For others near and far
  • For humanity
  • For animals and plant life
  • For the planet

Love expands far beyond a romantic relationship with another person. It’s commitment and action.

5 facets of love

There are many different possible facets of love, but Sarah selected 5 to focus on in this presentation:

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Wellbeing
  • Kindness
  • Fairness


This is the foundation of all kinds of communication. It’s being able to understand others and communicate with them.

You take yourself out of your own position and try to imagine how somebody else feels.

Walk a mile in their shoes, for example based on pictures, or stopping a film and thinking about the characters. You try to imagine other people’s lives. You don’t need to agree, but you can understand them better perhaps.

There are many ways to do this:

  • Use of literature and films
  • Role play and simulation
  • Questions to think about perspective: Why might they have said that? Why might they think that?

Teaching with empathy

  • How we teach: implicitly, we model it
  • Explicitly: we draw attention to it

Psychological safety: give people the space to make mistakes, help learners to support each other, take away the sense of risk, create a safe space in the classroom. The learners think about how each other feels, and learn to support each other. (Edmondson, 2019)

Enacting pedagogical caring: learners can see when we teach with love. They see it from our preparation for lessons for example. (Wentzel, 1997)

Attending to teacher and learner wellbeing (Mercer and Gregersen, 2020)


What is compassion?

Being able to manage your emotional response to compassion is important. Compassion fatigue is a real issue.

Being motivated to provide care – for yourself and for others.

It has an action element, but also an awareness element.

Spheres of compassion

We need to think about compassion at different levels:

  • Self
  • Others close
  • Others far
  • Non-human life
  • Planet

Fierce compassion

Neff, 2021

Sometimes when you understand what is needed, you need to be fierce about it. You need to be assertive about it. Compassion and love are not always soft and fluffy.

Mistakes are allowed! Fail first, then learn – fostering growth mindset. This is not just a message for our students. We need to apply this to teachers as well. We need to be kind to ourselves as teachers as well.

Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.

Kintsugi is the Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold, so the mistakes/problems are evident. We can share our best failures, and consider how to reflect on these failures.

What is your ideal colleague?

Choose three characteristics.

To what extent do you display these characteristics to others?

Sarah does this with pre-service teachers before they start team teaching. Since she started doing this with her teachers, they’ve had a lot fewer problems with the teams. Teachers reflect on what it’s like to build a relationship for teaching.


It is not the same as mental health.

Teacher wellbeing is the foundation of good practice. It isn’t an optional extra. (Amen!)

It’s irresponsible if we DON’T talk about teacher wellbeing.

What factors affect your wellbeing?

There are many different areas that can contribute to it, It’s not just self-care strategies and yoga. It’s not just happy fluffy things. It’s a serious area that goes beyond the personal, and into larger systemic factors which we should consider as well: precarity, lack of trade union support in many countries, working in challenging circumstances. We can’t necessarily control everything that might affect our wellbeing.

Two strands:

  • Personal characteristics
  • Social and contextual conditions

If we’re serious about wellbeing, we should be thinking about both of these. Wellbeing is a conversation we need to have at length and seriously.

What I focus my attention on

An activity we can do to give you a sense of control. This is not an activity to do as a solution, but this can help.

What you focus your attention on, is what you can see. We’re naturally drawn to the negative: negativity bias. We can become conscious of that. Our attention is valuable: think about what we give it to. Pretty much everybody who looks at the picture above focuses on the blue dot immediately, and has to think for longer to focus on other aspects of the image.

Focus on the positives. Even in the most difficult circumstances, you can find little moments of positivity.

This is not about suppressing the negative, but learning to notice the positive too.


We can mentally time travel, and revisit things in the past. We can become very conscious of the present and savour moments. We can travel to the future and imagine possibilities. This can help us to draw attention to the positives in life.

Gratitude journals

This is not an instant remedy, but when you do it over time you start to see positives more easily. (My mum has definitely found this) 🙂

Planet A or Planet B?

Where do you think we live?

The research says it’s Planet A, but that doesn’t make the news. There are hundreds of examples of people being kind every day.

Humans are fundamentally kind by nature.

Human Kind by Gregman

Kindness can be political

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela

Random acts of kindness

There are great resources on the website, including for the language classroom.

Kindness doesn’t have to be huge. It’s little gestures.

Teaching for kindness

Here are some teaching ideas to give kindness a larger role in the classroom:

Compassion for others

  • Global citizenship education
  • Random Acts of Kindness projects
  • Service learning projects

Compassion for the planet and animals

Love is not blind

Fairness = social equity and justice

Sometimes there are difficult conversations to be had.

Transformative Social and Emotional Learning

SEL = Social and Emotional Learning

This is relatively new. It’s not just about kindness, but also about fierce compassion, awareness, bringing in the political. You cannot talk about love without talking about these things as well.


What is fairness?

  • Understanding implicit and explicit bias
  • Recognising issues of power and privilege
  • Examining who has voice and in what ways
  • Reflecting on social structures and equity

Representation in the materials we use

There are many different factors we can consider related to representation:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Ability
  • Language

And there are questions we can ask:

  • What or who are present and visible?
  • What or who is missing or invisible?
  • What or who are portrayed positively or negatively?
  • Who is positioned in stereotypical roles?
  • Who has power?

Sarah asks her pre-service teachers to examine the materials they use. For example: Can you find an example of image of somebody in a wheelchair where they just happen to be in a wheelchair, for example ordering in a restaurant?

Students are in the best place to create their own materials. This is also an act of love.


We have the right to bring in all five of these facets of love into our work. It’s fair when teachers are treated with love too.

Be brave enough to teach with love and teach to love.

Sarah Mercer

IATEFL Belfast 2022: In defence of the 4-week course – Neil McCutcheon

Neil is a very experienced CELTA trainer. He runs www.ELTeach.com and is a co-author of Activities for Task-Based Learning [Amazon affiliate link].

New concerns in ELT

  • Native-speakerism
  • Varieties of English
  • The inclusive turn
  • New technology / teaching online
  • Methodology: aligning more with SLA (second language acquisition)

Neil has boiled everything down to four specific criticisms of CELTA and other 4-week courses:

  • It privileges native speakers (by dallying the status of speakers with an L1 other than English)
  • It’s an inadequate entry into the profession (only 4 weeks)
  • It doesn’t keep pace with the times (DEI – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, use of L1)
  • It’s too coursebook-driven (item-by-item syllabus)


CELTA is open to everybody, no matter your first language. You have to have good C1 level.

The balance of L1 and non-L1 English speakers on courses has really shifted. The current Cambridge estimates for numbers are in the slide below:

L1 and non-L1 English speakers learn a lot from each on the courses.

Trainers tell trainees about TEFL Equity. We make candidates aware of these issues.

Inadequate entry?

This is what a CELTA is.

The course is almost entirely assessed on classroom practice, which makes it a powerful course. We make trainees aware of how to select and adapt materials and bring things off the page. We teach trainees how to teach balanced lessons, with a balance of clarification and practice, how to keep students involved all the way through with good quality techniques. We teach candidates to set up and manage tasks well, to give clear instructions, to make sure tasks have a communicative goal, and to respond in a good quality way to student language. These are all important things, and are easier said than done! Candidates get a chance to analyse language.

The whole course offers a broadly immersive experience.

Even though the course isn’t very theoretical, there’s a difference between a course that’s informed by some theory and a course that’s informed by no theory at all.

If you think 4 weeks is inadequate training, how about a week? A weekend? None?

Rather than devaluing the status of professions, it’s a kind of driving licence for entering the profession. It’s a licence to teach.

Some Masters programmes have as little as 30 or 45 minutes of practicum on them – CELTA and CertTESOL have 6 hours.

Experiential learning

Examples of feedback

Thanks for Gui Henriques for collecting these. They show how trainers are responding to current theory in ELT.

Referring to using the L1:

Decoding in listening:

Analytical evaluation of materials:

It’s the trainers who count. They’re not constrained by the syllabus in any way.

The wrong approach? CELTA and SLA

These are criticisms of 4-week courses from Geoff Jordan:

Some replies:

  • Raw material: the candidates who come onto the courses generally don’t have much grounding in language analysis, so they can’t do the kind of reactive teaching that experienced teachers can. They can’t offer that level of rich language language feedback.
  • Immersion: plenty of input.
  • Adaptation of materials: we teach candidates to adapt and select. They don’t have to follow coursebooks slavishly.
  • A balance of clarification and practice. We don’t train teachers to talk about language all the time.
  • We do want trainees to get students ‘doing things with language’. Courses often include TBL, and there are plenty of opportunities for fluency practice.

Examples of feedback

On the balance of clarification and practice:

On fluency tasks:

Any course offering that quality of feedback to beginner teachers is worth it’s salt!

Lesson frameworks

Neil taught his trainees how to base a whole lesson around this activity, with a structure he calls Task-Teach-Task:

Jason Anderson’s TATE framework can also be used, which has an emergent language focus:

We’re not stuck in PPP – we can use other frameworks.

The criterion from the syllabus is:

Focussing on language items in the classroom by clarifying relevant aspects of meaning and form (including phonology) to an appropriate degree of depth


Explicit instruction can help learners develop their knowledge.

Explicit instruction and communicative practice together can help learners develop implicit knowledge.

[I missed the source for this quote]

Neil said he thinks there needs to be a fight back for explicit teaching.

A more radical approach?

An example of something Anthony Gaughan did on his courses:

CELTA depends on the trainer. There’s nothing in the criteria that should make it less radical.


Examples of trainee feedback:

From Emma Jones and Amanda Momeni

It was a life-changing experience.

Very common feedback from trainees (I’ve heard this many times too!)

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Teacher education and textbooks: a study of materials design – Luis Carabantes

[I missed the start of the talk, setting the context – sorry Luis!]

In Chile, where Luis did his study most university teacher training courses didn’t include specific modules on materials design, though it might have been included in other methodology modules (I think that’s what was said as I arrived!)

Many of the methodology materials talk about how to use and adapt coursebooks, rather than how to make their own materials. So how do language teachers learn to do this?

The apprenticeship of observation is now seen as one of the main obstacles to teachers implementing innovations.

Materials – what do we know?

Materials as curricular artefacts: how can they promote the learning and teaching of English?

Materials as cultural artefacts: representational repertoires in materials.

Materials in use: use of the textbook as syllabus, textbook reification – novice teachers particularly assume things work without questioning it.

Activity theory

This is a kind of sociocultural theory which Luis used to frame his study.

The activity Luis is focussing on is ‘learning to design materials’.

(Luis explained this very quickly, and I couldn’t keep up!)

Research questions

Research methods

8 pre-service teachers in their final year in year 5, doing their practicum, and working to get their BA in English language teaching.

He used stimulated recall interviews based on materials the students sent him. For example: ‘What were you thinking about when you decided to create this activity?’


Much of the design of the materials by these teachers was mediated by the idea that the materials needed to resemble course books.

He found an important tension between the pre-service teachers and their use of coursebooks. There was a need to cover the textbook as it was used as the syllabus, which somewhat removed the agency of the teachers in creating their materials.

Teachers have an average of 27 teaching hours per week, and sometimes as many as 40. This creates big challenges.

Influence of the settting

Mentor teachers from the school sometimes critiqued the teachers for creating their own materials and moving too far from the coursebook.

The teachers are taught English at the university while they are learning to teach too. They experienced these methods in their own learning, so used it in their teaching too:

ELT as teaching the textbook

Many novice teachers rely on the coursebook. The coursebook becomes the goal. If I need to cover the coursebook, everything needs to be geared towards that.

Influence from the school setting

Classrooms often have 40+ students and 25+ hours, so there is very little time to plan. Teachers learn how to teach, but can’t use this in the context, so rely on the coursebook.

Their own learning of English is textbook mediated, and therefore their practice is likely to be like this too.



Is a school seen as only a place where students learn? Or is it seen as a place where teachers learn too?

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Cross-lingual activities – an embarrassment of riches – Paul Seligson

Paul has been talking about using L1 for many years, going right back to IATEFL Brighton 1994, about 20 ways to use the mother tongue. He’d done a Masters degree at Reading University in 1985, counting the number of activities in a 45-minute lesson – he found there were 660 tasks in a given hour (Should I do this? Should I ask him?)

[This talk report will be truncated as I need to leave a little early for my own talk in the next slot!]

These were the 20 activities he shared, and the ones which were blue were considered controversial at the time.

When planning / preparing, how do you assess the level of difficulty of a text? If you’re teaching monolingual groups, it could be what’s guessable / needs glossing / testing. We use L1 knowledge all the time, so celebrate this strategy systematically and share it with students.

Bilingual resources out of class

If it was a real-life task, or one students worked on alone, that was OK, but it was considered problematic if teachers used the L1.

But times have now changed!

Here are some connected quotes:

The third box down is a much richer definition of translations. The part at the bottom is the six types of translation they suggest we should cover in the classroom.

5 cross-lingual mediation activities

How many of these do you do already? I think I’ve only ever tried number 2.

Using L1 mentally, not orally

Name at least 4 fruits starting with the same letter or sound in L1. Quickly say / type them in English.

You’re bouncing the languages inside your head, drilling the vocabulary by yourself. It works well with particular combinations of languages.

2-phrase presentation to show / share L1 advantages

Give a list of words which you know are easy based on their L1, and work out pronunciation by showing the stressed syllable. Then have the harder words (depending on their L1), with a matching activity. They’re using L1 anyway, so help them with this.

You can encourage students to make links to L1, though they don’t have to actually say the L1:


Match phrases and photos, and then…

Then consider ‘Which 4 are very similar to Spanish?’ Paul wouldn’t have the Spanish on the board, but he’d still work with it. The students are drilling themselves, and making connections between the two languages. We’re showing the learners the benefits of the L1, and where they need to focus their energy.

Which have similar structure to Spanish?

Which two have similar word order in Spanish?

Helps students to decide where to focus their energy when learning a list of vocabulary.

Student research

Have students research common ground – they built a wall of cognates:

Different approaches to grammar

Get students to score how similar language is to their L1. This helps them to process the structures and make beneficial connections.

You’ve heard about inductive and deductive grammar teaching. What about seductive teaching? 🙂 Don’t waste time – just tell them what to work on!

Begin class by showing anticipated mistakes, corrected. This works in a flipped classroom too.

This approach has a lot of benefits:

Fronting grammar mistakes saves time.

Use online translation

If you have a text you’re going to use with students, put it through a translator, then reverse translate it back into English, then flag up the differences. You can also get the students to do this.

Encourage language play.

Type random characters into Google translate and see what comes out. Paul’s son did this with Chinese:

Learn to use YouTube!

You can use filters for the length of videos you’ll watch, transcripts to navigate the video, change the speed. You can have control over the input you want using this.

Copy and paste parts of the transcript into Google Translate.

[If you want more like this, I recommend Youglish to help you find useful videos]

Once in Google translate, you can star sections and build your own phrase book. Export to Quizlet and create a study set – you can do this automatically useful.

Change subtitles to L1 on YouTube – see L1 on screen, English in transcript, giving you a bilingual transcript.

Caution with auto translation of YouTube subtitles though, as it may not get the correct form of the language – but you may want to use this as a tool in the classroom now.

Subtitle use – advice for students

A four-step process:

Teach students strategies for working with subtitles.

(Paul says there’s a good talk in here about subtitle use)


A possible procedure:

[Had to leave at this point – great talk!]

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Impact by design: ensuring positive benefits for teachers and learners – Nisreen Ash

Nisreen works for Cambridge University Press. This is work in progress, with external content coming in the future.

Nisreen has been working on a framework to consider the impact of English.

All of our products and services are designed to improve

Why have a framework?

Understanding our impact is part of our continuous improvements.

We want our learning resources and exams to be the best they can be for our learners and teachers, and have the most positive impact on their learning and beyond.

Impact research

Cambridge has been researching impact since the 1990s.

The learner is at the centre of the education process. They want to empower participants with data and evidence.

Understanding impact should allow you to accentuate the positive and reduce negative effects.

This kind of research is also a form of transparency.

Impact by Design

This was a model introduced in 1996 by Cambridge English Assessment.

It is a concept that incorporates:

Impact considerations from the start, and seeks to anticipate potential effects and consequences with a commitment to monitoring and changing things as required

Saville, 2009

It’s a cycle which should begin at the beginning of the process, and feed constantly into what is being done.

Impact framework

Three domains:

  • Learning
  • Teaching
  • Assessment

Impact areas cover many different things, and will probably change with time. For example, focusing on the impact of learning resources on learner development, perceptions and future plans (e.g. study, work).

The indicators measure the areas that affect:

  • Individuals (e.g. learners, teachers and test takers)
  • Organisations (e.g. schools, test centres, higher education institutes, employers)

They now have an ‘Impact hub’ which collects all of the data from across the organisation to make them tidier to analyse.

What does an indicator tell us?

They’re like KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). If they notice there is a drop in performance in a particular area, they can set up an impact study to look at it in more depth.

The process is:

  • Measure
  • Evaluate
  • Report

They then communicate their impact findings in a range of ways, which will be a central website (not quite ready yet!)

IATEFL Belfast 2022: A new approach to lesson planning – seeing expertise grow – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

This was part of the TTEdSIG (Teacher Training and Education Special Interest Group) Showcase.

Gabriel works at the Insitute of Education at the Universidad ORT Uruguay, where they focus on postgrad qualifications. He also works with tertiary-level students for teacher training. The institute has 33 campuses around the country.

He teaches a methodology course. The students have had 3 years in the college, 2 years in the public school systems with a mentor, then in their final year they have a few months with their own group. These are often the most challenging students in a school. As a teacher educator, Gabriel’s role is to help his trainees survive this stage of their training.

His students this year particularly struggled with planning. In Uruguay plans are mandated by law and have to be submitted to principals, who don’t necessarily know anything about English language teaching. This talk is based on an experiment which is still in progress.

Why teach planning?

Professorial reasons: you’re a professional if your classes are well structured and can respond to student needs.

Pedagogical reasons: in initial training, it helps you to match theories to what you’re doing.

Cognitive reasons: the more we plan, the more we free cognitive resources to pay attention to the learners in the classroom.

Sociocultural reasons: we need to follow the rules that are expected of us as teachers.

Lesson plans

Are typically:

  • Structured
  • Linear
  • Sequential
  • Useless for the unexpected
  • Intuitive decision-making? Perhaps they stop this – ‘To make the right change at the right time when it needs to be made’

Knowledge and thinking

Expertise is a process, not a pinnacle.

Novices have ‘chaotic knowledge’ – they might have, but don’t know how to access it, or what needs to be applied in this situation.

What does expertise mean in initial teacher education?

  • Not a state, but a process. One where expertise can surface. Emergent expertise (in the same way as we talk about emergent language)
  • Requires the development of knowledge, skills, dispositions, experience and relevant training in a specific field
  • Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect permanent.

Kinds of experts

We are trained to do one thing, but our initial experience may not match our training. We may need to be able to teach different levels, ages and content , so we need adaptive teachers.

Core components of a lesson

  • A clear learning outcome
  • An understanding of where my students are and where they need to go – of the students one is teaching
  • An understanding of the reasons for applying a particular approach to teaching – why use the same approach for a group of demotivated secondary school teenagers learning one more subject, and for motivated individuals living in another country?
  • An understanding of how the approach operates in practice
  • A means to assess the progress that t learners are making towards the outcome – my teaching needs to be reactive to what is happening with the learners in the lesson
  • Reflection in, on and as action to keep us going and to allow us to make the necessary changes to our teaching
  • A key realisation: the perfect lesson DOES NOT EXIST. And therefore we should not aim to create one – students just need to learn something.

Lessons are encounters between people who are both persuing something.

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

Starting out

Try without a lesson planning framework first. Take out the materials you’re going to use. Then jot down the procedure, however you like.

When they did this, if you look at the aim and the sequence, you can see there’s a mis-match, and the sequence isn’t necessarily well-articulated. Each person did it on a big piece of paper, then they rotated it and peers made comments.

Then they reformulated their learning outcomes, looked back at their theoretical materials, and had to find a way to see how the theory they knew is reflected in their practice.

Every time they made a change, they were asked Why? Teachers had to justify their decisions.


When we use concept mapping, we are looking at possibilities, not narrowing in on one specific pathway. We are creating emerging expertise, especially because they are questioning each other. This enables meta cognitive learning too – becoming aware of who I am as a teacher, what I am doing, and how that reflects on my lessons.

This requires teachers to look at what theory supports their doing. This refines their questioning and conceptual understanding.


Gabriel played the voices of some of his teachers on his course. Teachers on the course said they felt more confident in their knowledge connected to theory and background, and could connect it to their students more.

The teachers aren’t using the structures the college prescribes, and they have developed their own shapes. Now they’re aligning activities to the students’ needs.

Answers to discussions

Did you find any resistance to reflection from the teachers? Yes, a lot. If you speak your mind, it can have consequences. It’s a traditional system where students do what the teachers say. But now they’re engaging in a collaborative action research process with these three teachers, who have found they didn’t give their students enough space to speak – they’re now trying to find out why this happens, and how to increase opportunities for speaking.

When Gabriel teaches a teacher, he teaches one teacher at a time, with the idea that one day they will be a teacher educator, in the hope they will change things in the future [a snowball effect]. He always asks: What is best for the learners you are teaching? What do you want to give those people who are going to make a country for your children?

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Embedding assessment into classroom activities – with a twist! Leo Selivan

Leo has written a book for Delta publishing called Activities for Alternative Assessment [Amazon affiliate link]. This is Leo’s blog.

Formative v. Summative assessment:

Formative is during the race, summative is when you’ve crossed the line.

…the term ‘assessment’ refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs.

Black and William, 1998:2

My favourite metaphor Leo used:

Here’s a task for you:

Leo has separated them in this way though he acknowledges that some could be either:

Example activity 1: 3-3-3 Speaking activity

  1. In pairs, student A talks for 3 minutes on a topic may or may not have been prepared in advance. Student B listens. Students switch roles with Student B speaking and Student A speaking.
  2. Switch and speak to another A / B in your group.
  3. Go back to your original partner. Partner compare the original version you heard to the last delivery of the same monologue.
Diagram inspired by Rachel Tsateri

Finally assess your partner’s participation. We used an app called Wooclap to do this live:

Here are two other possible sets of assessment criteria for the same activity:

The idea of the original 4-3-2 activity is often attributed to Nation 1989, but Leo found it was originally in Maurice 1983 in ELTJ. It has recently been reassessed by Boers (2014) who found that the increased time pressure of reducing the time limit didn’t make a big difference – it’s fine to do it with the same amount of time for each repetition.

There has been a re-evaluation of the value of repetition:

Points to consider:

The first three topics here are more useful topics as they involve recounting something.

Practical example 2: mini debate

Possible topics:

Two students had a debate. We asked one question to each of the speakers. Then each speaker had to summarise what their opponent said using lexical chunks from the slide:

Debating is usually considered an idea for working on speaking, but why not use it to test students’ listening as well?

This was inspired by a BBC video called Should we stop flying?

We watched part of the video and then had to summarise what the speakers said for 1 minute each.

The final section of the video asks the speaker to sum up each other’s arguments, which made Leo think of this idea.

Example 3: Oral cloze

Listen to the teacher and write the missing words. The teacher reads out the gap fill and the students write down the words. Like so:

[I had to leave at this point, so may have missed the end of the talk!]

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Work it out for yourselves – tasks to promote trainee agency when planning lessons – Melissa Lamb and Marie Willoughby

Mel and Ri are trainers at IH London.

This talk has come out of three or four years of working on flipped CELTA and Delta courses. All of the input happens on a platform at home, but planning and input happens in the school / online.

Planning workshops are one aspect of their flipped courses.

How do we help trainees plan?

  • How do you usually help trainees with their lesson planning?
  • What is your goal in this? Do you feel you usually achieve this goal?

As Ri said, it’s often a quite unsatisfying process for both trainees and trainers. We’re helping them with that lesson in that moment with that question.

What is a planning workshop?

When they first started doing this, it felt like supervised lesson planning, but for longer. Over time, they realised that the goal of this kind of workshop was actually To develop independent strategies for planning which trainees can use in the course and beyond. It gives them a way to find their own answers.

The strategies come from their experience of typical trainee puzzles which occur during the planning process. How do I…?

Strategy 1: working with a critical friend

What’s the role of a critical friend?

  • Questioning the assumptions made and seeing if they know why they’re doing it
  • Being someone other than the trainers to bounce ideas off
  • Giving support and reassurance

The role of being a critical friend needs to be set up with the trainees. You need to give them permission to probe, not just rubber stamp so they don’t feel they just have to say Yes, that’s great.

When we practised being a critical friend in a lesson planning workshop during the session, at the beginning we had no idea what we were doing but after a few minutes we worked out what questions we wanted to ask. We explored the areas connected to the lesson we thought might be important. When we had a question we couldn’t answer, we could bring it back to the tutor, who might ask us ‘What are the advantages of this approach? The disadvantages? Puzzle it out together and come back to me.’ The trainer might need to monitor and prompt the critical friend for more questioning, rather than making statements – see if you can explore it with them, rather than telling them what to do.

What trainees said about being a critical friend

Reflection questions for trainees

The first half of the workshop: give them a task like the one above.

The second half of the workshop: a reflection on the process and the strategy usage for lesson planning.

Here’s an example of the reflection prompts following the critical friend task:

  • List 4 questions or prompts you can ask learners in feedback.
  • List 3 ways that doing the task yourself helped you understand what will happen in the lesson.
  • List 2 things you got from doing the task with a critical friend.
  • Note down the most important thing you need to do when you’re planning your next lesson if you have this puzzle again.

They help trainees to realise there are other experts in the room, and they make the strategy explicit. During the feedback process, more questions come out about the task itself or about the strategy, and the trainers often find they do some input at this point.

Planning workshop structure

In week one of a CELTA course, they might all be working on the same strategy. In week two, they might be working on different strategies because they’re mastering different areas e.g. What do I put on the board? I don’t know how long this will take. I don’t understand this grammar.

The QR code has a link to a Google Doc with about 10 planning strategies and typical reflection questions. The url is http://tinyurl.com/3bmt8cur

Design your own strategy

Jo Stansfield and I came up with this:

Another group’s strategy was connected to pre-teaching vocabulary.

As a trainer, thinking about the strategy and the steps is the planning for the workshop.


Planning workshops like these:

  • Are more concrete than traditional planning sessions
  • Work on both the immediate needs of the CPs but also their long-term teacher practice
  • Encourage teachers to participate in a community of practice
  • Empower trainees to resolve their own puzzles
  • Allow trainees more agency when planning

Answers to questions

Being a critical friend seems difficult, so how do you support trainees in this role? Reassure trainees that they’re allowed to ask questions and are expected to ask questions, and that they don’t have to have all of the answers

How are critical friends assigned? They’re normally in pairs discussing the next day’s lesson. One person teaching today, one tomorrow work together. They change who they’re working with across the course.

If there’s a mismatch, can work with groups of 3. Have the trainee step in to demonstrate what might happen, but leave them with questions to puzzle over together. ‘Why don’t you write a list of situations when correction might happen, and decide what correction might happen in each situation?’

Trainees still come to the trainer to ask questions, but generally they work with each more. Ri said she felt like she was under less pressure during the course, and it feels much more satisfying.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: TBLT – task-based language teaching – what are the challenges? – Jane Willis

The willis-elt website has lots of information about TBL. Jane and Dave Willis learnt about TBL from a workshop which Prabhu did at the school they were working at. They then started to share the materials and spread the word.

This was a task-based workshop, with two short tasks and two major tasks.

Task one: From Prabhu: Listen and draw

Fold a piece of paper in half.

In the top half, draw a circle, about 8cm across. In the bottom half, draw a rectangular box – about 12cm across and 3 or 4cm deep.

In the circle, think of it as a clock. Draw a little line sticking up at 12 o’clock, and a little line sticking out at 6, 2, 4, 8, 10 o’clock.

In the rectangle, make it into three boxes, so that the middle box is bigger than the other two, but all big enough to write in.

Step two: Listen and write

In the top circle, write three words. Why TBL?

  • Gets learners to use language in a meaningful way.
  • To do that, they need to have had lots of exposure to language, to the kind of language they want to be able to produce.
  • Learners need to be motivated.

Examples of tasks:

  • Listen and do – follow instructions. Lots of exposure, but haven’t had to speak.
  • Listing – e.g. reasons for speaking English, characters in a story…
  • Ordering and sorting, sequencing
  • Problem solving / prediction
  • Sharing information or opinions
  • Creative tasks

They all have a communicative outcome, with exposure, use and motivation, and something to share at the end.

A lot of us are already doing tasks, but how many of us ask our learners to share the results? And what about planning to share? That’s where the learning really happens in this three-step process:

  1. Task
  2. Planning what to share: where the learning happens!
  3. Share

Jane has found that TBL often isn’t covered in teacher training courses, or if it is, step 2 (the central/key part) isn’t included.

We produced our own homemade handout:

What are the challenges of TBLT for novice teachers?

In our group, we discussed:

  • How do teachers know learners have achieved the task?
  • How do we define the task?
  • What is the teacher role during each stage? What feedback should they give?
  • How do they set up the tasks?
  • Focussing on the language use, rather than the task itself.
  • Dealing with different levels.

Task Two: allocate roles

Who will be:

  • Chairperson: ensure everyone speaks
  • Secretary: writer
  • Oral reporter: the person who will report back
  • Timekeeper: check you finish on time

This is a way to get your shy students talking. [I’m reading about this in Dornyei and Murphey’s Group Dynamics at the moment.] Choosing the roles stimulates a lot of chat.

Questions Jane answered

What topics can be covered? Anything! You could take a text: list three problems from the text, give them the first half of a text and predict the second half, list three things you do before you go out to work or school. You could create two or three tasks to create a task sequence within a lesson.

How do you approach feedback? Always respond to content first – that was interesting, could you expand on it? Other groups could write them a question to find out more or say what they want to clarify.

What is a task? A task entails learners using language in a meaningful way. They’re not practising a particular language form. They’re using any language they know. It has a goal which is meaning based, and an outcome which can be reported back on.

How much time should we allocate it? Depends on the task, and they can be linked into a task sequence. Make sure there is more time for the planning. Give them limits so they know when they’ve finished. For example, if there are 12 differences between pictures, ask them to find 7, and then there will be extra ones in the feedback.

At what point does the teacher give language input, feedback, corrections? At the planning stage. Don’t interrupt during the task. Another role could be ‘linguistic advisor’ or ‘language monitor/observer’ – they can report back on how much English was spoken, and what was difficult to say so other language was needed. Don’t negate it, but make it a role if it’s something which could help your learners.

What is a framework for the planning stage? This comes from the learners. For example, hands up if you have a problem. [I think the emergent language tips from this morning could help!]

Is pre-teaching OK? Yes, you can add a pre-task stage. Dave and Jane call it priming. Introduce the topic, tell a story, ask students some topic-related questions. Do preparation, for example language preparation of a few items of language students might need e.g. what punishments might be good for this type of offence? Add them to the board for students to refer to later. Jane wouldn’t teach grammar at this stage because you don’t know what grammar they want until they start the task. Lexical words express meanings, grammar fine tunes meaning. Introduce useful phrases.

What is the role of the teacher during planning? Advisor, supporter, corrector.

What is the difference between TBL and Project-based language teaching? PBL generally has tasks in it, and is a series of lots of different mini tasks.

How do you apply TBL if you’re confined to a curriculum? The topics and functions in the lessons will all come up over the course of a year, but they don’t necessarily come up in the same order as the materials.

There is a language focus in TBL – it’s a form focus, which can happen after the ‘share’ stage.

There could be a recording of two fluent speakers which could be used as a model for learners. Learners could study the recordings or the transcribed talk. Cobuild recordings are being resurrected and will hopefully be online and available for free soon.

How can you make it relevant to exam-based lessons? Prabhu did task-based learning, then in the final term he did intensive exam prep. His learners did better in the state exams in most areas, and about the same in the grammar section.

How do you get students to feel satisfied as a result? If you’ve done the form focus, the learners go away with a ‘rule in their pocket’ (Krashen). You can let them repeat a task from a couple of lessons ago, record them and help the learners to notice the difference – if you warn them in advance and let them go back over what they’ve learnt, this helps students to revise.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Tokenism or engagement? A new model for teacher development – Claire Steele and Sarah Smith

Claire and Sarah run eltonix.

How engaging are the CPD initiatives in your context?

Draw a ladder and place these initiatives on the rungs.

How do you measure engagement?

Is it the ease with which the programme can be carried out?

Did you receive good student feedback on what the students did?

Was there a tangible impact on the classroom?

Was it time well spent for the person controlling the CPD / teachers?

Was there an improvement in student performance?

Did it leave you with inspired / motivated teachers?

> Have you ever really thought about this at your school?

When Claire and Sarah started running CPD programmes, they were very enthusiastic, but the teachers weren’t engaged, despite being dedicated teachers. To find out why, they did research and spoke to the teachers to find out about their lack of engagement.

Some of the comments:

Observation is like a twice yearly ‘magic bullet’. The observers are always looking for the same thing. It isn’t really personalised to my needs. It feels like ticking a box than anything else. There’s a fear that if I don’t perform now, what will happen next year.


This is a summary of what the teachers mentioned as problems:

Though Kat also said it provided more choice for her and was more personalised.

This is a ladder of participation published by UNICEF, about engaging with children. It could also be applied to teachers. Sarah and Claire reflected on to what extent engagement with teachers went beyond tokenism and was actually empowering and emancipatory.

Three possible CPD initiatives


Two regular observations by line manager. Regular training delivered by senior members of staff.

Partial engagement:

Teachers might deliver some training sessions themselves. The school encourages peer observations and critical friends groups.


Teachers collect feedback from students and based on what they say/notice, teachers reflect and choose how they develop and how this should be measured. They carry out action research. Teachers seek guidance and advice from colleagues and senior members of staff.

Non-engagement – top down

Classic observations, INSETT etc.

This can be a form of manipulation – teachers don’t fully understand or aren’t’ involved. (these ideas are from the ladder above)

Decoration: teachers display their progress but no tangible reward.

Tokenism: teachers asked their opinions but are given no real choice or decision-making power.

Moving towards ‘recipe-following’ and ‘faking it’ (Walsh and Mann, 2015)

Reflection becomes blind (Dewey, 193_) – what’s the point?!

Partial engagement

Assigned but informed: teachers given specific duties/tasks and told how this will help them develop. They might be given specific roles in the organisation.

They might have a little more agency, but it’s still very much managed by the school

Big improvement on the above, but does not tap into full potential. D

Does not engage all teachers.

Is still not always relevant to immediate teacher needs, or have an impact on students.

Engagement – bottom up

If student voices are borne in mind, teacher development will be happening too.

The five principles of engagement:

  1. Do the teachers initiate their professional development and take the lead?
  2. Are student voices and feedback prioritised in the choices that teachers make?
  3. Is the CPD relevant to the immediate needs of the teachers and their students?
  4. Do the teachers fully understand why they are developing and how they need to do that?
  5. Is there a measurable outcome?

You can use these principles to reflect on your CPD programme. They think they’ve found an initiative which actually meets these principles: exploratory action research.

Exploratory action research

These are the steps.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Is ELT guilty of greenwashing? – James Taylor

James blogs at theteacherjames.Wordpress.com. He’s based in Brazil. This was part of the GISIG (Global Issues Special Interest Group) showcase.

Some headlines from the last month related to the climate crisis:

This is a grave situation, and is one we should keep in mind. But it can be hard for us to get our head around what’s happening in the world.

When it comes to the climate crisis, this is James’s position:

Greenwashing definition:

Adidas were prosecuted in the French courts for misleading advertising connected to greenwashing:

So what about ELT?

James did some informal research of his own. He was trying to choose books which he believed would be in circulation now. If they were older books, they tended to be exam preparation. He tended to look at higher-level books, as he felt like it may be possible that students at lower levels or younger learners might not have the language to discuss these issues in the same level of depth as higher levels or older learners.

These were the questions he looked at:

Does the book include related topics? These were the topics he found which could have been connected to the climate crisis in some way. He’s not arguing that they should have been connected to the climate crisis, but perhaps they could have been.

Which aspects were mentioned? These topics are more obviously related to the climate crisis – it was the main focus.

What terms were explicitly used? A larger font shows that it was used more commonly. ‘Nothing’ was the second most common thing he found – it was a lesson connected to the climate crisis in some way, but it wasn’t mentioned by name at all (though that specific term is newer – no other term was used instead).

Does the lesson suggest actions that can be taken to counteract the climate crisis? Does it focus on individual, social, scientific, corporate or governmental action? In Business English, the focus was more on the company than the individual – that had some of the better quality material. The overwhelming majority were about what you, the student, can do – what individual choices can you make.

Is a cause of the issues described mentioned? If an alien came to Earth and looked at ELT coursebooks, they wouldn’t necessarily know where climate change came from. There isn’t anyone to talk about (not blame!) The passive voice was often used – should we really be distancing ourselves from these actions? ‘No reason’ was also very common.

Accidental greenwashing

‘Carbon footprint’ was invented by BP, to promote the idea that climate change is not the fault of corporations, but individuals. It has been described as one of the most successful deceptive PR campaigns ever. Here are some reasons BP may wish to do this:

So carbon footprint lessons aren’t necessarily useful!


  • Look out for literal greenwashing.
  • Name some names! Not necessarily every time, but there should be some agency behind these actions.
  • Give learners the opportunity to properly discuss the issues.
  • Find ways to integrate the subject into related topics. For example, fashion, travel, consumption – even if it’s just one discussion question, it’s something.
  • Avoid euphemistic language and call it the climate crisis. This is the same language that’s being used elsewhere.
  • Less personal virtue, more big action.

We need to shift from learning about sustainability, climate change and the natural world to empowering learners to actually act.

What a student said:

Greta’s message:

Don’t forget this message if you put her in your materials!

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Telegram App as a tool for remote training and teaching – Wendy Arnold

Wendy’s company is called ELT Consultants. She has spent most of her career working in low-resource contexts.

This is about a project which was run in Venezuela, with Dr. Juana Sagaray and Dr. Maria-Teresa Fernandez.

What Telegram is not!

It is not a replacement for face-to-face training. If you need a Plan B, or if you have teachers in very remote teachers where it is very difficult to get them to come to one place, then this is an alternative to be able to give them some CPD.


Global South:

  • Developing countries
  • Excessive unemployment
  • Low per capita income
  • 77 countries, including China

(World Population Review 2022)

Venezuela is one of these countries.

Digital divide:

Gap between people who have access to affordable, reliable internet service (and the skills and gadgets necessary to take advantage of that access) and those who lack it.

Taylor, 2022

There might not be any internet service, particularly in rural areas. There might not be enough access to devices in the household. There might not be skills to access these devices.

This project in numbers

  • 400 pre-service and in-service secondary teachers
  • Nearly 9,000 students
  • 20 writers
  • 11 trainers (most of whom were also writers)
  • 10 modules
  • 10 workshops in each module
  • 3 months to deliver one module
  • Flipped learning: asynchronous one hour, synchronous one hour per week

Dr. Juana Sagaray was the British Council Project Manager for this project.

These were the statistics for technology usage in Venezuela:

There were also added problems with blackouts and lack of electricity. They needed an app which could be accessible.

Telegram had much lower data consumption than other apps (see the graph above).

It’s free.

It’s cloud-based – it won’t fill up your phone.

You can use it on any mobile platform, and on Mac, Windows and Linux.

It’s secure and fast. You can make it as secure as WhatsApp if you adjust the security settings on it.

You can do voice calls and video calls.

You can send photos, videos, messages and files of any format and size.

It synchronises across any number of installed Telegram apps on mobiles, tablets and computers.

Two APIs are free for developers to design a Bot API. Wendy first saw these bots being used to teach IELTS skills automatically. She thinks it could be used for FAQs, for example, though she hasn’t managed to develop this yet.

How are they using Telegram to train teachers

Quality assurance:

  • Design templates for all materials
  • Design PowerPoint for asynchronous content used in ‘flipped learning’ and PowerPoint for synchronous content
  • No animations in PowerPoints
  • Keep text to a minimum (CEFR A2)
  • Use icons and visuals
  • Made PDF of PowerPoint and screenshots of PowerPoint slides

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

  • Write scripted trainer’s notes to ensure that trainers in the future deliver the materials considering EDI
  • Refer to the Code of Conduct for learning online
  • Refer to Safeguarding for learning online
  • Poll teachers to ask for their opinions
  • Provide an option for Teachers who have missed a synchronous session to catch up

The project is designed to be loop input – whatever they do in the sessions should be something the teachers can do with their own students in the classroom.

How we use Telegram to train teachers

It’s best to use a desktop to train – it’s probably much harder doing it directly on a phone.

Keep the Telegram chat open on the screen so you can read what’s happening.

Telegram video chat ready to screen share.

Have your PowerPoint open on ‘reading view’.

This is what Wendy’s computer screen looks like:

Lessons learnt

Teachers need:

  1. A variety of ways to access the materials in both asynchronous and synchronous sessions (PowerPoint, PDF, screenshots – all of them!)
  2. Synchronous sessions no more than 60 minutes – unreliable connection, concentrating is harder for longer
  3. To be taught how to reflect on their own practice – a learner journal is used
  4. To complete tasks with allocated marks in order to complete module and get certificate

To get a certificate, they have to do 6 tasks, attend 7/10 live sessions or do the catch-up tasks, and do 2 assessment tasks. This incentivised teachers to complete the asynchronous work.

Teacher trainers need to be reminded:

  1. To increase interactions. Using chat box, audio recording and video recordings
  2. To summarise the asynchronous task comments submitted by teachers
  3. To offer the catch-up option to teachers
  4. And… (I wasn’t fast enough!)

Tutors and facilitators need:

Voices from participants

Teacher trainers said:

  • They have more tools to train and teach.
  • They noticed the enthusiasm and resilience of teachers.
  • The content was useful.
  • Negative: internet connection problems.
  • Negative: frequent blackouts.

The main thing they said Telegram was missing was Breakout Rooms. They said it has a real impact on teaching practice.

Participants said that 100% of them would recommend the training programme to their colleagues. They said the live sessions were a useful tool, dynamic, organised, excellent, well-planned and interesting.

The pre-workshop tasks helped them to reflect on the content. It helped them to get acquainted with what was coming up, and to practise what they would be exposed to later.

[This is an area I’m really interested in in general, so hopefully there will be more connected to it on my blog in the future!]

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Planning collaborative and reflective online lessons for adults and teenagers – Rachel Tsateri

Rachel is a blogger you may / should (!) know from The TEFL Zone. This is her first IATEFL presentation.

She is talking about a framework she came up with for planning online lessons, and talking about how it worked with her students.

When coronavirus arrived, Rachel was teaching B2+ teenagers and adults. Their motivation plummeted and it was a challenge to get her students to care about their lessons. She had no idea how to use her coursebook online, and her classes were really teacher-centred. The only authentic communication was right at the beginning of the lesson. She decided to perhaps flip to authentic materials for a while, rather than the coursebook to boost their engagement.

The stages she used were:

  1. Lead in
  2. Listening
  3. Text reconstruction (audio)
  4. Text reconstruction (typed)
  5. Free recall
  6. Focus on lexis
  7. Select and reflect

Stages 2-4 are what Rachel calls a jigsaw-gloss.

Rachel started by showing pictures – can they guess the name of the programme?

She selected this programme because she’d heard them talking about it. They then moved on to talking about their interest, emotions, motivation, knowledge and opinions about this programme. It was important to include emotions in the process because many of the students were feeling shut down.


Rachel created a summary of the plot. She divided it into four parts. She recorded it with the help of colleagues. Each student only had access to one part of the audio, via a link. She told them to listen in a dictogloss way – they were already familiar with this approach.


  • Listen first just to get a general idea
  • Listen again and note key words
  • Listen a third time for detail and language to help them reconstruct their text

This was a balance of autonomy and guidance. They had purpose(s) for listening – they tended to listen and start taking notes, lose track, and become overwhelmed because they couldn’t keep up.

The texts weren’t equally divided into four parts – some were shorter / longer, easier / more challenging, which allowed for differentiation.

Text reconstruction

They went into breakout rooms to put the plot together and put it in the right order orally, with one person who’d listened to each part of the recording. This was a huge focus on fluency and using the language.

Then they worked on written text reconstruction. They wrote their parts individually. If they wanted to, they could turn off cameras and microphones – they don’t have to interact all the time.

Peer feedback – they could read other’s texts, and ask each other questions. They started with giving each other feedback on content, then moved on to feedback on language.

Why did this process work?

This was a collaborative process, where students depended on each other, not the teacher, from the start.

It worked on mediation – they developed their own versions of the text. They had to explain it to classmates. They co-created a target text. These are real-life tasks.

This is a communicative replication task.

There was a balance between loud and quiet interaction, and individual time.

It was student-centred. This helped students to become more engaged overall.


Listening + text reconstruction = jigsaw-gloss

These are the elements that it got from jigsaw listening, and from dictogloss.

These were 60 and 90-minute lessons.

Free recall

Stop and jot / pause and write / stop and reflect.

Write three words or three phrases from the lesson up to this point. If you want to make it interactive, they can then share these with a partner (turn and talk).

This worked as a break from the rest of the lesson. Reflection can be included in the middle of the lesson – it doesn’t have to come at the end of the lesson.

When they’re sharing, they’re collaborating. Students learn from each other. They notice words and phrases they didn’t notice but their classmate did.

Lexis focus

Rachel believes that high-level students know a lot of grammar, so what they need to develop is how lexis works together.

A central element of language learning is raising students’ awareness of and developing their ability to chunk successfully.

Lewis, 1993

Rachel chose activities like match chunks to definitions.

  • Adjective + noun collocations: social outcasts
  • Semi-fixed phrases: a gang of bullies

Then go back to your Google Doc – did you use these phrases? This allowed learners to put the language into practice – had they noticed the phrases when they listened? Or can they add them now they know they exist?


Select and reflect: select 6-8 items (not words!) that you are going to use or that you feel you have learnt from today. How are you going to use them? Why did you choose this chunk? How will you remember it? What strategies will you use?

This allows for differentiation. Different learners can choose different items.

It allows for choice and responsibility.

She felt it was a realistic number of items.

It was a useful challenge, as they had to process what they had learnt. Adding metacognition to their learning.

Reflection – it was individual, and they also had to share their reflections. They could collaborate. Learners actually took notes of each other’s strategies.

The classroom is a community – we need to help learners to learn from each other, not just from the teacher.

Rachel Tsateri

Strengths of this approach

Productive – learners spoke a lot.

Huge focus on fluency.

Collaborative all the way through.



Rachel ran out of time. Lessons were 60 / 90 minutes.

Long texts. Her texts were too long at the beginning, so she never made it to the lexis stage.

Focus on accuracy? Select and reflect looked like it worked, but when she asked learners to remember what they learnt in the following lesson they often couldn’t.

So, how can Rachel improve this framework? It helps her to have collaborative and reflective lessons, but how can she make sure the learners will remember the language.

If you’d like to share your thoughts, please use the hashtag #jigsawgloss on social media to say how you could help Rachel with this framework.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Emergent language: Activities and answers to the key questions – Richard Chinn and Danny Norrington-Davies

Richard and Danny are going to look at activities you can use to start working with emergent language in the classroom.

Unplanned language that is needed or produced by learners during meaning-focussed interactions. This language is then explored through re formulation, clarification and support from the teacher.

Chinn and Norrington-Davies, 2022 (forthcoming)

It includes errors and communicative breakdowns, but also covers alternative ways of producing the same meanings. It can also be language that teachers or learners judge to be in some way new, interesting or useful to share. And it includes questions raised by learners about an aspect of language.

These are some of the key questions Danny and Richard are asked, some of which will be covered in this presentation.

Issue 1: I find it hard to hear what my learners are saying

It can be a challenge to tune in and listen carefully. We can’t necessarily hear errors or gaps.

First, we need to focus on the meaning of what learners are saying. Focus on the content. Develop listening skills to work on learner language.


  • Stop listening for errors – focus on meaning. What are the interesting things they’re saying? What is worth sharing?
  • Spend time tuning into individual groups (not just 10 seconds)
  • Note down what they are talking about
  • Put these points on the board to support feedback on content after discussion parts of the lesson

Tuning in task:

  1. In class set the learners a meaning focused speaking task where there is an exchange of ideas.
  2. While they’re speaking, unobtrusively move around the group listening to what they’re saying.
  3. Write notes on the board.
  4. Use these to focus your feedback.

In our discussion after a task Richard and Danny gave us, Jason Anderson and I talked about focussing on how people communicate, not just what they say. Some of the emergent language Jason and I selected might be the vocabulary they were lacking, but also the B2 learners’ ability to interact and help the other person understand your point, rather than focussing on getting your point across. This was the text we were discussing (which we heard rather than read):

Emergent language doesn’t have to just be grammar and lexis focussed. It can be about how we communicate ideas, how we express things in a way that doesn’t offend others.

Here’s an example of what they might put on the board to frame their feedback:

Here are examples of some of the prompts they might use to work on the emergent language:

Creating the conditions for facilitating meaningful feedback

  • Build rapport (Mercer and Dornyei, 2020)
  • Congruence – being genuine
  • Attitude towards the learner – unconditional positive regard (always being positive to learners, even if you don’t agree with them)
  • Empathy
  • Asking more referential questions (Thornbury, 1996) – genuine, real questions which the teacher can’t necessarily answer

Using these skills, one teacher reported:

  • Better able to notice what the learners were talking about
  • Able to relax
  • Able to notice interesting points which students were making
  • Conducted useful feedback on content
  • Didn’t pick up on any EL yet
  • Able to ask extra questions
  • Later on was able to work on EL once he’d developed these skills

Issue 2: What aspects of language/interaction should I focus on?

This depends on the context you’re teaching in and the kind of students you’re teaching.

Here are possible examples, but there are other possible answers:

  • Prioritising language that causes miscommunications/ obvious gaps
  • Choosing language or interactional skills relevant to the teaching context
  • Focusing on repeated issues with the same or similar forms / repeated interaction issues
  • Choosing a gauge that is interesting or useful
  • Focussing on high frequency language
  • Recycling previously taught content
  • Working with language influenced by the learner’s L1
  • Providing feedback on task specific language / interactional moves

An interesting process could be using a transcript and/or recording for a teacher training workshop within a school, getting teachers to discuss these areas.

What can I do next?

Gathering data

You can do it by instinct, but recording yourself doing feedback on content can be really useful for reflection. Note your moves as a teacher, student uptake etc (Walsh, 2011).

Take photos of your board.

Keep a teaching journal.

Dialogue with colleagues (Walsh and Mann, 2017)

Discussing student reactions

Discussing what is suitable for your context

Discoveries can be illuminati very (more about what you knew you do) and heuristic (more about what you didn’t know you do)


  • Focus on genuine, meaningful interaction and pick up on content.
  • Examine your underlying beliefs about the language you do decide to pick up on and monitor your practice
  • Explore your practice with colleagues.

Danny commented that teachers who started to work with emergent language found that over time students started to share more and be more positive about these interactions. Teachers who were reluctant to work with EL initially found that over time they and students got better about working with it.

Danny and Richard have written a book: Working with Emergent Language which will be published soon:

Sandy’s Take Your Time Delta Module Three course

Announcing the addition of a Delta Module Three course to my Take Your Time offering, to accompany the Module One course I’ve been running since October 2021.

I’ve had good feedback so far from the 14 people who’ve joined me for Delta Module One, as you can see:

There will be a strict limit of 8 participants for each iteration of the Module Three course, so make sure you apply as soon as you can! There will be Module Three two intakes a year, one with a September start for the June submission date, and one with a February start for the December submission date. Find out all of the details and apply here.

There is a discount for anybody who signs up for a second Delta module with me, in either order (One then Three, or Three then One). Unfortunately, I can’t offer Delta Module Two as I’m not a Cambridge centre, but I can offer advice to help you choose the best way for you to do it.

If you’d like more Delta resources, take a look at Useful links for Delta.

If you go ahead, good luck, however you choose to do the course!

PARK Conference – April 2022

These are notes taken on my phone during the day, so apologies for any odd typing! I presented twice, so there are two plenaries and one session here.

Quantum ELT (or The Things Wot I Learnt) – Fiona Mauchline

In the shift to online, Fiona really noticed that what the students needed wasn’t the content, it was the pastoral support and emotional connection.

Why Quantum? Physics used to be about actions and reactions. When Quantum came along, it was about interactions, the stuff between the particles, and to a large account we hypothesised what was there, rather than seeing what was there ourselves. That’s what we can look at in ELT too: what happens between us, how we interact, not just action and reaction.

Connection to self – emotional connection

Fiona’s opening activity: draw an emoji and hold it up. It’s a good way to take the temperature of emotions/feelings in the room.

Alternatively, in the chatbox, use an emoji to show how you feel. This works for kids and adults.

Emojis can also be used to change the emotional feeling in an activity. When you are working on pronunciation, hold up an emoji to show how students should say the sentence or dialogue. You can print/show the emojis, but even better, the students can draw them themselves (or reuse them from earlier).

If we make objectives and check in on them frequently, we can feel more connected with what’s happening around us. We can make our own objectives: talk to a friend, learn 3 new words… and at the end reflect on what you’ve achieved. It feels like it takes up time but it actually keeps people on track.

4 call and response options:

  • 123 – eyes on me.
  • Holy moly – guacamole.
  • To infinity – and beyond.
  • Ready to rock – ready to roll.

Me grids: good for Zoom, using the annotate function, mark this, or in the classroom use it as a poster:

This grid can also be a form of vocabulary review. You could also use it as a preview. Show them the words before they meet them: which one looks funny, difficult to say, interesting, looks like it sounds nice, any you can guess what they mean. Students make an emotional connection with the words before they study them.

Connection to others – social connection

At lower levels, you can add more speaking easily through a grammar or vocab rap. They can create and say new verses (not write, just say).

This is my home.

Welcome to my home.

This is the kitchen.

We cook in the kitchen.

This is my home.

At A1, just changing a verb and a room adds a new verse.

Fiona suggests WH Auden’s poem The truth about love as an alternative framework for adding verses.

Another idea is classroom art. A school Fiona visited had murals in black and white painted by a local artist, then the colours were added by the kids. Anybody can produce art, bring it in, and add descriptions, stories, anything else. Adding any art by the students can help them to have a personal connection to the room.

Use photos before a text to ask students to create a reading activity before they read, helping them to connect to the material before they read it.

Drama can help to build self esteem, by pretending to be someone else. After working with a song, show students the lyrics and ask them to perform the song as said by a Shakespearean actor.

Connection at home

Homework buddies: encourage them to do their homework together, collaborating to help each other. It’s more sociable. Best to do in pairs, not bigger groups.

Waxing, waning, ebbing, flowing, coming, going. – Dr Claudia Molnar

Confidence gets in the way of a lot of fluency, and students’ willingness to communicate. Confidence building can be important for both teachers and students. Small tweaks can help to make activities more interesting and energising, and help students use the language more.

Asking a question about routines can have extra questions: When? Why? What are the exceptions? This can add engagement.

Preparing for a trip, in a roleplay. Allocate seasons or weather conditions to each group before the discussion. My group just listed nouns with no grammar. You can stop students partway through to create a change in the situation which might force the students to actually use the grammar you want them to practise if necessay. For example, on your trip you can now only take one bag, not three bags. That forced us to use more conditionals.

My favourite activity was an alphabet story, where each line had to contain a verb with the next letter of the alphabet.

Teaching is a form of art (more than acting) – David Fisher

David works with The Bear Educational Theatre https://www.thebeartheatre.com/ which runs in person and online theatre experiences for English learners of all ages and levels, providing interactive educational experiences. An interesting idea I like is A guest in your classroom, where students can interview an actor in their classroom either as themselves or as a famous person.

Teachers are not entertainers, but we can learn a lot from the world of entertainment. Questions to think about: what do a teacher and an entertainer have on common? How is preparing an English lesson and a show the same or different?

They both have an audience. They have to keep the audience’s attention. For David, the most important thing in a lesson is the energy in the room, not the techniques themselves.

An entertainer’s job is to entertain, though sometimes they teach us something new. A teacher’s job is to teach, though they can also use principles from the world of the entertainment to manage the classroom and the energy to make a better environment for learning.

When students act, they often change emotions too quickly. All good scenes are about a change. By the end of a good scene scene, something should change, and that is often an emotion. We practised shifting from nothing to showing the emotion over 10 seconds, not instantly.

We then added it to an advert. Start with one emotion, like sad, then get the product, then move to happiness slowly.

Presentation skills are another useful area which can be developed through drama. We can work on speaking slowly and clearly so that everyone can understand us. When somebody listens to someone they don’t really know, most of what they focus on is the body language rather than the words. As a presenter, you need to stand still and keep your hands still, holding them a little above your waist, make eye contact if you can, and speak a little bit louder and a little bit more slowly than normal. Combine all of that, and people will concentrate more on the words rather than all the other things you’re doing.

To get the volume, students can practise counting 1 to 10 normally, then repeating it again but starting from 1 very quiet, 5 at normal volume, to 10 as loud as possible. The first time they do it 10 will probably still be quite quiet, and when they do it again, it will probably be louder. Another thing we tried was counting 1-5 in the highest possible voice, then 6-10 in the lowest possible voice. We often don’t give ourselves permission to play with our voices and use them in different ways.It’s important to build the confidence to speak out loud and use our voices effectively when presenting.

Music is one way to create atmosphere and influence the mood. You can simply play a little music and ask students how it makes them feel. You can play music and ask students to imagine it’s a film soundtrack: what film are you watching with this music as the soundtrack? This is a simple creative activity. It’s almost impossible to not see a film – it’s original content students have created for themselves. This brings emotion into the classroom.

These short activities can be used as pruners. You can use an upbeat activity to energise students, or a calm activity to get them ready for a test. Those 5 or 10 minutes aren’t wasted, as it sets the tone for tasks to be more successful in the rest of the lesson.

Another question: what does a film director actually do? What makes them good at their job? What does a musical conductor do?

We said that they need to have an idea of where they are aiming at, and know how to get a group of people there. David said he had no idea! 🙂

Follow up question: what does a teacher actually do? We might not actually be clear about it, but we know because we do it every day. But what is useful is being aware of our audience, and thinking about what they need from us. Are we speaking too fast or too show? If they’re not engaged, we need to slow down because they’re not understanding.

People who are famous are not necessarily famous because they’re good. They have been given status and we get status from associating with them. Just because you’re doing the same thing in a different context, it doesn’t mean you’re any less good at it than a famous person is who might be doing that job. Just because anybody can do it, it doesn’t mean that anybody can do it will.

Teaching is more of an art than acting. As an actor you get a lot of prep time, and a lot of people to help you, then when you do your show you do it many times, and you can’t necessarily see your audience. As a teacher you get minimal prep time, you mostly work alone, you do your ‘show’ once, and you can see your audience and on top of that you have to teach them something to – despite all of the distractions, the people who give criticism apart from your audience (the parents, the management…). It really is valuable, what we’re doing. And learning entertainment principles can enhance our teaching too.

Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities (PARK conference April 2022)

On 2nd April 2022, I had the pleasure of presenting at the PARK conference in Brno. I shared 4 activities from Richer Speaking, my ebook of 16 ways to get more out of the speaking activities you do in class with minimal extra preparation. This was a slightly updated version of the last but one presentation I did live – my previous face-to-face presentation was at the PARK conference in November 2021, and the one before that was Richer Speaking at the IH Barcelona conference in February 2020, in what feels like another lifetime way back before the pandemic!

Here are my slides:

I did the original version of this presentation in July 2019 which I’ve fully written out here.

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

If you’d like more reflection activities, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There’s a 10% discount until 30th April 2022 if you buy it via Smashwords [affiliate link] using the code KN74F. That makes it only $6.29 or €5.63!

ELT Playbook 1 cover

By the way, my blog has been a bit neglected as the previous three months have been super busy with lots of interesting projects and finishing off an MA module in Materials Development (with a distinction!). Hoping to resume normal service relatively soon…

AfricaELTA / EVE Female Leadership programme

Since November 2021, I’ve been mentoring a teacher in Niger as part of the Female Leadership programme organised by AfricaELTA and EVE, coordinated by Amira Salama and Fiona Mauchline. 10 mentees from all over Africa worked with mentors from around the world, and 8 managed to complete the programme. These ladies were already leaders in their local areas, but the aim was to help them make their voices heard on an international stage, with the project working towards them doing their first presentation for Africa ELTA. They have worked so hard over the last 3 months to put together their presentations.

It’s been a privilege to work with Hadiza on her presentation, and to see how much all of the women involved in the project (both mentors and mentees) have learnt over the last few months. I look forward to seeing what our mentees go on to do in the future as their impact grows in ELT, and hope to be involved in future iterations of the project.

Here are the videos of the two sets of presentations. Each presentation was about 15 minutes long, with a question and answer session afterwards.

Part 1 (presentations 1-4):

Part 2 (presentations 5-8):

[pending link]

These are brief summaries of the presentations, which took place on 5th and 12th February 2022.

Raising Awareness of Global Issues through Reading and Listening Comprehension – Marie-Clemence Bance, Burkina-Faso

Marie-Clemence shared examples of lessons she has taught with students which brought global issues into her classroom.

The Tragedy of Migrants was one lesson she put together to combine different skills in a lesson which was motivating and engaging for her students as they knew it was about an issue which was relevant to people they knew. The history and geography teacher mentioned that the students had were able to use ideas from their English classes in their humanities lesson.

Due to a lesson about plastic waste her students asked her if they could collect plastic from the schoolyard afterwards, and told Marie-Clemence that they would encourage their peers not to throw away plastic.

Other lesson topics included a lesson about education for girls, which is a major issue in Burkina Faso, especially in areas controlled by terrorists. For the first lesson when students returned to class after the pandemic, her students were already prepared to talk about the pandemic because they knew that’s what the lesson would be about!

Bringing Poetry Alive – Iyabo Adebimpe Akintola, Nigeria

Iyabo talked about how she uses poems in her classroom to develop critical thinking. She shared a thought-provoking poem called ‘Not my business’ by Niyi Osundare. She starts by telling students about the poet, the setting and why the poet wrote this work. She then reads the poem aloud, and encourages students to do the same. Then she encourages students to notice patterns in the poem, and look for literary devices like similes, metaphors and personification.

Challenges for girls attaining early literacy: the role of teachers – Claudia Duedu, Ghana

Claudia chose this topic because of watching her single mum bring up her and her sister. These are some of the statistics from Ghana:

She talked about many different causes for these issues: late enrolment, unqualified teachers, high illiteracy level, teenage pregnancy, sexual violence in school, overburdening girls with household chores, foster parenting (girls being sent from rural homes to relatives in towns, but who are then not sent to school or supported with their education) and menstruation. These causes were from Worldbank and UNESCO reports in 2021.

Due to all of these issues, there are many knock-on effects: comprehension difficulties, problems with oral expression, poor academic performance, low self-esteem, absenteeism, dropping out of school, social vices, and girls being forced to repeat years and ending up out of grade.

Claudia mentioned recommendations which teachers could follow to support children to build their literacy:

  • Improvise materials based on what you have – for example, writing letters on bottle tops which the children can manipulate.
  • Ask people to donate newspapers they have finished with, or publishing companies to donate materials they don’t need.
  • Get simple grade-specific internet materials and print them on small cards which students can use.
  • Play-based methodology – integrating play into your lesson to achieve your lesson objectives.
  • Use age-appropriate materials. For example, books based on their reading abilities.
  • Continue your own Professional Development, and join Communities of Practice. As Claudia said, “The 21st century teacher is the one who is willing to keep learning.”
  • Mentorship – this enthuses both adults and children. Each teacher could mentor one girl at a time – this is something Claudia has been doing for a while. If girls realise that somebody cares about their development, they benefit a lot. They also get support and sponsorship from local organisations.
  • Supplemental learning – giving extra teaching to girls who need it.
  • Community engagement – get the community involved. Talk to parents, chiefs, community leaders to talk about the development of their communities.

This was the quote Claudia finished with:

Using Technology to Teach Creative Writing: Creating a Storyboard – Lzuchukwu Light Chime, Nigeria

Light talked about making storyboards using Google Slides as a tool for creative writing. She starts by changing the format of the slide too 11 x 8″ (like a portrait piece of paper). She adds squares and arrows to indicate the possible structure of a story, which can then be used by students to think up a story. They can add text, pictures, or a combination to help them plan their story. Here’s one example:

Light recommends using Google Slides because it is easy to create and share frameworks with students, and they can edit them themselves. These are her steps:

  • Think of ideas
  • Write first draft
  • Get feedback
  • Rewrite
  • Proofread
  • Publish

She says you can also use Zoom, Canva or WhatsApp for similar storyboarding. This is an example from Zoom:

Excerpts from a WhatsApp storyboard:

If you have no technology, Light says that you can also create storyboards with post-it notes, as a template on A4 paper, as circles in the sand outdoors, and as group work.

Creative writing stimulates the imagination, brings the real world into the classroom, engages and encourages critical thinking, allows active learning, helps students to see possibilities, and lets them see progress. It involves students not just as writers, but as editors, and giving them the chance to give feedback to each other.

ICT usage in EFL teaching in Niamey secondary schools – Amou Ali Hadizatou, Niger

I’ve worked with Hadiza since November to help her to run some small-scale research using Google Forms, then summarise it in a presentation. Due to internet problems, I was sharing her slides during the presentation so wasn’t able to write about it as she was presenting, but here’s my summary.

Niamey is the capital of Niger, where Hadiza lives. When the COVID pandemic started, teachers were forced online, but many of them were very reluctant. Hadiza wanted to find out about Niamey EFL teachers’ general attitudes to ICT and some of the reasons for this reluctance. She got 26 responses to her survey. Some of her interesting findings:

  • 65% of respondents had access to a smartphone, and 50% had access to a computer.
  • 85% use ICT in their teaching, but only 30% do so frequently.
  • Many teachers were reluctant to use ICT because of a lack of availability, poor network connections, and student attitudes, as some of them try to cheat.
  • Teachers are also concerned about their own lack of digital literacy compared to the students.
  • Despite this, teachers recognise how useful ICT can be in teaching, making lessons engaging, helping with time management and giving access to tools like online dictionaries.

In the Q&A, Hadiza talked about including parents and the community in making ICT available to the students, for example by lending students their smartphones.

Hadiza uses mp3s to introduce other accents to the classroom via videos. She doesn’t have internet access in the classroom, so she downloads materials before the lesson to be able to use them.

In her school, students aren’t supposed to bring phones into lessons. Hadiza spoke to the headmaster, told him what she wanted to use phones for in the lessons and was given permission, as long as she asks students to switch their phones off before they go to other teachers’ lessons.

Creative Writing: An important spice in the classroom dish – Joan Kumako, Ghana

Why is it that so many educational systems develop such unimaginative approaches to teaching?

A paraphrase of a quote Joan shared

Creative writing is an art, producing texts with an aesthetic purpose expressing the author’s voice uniquely. It can be poetry, drama, prose (short stories, fiction, novellas), movies and songs.

Some techniques:

  • Brainstorming
  • Small groups / whole class activities
  • Role play
  • Dialogue
  • Drama
  • Story / poem-writing activities

Creative writing is important to help students develop many skills: creativity, imagination, critical thinking and problem-solving. It’s also important for cultural preservation, development and transformation. It allows learners’ self-discovery and self-expression.

As an example activity: What impression does this image suggest to you?

This is what Joan did:

  • Brainstorm words the picture suggests in whole class
  • Write words on the board
  • Put students into small groups (which helps to encourage those who might be more reluctant)
  • Students select a few of the words that interest them the most
  • Allow students to create a poem with their words
  • Let students share poems with the rest of the class
  • Paste the poems on the classroom wall or notice board as a form of motivation for students

Here’s an example of their poems:

There were more great poems in the presentation – to see them, you can watch the video (link at the top – about 35 minutes in).

After this, students came to hear and told her they wanted to write more poems: ‘Madam, I want to write a poem about love’ 🙂

Impromptu Meeting that Revealed Girls’ Untapped Potentials: Creating Unlikely Leaders – Oliver Kimathi, Tanzania

When observing her students, Oliver noticed the girls seemed shy, seemed to lack confidence and had no confidence to lead (both in the classroom and beyond). There was also higher truancy among girls. All of these factors led to poor performance.

As a result, Oliver conducted an impromptu meeting to bring girls together to think about how to address some of the challenges they faced: education, leadership, early pregnancy, and menstruation (a highly sensitive topic). This meeting led to the idea of creating a Girls Empowerment Club, involved both girls and boys.

She conducted a needs analysis to find out from the girls:

  • what challenges the girls faced
  • their needs
  • their strengths
  • the role of their parents and traditions in their life
  • what they know
  • what they want to know

Information is powerful.

The children read stories about female leaders. Girls and boys work as a team to think about how to uplift girls in the community. They learn new skills like cooking, making detergents, and how to conserve the environment. They learnt how to make cakes (not common in their area), and more about how to create employment opportunities.

Public speaking is also worked on – the girls feel more confident about talking in public, improve their speaking and listening skills, and improve their English skills. English is introduced at secondary schools.

Students are also able to talk about menstruation freely and have learnt about reusable sanitary pads. They are working on breaking the taboo against menstruation. Everything in their reusable sanitary pad kit is locally available, and can last for 2-3 years. Reusable sanitary pads was an idea brought to the club by a student who took part in a project outside the country and then shared it with the group.

The clubs improve the students’ team work skills, helping them to identify challenges, find solutions, be creative and improve their English language skills. It has promoted freedom of expression, increased their confidence and boldness, improved attendance, encouraged girls to participate in school leadership, shared resources, and raised girls’ academic performance.

Members of the club had a booth at a wider event at a university with attendees from six different countries, sharing the books they read, the menstrual pads, and the success of the club. This helped them with networking, and motivated girls to want to go to university. Most of the club members from the first group are now at university, and have started girls empowerment clubs of their own.

Empowering girls at schools makes sense because they fight for their education.

Tanya Lee Stone, 2017

This is an amazing project, and I recommend you watch the full video to learn more about it and see the photos. There was also a long Q&A (around 65 minutes in) covering many interesting areas, like parents’ responses to the clubs and how Oliver got boys involved.

The value of pre-reading activities in teaching reading – Patricia Keageletse Sechogela, South Africa

Why is it important for learners to read?

We can communicate through reading, we can enjoy reading, and we can extend reading beyond the classroom, encouraging learners to read at home too. This will help them to become more critical and fluent readers.

Through reading we can learn about what happens around us and around the world. Reading doesn’t stop – it continues throughout our lives.

We use reading to learn the content of other subjects.

Why use pre-reading activities?

We can pre-teach new vocabulary.

It gives learners a purpose for reading.

It can motivate and engage them, preparing them to read.

Examples of pre-reading activities

  • Brainstorming
  • Discussing the title
  • Discussing new words
  • Looking at pictures
  • Prediction activities
  • Pre-teaching vocab games (like Pictionary)

How can we motivate learners to read?

Teach reading strategies, including peer reading and silent reading.

Model positive reading habits.

Create a book club.

Let learners choose their own books.

If learners aren’t motivated, try to identify why they are reluctant. For example, they might lack phonological awareness. Give them books which are easy for their level to improve their confidence, so that they feel willing to try by themselves.

A writer only begins a book.

A reader finishes it.

Samuel Johnson

What a great quote to finish these Africa ELTA and EVE Female Leadership presentations on!

Authoring tools (Teaching house webinar)

On Thursday 20th January 2022, I presented a webinar for Teaching House. This was the abstract:

Authoring tools allow you to create learning content without any specific technical expertise. In this webinar we will look at a range of different authoring tools, including Quizlet, Flippity and Learning Apps. With these tools, you can add variety to your lessons without too much extra work, whether you’re working online, face-to-face or hybrid. Even if you’re already familiar with these tools, you’ll hopefully still go away with a range of activities you can use to exploit them.

Rather than using slides, I took attendees on a live tour of each of the three selected sites, showing them examples of resources they could use and talking about activities they could do with them.

Here’s a recording of the session:


Flippity homepage

Flippity allows you to create a wide range of different activities. They’re all based around Google spreadsheets. Don’t let that put you off though! They’re actually really easy to use, and some of them even have ‘Quick & Easy’ versions so you can skip the spreadsheet. I like the fact that there are demos of every tool, and the step by step instructions are really clear. The results are generally quite visually striking too.

Note: You need a Google account to be able to use most of the tools – that’s the easiest way to make sure you will always have access to your creations. Any tool with a ‘Quick and Easy’ option can be used without Google – you have to bookmark it if you want to be able to use it again.

Flippity – Timeline example

Every activity has a demo and instructions, linked from the grey buttons on the homepage.

Flippity timeline

Click on Demo to understand exactly how the tool works and what the end result will look like. I find it really helps to do this first to check that the tool works as you expect. Here’s the ‘Timeline’ demo:

Flippity Mr Rogers timeline (collapsed)
Flippity ‘Timeline’ example – collapsed
Flippity Timeline example - expanded
Flippity Timeline example – expanded

Once you’ve selected the tool you want to use, click on Instructions. They’re always step by step, and troubleshoot common problems at the bottom of the page.

As you can see, the instructions start with a link to a template. When you click the link, you’ll be asked whether you want to make a copy of the template.

If you click ‘Make a copy’, it’ll appear in your Google Drive, and the spreadsheet will automatically open.

What the file will look like in your Drive
Excerpt from the template

When I’m working with the templates, I normally delete almost all of the data, but leave a few lines at the top as an example to remind me what I can put where.

Starting to adapt the template for my own content

Then I rename it and add my own information to create my version of the document.

My version, with the sample data to help me

I remove the rows with the example data.

My timeline spreadsheet

Once you have the data you want to use, go back to the instructions to find out how to make it public.

How to make a timeline public
Publish to the web step 1
Publish to the web step 2

Once you’ve confirmed you want to go ahead, the ‘Publish to the web’ dialogue box should look something like this:


Then go to the tab at the bottom which says ‘Get the Link Here’ to find the link you need to see the final document (my timeline in this case):

How to get the link

Click on the link to see the resulting document:

Sandy’s collapsed timeline
Sandy’s expanded timeline

Flippity – Randomizer examples

The randomizer has two different ways of editing it. You can access both of them from the Instructions page.

One is ‘Quick and easy’, giving you only one set of information. The Flippity example is countries:

Quick and Easy Flippity Randomizer example

The resultant Randomizer looks like this:

Flippity countries randomizer (example from the website)

The second option is to edit a spreadsheet, in a similar way to the timeline above. This gives you the option of having up to 10 columns. The template looks like this:

Flippity template

And this is the 4-column Randomizer:

Flippity Randomizer

Flippity – Random name picker example

The Random Name Picker only has a Quick & Easy option, but honestly, that’s all you need! 🙂

Random Name Picker input

And from that simple list, you can generate an incredibly useful set of options. For example:

Random Name Picker spinner
Random Name Picker 3 Teams
Random Name Picker lineup

…and so on!

Activities with Flippity

There are currently 26 different tools available on Flippity, with the potential for creating a huge variety of different things you could with them. Here are some ways I’ve used them, or ideas I’d like to try one day.

  • I created a Random Name Picker for each of my classes, which I bookmarked to my browser and opened at the start of every lesson. Because they could see it was truly random, I got fewer arguments when deciding on grouping, ordering, or nominating students!
  • Timelines are wonderful for projects. It doesn’t take long for students to work out how to use the timelines themselves, once you’ve given them a brief tutorial. The results are beautifully presented and students are generally happy to spend a long time working on them. You can prepare before the lesson by creating the copies of the templates and publishing to the web already so that students don’t need to deal with these steps. Then share the edit link with students during the lesson.
  • The Randomizer works well for storytelling prompts, which could come from you, from the students, or both. I’ve also used it as a prompt for drilling with beginners, generating different combinations of daily routine phrases and times for students to practise producing correct sentences.
  • The Badge Tracker could be used for homework or learner autonomy challenges, allowing students or parents to see progress with a series of activities.
  • Spelling words would be useful for both self-study and work in class. You can have up to 50 individual spelling lists, and you can automatically get quiz results emailed to you.

Feel free to share your ideas for using Flippity in the comments. I highly recommend you just head over there and play around!

Learning Apps

I find LearningApps to be somewhat less intuitive than Flippity, but the range of tools and ready-made activities which you can try out definitely count in its favour. You can access it in a range of languages, which are currently German, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Spanish. You can also embed the apps into other pages.

While you can use it on a phone and a computer, the phone display is generally pretty small, and quite fiddly for creating apps. Although it’s possible to play the games on a phone too, the interface isn’t ideal and the text is quite small. For students with computer access, there are a lot of options though, which is why I’ve included it.

This is generally the page you will first land on:

Learning Apps – browse page

You can find out more about LearningApps and view a (helpful!) tutorial in a slightly hidden way, by clicking on the website logo in the top left to get to this page:

Learning apps homepage

Note: You need to sign up to be able to save apps you create and to bookmark other people’s apps within the site. You can use other people’s apps without signing up.

Learning Apps – how to create content

Click on ‘Create App’ at the top of the page. It will take you here:

Learning Apps – ‘create’ page

Click on a type of app to see three real examples of that app in use.

Example ‘Matching Matrix’

If that’s what you want to use, then click ‘Create new App’ – the blue button in the top right of the examples window.

It will take you to a template:

‘Matching matrix’ template

Template options vary depending on what kind of app you want to create. Follow the instructions to fill in the template:

Completing the ‘Matching matrix’ template

And define any further options at the bottom:

Setup, feedback text, and help text for the ‘Matching matrix’

Then click to Finish editing and see the results:

‘Finish’ button

You can choose to continue editing or save the app from the preview screen:

‘Matching matrix’ preview

Once it’s saved, you can see a link, an embed option, a QR code, and the option to edit it again if you want to.

As you can see, the text is somewhat cut off in my Matrix. There is a ‘full screen’ option – a tiny box with 4 red arrows in the top right, visible next to the top speech bubble in the image above. That makes more of the text visible, but you can’t see everything, so I would need to go back and edit to make sure the text fits properly. That’s one slight limitation, as the character limits aren’t made clear in the template, but it’s very easy to work around it.

Full screen ‘Matching matrix’ in progress

Learning apps – activities

Here are some ideas for using Learning Apps. I think it’s best if students create the apps themselves and then set them for classmates to do. It’s an interesting way to motivate them to produce writing or speaking (most apps have audio options), though you may need to do some mini tutorials to help them.

The Number line can be used for putting processes in order. This example shows the steps of a recipe:

Recipe ‘Number line’

It could also be used for ordering concepts, like size or temperature adjectives, or events, like the events in a story.

Matching pairs on images can be used to allow students attach words to parts of images. In this example, they are prepositions of place:

‘Matching pairs on pictures’ – prepositions of place

When students click on a red flag, they are asked to choose the appropriate sentence:

‘Matching pairs on pictures’ – prepositions of place detail

Apart from vocabulary and prepositions, it could also be used to identify parts of a text, discourse features, or examples of particular phonemes.

Cloze text allows you to create gapped texts, and asks students to choose the correct options. This is either by choosing from all of the options, or from subsets of them as defined by you. Here is an English example with all the options:

Here is a German example of subsets:

You could use this to create interactive versions of exam practice activities which students could try at home, to revise vocabulary, to focus on style differences, or to focus on grammar differences like active v. passive.

As with Flippity, there are lots of different options, and the best way to work out what’s possible is to head over to LearningApps and have a play yourself. As I mentioned at the top, it’s not brilliant on phones (though not impossible) but on tablets or computers I think it would work well. Before you start making your own though, I recommend checking whether anybody has done your work for you by browsing existing apps! Also remember that students can make content quite easily with the website too, and this could be motivating for them.


The final authoring tool I presented was Quizlet. As I’ve previously written a pretty comprehensive post about how to create content and use the activities, you can head over there to find out more. The main difference since I wrote the post is the addition of a new function called ‘Checkpoint’, which is a variation of Quizlet Live. Here’s the Quizlet introduction to the new function.

Over to you

I know there are many other authoring tools out there, but I wanted to pick ones I’ve used myself and which I know are generally free and very versatile. What are your favourite tools? What other activities have you tried using Flippity, LearningApps or Quizlet?

Six months of freelancing

Since leaving my position as Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz, I’ve been working as a freelancer.


I’m really enjoying the variety of things I’ve been working on and the range of people I’ve been working with. So far I’ve done:

  • two weeks of a CELTA course
  • co-writing a methodology book (watch this space for more info when I’m allowed to share it!)
  • workshops for two different companies
  • a conference workshop
  • two inspections
  • asynchronous DipTESOL training for OxfordTEFL, with some live sessions
  • mentoring for a teacher who wanted to retake the Delta Module 1 exam in December
  • my own Delta Module 1 course (see below)

I’ve got really interesting work lined up for the new year too:

  • consultancy work on materials for a company
  • book editing
  • teacher training via WhatsApp in two different countries
  • teacher training on a blended course about Teaching English for Academic Purposes
  • another workshop

I’ve been able to find time for volunteering too, as part of the MaWSIG committee, mentoring a teacher as part of the EVE/AfricaELTA Female Leadership Mentoring program, and participating in some research related to CELTA.

The best thing is the range of countries my work has covered so far, including but not limited to:

  • Bangladesh
  • Canada
  • China
  • Czechia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Oman
  • Russia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • UAE
  • Ukraine
  • UK


I’ve learnt so much already, including but not limited to:

  • how to use Moodle as a trainer
  • how to teach on WhatsApp (and what it’s like to be a learner)
  • how inspections work at two different organisations
  • how much the culture of an organisation can influence what happens there
  • how a writing project works from both sides – writing and editing
  • a more in-depth understanding of concept checking and guided discovery
  • a more in-depth understanding of how pronunciation works in the mouth
  • more about EAP (though there’s still some way to go!)
  • a much more in-depth knowledge of the requirements of Delta Module 1
  • how to organise and track my time
  • how to issue invoices and manage my money


I have to say I’m glad I don’t have to worry too much about money right now – I have some savings behind me, and am now co-habiting so can share bills. Pay isn’t always great when you calculate the hourly rate for freelance work, and you might have to wait a while to see the pay for any given project, especially if it’s in publishing. You also have to chase people to pay sometimes (don’t be afraid to do this!), so it’s really important you keep track of invoices and set aside time for admin.

The lowest was £12.99/hour for a CELTA course, and that was after I’d asked for a pay rise from the original offer – if I’d accepted that it would have been £9.09/hour. I don’t imagine I’ll be doing so many of those any more – I originally thought that would be a major part of my freelancing. I’ll still aim to do one course every couple of years to maintain my permission to do them, but I can’t justify working for that little. I’m sorry for other tutors who have to put up with those rates, but I’m not really sure what we can do about since there are so many tutors out there. It seems that we’re at the mercy of the schools.

The five highest hourly rates have all been for workshops, based on preparation plus workshop delivery time. That ranges from £44/hour for a brand new workshop, to £86.21/hour for a workshop I’ve done before which required very little prep time. Sadly I don’t think I’ll be earning those amounts as a rule.

Once I take away the workshops and the CELTA course, my average hourly pay for the other six things I’ve worked on is £24.63/hour, with actual amounts ranging between £17.24/hour and £35.42/hour. In three cases these were things I was doing for the first time and will (hopefully!) do many more times in the future, so hopefully the hourly rate will improve for those things as I go back to them again and my workflow gets faster.


I’ve been using Toggl to keep track of all of my hours, and Bokio to do my invoicing.

Toggl gives me weekly reports about the way that my hours break down – I find it useful to reflect on where my time has been going and how I might want to use it differently. It also helps me to quickly calculate total hours on a project.

Bokio allows me to send out invoices and track whether they’ve been received/opened, as well as to sync my accounts with UK bank feeds (though not Wise). It also gives me reports. I chose Bokio as it was free, but it will change to having payment plans very soon.

At the end of each project I use a spreadsheet to record the company, contact, email and project for future reference. I also note the total hours worked, prep hours and delivery hours if relevant, money earnt in the relevant currency, how much I was paid in pounds, and the invoice number. I set it up to calculate my hourly rate and 25% of the earnings in each case so I can set that aside for tax and other similar payments.

The best bit 🙂

My favourite thing I’ve been doing is my Take Your Time Delta Module One course. I’ve been working with four experienced teachers, and I know when we meet for our weekly Zoom session we will always end up laughing about something. The course is as relaxed as I’d hoped it would be, and we’re all learning a lot. We’re now nearly halfway through. Over Christmas the teachers will do their first mock exam, so I suppose that will be the first true test of whether this approach is working! Here’s what two of the participants said about the course:

I'm so pleased I decided to do the 'Take your time DELTA module 1 course' . The course content is manageable while working full time. I have particularly benefited from doing this at the same time as working because I can actively consider what we have worked on in the sessions and relate it to my teaching practice. Sandy is supportive and her feedback is always useful. Geraldine
I'm very happy that I chose to do Sandy Millin's "Take your time Delta Module 1" course. I'm enjoying the process of studying under Sandy's excellent guidance with a small group of fellow teachers. Doing the course over 30 weeks makes it possible to fit studying around my teaching schedule without stress and with space to reflect and research. Clare C

If you’re interested in the course, there are three start dates in 2022:

  • 30 weeks from March to November for the December 2022 exam
  • 30 weeks from October to May for the June 2022 exam
  • 9 weeks (3 sessions per week) from June to August, plus three monthly meetings for the December 2022 exam

Find out more and sign up.


I’ve been working far too slowly on this, especially because I discovered yesterday that I’d written down the wrong deadline for my assignments – they’re actually due on 31st January, not 22nd February. (I’m writing this post partly outside working hours to give myself maximum MA time!) I’ve done about 2/3 of one assignments, and know what I want to write about for the other one. Wish me luck!

Thank you

So many people have helped me as I start out in freelancing. I’m really grateful to those who have recommended me for particular projects, and to those who have trusted me to work with them on projects which I knew little about. I’d particularly like to thank Ceri Jones and Martyn Clarke for their support. I’d also like to say a huge thank you to Sue Swift for her support in getting my Delta course off the ground, and to Laura Patsko for her help on the admin side of things – they’ve both saved me a lot of time!

I’m really glad I made the decision to go freelance, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me over the next year.

To those of you who celebrate, have a lovely Christmas. I wish everybody a happy and healthy new year!

My first WhatsApp live lesson

I only learnt about the idea of WhatsApp live lessons a couple of weeks ago when I saw Nicky Hockly talking about them at the IH London Future of Training conference. Today I was lucky enough to be a participant in one. These are my initial impressions:

  • It reminds me of being in a Twitter (#elt)chat to some extent – things coming thick and fast and having to scroll up and down sometimes to work out what you’ve missed, though it was much more signposted and scaffolded than Twitter chats I’ve been in.
  • Icons given by the teacher really help you to work out what’s going on, but I couldn’t always find the icons I needed to post quickly enough as a student!
  • The combination of voice notes and text worked well – there was clear teacher presence and involvement, but the text was there to refer back to if I needed to.
  • Voice notes from the teacher responding to our answers, showing interest, and using our names made me feel involved and engaged in the lesson and helped to summarise what other students had said.
  • Sharing photos and voice notes with the other students was a fun way to get to know each other.
  • Group work/dividing the group is possible when the set-up is clear, and helps the chat to be less chaotic.
  • It was quite tiring – we had 30 minutes, and I’m not sure I could deal with much more than 45 minutes!

Thank you to Carol for running the lesson!

How to adapt materials for (online) lessons – webinar for IH Cairo

On Monday 8th November 2021, I gave a webinar for IH Cairo with the following abstract:

Are you a language teacher looking for practical tips on adapting materials?
Would you like to know more about the principles behind adapting materials?
Do you teach online and need to know how to adapt materials for your online classroom?
How can you get your students to interact with your materials?
Looking for ways to get your students more in control of their own learning?

In this session, Sandy will look at some of the principles behind adapting materials, and consider how they can be applied in the online classroom. Among other things, she’ll consider ways of presenting materials that go beyond PowerPoint, ways that students can interact with them, and how to hand over control to the students as much as possible.

My webinar was part of a series, all of which will be/are (depending on when you read this!) available on social media:

The webinar itself wasn’t just about adapting materials for online lessons, but more about principles for adapting materials for any kind of lesson, with mentions of how some of these tweaks could be made online. I generally believe that a lot of ways of adapting materials are equally valid in the online and face-to-face classroom.

Here are the slides:

I’ll add a recording when it’s available.

We started by looking at where the attendees fall on these continuums:

  • I use materials exactly as they are. < ——————— > I adapt everything – nothing is used as is.
  • My lessons are similar – I use a small range of activities. < ——————— > Every lesson is different – always use new activities.

I emphasised that there is no right place to be on the continuum – different points have different advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to consider our students’ and our own needs when we think about adapting materials. For example, if we adapt everything, it can create a lot of work and reduce our free time, whereas using (good) materials as they are can be useful if we’re not confident about how to stage a lesson. If we use a small range of activities, students become familiar with these and they can be set up quickly and efficiently, whereas if we always use new activities, students might feel uncomfortable about the lack of routine.

When reading the rest of the post, think about an upcoming lesson you’re going to teach. How might these ideas influence your lesson planning?

Before you plan

Consider your course objectives – how does this lesson fit in to them?

Find out your learners’ needs and wants, perhaps through conversations, questionnaires, getting to know you activities, diagnostic testing…

Based on these two sets of knowledge, decide your lesson objectives: what would it most benefit your learners to focus on next? If you have to use a coursebook, aim to pick and choose, rather than simply doing the next page. If you have to work through a coursebook page by page, make sure that your objectives are focussed on what the learners ‘can do’ (will be able to do) at the end of the lesson that they couldn’t do (as well) at the start, rather than having objectives which focus purely on completing the exercises on the page.

Consider ‘backwards planning‘ – start with what you want learners to achieve, and identify all the stages needed to reach this point. It’s probably best to identify these stages before you spend too long looking at the materials if you can, as otherwise you’re likely to get distracted by the materials themselves – it’s easy to lose site of the objectives of the lesson as a whole.

Why adapt materials?

Cunningsworth (1995:136) says:

Every learning/teaching situation is unique and depends on factors such as these:

– classroom dynamics

– personalities involved

– syllabus constraints

– availability of resources

– learner expectations

– learner motivation

Material can nearly always be improved by being adapted to suit the particular situation where it is being used.

Think about how these factors might influence the lesson you’ve got in mind e.g.

  • syllabus = double-page per lesson to get through in a year
  • personalities = quiet, prefer individual work, dominate the group
  • dynamics = only just met – don’t really know each other yet, don’t take risks, don’t want to switch cameras on – voices only
  • resources = do students have access to copies of the book? notebooks? cameras they can hold things up to?
  • expectations = do they expect you to cover every exercise in the book? did they ask for lots of speaking activities and no writing?
  • motivation = Friday after lunch?

Four evaluative processes

McGrath (2016: 64-65) lists these four processes as a starting point for deciding what you might need to adapt in your materials:

  • Selection
    Material that will be used unchanged.
  • Deletion
    Complete – omitting a whole activity, or even lesson
    Partial – cutting one or more stages within an activity
  • Addition
    Adaptation = Extension or exploitation of existing material
    Supplementation = Introducing new materials
  • Change
    Modifications to procedure
    Replacement = Changes to context/content

Be careful not to make extra work for yourself or make activities too challenging for your students, for example by deleting a key preparation stage before a speaking activity.

Areas to think about

When going through the four evaluative processes above, there are a large number of areas you could consider. This list might seem overwhelming at first glance – you’ll probably find you think about at least some of these areas already when lesson-planning, but maybe there are some you haven’t considered before. It’s not exhaustive – the six areas could include many other ideas, not just those listed here.

  • Methods
    interaction patterns
    feedback techniques
  • Language content
  • Subject matter
  • Balance of skills
    reception v. production
    written v. spoken
    training v. testing
  • Progression and grading
    order of items
    memorization time/prep time
  • Design
    cultural content

The list includes ideas from Cunningsworth (1995: 136).

An example

This double-page spread has been taken from p56-57 of English File Pre-Intermediate 3rd edition by Christina Latham-Koenig, Clive Oxenden, and Paul Seligson.

Here are notes of some ways in which you might choose to adapt the materials to use them differently within your lesson. They are not intended to map out a single lesson, but rather to inspire you to look at your materials from a range of different perspectives and decide what is best for your learners and for you as a teacher. The headings refer to the ‘areas to think about’ above. There is often cross-over between the ideas under each category. They cover both the online and the face-to-face classroom. Feel free to ask for clarification of any of the ideas in the comments, as they’re written as quick notes below 🙂



Face-to-face: mingle for 3a, work with different partner 1d/5b,

Online: running dictation – 1d – teacher dictates 1a sentence, students run from other side of room to put letter in chat

Both: copy words onto paper in 4a and organize; 3d – stand up = T, sit down = f or right hand/left hand


Display questions on screen rather than in books, speak to partners = heads up, writing = heads down

Interaction patterns

Pairwork, groupwork (e.g. 3a, 5b – can prompt more discussion)

Hand over control – let students choose speed they progress through (parts of) the page, and you’re there to help?

Offer choices to students – do they want to do the reading or the listening? write about the school (1d) or their own ideas, use 5b questions or their own ideas / choose 2-3 of the questions from 5b, add 1 own idea to 4b


Cascade in the chat for 1a (write but don’t send, then all press enter at the same time)

Annotate for 4a, 4b = why are they comparing – how similar are you?

Have a specific task for 5b = talk to a partner + choose one language learning tip from your experiences to share with the group

Make a student the teacher (e.g. give one student all the answers + switch your camera off/stand at the back of the room)

Put them in pairs whenever you can

Language content


Focus only on modals / modifiers? Could be too much especially in online classes when things take longer!


Might need to give the rules rather than elicit, might focus on this after they’ve tried an activity e.g. 1d / 4b before they do the rules


Highlighting of the form on the screen/board

Remember the words and write the spellings (esp. mustn’t, quite…)


Point to signs and get them to remember the sentences/cline and remember words

Show first letters for sentences for students to remember

Practise saying minimal pairs sentences in 2b

Subject matter


This spread is probably pretty motivating, but you could start at a different point on the page to get them into the topic – 3a to get them involved (post question in chat, not from book), or tell them the situation (3b) and the title for them to predict content before they read, or start with 5b


Seems fairly authentic. I wouldn’t change anything


Very! I wouldn’t change anything

Balance of skills

Reception v. Production

Pretty good balance, unless you decide to take something out – keep an eye on it

Written v. Spoken

No writing really (Ex 6 is probably a separate lesson), apart from a little in 1d – maybe replace 5 with creating an article/blogpost with your own tips if learners need practice

Think about how much you use the chat v. get students to say things in open class (and how many SS *really* participate in open class speaking)

Training v. Testing

All testing, so you probably need to add training

Focus on sentences from the listening, reflect on techniques used (metacognition)

Underline answers in the reading

Spend more time on either reading/listening and skip the other one (just summarise the important info if needed for the rest of the lesson)

Progression and grading

Order of items

PPP structure now, maybe make it more TBL – put 1d/5b first

Choose what to focus in on – maybe the skills are more important than the language or vice versa – may need to just think about the grammar for example, if that’s what your learners need (make sure they really do need that and that the grammar work is clearly contextualised if you make that decision though!)


3b/3d = do first one together?

2b = help them with number of words, do one at a time, working in pairs

5a/5b – add prep time before speaking

Memorization time/Prep time

Memorization of modifiers – look, cover, write, check

Memorization of form/structures – look at signs and write sentences

Memorization of interesting language from reading/listening text

Other memorisation activities

Remember some of the have you ever…questions in 5b for a future speaking

Prep time = 5a/5b – thinking time before speaking/writing (depending on how you set this up

Give time to choose 3 questions to ask in 5b, rather than covering them all



Highlight them in some way – pull them off the page (on a slide? blown up copy? – only spend time doing this if you’re going to spend more than that amount of time exploiting them in the lesson though!)

Exploit them more = what’s the conversation between the two men? How might it change between two women?

Use images for prediction (along with the headline?)

Assign a symbol to each modifier for students to use as a prompt for memorisation or creating their own activities


Very busy pages – lots going on – focus in on particular parts

Mask other parts with paper if in book

Make them bigger on screen

Use circles/arrows to draw attention


Text could challenge students with reading issues as very closely spaced – masking (as above)

Retype and space more (if necessary – don’t spend precious time on this if it won’t make a noticable difference for a learner!) Note: English File texts are available as downloadable/editable Word documents from the Oxford Teacher’s Club (requires login)

Colours probably fine – yellow background with black text for reading. Worth asking learners what they find easiest/most challenging to read though

Cultural content = going to a bar? Might be problematic in some contexts. Better in a café? > Change the picture

A planning checklist

Once you’ve planned/As you plan your lessons, it can be useful to have a short checklist of different dynamics you find it important to include in your lessons. For example, you could ask what balance of the following areas you have in your lesson:

  • Moving around / Sitting down
  • Teaching / Testing
  • Head up / Heads down
  • Teacher in control / Students in control
  • Individual work / Pair work / Group work / Whole class work
  • etc.

As with the clines at the start of the post, there is no single correct way to run a lesson – it depends on many different factors. But it can be useful to ask yourself these questions, and to consider whether the balance you’ve created is beneficial/suitable for your learners/your teaching style.

What tips would you give teachers to think about when choosing how to adapt materials, especially for online lessons?

If you’d like more ideas for exploiting activities, try these:


Cunningsworth, Alan (1995) Choosing your Coursebook, Heinemann [Amazon affiliate link]

McGrath, Ian (2016) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, 2nd edition, Edinburgh Textbooks in Applied Linguistics: Edinburgh University Press [Amazon affiliate link]

One activity, multiple tasks (PARK Conference 2021)

On Saturday 6th November 2021, I went to my first face-to-face conference since before the pandemic started. It was a strange experience, but a wonderful one too – I wrote about it here, including information about the sessions I attended. (Link will be added within a few days of the conference!)

The fantastic view of Brno from my hotel window – looking over the Cabbage Market, with the towers representing (left-right) Petrov (Cathedral), Spilberk Castle, Domincan church and the Old Town Hall

I ran a session which I’d last run in pre-pandemic times, based on the task ‘One activity, multiple tasks’ from ELT Playbook 1.

The aim of the session is to take a single activity from published material and come up with as many different ways of varying the set-up or exploiting it as possible. It helps teachers to exercise their creativity and (hopefully) to reduce their planning time. It should also introduce them to a few extra activities to add to their toolkit.

The material we used was page 146 of English File 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate Plus. It is designed to revise future forms, like this:

  1. A   Mum! I’ve dropped my ice cream!
    B   It’s OK, don’t worry – I’ll get / I’m getting you a new one!
  2. A   I’m freezing!
    B   Shall I turn on / Will I turn on the heating?

…and so on. There are 12 mini dialogues like this, each with two options to choose from – students can also tick if both are possible. At the bottom of the page is an ‘activation’ activity, where students write two mini-dialogues, one with will and one with going to

This is my slightly updated list of ways to exploit this page, with suggestions for how to tweak some activities to make them online-friendly:

  • Remove the options.
  • Mini whiteboards.
  • I say A to the group, they predict B. Then in pairs.
  • Gallery walk (one copy of each question stuck up around the room)/Online = send one question to each student/have them in white on a doc, they highlight only their question
  • Evil memorisation (one of my favourite activities, learnt from Olga Stolbova) – the third activity in this blogpost
  • Say all the sentences as quickly as possible (AQAP on my lesson plans!)
  • Banana sentences (replace the key words with ‘banana’ for partner to guess)
  • Extend the conversations (what was said before/after)
  • Decide who/where/when/why it was said (by)
  • Take the ‘wrong’ answer and create a context where it would be right
  • Back translation/Translation mingle (students translate one conversation into L1, noting the English original elsewhere. They show other students the L1 to be translated.)
  • One group does 1-6/odd sentences. The other does 7-12/even sentences. Give them the answers for the other half. They check with each other.
  • Say them with different intonation/voices to create different meanings/situations.
  • Remember as many conversations as you can with your partner. Lots of variations for this: freestyle (no prompts), with A/B as a prompt, with (own/sketched/teacher-generated) pictures as prompts…
  • Hot seat/Backs to the board with a picture prompt for student looking at the board to say sentence A, person with back to the board says sentence B in response (Online = Pic prompts only)
  • Board race. Again, lots of variations: list as many sentences/conversations as possible on the whiteboard/in the chat; teacher/a student says A, teams write B; combine with ideas above like banana sentences…
  • Teacher says first half of the sentence, pausing at a convenient point. Students say second half. Then in pairs. e.g. “Shall I…” “…turn on the heating?”
  • Students have A sentences. They write their own Bs on separate pieces of scrap paper, then mix them up. Online = mix in a doc. Another pair tries to match the As and Bs together.
  • Change A to the opposite/a slightly different phrase. What’s an appropriate B? e.g. “I’m boiling!”

These were the ideas from the audience, collected via Mentimeter:

By the way, to celebrate being able to go to a face-to-face conference, there’s 10% off the Smashwords (affiliate link) ebook price for ELT Playbook 1 on November 6th and 7th 2021 – the code you need is VX68T.

Thanks to all of the people I’ve stolen those ideas from over the years 🙂

Let me know if you try out the brainstorming activity, the session, or any of the other tasks from ELT Playbook 1. I’d love to know how they work for you!

NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials development module (extra reading)

It’s nearly three months since I completed the live parts of the module (!) and I’ve finally got time to get back to the course input I didn’t have time for during the three weeks in July. When I did weeks one, two and three, I found it useful to summarise what I read/watched on my blog, so I’m going to do the same for this additional input too.

These are notes I’ve made while reading. The notes are there for me, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests! 

Getting learners involved

These notes are based on chapter 8 of McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching [Amazon affiliate link for 2016 edition] on involving learners in the materials adaptation/production process.

Utilising learner language

You can use learner language as ‘learning-teaching material’ in a range of ways (additional information about the benefits of each activity can be found in the chapter):

  • ‘Retrospective error focus’ (p164)
    Make them written (unless you’re focussing on pron)
    Include context
    Include correct examples
    Group similar errors together
    Keep the list a manageable length
    > “It is a good idea to keep the lists and to label them with a note of the date, the class and the activity from which they were taken.” (p164)
    The materials can be as revision with this group, or to predict problems other learners might have (see next idea)
  • ‘Prospective error focus’ (p165)
    Predict errors learners might make and give a task based on these.
  • ‘Learner transcriptions of their own stories’ (p165)
    Record a story (with permission!) as a learner tells it
    The learner then transcribes it, correcting it and highlighting any areas where they feel unsure
    The teacher checks the transcription with the recording and responds to learner questions
    The materials allow for personalised, focussed correction
  • ‘Learner generated texts for use with other learners’ (p166)
    Students tell a pre-prepared story to a small group based on prompts
    The group choose one story to develop, tell the class, and write up, along with comprehension questions
    The story is recorded
    The materials can be used with other learners
  • Drama (p167)
    Students improvise and collaborate on a script / recordings of scenes
    The materials can be used with other learners
  • ‘Transcript comparison’ (p168)
    Based on images or short video extracts, students record a description of what’s happening
    They transcribe the description
    They compare their transcript to another group
    They can also compare their transcript to a recording/transcript of a more advanced speaker doing the same task
  • ‘Picture description for exam preparation’ (p169)
    e.g. Students record a 1-minute description of photos for a Cambridge exam – they can’t make notes, but can re-record as many times as they like
    They transcribe the recording
    They can correct the transcription
    The teacher can provide feedback / prepare additional practice based on problem areas

Learner-produced exercises and worksheets

Rather than the teacher doing all of the work, students could:

  • Create flashcards.
  • Prepare a paragraph describing X e.g. a recent news event. Put all of the verbs into the infinitive. Other students then supply the correct verb forms.
  • Design a questionnaire.

McGrath suggests the following caveats:

1. exercises should be kept relatively short (e.g. five gap-filling sentences);

2. the exercise designer marks the answers of the other students and discusses with them any wrong answers;

3. the teacher circulates during the exercise-writing, answering and feedback stages and helps to settle any disputes;

4. students rewrite their exercises in the light of feedback from other students.

McGrath (2002) p170

Learners as teachers

Learners as teachers of other learners

Implicit in the argument for learner-made materials is an acceptance of the learner as a potential teacher of other learners.

McGrath (2002) p171

This section seems to build on the previous two.

Teachers also test, but what they test reflects their ideas of what is important. […] learners might be asked to construct tests for each other (with the teacher providing guidance in the form of ‘model’ test types) (Clarke 1989b). This will not only stimulate them to review what they have been learning, it may also reveal important differences between learner and teacher perceptions of what is significant.

McGrath (2002) p171 (my emphasis)

There’s a fascinating description of what happened when Assinder (1991) handed over materials creation to her class on Current Affairs – two groups preparing work for each other, getting into intense discussions about the language they heard in the video clips they were using and the activities to be created. (p172-173) She listed these effects of involving the learners like this (p173):

  1. increased motivation
  2. increased participation
  3. increased ‘real’ communication
  4. increased in-depth understanding
  5. increased responsibility for own learning and commitment to the course
  6. increased confidence and respect for each other
  7. increased number of skills and strategies practised and developed
  8. increased accuracy.

Learners as teachers of teachers

The book suggests learners preparing questions for ‘a native English-speaking teacher […] teaching a monocultural class’ about the local culture. As the book was written in 2002, I feel like this is of its time and (hopefully!) wouldn’t make it’s way into a book now. It’s also very limited in vision – there are so many things that learners can teach teachers, regardless of both of their backgrounds! I also don’t understand why it’s only preparing questions – that seems to be testing the teacher, rather than teaching them. What about creating a guide to something they know about (their job, the place they live, a particular style of cooking, their hobby…), or introducing people (famous or otherwise), or really anything that involves learners sharing what they know with the teacher.

Learner-based teaching

What is novel about learner-based teaching is the idea that all activities can be based on [students’] wealth of experience, be they grammar exercises, exam preparation, games or translation…

Campbell and Kryszewska 1992: 5; original emphasis, in McGrath (2002) p174

This immediately rang alarm bells for me (see my notes on ‘Towards less humanistic teaching’ in the MAT week three post). Thankfully on p175 (and in the caveats below), McGrath details some of the disadvantages of this approach, but also notes that:

For teachers working within an externally-defined course framework, the answer may be to use learner-based activities as a complement to other, textbook-based work; for teachers who are more autonomous, it is probably still desirable to introduce such ideas gradually […]

McGrath (2002) p175

Deller (1990) suggests periodically handing potentially interesting materials which she has previously stored away over to learners to classify or select from.

This material [created by the learners] has the advantage of being understood by them, feeling close to them, and perhaps most importantly of all, being theirs rather than something imposed on them. As a result they feel more comfortable and involved, and have no problems in identifying with it.

Deller 1990: 2, in McGrath (2002) p175

Tudor (1996: 15-16) suggests a typology of learner-generated activities (McGrath, 2002: 176):

  1. activities in which learner knowledge is utilised as a source of input
    bringing their own content to lessons
  2. activities in which the learners’ L1 is used
    bringing L1 into the classroom
  3. direct learner involvement in activity development and organisation
    handing over responsibility from the teacher to learners for materials selection, explanation, and ‘diagnosis and evaluation’
  4. affectively-based activities
    giving ‘learners scope to use their imaginative skills, creativity and sense of fun’ (p16)


McGrath lists three caveats to getting learners involved (p177).

  1. “It needs to be recognised that if the materials used are restricued to those produced by learners this will have an effect on their ability to cope with other types of text (Gadd 1998). A combination of teacher-selected and learner-generated texts is therefore likely to be preferable.
  2. Handing over control may be seen as an ‘abdication of responsibility’. It may take time and patience to prepare learners to participate in learner-centred teaching.
  3. The relationship between learner-centred teaching and learner autonomy might not be as direct as it may seem.


Worth reproducing in full I think:

The focus in this chapter has been on learners producing materials for use in class by their classmates or other students. This has a number of positive effects as far as the learner is concerned, both in relation to motivation and learning. When learners are actively and creatively involved, motivation is increased; such activities as peer teaching (including correction) consistute a valuable and valued learning experience and can contribute to group solidarity. There are also benefits for the teacher. Monitoring learners as they discuss and prepare materials raises the teacher’s awareness of individual or general difficulties. Some of the material is potentially re-usable with learners in other classes. Teacher-preparation time is reduced. And because there will always be an element of unpredictability, the classroom is a more interesting place for the teacher as well as learners.

While the use of most of the activity-types described here is likely to lead to increased motivation, one type of material – that is, spoken (and recorded) and written texts produced by learners – is likely to be the most relevant from a linguistic perspective. Careful in-class analysis of this type of material, which is as finely tuned to learner level as it could be, is sure to be helpful not only for those involved in producing that text, but for others in the same class.

McGrath (2002) p177-178

I’ve used transcription with students before, but mostly only in one-to-one lessons, and only very rarely. I feel like this is a missed opportunity, and is definitely something I’d like to experiment with more if/when I get back into a classroom again.

Fluency revisited – Mike McCarthy

This was a recording of a guest lecture for NILE which is not publicly available – you’ll need to do the MAT course to get access to it. 🙂 Interesting points/reminders for me:

  • Fluency isn’t just a quality of the speaker, it’s a quality of the listener too (and the CEFR recognises this – see B2 criteria)
  • Fluency is an unusual term in our profession, because it’s one that’s understood by the general population too – we all have an idea of what fluency means.
  • If you translate fluency into other languages, it’s always related to the idea of ‘fluid’.
  • The two qualities of fluency are ease and readiness – we have to be able to start speaking pretty immediately, or listeners will wonder what the problem is. That’s why we use fillers when we’re thinking.
  • Fluency is an aspect of social capital for immigrants.
  • Our fluency can affect other people’s perception of us.
  • Conventional criteria for spoken fluency:
    • Speed of delivery
      Depending on the context – e.g. presentations v. conversations with friends (120wpm!) are different speeds
    • Pauses
      When, how often, how long, again depending on context – in conversation the average length is 0.6 seconds according to research
    • Dysfluencies
      Coherent messages
    • Automaticity
  • McCarthy’s suggested extra criteria
    • Can the learner use chunks accurately and automatically? (e.g. you know what I mean, or something like that)
      Most chunks are 2-5 words. We can process 7 chunks of information at once, after which we restart – this speeds up processing. These expressions are often culturally loaded, but are required for natural communication – without them we can sound like a robot or far too specific and detailed. There shouldn’t be pauses within the chunks – they are generally spoken very quickly. We cannot be fluent if we don’t have a range of chunks in our vocabulary, and if we can’t use them immediately and readily.
    • Can the learner use a repertoire of small interactive words? (e.g. just, so, actually, then, etc.)
      The lack of these words can affect our perception of fluency. These words carry a lot of extra information: compare Can I just ask you a question? to I don’t want to interrupt you but I need to ask you a question.
    • Can the learner link his/her turn smoothly to the previous speaker’s, using linking words and phrases, to create ‘flow’? (The technical term is ‘confluence’)
      20 or so words regularly start our turns in a conversation (see below). Without these words, the conversation sounds much less fluent / more robotic. Fluency is about being a speaker, but also showing you’re a listener at the same time. If students can react appropriately to something, we don’t need to test listening in a more traditional way – we shouldn’t test listening skills separately from speaking skills. “Good listening materials allow you to be the speaker and the listener at the same time.”

I had a look at Mike McCarthy’s website afterwards, and found a long list of videos you can watch, including (I think) a similar talk on fluency to the one I watched. The list also includes three videos for learners on how to use the chunks ‘you know’, ‘or something’ and ‘the thing is’.

Learner preferences and affective learning – Martin Parrott

This was another recording of a guest lecture for NILE in 2015 which is not publicly available – you’ll need to do the MAT course to get access to it. 🙂 Interesting points/reminders for me:

  • We tend to teach in the style we like to learn in. It’s important to remember that our learners are very varied, and have lots of different preferences.
  • Affective = to do with feelings, think about ‘affection’
    Effective = efficient, works well
  • Affective teaching = our learners can grow as people
  • SEAL = Society for Effective and Affective Learning, originally begun by the teachers who created Suggestopedia, and is an organisation for teachers interested in humanistic approaches. (I can’t seem to find a website for it through – not sure if it still exists?)
  • Benjamin Bloom – educational psychologist, known for Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain (Parrott says that we need to remember that we need comprehension before application), but he also created a taxonomy of the affective domain (Parrott particularly highlighted the fact that ‘value’ is repeated three times)
  • Carl Rogers – American psychoanalyst who became a psychotherapist – wrote about the relationship between the psychologist and their client, and has had a huge influence on teaching indirectly through the counselling model (and therefore Community Language Learning). Important features are:
    • Unconditional positive regard
      Not judging the client
    • Empathic understanding
      Moving away from your instinctive reaction to what is happening and finding out what students are really thinking – our perceptions of what learners are thinking are not always correct
    • Genuine-ness
    • Congruence
      Matching your body language and your words
  • Learner-centredness = consultation/involvement about content and style, the teacher keeps low profile, activities are collaborative and self-directed

This is a questionnaire Martin Parrott used to do some research with a class of 10-year-olds he was teaching and two other similar classes. He wanted to find out whether his learners valued affective or cognitive factors of lessons more.

The affective factors can be sub-divided into ones which the teacher can control directly (4, 5, 14 (8)) or only indirectly (1, 10, 11, 15).

His 10-year-old students said 7, 10, 11, 14 and 15 were not important, four of which are affective factors (!) 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 12 were all important. 4 and 13 were considered very important: one is affective, one is cognitive, and both are about the teacher. This goes against what we might think about learner-centredness.

He emphasises the importance of finding out about our learners as a group, and as individuals, and what they want, not what we think they want. We should also remember that their priorities might change throughout their time in the group based on their experiences in the class.

Martin also asked them what makes effective learning. They said they wanted a teacher who is funny, strict and fair – Martin hadn’t asked specifically about the teacher at all.

Martin has some warnings:

  • Don’t turn ‘affective learning’ into a method.
  • One model doesn’t ‘fit all’.
  • Don’t impose your own cultural values onto learners.

But remember that for many learners affective = effective – if learners feel they are learning, then they are happy. We need to find out first-hand from the learners want they want, and aim to provide this if we can.

A super simple flashcard activity

Thank you very much to Anka Zapart, who made planning for my first (cover) lesson with 5-6 year olds today very easy. She recommended working with flashcards of animals, introducing the words and a range of different structures if the kids could cope with it. We ended up sticking to just the basic words, as 3 of the 4 of them were very reluctant to speak at first. There were tears for a few minutes from one of them who told me she wanted her mum, but after sitting away from the group for a bit to calm down she joined back in with us when she was ready.

When trying to use some of the energy, I wanted them to run to the flashcards around the room. This is a pretty standard activity in a physical classroom, but I did it with a twist. The kids stood with their backs against the wall, with both hands flat on the wall. They had to run to the flashcard, touch it, and run back to the same position. This worked really well as a way of stopping them from just standing next to a flashcard to be able to be the first person to touch it.

I was also pleased that I could hand over to them quickly – after only a couple of examples of me running the activity, I made each student the teacher in turn and they decided what flashcard the others would run to it.

All in all, it was a successful lesson (of which this activity was just a small part!), and 45 minutes flew by. Thanks Anka 🙂

NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials Development module (week three)

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week two of the course, things whic h I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provide. The notes are there for me and they don’t cover every section of the course, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading or this course yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests adn the things which stood out to me. Any one section from it could easily be a post in itself, but I want to keep it all together, and you don’t want me to share hundreds of posts 😉 I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course. Here are the posts for week one and week two.

Unit 5: Exploiting texts

  1. If you need a text (written or spoken) for your materials, where do you usually look, or do you write your own?

It’s a mix. I’ve learnt that it can often be faster to write my own text if I have a very specific idea about the type of information or language I want to be in it, rather than going down a rabbit hole. Otherwise, the majority of the texts come from the internet now, but the exact source depends on the learners.

2. What factors do you consider when choosing a text?

Learner interests and needs, linguistic complexity, cultural context, engagement, how much modification it might need, how much planning time I have, what kind of activities might work well with the text…

3. What are the pros and cons of writing your own texts?


  • You can include the language you want.
  • You can direct the topic and content to what you need / what learners are interested in.
  • Personalisation is easy – sharing information about the teacher, or including references to learners or local culture.


  • Language level can be challenging to maintain.
  • It’s easy to get carried away.
  • It can take a long time.

4. How do you feel about using authentic texts in the context you write for?

They can be very useful, depending on the learners’ needs. But copyright can be a pain! I’m quite used to adapting activities and texts if necessary (though thereby reducing the authenticity), so it’s fine.

5. How do you feel about the reading and listening activities in a coursebook you know well?

The reading and listening activities in Project 1 4th edition, which I’ve been using this year, were sometimes way above the level of the learners I was working with, and only the strongest learners could understand them. The listening was often very fast and contained a lot of information close together. The Mut and Millie stories worked really well – there was enough time to process the information and it was spaced out. We skipped the majority of the end of unit extra reading and listening because the students were quite demotivated by how hard they found it.

Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom

These are my notes based on the article of this name in ELT Journal Volume 55/4, October 2001, pp. 347-353, by William Guariento and John Morley.

Authentic texts

Reasons to use them:

  • Helping learners improve their “receptive competence in the target language” (p347)
  • “To bridge the gap between classroom knowledge and ‘a student’s capacity to participate in real world events’ (Wilkins 1976: 79)” (p347)
  • Maintaining or increasing students’ motivation, because they’re interacting with ‘real’ language. (p347)

[This need to bridge the gap is an important one to fill, since many coursebook texts are still quite divorced from examples of real-world texts, particularly regarding listening. That’s why workshops like this one are needed!]

It is generally possible to select texts that will stretch the learner in terms both of skills development and of the quantity and range of new language.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 348)

They describe the fact that this is possible at post-intermediate level, but that at lower levels, learners may feel frustrated, confused and demotivated using authentic materials unless there is very careful selection of the text and tasks. (p348) However, it can be challenge to “seamlessly” execute simplification of texts, for a range of reasons (p348):

  • Technical and sub-technical words are removed from writing, therefore removing clues to context.
  • Listening texts are shortened and redundant features which could provide useful repetition are removed.
  • “The co-ordination of natural speech gives way to subordination” [I think this means that where two speakers might work together to arrive at meaning, it becomes more like two monologues slotting into one another, with little repetition or overlap – a pattern of question > answer > question > answer for example. Please correct me if I’m wrong!]

Partial comprehension of text is no longer considered to be necessary problematic, since this is something which occurs in real life.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 348)

The emphasis can shift to helping students to develop “effective compensatory strategies for extracting the information they need from difficult authentic texts” and to “make the most of their partial comprehension”. (Guariento and Morley (2001: 348).

[I agree with this – I think one of the most useful things we can for our students is help them to learn to deal with the fact that they will be unlikely to understand everything they read or hear. Especially at lower levels, this can make some learners feel quite stressed, and can be demotivating. If we help them to focus on what they can understand, and what they can do with that knowledge, it can be a real confidence boost.]

The text can stay the same, but the task can change. Having said that, we might want to consider how much comprehensible input learners therefore have exposure too, how authentic the tasks are which we ask them to do, and therefore how authentic their responses are. (p349)

[For me, this is a very important area to consider. We want to help learners to realise that they can work with real-life texts, but if those texts are always going to be above their heads, they need to very resilient. Therefore, we need to work with a mixed diet of authentic and simplified texts, with the balance between the two varying by level. We should use at least some authentic texts, even with low-level learners, to given them that connection to the real-world that makes them feel like what they’re learning is real language, but without overwhelming them with how much they can’t understand yet. By providing simple, achievable tasks to go with the authentic materials, we can aim to give them that sense of achievement.]

Task authenticity

Guariento and Morley identify “four broad schools of thought regarding task authenticity” (p349):

  • Authenticity through a genuine purpose (p349-350)
    Is there real communication for a genuine purpose? Is the focus on meaning?
  • Authenticity through real world targets (p350)
    Does it have a clear relationship with real world needs, for example buying a train ticket or taking lecture notes?
  • Authenticity through classroom interaction (p350)
    “Breen (1985) argues that the most authentic activities exploit the potential authenticity of the learning situation.” For example, discussing the usefulness and appropriateness of teacher feedback or of different homework tasks.
  • Authenticity through engagement (p350-351)
    Is the student engaged by the topic and the task? Do they understand its relevance and purpose? Did the students have any say in the selection of the task?

They acknowledge that these four schools of thought might not have much in common at first glance, but that it might be possible to “devise learning situations in which the four can operate in conjunction” (p351)

Authenticity and task difficulty

Skehan (1998) identified the elements of task difficulty as:

  • Complexity of the language
  • Cognitive load
  • Performance conditions [which I think means how the task is actually set up e.g. interaction pattern, scaffolding etc.] (p351)

They list a range of ways in which even relatively simple tasks can still be authentic, and therefore used with low-level students (p351-352):

  • Playing bingo
  • Remembering items from a picture
  • Playing verbal hide and seek
  • Finding the odd word out of a series
  • Surveys
  • Buying a train ticket
  • Ordering a coffee
  • Booking a hotel room
  • Asking for directions
  • Completing questionnaires or surveys, including as part of course evaluation

One common theme of many of these is a game-like quality. They mention Willis (1996) as a “useful source of genuinely communicative activities which can be used with beginners and young learners”.


The separation between text and task maintained thus far is a rather artificial one; in the real world, language input and language output usually occur as part of an integrated process of communication.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 352)

Integrating input and output, reception and production, mirrors real world communicative purposes, and therefore moves towards authenticity. (p352)

Issues in materials for developing receptive skills

These are my responses to questions we were asked.

  1. Why do we use listening and reading texts in class? Try to think of several reasons.
  • To engage learners.
  • To provide exposure to language input.
  • To develop reading / listening skills.
  • To act as model texts for students’ speaking / writing production.
  • To stimulate discussion.
  • To introduce different viewpoints into the classroom.

2. Do you think we can really teach reading and listening, or only give practice? Why?

I think it’s possible to teach students to become better readers and listeners. We can develop their knowledge of skills and strategies for approaching reading and listening texts, and increase their tolerance of situations when they don’t understand every word. We also need to show learners how to get huge amounts of exposure and practice themselves – with that kind of practice, they are likely to acquire the language much faster.

3. What are some of the differences between working on reading and listening in class?

Reading allows students to go back over the text, whereas listening is ephemeral. Students can read at their own speed, whereas they have to listen at the speakers’ speed. In reading (what Cauldwell calls) the sight substance remains constant regardless of the context, whereas the sound substance can be different depending on a huge variety of different factors, many of which students are generally unaware of. In reading, it’s easier for learners to answer questions without fully understanding what they are, lifting stretches of text from the original, whereas with listening this is generally more challenging.

4. Do you use literature in your materials or classes? Why or why not?

Very rarely, not least because for the last few years I’ve only had one group a week and have had a coursebook to work with! When I taught a lot more, I’ve used Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Good Omens, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It took a while to create the materials, but the students generally enjoyed the results and found them to be motivating and engaging.

My beliefs about using texts and developing reading and listening skills

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for developing reading and listening skills. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long! [Note: I’m very sleepy right now, so not sure how coherent these are!]

  • The meaning of texts should be focussed on as a priority, before they are used for language work.
    Why? We process the world by seeking meaning. If we skip this step in materials, learners will be trying to find the meaning anyway, so won’t be concentrating on any other tasks we might give them.
    What does it entail? Having meaning-focussed activities before any language work.
    But…? I don’t think you can argue with this!
  • We should teach listening and reading, not just test them.
    Why? Exposure is not enough to improve listening and reading skills. Learners need to know about strategies they can use to improve their comprehension, and to reflect on what went wrong if they didn’t fully understand a text.
    What does it entail? Inclusion of activities focussing on listening and reading sub-skills, such as micro-listening, or understanding discourse markers and how they can help you navigate a text. There should also be opportunities for developing metacognition, and for learners to share strategies they used to understand – not just what was the answer, but how did you work it out. This should also build confidence, as learners realise that it is possible to improve their skills, and they are not just a ‘bad’ listener/reader.
    But…? How do you decide what sub-skills to focus on for each text? Different learners will be at different stages of reading/listening development – how do you cater for these different levels? Are some of these skills transferable from L1, so do we need to spend time teaching them?
  • There should be a range of different types of text and activities.
    Why? Because this is what learners will encounter in the real world. They need strategies to deal with different text types. This is also more likely to keep learners engaged.
    What does it entail? Different genres, different voices/accents/dialects/ages, different layouts, different lengths. Varied activities include confidence-building activities, comprehension activities, skills training, authentic tasks which reflect the real world.
    But…? How do you decide what to prioritise? Should all activities be authentic? There is a limited amount of space in materials, so how can you provide extensive listening/reading practice too?
  • We should respect copyright when selecting texts.
    Why? It takes a long time and a lot of effort to produce materials. We are also demonstrating ethical and legal behaviour to our students. It’s also a legal requirement in many places.
    What does it entail? Being aware of local copyright law, especially regarding educational fair use. Getting permission to use texts, preferably before you create the materials which go with them. Perhaps creating our own texts from scratch, for example by recording friends and family, with the necessary permissions from them to share those texts more widely (though issues of audio quality may come in at that point).
    But…? What if we don’t have the money to pay copyright fees? Should texts be free for educational use?

Reading and listening activity types

We were give some interesting links to help us to find other ways of working with texts. A few activities which were new to me and I particularly liked included:

  • Reduction: Turn a poem into an advertising slogan.
  • Interpretation: What questions would you wish to ask the author?
  • Creating text: Use the same title, but write a new text.
  • Analysis: Work out the ratio of one-word verbs to two-word verbs.
  • Analysis: List at the words to do with (the sea, movement, ecology, etc) in this text.

Listening comprehension

As optional further study, we were given this 5-minute video to watch about listening comprehension:

It’s a useful brief introduction to how listening comprehension works, including the concepts of bottom-up v. top-down processing and the idea of schema, if you’re not already familiar with them.

Text-driven approach

[I came back to this once I’d finished unit 8, as I felt like I couldn’t fit everything in during the week. I managed it in the end, but definitely felt better for deciding to leave this until later!]

These are my notes based on the section ‘A text-driven approach to materials development’ in the chapter ‘Develoing principled frameworks for materials development’ by Tomlinson on pages 99-114 of the second edition of Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2013, Bloomsbury) [Amazon affiliate link] Note: I highly recommend you read this yourself if you can, as my notes below are very opinionated and you may want to see the original first! In my week two post, I shared a table summarising the stages of this approach, though it seems to only have six stages, whereas the chapter describes eight, and they seem slightly different.

Tomlinson says that he found his text-driven approach “helped writers (mainly teachers with little previous experience of materials development) not only to write principled and coherent materials quickly, effectively and consistently but also to articulate and develop their own theories of language learning and language teaching at the same time” (p100)

Stage 1: Text collection

Find texts “with the potential for engagement”.

By engagement, I mean a willing investment of energy and attention in experiencing the text in such a way as to achieve interaction between the text and the senses, feelings, views and intuitions of the reader/listener.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

The aim is to “achieve the affective impact and the deep processing which can facilitate language acquisition.” (p100)

[This sounds all well and good to me, but seems to put a lot of pressure on the person sourcing texts to find something which seems transcendent in some way, as well as on the materials writer not to mess that up!]

There is a caveat that reflects my point somewhat:

Obviously, such texts cannot be easily found and certainly cannot be found quickly in order to illustrate teaching points. […] It is much easier and much more useful to build up a library of potentially engaging texts and then to let the texts eventually selected for target levels determine the teaching points.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

The library development stage is ongoing and context free. Its purpose is to create a resource with the potential for subsequent matching to particular contexts of learning.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

[Still not 100% convinced by this idea. I think we inevitably keep texts which we think might be potentially interesting at some point in the future, but you’d still need a massive bank covering a wide range of different contexts / topics / text types etc. to draw on if you want to narrow it down at the next stage. Of course, all of this also assumes you can get the permission to use the text from the copyright holder!]

Stage 2: Text selection

Select from your library: one text for a lesson, or a number of texts for a set of materials / textbook. Because the materials are text-driven, Tomlinson emphasises that this should be criterion-referenced. He lists a possible set of criteria on p101.

[While the criteria look like they could be very useful, it does seem very ambitious that he would only use a text which had achieved a 4 on all of the twelve areas. Again, it feels unlikely that you’d find many texts which managed that, if you’re working as an individual. Maybe if you’re part of a large group you might find some texts like this?]

One note which he makes is:

Usefulness for teaching a particular language feature is a dangerous criterion as this can tempt writers into the selection of texts which do not engage the learners and which, therefore, do not help them to achieve durable learning of the teaching point.

Tomlinson (2013: 101)

He also highlights that even on EAP and ESP courses, we should include some variety of materials, not just focussed on the subject matter – he mentions the example of including poetry on courses for pilots, and for diplomats. (p102) He comes back to the importance of affect, and avoiding having learners whose brains are “focused narrowly on […] low level linguistic de-coding”, saying that “This means that the learners are not using their whole minds, that a multiplicity of neural connections are not being fired and that meaningful and durable learning is not taking place.” (p102)

He advocates the use of literature:

[not the “classics of the literary canon, but] well-written texts which narrate, describe, argue or evoke in ways which encourage the reader to respond in personal and multidimensional ways, and which leave gaps for the reader to fill in

Tomlinson (2013: 102)

I find the following suggestion to be very narrow and to limit the learners’ possible uses of and exposure to English, linked also to my agreement with Gadd in unit 6 below, even though it is for the well-meaning reason that the aim isn’t to engage all learners with one text, but to engage most of them in a class and all of them over a course.

The best way I have found of achieving this is to make sure that many (but not all) of the texts relate to the basic universal themes of birth, growing up, going to school, starting a career, falling in love, getting married and dying (though this is a taboo topic in some countries).

Tomlinson (2013: 102)

While I believe this could potentially be a fruitful approach in a short course or a single set of materials, I don’t see how this could work long-term over a number of years to create a fully-rounded English language user.

Stage 3: Text experience

Experience the text (read/listen to it) again to reflect on your experience with it and “try to work out what was happening in your mind during it.” (p102) If you can’t re-engage, perhaps choose different materials.

[This is the point at which I got particularly frustrated with reading this chapter. It all sounds lovely, but really not practical at all!]

Stage 4: Readiness activities

Come up with activities which “get the learners ready for the reading experience.” (p103)

You are aiming at helping the learners to achieve the mental readiness which readers take to L1 texts and to inhibit the word fixation and apprehension which L2 readers typically take to texts (Tomlinson, 2000b).

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

The aim is to get learners to think, to “open and activate their minds”. (p103) He lists a variety of ways to do this, which seem like fairly standard pre-reading activities to me, with the possible exception of mime, which I’m not sure I could persuade the majority of my students to engage in.

The important point is that the lesson starts in the learners’ minds and not in the text and that the activities help the learners to gain a personal experience of the text which connects it to their lives.

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

OK, that wording is quite interesting – to some extent, it echoes the questions Why should they care? which I’ve previously written about.

Stage 5: Experiential activities

These are activities which are designed to help the learners to represent the text in their minds as they read it or listen to it and to do so in multidimensional ways which facilitate personal engagement.

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

The activities should be mental, “contributing to the representation of the text.” There should be no writing or discussion, as this risks interrupting the processing of the text or making it more difficult to process it. Examples given include:

  • “visualise a politician as they read about him, using inner speech to give their responses to provocative points in the text”
  • “trying to follow a description of a journey on a mental map”
  • “thinking of examples from their own lives to illustrate or contradict points made in a text” (all p103)

The activities can either be given through concise instructions just before reading/listening as part of a more participatory approach, with learners contributing to the text. For example, the teacher reads the text, pauses, and learners shout out predictions of the next work or phrase; a similar approach with dictation (especially for poems) – write, pause, compare next line; the teacher stops before the end of a text and the learners write the endings (all p104 – there are more there)

[There are some interesting ideas here, and ones which I haven’t seen before, but I’m not sure how well they’d work with some text types. I can see them connected to literature, and some more story-like non-fiction, for example descriptions of processes, but not with texts which don’t follow that kind of story structure.]

Stage 6: Intake response activities

These are activities which help the learners to develop and articulate what they have taken in from the text.

Tomlinson (2013: 104)

Learners reflect on the mental representation they created in stage 5, rather than returning to the text. These activities don’t test comprehension.

[Learners] cannot be wrong because they are not being asked about the text but about their personal representation of it. However, it is possible that their representation is only partial (or even superficial) and the process of sharing it with others can help to extend and deepen it.

Tomlinson (2013: 104)

Suggestions include visualising, drawing or miming what they remember, summarising the text to somebody who hasn’t read it, or asking clarifying questions to somebody who knows the text well. (p105)

[I think you’d really have to manage learners’ expectations throughout this whole process. They’d need to know why they were doing all of this, why it will benefit them, and why they haven’t paid any attention to the language in the text yet. That could say something about the general way in which we use and approach texts in the classroom, but it also seems to me a question of efficiency. If you only have 90 minutes in a lesson, this seems like a lot of time with not much happening – there haven’t been any opportunities for upgraded language by this stage in the lesson, for example. It could work well as a one-off, but I’m really not sure about it as the basis for a series of materials.]

Stage 7: Development activities

‘These are activities which provide opportunities for meaningful languag eproduction based on the learners’ representations of the text’ (Tomlinson, 1999c, p. 63)

Tomlinson (2013: 105)

Examples given include writing part 2 of a story when they’ve heard part 1, rewriting a location-based story so it’s set in their own town, or creating a new advertisement based on one they’ve seen.

[These activities seem quite engaging and reflect task-based approaches quite closely, as the focus is on meaning, but learners have the opportunity to draw on the source text if they want to. However, it relies on teachers noticing opportunities to input new language, and learners being able to draw new language from texts and each other, rather than only sticking to what they know already.]

Stage 8: Input response activities

Learners return to the text, doing closer study which helps them “to make discoveries about the purposes of the language of the text.” (p105)

Interpretation tasks

Learners consider the author’s intentions, and develop critical and creative thinking skills. (p105) On p105-106, Tomlinson gives the following examples:

  • Deep questions
  • Debates about issues in the text
  • Critical reviews of the text for a journal
  • Interviews with the characters
  • Interviews with the author

[Most of these seem to imply that learners have a relatively high level of L2, or conduct these activities in L1. They would need a lot of scaffolding to be able to participate in many of these tasks, though I don’t deny that they could be engaging and fruitful with the right teachers and students.]

Awareness tasks

Learners might improve their awareness of:

  • language use
  • communication strategies
  • genre characteristics
  • text-type features (all p106)

They look both at this text and other, equivalent texts for their research.

The important point is that evidence is providing in a text which the learners have already experienced holistically and then they are helped to make focused discoveries through discrete attention to a specified feature of the text. That way they invest cognitive and affective energy and attention in the learning process and they are likely to increase their readiness for acquisition (Pienemann, 1985; Tomlinson, 1994b, 2013)

Tomlinson (2013: 106)

Tomlinson suggests that learners can revise the product of stage 7, based on the findings of stage 8. [Definite TBL influences here.]

Using the framework

Tomlinson says you can use it flexibly, though some stages probably need to precede others. You don’t need to use all of the stages, and you can decide on the weighting of the stages based on learners’ needs.

It is useful, though, for the materials developer to include all the stages in the actual course materials so that the teachers (and possibly the learners) can make decisions for themselves about which stages to use and what sequence to use them in.

Tomlinson (2013: 107)

Tomlinson describes using it to quickly create materials for a cover lesson, and to help teachers to produce an effective unit of material. [I wonder whether he’s used it to create whole coursebooks or even series of books.]

The sequence of activities on p107-109 for a 90-minute lesson based on a poem about an old lady are quite nice, and I could see myself picking and choosing from them for a one-off lesson. The news articles / online example on p111-114 also seems interesting for self-access or independent study, or for some kind of longer project with learners on an intensive course – it looks engaging and motivating, but again you’d need to justify it to the learners and train them in this approach. Still not convinced this approach is useful for larger materials writing projects though…

Unit 6: Affective factors in materials

These are my ideas to start the unit.

  1. What do you understand by ‘affect’ in language teaching?

These are the emotional and human factors which can influence learning, for example whether a learner is feeling stressed, excited, bored, hungry, cold, etc. When they are dealing with too many of these issues at once, it makes it harder for them to learn (their affective filter is up). Some aspects of affect can help learning though, for example if they are motivated, they will be likely to study for long and take more in.

2. Why is affect so important? Can you think of any personal anecdotes that illustrate this?

Because it takes up space in our brain and influences our attitudes to learning.

For example, right now I’m really tired and struggling to concentrate because I was very hot last night and didn’t sleep well (the heatwave has arrived in the UK!) This means that I’m not really sure how much I’ll retain from what I’ve done today on the course, and I’ve skipped some of the more cognitively challenging parts like reading a chapter from a methodology book. I’m aiming to come back to them when I’m feeling more awake!

3. What is the materials writer’s role in regard to affect?

A writer needs to consider what kind of support/scaffolding learners might need to complete tasks, reducing the likelihood of learners feeling stressed or anxious. They need to include activities which encourage learners to reflect on their learning, boosting their confidence and making plans for their future learning, again reducing stress levels and helping learners to feel they have some kind of control over what they’re doing. Writers also need to include good quality teacher’s notes, so that the teacher feels prepared and knows how to deal with different issues, and is also slightly less likely to feel stressed going into the lesson and transfer this to learners.

4. How affectively engaging do you think most of the materials used for your context are?

It depends on how well we’ve chosen our coursebooks! Generally I think they are quite engaging and encourage personal responses, but to some extent that’s due to how we train our teachers to use the materials. As a rule, materials are becoming more intrinsically engaging, at least as far as I can remember.

5. Do you know anything about gamification? If so, what do you think of the concept?

Yes, I’ve read a fair amount about it and attended conference talks connected to it. I think it’s one possible tool we can use to engage learners, and it can work really well for some learners, but it depends very much on the way it is used. If it creates a lot of extra work for the teacher or the students, or if it is just used for the sake of it, it’s not worth it. But if it’s incorporated in a principled way, it can prove very motivating.

6. Note down three elements of successful speaking materials and three elements of successful writing materials.

Successful speaking materials:

  • Promote extensive speaking, not just short answers.
  • Engage the learners and make them want to speak, not just do it because the teacher told them to.
  • Provide support for the learners, for example planning time, reflection on their performance, etc.

Successful writing materials:

  • Have a clear audience and communicative purpose.
  • Provide support for learners, for example through genre analysis or providing a model.
  • Incorporate achievable tasks for all learners, not just the strongest/most confident in the group.

A definition of affect

Aspects of emotion, feeling, mood or attitude which condition behaviour.

Arnold and Brown, 1999. Affect in Languag Learning. CUP

Humanising the Coursebook

We read an interesting article by Brian Tomlinson from the September 2001 HLT Mag. No notes, as I could highlight the Word document 🙂 Reminds me that I should go back and look at my copy of Humanising your Coursebook by Mario Rinvolucri [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]

Gamification in education

I’ve read and heard a bit about gamification already, but it was interesting to explore it in a little more depth and think about how I might want to incorporate it into my own materials.

This was a fun introduction to different kinds of reward (2 minutes), focussing on piqueing interest rather than extrinsic rewards:

This TEDx talk by Gavin Pouliot had some interesting ideas:

  • Include different levels of choice: legendary is the highest level he mentioned.
  • Personalise learning: let learners be whoever they want.
  • Let students make their own world, for example through a digital portfolio.
  • Allowing cooperation and competition, though not assuming all learners want to work in the same way. For example, giving XP for completing certain tasks.
  • Gamificiation requires teachers to really know their learners and requires learners to know what works for them.
  • Allow learners to retry when needed to build mastery and competence, not just rushing them on to the next thing.
  • Assessment can be done in different ways, for example through badges.
  • Be clear where pathways/skills lead so students know why they’re doing activities.

This infographic provides a particularly useful summary, including this clear definition of gamification:

The use of game design elements in non-game contexts.

The key elements of gaming which the infographic suggests we could use for educational purposes include (please look at the infographic for full information – this is just a quick reference for me!):

  • Progression
    • Levels
    • Points
  • Investment (pride in your work)
    • Achievements (public recognition)
    • Appointments (challenges)
    • Collaboration
    • Epic meaning (sublime or transcendent)
    • Virality (involve others)
  • Cascading information (unlocking more)
    • Bonuses
    • Countdown
    • Discovery
    • Loss aversion (avoid losing what you’ve gained)
    • Infinite play
    • Synthesis (multiple skills needed)

This article from TESOL by Deborah Healey mentions lots of game mechanics which could be useful. These ones extend the list above:

  • Behavioral momentum (tendency to keep doing something you’re already doing)
  • Ownership (publishing work, autonomy/learner choice)
  • Blissful productivity (we like working hard and feeling productive)

We were also given a one-hour webinar by Elena Peresada on how gamification works, which is worth watching for all of the examples of gamification Elena has used in her lessons (the first few minutes are missing):

She talks about game components as the first level of gamification:

  • XP points
  • Leaderboard (can be divided into smaller segments so it’s not just bottom v. top, for example going up through ranks)
  • Badges
  • Progress bar
  • Goal
  • Avatar
  • Levels

Class Dojo can be a useful tool for this, but you can’t divide your leaderboard into segments.

Learners became more engaged, nobody was a loser, and learners started to ask for extra assignments to keep up with their classmates and get more XP. However, it was short-term motivation and the learners focussed on points, not English, with some learners cheating to get more points. There is purely a focus on extrinsic motivation, so it doesn’t work in the long term. It’s therefore important to move to higher levels of gamification.

The second level is game mechanics:

  • Meaningful choices
  • Tries and fails

When you play a video/real-life game, this is what keeps you going. These make gamification different to school. For example, we don’t read instructions before we start a video game: we start and see what happens. At around 20 minutes, Elena gives an example of a haunted house game she used with her students. Learners could remember a lot of vocabulary after the game because they were emotionally engaged. They repeat the activity multiple times willingly.

She uses a framework of different activities with different point values, where learners can decide what they want to do – this can be as simple as allocating point values to activities you are already using.

You can turn activities into games by adding small mechanics to them, for example Find Someone Who becomes a game if there is a goal and a time limit [though I’d be wary of the competition element that might generate].

The third level is dynamics, often through storytelling:

  • Emotions
  • Narrative

One way to create a narrative is through a simple framework, like this:

Empire, Friends, and Reddit: Once upon a time there was a lonely orphan..
 Who was friends with two social outcasts...
 The trio lived happily until the evil...
 Tried to take over...
 Muggle/ Gotham Galactic
 Empire Xingdom Earth Jungle
 Thankfully [hero] defeats [villain] with a...
 pleated jeans
Every epic movie.
Original by Pleated Jeans (though I can’t find the link!)

Elena uses a lot of RPGs in her lessons – I’ve seen examples of her talking about this at IATEFL, and they seem great! Her learners are very engaged and talk a lot in lessons. These are examples of the games Elena and Studycraft have produced (site is in Russian).

She recommends exploring https://yukaichou.com/ for more information. He has a framework called Octalysis covering many different elements of gamification.

Speaking and writing materials

We were asked to look at supplementary materials to see how writing and speaking are dealt with and answer a range of questions.

For speaking, I thought it might be interesting to look at materials I’ve previously posted on my blog. I chose something from 2011 for working on FCE Speaking part 3 (in the old version of the exam – can’t remember if it’s still the same part!) The activity was designed to practise the format of that part of the exam, encourage students to converse rather than monologue (though I don’t seem to have explained how that aim should be met), and practise holiday-related language. As written, it is product oriented, because there is no explicit strategy development – I may have included it in the lesson, but I didn’t in the blogpost – it’s a long time ago and I don’t remember! (Note to self: include strategy development in activites you post on your blog, where relevant!) Possible ideas for strategies which could be explicitly practised would include turn-taking strategies, interrupting, and asking follow-up questions. I also didn’t explicitly mention what preparation they had for the practice tasks, though I suppose by creating the pictures themselves they at least had some level of input into the task, thinking about the language they might use to describe this kind of picture. Overall, the activity is fine, but the teacher’s notes could be a lot more useful!

For writing, I chose a Learn English British Council resource for B2 Upper Intermediate on writing an informal email to a friend. The activity is designed to focus on phrases which you might use in an informal email – it’s language focussed, rather than really developing writing skills. The focus with the phrases are formal v. informal, coming up with appropriate replies, and prepositions (mostly) in informal email phrases. There is no strategy development and the learners don’t actually write an email as part of the activity – instead they write a comment about the best way to stay in touch with friends you don’t see often. It is kind of a product-oriented reading activity more than a writing activity, although the main focus is on functional language. These activities could be useful language preparation for writing an email, but they would need to be supplemented by content preparation activities, and an actual writing task, along with (ideally) some writing strategy development. Examples of strategies you could include would be identifying what to reply to in an email you receive, drafting and editing an email, or checking an email for overly formal language.

My beliefs about speaking and writing materials and making materials affectively engaging

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for developing writing and speaking skills and recognising affect. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Speaking and writing materials should include opportunities for learners to develop their skills, not just practise them.
    Why? We need to help learners to develop strategies to become more fluent communicators, building their confidence and supporting them in producing better quality, richer speaking and writing.
    What does it entail? Including specific activities focussing on strategies such as turn-taking, interrupting, planning and editing writing, and using useful chunks of language. Also, including reflection on the success of speaking and writing to develop learners’ ability to notice what works and doesn’t in specific contexts.
    But…? How do you decide which skills should be developed in what order? How do you fit strategy work into the limited space available in published materials? How do you ensure that reflective questions home in on the most useful aspects of the strategy being developed?
  • Speaking and writing activities should be as authentic as possible, with a clear aim, audience and communicative purpose.
    Why? If learners can see the point of activities, they are more likely to be engaged by them. Changing the audience for speaking and writing changes how that speaking/writing might happen, for example, the level of formality, so we need to include this in the activity. Having a communicative purpose gives learners a reason to speak, listen, read and write, rather than just because the teacher told them to.
    What does it entail? Ensuring the aim, audience and communicative purpose are clear to the learners. These should reflect real-world tasks whenever possible, but if that’s not possible (for example in exam preparation courses), they should at least be clearly engaging for learners, thinking back to Guariento and Morley above and the four schools of thought regarding authenticity.
    But…? How do you make sure that tasks are achievable for (especially low-level) learners if they are real-world? What do you need to include in the teacher’s notes to give teachers flexibility when adapting the materials, rather than dictating how to set up the activities? How do you help teachers to personalise and localise tasks?
  • There should be an opportunity for learners to prepare the content and language of what they are going to say and write.
    Why? Their output is likely to be richer if they have had time to consider it first. It could also reduce their stress levels, and help their communication to be more fluent, especially if they’ve had the opportunity to ask about useful language.
    What does it entail? Including explicit preparation stages in materials, with a specific focus on content and on language. Making sure teachers know the usefulness and importance of these stages through including information in the teacher’s notes. This could also be tied up with strategy development, as mentioned in my first belief above. It could also include rehearsal stages, visualisation, or use of the inner voice for speaking. For writing, it might include brainstorming ideas and writing a plan.
    But…? Will learners always have preparation time when speaking or writing in the real world? If not, how will this approach prepare them to produce language when they’re put on the spot? How much does this approach balance accuracy and fluency of production?
  • Affective factors should be taken into consideration within materials.
    Why? If learners are disengaged, feeling stressed or anxious, lack confidence, or feel demotivated, learning is unlikely to take place. They are less likely to want to or be able to push themselves to speak or write, particularly at length, and may drift off when reading and listening. Learning English may feel like a chore or a stressful experience, particularly speaking/writing, and learners are likely to try to avoid it in the future.
    What does it entail? Choosing engaging topics, encouraging learners to personalise and/or localise topics when they want to, providing scaffolding and support, including opportunities for reflection on performance, introducing strategies to help learners deal with challenging situations, focussing on what learners can do/produce, and helping learners to see their strengths when speaking and writing. In materials, this can be done through carefully staged activities, the use of clear aims and reflection activities, and the inclusion of strategy training, as well as the choice of topics.
    But…? To what extent is this the materials writer’s job v. the teacher’s job? What happens if learners want to keep some kind of emotional distance in their language learning? How do we teach teachers and learners to reflect effectively on speaking and writing performance? How do we overcome the fact that many learners may be reluctant to write (or, less commonly, speak) in their language, and therefore might carry over those emotions to English?

Adapted speaking materials

I have decided to adapt the FCE speaking activity I wrote about above. My evaluation criteria are:

  1. To what extent do the materials develop the learners speaking skills?
  2. To what extent is the aim, audience and communicative purpose of the speaking activity made clear to the learners? [Note: This should potentially be 3 separate criteria as it covers 3 areas.]
  3. To what extent do the learners have the opportunity to prepare before they speak?
  4. To what extent are learners likely to be affectively engaged with the activity?

They should be graded 0-3, with 3 being the best.

Based on my criteria, this is my evaluation:

  1. Grade = 1
    There is some repetition built into the activity, but otherwise there is no skills development.
  2. Grade = 2
    The audience and communicative purpose are clear – it’s FCE speaking, so the audience would be the examiner, and the communicative purpose is to answer the two questions selected. The aim is less clear, other than repeating the activity – there’s no specific learning/skills upgrading/language upgrading aim, just getting practice.
  3. Grade = 1
    They drew the pictures, so may have thought about some of the language. There’s no specific preparation stage for either language or content.
  4. Grade = 2
    Because the learners drew the pictures, they are likely to be engaged in discussing them. However, the questions come from the teacher. Learners could also be more engaged if they knew there was a clear aim and some form of upgrading of their language, boosting their motivation.

Possible adaptations:

  • Include an aim or can do statement at the beginning of the materials, for example ‘I can interact successfully with a partner when making decisions related to holidays.’
  • Ask the learners to generate the questions discussed.
  • Include a preparation stage at the start of each activity cycle, where learners can ask for any vocabulary or phrases they might need.
  • Include a reflection stage at the end of each activity cycle, where learners reflect on their interactive communication by answering a few short questions. In the teacher’s notes, suggest ways of improving learners’ interactive communication depending on their self-assessments, for example functional language phrases which could be fed in, or the use of a visual reflection tool like conversation shapes. These act as strategy work and shift the materials to be more process-oriented.

Towards less humanistic teaching

These are my notes based on an ELT Journal article by Nick Gadd (ELT Journal, Volume 52, Issue 3, July 1998, Pages 223–234, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.3.223). My partner on the course read the article this one was responding to: ‘Towards more humanistic language teaching’ by Jane Arnold (ELT Journal, Volume 52, Issue 3, July 1998, Pages 235–242, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.3.235). They’re from the Point and Counterpoint section of the journal.

Gadd starts off by charting the history of the term humanism, moving from the “outwardly directed humanism of the Renaissance” to the “inward-gazing humanism of the twentieth century.” (p223) He refers to Hunter’s historical survey of how English teaching (in secondary education) has developed in England since the 1800s:

He points out that the teaching of English in schools has frequently involved three separate elements: linguistic and grammatical knowledge, aesthetic and literacy appreciation, and ethical or personal self-knowledge.

Gadd (1998: 223)

The interesting question here is:

Why is it, for example, that maths or science teachers rarely feel that they have a duty to undertake any kind of operation on their students’ feelings, or to improve their souls, in the way that many English teachers do?

Gadd (1998: 223-224)

[I wonder to what extent this is still true, with movements like mindset theory encouraging teachers to consider attitudes to learning across all subjects.]

One problematic idea connected to humanism from the early 20th century was an example Hunter/Gadd gives of “moral training designed to reform the personalities of problem populations and make them easier to control” (p224).

In TEFL, Gadd mentions Stevick (1980) as an advocate of humanism:

For Stevick, its basis is the desire of every student and every teacher to be ‘an object of primacy in a world of meaningful action’. He therefore believes it is essential for teachers to take into serious consideration what goes on inside and between their students.

Gadd (1998: 224)

Elements of Stevick’s work Gadd mentions include students developing and exercising initiative and co-operation, and increasing learner empowerment. There is also the idea of reconciling the ‘performing self’ and the ‘critical self’ [I’m not entirely sure what this means]. (p225) Some potential problems with humanistic teaching which Stevick identifies include (p225):

  • “Teachers who abdicate responsibility for structure and input, leaving it all to the initiative of their students.”
  • “Too much focus on the students’ own experiences and inner selves is unhelpful.”
  • It becomes “an excuse for the teacher to dazzle students and colleagues with their educational originality and virtuosity.” (cf. Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society)

Gadd describes Stevick as a ‘pragmatic humanist’, as opposed to a ‘romantic humanist’.

A common view is that it is the primary task of the English teacher to encourage and advance the development of the students’ inner selves, and that to this end the greater part of the work done in the language classroom should be devoted to the students’ feelings, experiences and ideas.

Gadd (1998: 225)

The teachers’ role in these cases appears to be that of a kindly confessor or therapist.

Gadd (1998: 226)

The principles of this more romantic humanism are summarised like so:

Students should draw predominantly on their own feelings, ideas, and experiences in order to learn English; some forms of expression are more genuine than others because they derive from the true inner self; English teachers should not limit themselves to language but should teach students to be better, nicer people, power in the classroom can be devolved from the teacher to the students. To sum up, this kind of teaching focuses attention on nurturing the student’s inner self.

Gadd (1998: 226)

[I think this is the problem I’ve always had with what I previously understood about humanistic approaches – it all felt overly touchy-feely and far too personal, sometimes invasively so, limiting the world down to the people in the room and their experiences, rather than reaching out into the world and learning from external sources. I’ve seen that it can be more than that, connected to dealing with issues of affect and engagement, engaging the whole person rather than students being depersonalised language learners, but it’s still something I need to learn more about to be truly comfortable with incorporating these aspects in my work and materials.]

Gadd points out that these ideas of romantic humanism are predominant in supplementary materials, rather than mainstream coursebooks or EAP/ESP texts. (p226)

Gadd’s counterarguments are (I think) strong (p227), and seem to some extent to reflect my comment above:

  • “It is based on a view of the English teacher’s role as a monitor and nurturer of the student’s inner self which, while well established, is presumptuous and of doubtful value.”
  • “It leads to the students being taught an inadequate number of registers of English, and thus hampers their progression towards independence as language users.”
  • “A focus on the inner self as a source of learning does not encourage or permit the students’ intellectual and cognitive development.”

Gadd goes on to contrast humanistic approaches with the ‘rhetorical tradition’.

They emphasized the skills needed to be an active member of a public community, rather than a mere communer with oneself, or passer-on of one’s private feelings to select individuals.

As Hunter says, it is a grave mistake to imagine that these skills, which make students active and powerful in the public sphere, are any less ‘human’ than those which focus on the private self.

Gadd (1998: 227)

It is this position [of moral and ethical surveillance] which romantic humanist teachers still desire to occupy today, hoping to shape the learner’s personality and impart values education. Leaving aside the question of what gives English teachers the right to impose their moral and ethical values on their students, it is certainly disingenuous: for while this moral training is going on, humanist educators contiune to deny their own power and claim that it is the students, not the teachers, who are in control.

Gadd (1998: 228)

[I’m very grateful to Gadd for putting into words some of the vague feelings I’ve had about this kind of teaching before!]

Other potential problems with romantic humanism:

  • It’s a product of western tradition, and therefore may not be appropriate in other cultures. (p228)
  • It results in an extremely limited used of language, focusing only on the private self. (p229)
  • It relies on a limited range of register: “friendly, informal, even intimate”. (p229)
  • They limit the learners to “being able to chat with friends and commune with themselves. They are not of much use in training students to participate in public or academic spheres.” (p229)
  • Learners may have different levels of educational experience or come from quite different cultures, meaning they cannot rely on learner-based teaching and they may get frustrated if the teacher refuses to give instruction. (p231)

[These are summarised much more concisely as just three main points in the conclusion on p232-233 of the article.]

He contrasts the process approach to writing to the genre approach, emphasising how the latter seems to have become dominant in English teaching in Australia (note: this article was written in 1996). He talks about how at lower levels, writing texts are “completely personal and based on the immediate world of the learner” but that they become more abstract at higher levels.

This is an acknowledgement that the learning process involves a movement beyond oneself […] and underlines the need for us to lay aside the notion that the purpose of speech and the written word is to express one’s inner self.

Gadd (1998: 231)

Gadd believes that he has a responsibility for more general education, not just English, partly because he teaches a lot of adult migrants who may not have had much school learning in the past.

This involves factual knowledge about the world but also intellectual skills. It involves developing the ability to reason, interpret, synthesize knowledge, evaluate and critique different points of view, and construct an argument. Little of this can be achieved if the students remain trapped within the prison of the self.

Gadd (1998: 232)

[This seems to closely reflect the modern focus on critical thinking, and higher-order thinking skills.]

He talks about an example of working on advertising, based on a humanist activity from a supplementary book, or a serious unit of work on the topic drawing on lots of different input.

At the end of this our students are gong to be able to produce much more informed opinions by drawing on knowledge outside themselves.

Gadd (1998: 232)

If our sole aim is to fill thirty minutes with uninformed talk, then it may not be necessary for them to be encumbered with much actual knowledge. If, on the other hand, we seek to educate in the much broader sense, then there are no short cuts. We have to move beyond the self, and explore the great world which lies beyond it.

Gadd (1998: 232)

[A much more erudite way of expressing what I mentioned in my earlier response to this article!]

In the conclusion, Gadd mentions that the need for teachers to understand their learners’ psychology, as advocated in Stevick’s pragmatic humanism, “enables the teacher to ensure that teaching and learning are at their most effective”. (p233). [I agree that this is useful, and that’s why I’m so interested in the work of Sarah Mercer and co.]

Unit 7: Visual design and image

Elements of design

These are my ideas of what contributes to design:

  • Colour
  • Layout
  • Font
  • Text size
  • Use of images
  • Other stylistic features such as quotes, stylised headings, etc.
  • Space (is there any?!)

The NILE list was longer (of course!) They are listed below, along with my ideas for good design criteria for each of them.

  • Headings and icons
    Consistency in the use or omission of icons
    Transparency in the meaning of icons – I shouldn’t need to look at a key to work out what they mean
    Headings should indicate the function/aim of each section
    Headings should be a different size (font?) to the main text so they clearly stand out
  • Sequencing and Numbering
    Numbering should be used for all activities
    It should follow across the whole spread, rather than restarting in each section/for each new skill – there shouldn’t be multiple Exercise 1’s on the page for example!
    The sequence of activities should be clear from the layout
  • Text
    The font should be clearly legible, preferably sans serif to help learners with SEN.
    The text size should be large enough to read easily, and suitable for the target age group of the learners (for example, senior learners may benefit from a larger font).
    The amount of text should be suitable for the level and age of the learners.
  • Colour
    SEN-friendly, with useful contrasts (for example, dark text on a light background)
    Consistency in the use of colour, for example one unit = one colour, or one type of spread = one colour (reading = green, listening = blue, etc.)
  • Page layout
    Space should be available on the page – not too cramped
    Use of columns if applicable/appropriate
    Texts clearly separated from other elements, e.g. instructions
  • Consistency
    Different pages of the same materials should clearly belong to the same resource!
    Icons, colours, use of headings, and layout should remain consistent, so I know where to find things on the page.
    When consistency is disrupted, this should be for a clear reason, for example a different kind of unit.
  • Back of book reference pages
    Should be easy to find
    Should be clearly laid out
    Audio scripts should be legible – not so tiny that you need a magnifying class!
    Activities should be clearly differentiated from information, for example in a grammar or vocabulary bank
    If applicable, an index should be included
  • Cover
    Needs to tell me the level and target audience of the materials
    Should include a short blurb telling me what’s different about these materials
    Should include information about other components of the course
    Should have the book’s name, author, publisher etc. clearly visible
    Age appropriate
  • Images
    Should be included as a resource for the materials, not just to make it look pretty
    Should appear throughout the materials, breaking up large blocks of text
    Shouldn’t appear behind texts – this makes the texts harder to read, especially for learners with SEN
    Age appropriate
    Culturally sensitive

It’s just occured to me that ‘Contents’ / ‘Scheme of work’ should be added to this list. This should be clearly laid out, with the main aims of the book in earlier columns. Page numbers should be referenced for each of the elements, not just the first page of the unit.

We were referred to this critique of a coursebook page by Jason Renshaw (I miss Jason’s blog – it was very influential on me when I was first starting out!) It demonstrates really clearly how important design can be to learning, and includes this quote:

But if you feel, as a teacher, that my analysis and objections to the layout here go beyond simple fussiness to an essential understanding of how important content and layout can be for practical classroom application as well as independent learning efficacy, you may be asking yourself how and why it happens in coursebooks.

(and then I scrolled down to the comments and realised the first one was by me, in 2011!) 🙂

Why do we use images in materials?

These are my ideas:

  • To support vocabulary learning.
  • To clarify the meaning of grammar.
  • To create/set contexts.
  • To illustrate texts.
  • To prompt discussion.
  • For prediction or summarising activities.
  • To make texts seem more realistic, for example mocking up an email.
  • As part of diagrams – to show sequences.
  • As design features, for example the icons for a chapter heading.
  • To create image-based activities, particularly for YLs, for example colour XYZ red, colour ABC blue, etc.
  • For decoration / To break up the page.

Using images in language teaching materials

We read this blogpost by John Hughes about visual literacy in the language classroom.

John starts by defining visual literacy, then describes three levels of visual literacy and how we can use them in the classroom:

  • Basic comprehension and understanding
    The image is ‘read’ and responded to: ‘What does it mean?’ Students see pictures to understand and remember words, or predict what’s in a text based on an image.
  • Critical thinking
    The image is ‘read’ and responded to: ‘Thinking beyond the frame’ Using ambiguous images, or speculating on the thoughts of people in the image, or thinking about what happens next – images like this encourage the viewer to ask questions.
  • Creative thinking
    Students ‘write’ or ‘create’ their own images: They can talk about images using Fotobabble [though the old site seems to have disappeared], create an animated movie using Dvolver, or take photos connected to the theme of the lesson.

John says that he won’t suggest that we should ‘teach’ students how to be visually literate, but that an awareness of some of these concepts can help us to exploit images in a wider range of ways, including for higher order thinking skills. [I agree with the fact that as English teachers, it isn’t our role to teach visual literacy, but that’s not to say we can’t use concepts connected to it, and introduce some of them to our students too. It’s as good a topic as any for the classroom, and useful beyond lessons too.]

Next, we listened to an interview with John to follow up on his article.

He starts by describing how much easier it is to access and produce images now, and therefore how much easier it is to exploit them in the classroom.

John describes examples of visual literacy (reading/writing images) in daily life:

  • Clicking on icons on our phones and knowing where it will take us.
  • Sharing images on social media.
  • Understanding road signs.

Some people say that it’s becoming more and more important in our daily lives. There are also new text types, like infographics, which combine texts and images in different ways. Design choices like the use of font and colour are also connected to visual literacy. Because it’s a feature of everyday life, John believes that many students arrive in our classrooms already being quite visually literate. He says that we can take advantage of students’ visual literacy skills. He also says that because it’s so important in our students’ lives, the classroom should reflect that and we should include images and video in our lessons. Having said that, there should always be a linguistic aim because we’re teaching English, not visual literacy.

Choosing interesting images, like advertising, artistic images, or an image where it isn’t clear where is was taken, they can generate discussion and engage students, apart from the critical thinking activities mentioned above.

A 30-second video with just images can be an interesting prompt too: introducing a topic, picking out images and describing them, engaging learners. It doesn’t have to be a long video to be useful.

John mentions one activity from the Hands Up Project, where Nick Bilsborough asks students to draw images and then describe them, as a simple way of encouraging students to create/write their own images. This gives them preparation time and thinking time before they speak, as they can consider what they want to say. Using images in a range of ways like this can make lessons much more memorable and motivating.

It’s important for us to consider the design of our materials, as poor design can distact learners. For example, having images with a listening or speaking activity can gives learners a way into the activity and help to set the context.

John thinks that there are very few lessons that wouldn’t include at least a little visual literacy: diagrams in EAP, charts in business English to communicate visually…

When asking students to create and share images, we need to be aware of rules connected to the images. As long as we keep the images within the classroom, we should generally be safe, but it’s important to check with parents if we want their children to take photos to share.

With technology, there are extra layers of visual literacy too – for example, thinking about virtual environments, augmented reality, or virtual reality headsets.

John tends to set creative image or video activities for homework, rather than in class, as they can be challenging to set up and be quite time-consuming. If they’re done in English, it can work well, but it often works better outsides lessons.

He mentions the Visual Arts Circle as an interesting site to explore if you want to know more about visual literacy and visual thinking.

Finally we looked at John’s ETpedia blog list of 10 visual literacy activities for language learning. I’ve never tried using memes in lessons (idea 5), though I’ve been to an interesting talk about it (here’s a version of the same talk), and seen examples of memes created by teacher trainers (go to the bottom right of the page on a computer to see more!). I also like idea 7, getting learners to guess the question from the answers in a video.

My beliefs about design and layout

These are some of my own beliefs about materials design and layout, both print and digital, and using images. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Layout should be easy to understand and should aid in the use of the materials.
    Why? Bad layout is distracting and frustrating, and requires extra mental effort, which could be dedicated to better teaching or learning.
    What does it entail? Clear headings, numbering which works across the spread (not multiple exercise 1’s on the same page!), images which are close to the activities they correspond to, lines to separate off different sections, boxes and columns used as appropriate, large enough gaps for completing activities, white space for thinking and processing (not having lots of things crammed on a page), icons as appropriate. This should be consistent across the materials.
    But…? What happens if you need to include a lot of information/activities on a page? How much time / money do you have to dedicate to design?
  • Materials should be SEN-friendly.
    Why? What generally helps learners with SEN often helps learners without SEN too. It creates a more inclusive learning environment.
    What does it entail? Minimal clutter, space around and between text, contrasting fonts and backgrounds (though not stark contrasts), sans serif fonts, lines and boxes to create clear divisions between parts of the text, no text directly displayed on images, minimal use of italics (bold is preferable) – I’m sure there’s a lot more I’ve forgotten!
    But…? What if this makes print materials take up much more space?
  • Images should be varied and representative.
    Why? Varied images allow for varied activities and materials. Considering representation is important, as it reduces the potential distance between learners and materials. If all of the images are stereotypical, only taken from Western culture, or only relate to middle-class lifestyles, they could create distance or dissatisfaction for learners. It also makes for a more inclusive learning environment.
    What does it entail? Drawing on diverse, age-appropriate, sources for images. Having a checklist of factors to include / check for, for example a balance of genders, cultural backgrounds, ages, body types, building and landscape types, etc.
    But…? How can you possibly include everybody in your materials?
  • Images should be exploited within materials.
    Why? Decorative images are fine, but there are so many ways in which images can be exploited to benefit the learning process. These can often be particularly motivating and engaging, as well as memorable.
    What does it entail? Including activities which exploit materials in a range of ways throughout the materials, both for more basic activities like clarifying the meaning of language, and for higher-order activities, like suggesting possible contexts for ambiguous images.
    But…? Nope, can’t think of a counter-argument.

The interpretation of illustrations in ELT materials

These are my notes based on the article of this name by Martin Hewings which originally appeared in ELT Journal Volume 45/3, July 1991, Oxford University Press, pp. 237-244. It looks at how learners from different cultures perceive illustratoins in language teaching materials. The learners in question were Vietnamese students of ESL in Britain, with the article received by the journal in August 1990. To me, it very much feels like an article of its time, and I wonder how differently the opening paragraphs would be framed it if was written today. Here’s an example:

For those learners who come from an educated, European background, divergence between how publishers and textbook writers intend illustrations to be perceived and how they are actually perceived may rarely be problematic. For those learners with a limited exposure to ‘Western’ conventions of illustration, it may present a barrier to language learning.

Hewings (1991: 237)

While I realise that not everybody has been brought up in the same illustrative tradition, I feel like the advent of the internet and the spread of various aspects of culture globally may mitigate some of this today. It’s not something I’ve ever come across, though it has to be said that the majority of my teaching has been done in Europe and/or in private language schools. The only time I think I’ve heard it might be a problem is with cultures with a different perception of time, who may not interpret a left to write timeline in the same way as I might.

Some of the problems with interpretation identified in the article included:

  • Representation of roles (p238): how people are shown in roles which are challenging to illustrate (for example, criminal, bank manager, lover). The lessons the article draws are “if students are not able to make the connection between the cues (age, dress, etc.) and the particular stereotype or role, they will get the answers wrong; and secondly, the even if they do make a connection, it may not be the connection that the teacher or materials writer intended.” (p239)
    [I feel like we have moved on a long way from the kinds of illustrations which might have appeared in materials in the 1980s, as well as the kinds of activities based on stereotypical roles described in the article, so I would hope this would no longer be a problem.]
  • Representation of situations (p239): how pictures are used to establish locations or situations, including if people are in the image too.
    [Same point as above]
  • Representation of topographical space (p240): plans or maps.
    [The question asked by researchers seems odd here – they ask which rooms are upstairs and which are downstairs, which seems designed to prompt misinterpretation when no stairs appear on the plan in question. I would sincerely hope the second example given would never appear in modern materials, not least because the question is so generic.]
  • Symbolic representations (p241): symbols, speech/thought bubbles in cartoons.
    [OK, some of these might cause problems, but many of these symbols feel fairly international now from my experience of travel. This would depend more on the learner’s world experience I think – there may be a point here for modern materials writers.]
  • Graphic representations (p242): charts, graphs, diagrams, visual organisers, tables.
    [I think learners from all cultures could potentially have problems with this – it’s not just the difference between the materials writer’s culture and the learners’. We spend a lot of time learning how to interpret this kind of representation during our schooling, particularly in maths lessons, and inevitably some people find it more challenging than others. All teachers/materials writers should bear that in mind when using this kind of illustration.]

Having disagreed with a lot of the first part of the article, the reminders in the second part are quite useful (p243). They can be summarised as:

  • Be aware of your cultural bias when interpreting an illustration.
  • Remember that not everybody sees illustrations in the same way you do.
  • Students may not have the skills to interpret an illustration in the way that is needed to complete a task. Be aware of this, and be prepared to provide extra support if necessary.
  • Problems of perception should be differentiated from problems with English language. When checking answers, check which of the two has happened. [Not the point Hewings made at all here, but the one I’ve chosen to take from it.]
  • Ask questions about the illustration itself to check interpretation, before using it to introduce the context or practise language.

Unit 8: Teacher’s notes / Trends in language materials / Course review

Teacher’s notes

These are my answers to questions we were asked.

  1. How do you use teacher’s notes in the published materials you use?

I rarely use them now when working with coursebooks. I might refer to them to double-check answers, or if I’m feeling particularly uninspired and am hoping the teacher’s notes might prompt some ideas. If it’s a new coursebook series, I might flick through the pages at the front to see if there are any useful ideas, such as a page of flashcard activities in a YL teacher’s book. I’m more likely to read teacher’s notes in supplementary materials, where the activities are often not as transparent on the page.

2. How do you think less experienced teachers use them?

It depends on whether they’ve realised/been shown that they might be useful. I’ve found teacher’s books to be quite hit and miss. As a relatively new teacher, the Straightforward Pre-Intermediate teacher’s book by Jim Scrivener was fantastic – it was full of ideas for exploiting activities, and included lots of methodology tips. English File and Speakout teacher’s book have often been quite useful in terms of potential grammar problems, cultural notes, and some ideas for extension activities or extra support. The Outcomes teacher’s books are like a mini teacher training course and are potentially very useful for new teachers. Other teacher’s notes are glorified answer keys, and not necessarily that useful.

3. What is a Teacher’s Book for? How many reasons can you think of?

  • Providing answers
  • Providing inspiration
  • Activities for extra support, fast finishers, extension activities, alternative warmers etc.
  • Identifying potential problems with activities, especially with grammar or vocabulary areas, but also with skills tasks. Even better, suggesting solutions for how to deal with them!
  • Homework ideas
  • Professional development for teachers
  • Justifying the methodology/beliefs of the materials
  • Links to other resources, e.g. extra activities in the TB / online

4. What else might a Teacher’s Book include besides notes for the teacher.

  • Supplementary activities
  • Answers
  • Tapescripts
  • An explanation of the thinking behind the book (beliefs, etc.)

5. Look at some teacher’s notes. [I chose the English File Intermediate 3rd edition Teacher’s book] What do you notice about how the instruction to teachers are written? Do you have any reactions to this? You might like to consider:

Consistency of wording? Generally quite consistent.

Sentence length? Relatively short, generally connected by ‘and’ if there are multiple clauses.

Imperatives or descriptions? Descriptions to introduce each unit, with imperatives in the activity notes themselves.

Use of metalanguage? Only metalanguage that students might be expected to know too, with the occasional word like ‘elicit’. Otherwise fairly minimal.

Layout of stages? Very clearly broken down. Each stage is a new point in the instructions.

Current trends in language teaching materials

This is a word cloud I made based on some of the comments we were shown connected to trends that various materials writers noticed:

Made using http://wordclouds.co.uk based on materials from NILE

Another trend I’d add to this list is a move to include more strategy training connected to skills, particularly listening, in general English coursebooks. Pronunciation is now being treated for both listening and speaking in some materials.

If you’re interested in possible current/future trends, the closing plenary from IATEFL 2019 might make interesting watching for you, particularly Katherine Bilsborough talking about materials.

NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials Development module (week two)

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week two of the course, things which I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provide. The notes are there for me and they don’t cover every section of the course, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading or this course yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests adn the things which stood out to me. Any one section from it could easily be a post in itself, but I want to keep it all together, and you don’t want me to share hundreds of posts 😉 I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course. Here is the post for week one.

Unit 3: Cognitive Demand

Interested to get some proper theory on this, as that was the topic of a recent couple of posts (one, two) on my blog 🙂

My answers to a sentence completion task:

  1. When I give my learners material that is too difficult for them, they get depressed and demotivated. Some of them give up. If I’m lucky, they ask for help, but only once they’ve already struggled for a while.
  2. When I give my learners work that is too easy, they either (a) get complacent, (b) get bored, or (c) mess about, the last one particularly so if they’re young learners or teens.
  3. Somebody once said “Every class is a mixed ability class”. My class is a mixed ability class! (Because I completely agree with that statement – not thinking about any one particular class)
  4. When it comes to working things out for themselves, most of my learners are able and willing to try, especially if they’re older. For young learners, young teens, lower levels, those with prior history of problems with education (particularly connected to dyslexia and other working memory problems), this may be more challenging though.
  5. For my learners, critical thinking is something I don’t specifically talk about – I’ve learnt more about it over the past few years, but have mostly worked with very low levels over the last couple of years, so it’s been a challenge to incorporate it.

How cognitive demand affects learners

These notes are based on videos we watched on the NILE platform.

If the cognitive demand is too high/the materials are too difficult, there are high levels of frustration which means there’s no learning and demotivation. The effects include learners speaking L1, getting anxious and stressed, a drop in confidence. With adults who are paying for their lessons, they might be particularly frustrated.

If materials are too easy, learners are not challenged or engaged. Again, they’re not learning. Sometimes it can be a confidence builder if learners feel they have achieved something, but only when used in moderation. It can seem patronising for learners, as well as boring. Parents and learners might be annoyed that they’re not learning.

In mixed-ability classes (all classes!), materials which can be used flexibly and/or which include suggestions for differentiation in the teachers’ notes can be particularly useful. Tasks which can appeal to a range of levels work well: scaffolding for lower levels, and providing extension tasks for higher levels. Tom Sarney gave the example of reading questions which start easy and get more cognitively challenging, and Carole Robinson suggested providing a glossary or images to help learners understand a text.

Materials requiring learners to work things out for themselves can be good if it provides learners with a push, but if they work things out too easily then it might not be motivating for them. Claudia Rey mentions working within the ZPD, helping learners to work things out for themselves with a little guidance. For teens, it’s helpful to push learners to work independently – this doesn’t just help them with their English, but with life skills too. Tom Sarney mentions an enquiry-based approach. Adults may be more likely to want to work independently in their studies, though we may need to give them the tools to do this.

Critical thinking is important at all age groups and levels, not least because it’s in such demand in work. The challenge is the balance between language skills and critical thinking. In some contexts, there may be resistance to critical thinking activities. Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a useful way to incorporate a range of different thinking skills. With young learners and teens, you need to develop these skills. With adults, you can consider critical thinking skills to help you make materials more interesting.

We could learn from video game designers, who need to create the correct level of challenge to keep us playing.

Questions in language learning materials

These are my ideas about characteristics of good questions in language learning materials:

  • They need to be answerable! Or lead to some form of meaningful discussion about possible answers if they’re questions which are more philosophical in nature.
  • The language of the questions should be at or below the current language level of the students.
  • The language learners need to use to answer the questions should be available to them, for example language they have previously been introduced to. If they need new language to answer the questions, it shouldn’t get in the way of smooth communication.
  • Discussion questions should motivate a genuine exchange of information, rather than being pure display questions.
  • Comprehension questions should require responses spaced throughout the text, rather than being bunched too closely together. They should also not be answered by information in the first sentence or two.
  • You should include a wide range of different types of questions.

We were asked to look at a double-page spread in a coursebook, find the questions, and identify the reasons for them.

I looked at the sample unit for the student’s book of English File Intermediate third edition on the OUP website. These are the questions I found on pp. 4-5, and the reasons I think they’re there: (Note: I only selected things which were phrased as grammatical questions – there were lots of other things for learners to do)

  1. Vocabulary: Can you think of…ONE red fruit, ONE yellow fruit, ONE green fruit? (etc. – a quiz with 6 questions)
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To assess prior knowledge.
  2. Vocabulary: Listen to these common adjectives to describe food. Do you know what they mean?
    To assess prior knowledge.
  3. Pronunciation: Look at the eight sound pictures. What are the words and sounds?
    To assess prior knowledge.
    To stimulate learnes to remember (if they’ve used a previous book in the series)
  4. Pronunciation: What part of the symbol tells you that a sound is long?
    To assess prior knowledge.
    To guide learners to notice.
    To guide them to form hypotheses.
  5. Listening and speaking: questionnaire with 5 questions (I’ll call these 5a when referring back to it)
    (before listening) To engage learners in the topic (they’re about to listen to people answer the same questions)
    (before listening) To activate schemata related to the listening they’re about to do.
    (after listening) To stimulate language use. (they answer the questions themselves)
    (after listening) To encourage personalisation.
    (after listening) What do you have in common? (I’ll call this 5b) To improve group dynamics, as learners learn more about each other and find out what they might have in common.
  6. Reading: Are the foods in the list carbohydrates or proteins?
    To assess prior knowledge.
  7. Reading: What kind of food do you think it is better to eat…for lunch if you have an important exam or meeting? (etc. – this is one of 4 endings to the question)
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To encourage personalisation.
    To stimulate language use.
    To share ideas.
    To stimulate learners to remember (vocabulary covered previously could be re-used here)
  8. Reading: Look at the title of the article. What do you think it means?
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To stimulate learners to think.
    To activate schemata related to the reading they’re about to do.
  9. Reading: Find adjectives in the article for the verbs and nouns in the list. What’s the different between the two adjectives made from stress?
    To guide learners to notice.
    To guide them to form hypotheses.
  10. Reading: Three questions following the text, for example How often do you eat chocolate? Does it make you feel happier?
    To encourage personalisation.
    To stimulate language use.
    To stimulate learners to remember (vocabulary covered previously could be re-used here)
    (final question only) To stimulate learners to think more deeply

This was an interesting process to go through!

We were referred to Bloom’s Taxonomy, Diana Freeman’s Taxonomy of Reading Comprehension Questions, and the idea of moving from conrete to abstract questions Mike Gershon as ways of checking that you have included a range of questions in your work. (Mike Gershon has a resource called ‘The Bloom Buster‘ with hundreds of question stems.)

I find Bloom’s Taxonomy to be pretty abstract, and often struggle to work out which category particular questions or activities might fall under. I feel like it could potentially be pretty overwhelming when used as a way of generating questions too, though The Bloom Buster I’ve just mentioned could be a useful tool if you’re feeling writer’s block. Diana Freeman’s taxonomy is the most useful of these categorisations for me, as it’s specifically connected to EFL, and the three main categories of content, language, and affect seem like they are the most useful way of breaking down questions I’m likely to be working with. The way they are sub-divided incorporates some of the complexity of models like Bloom’s Taxonomy, but in a way which I find to be much more accessible. Of the ones we’ve been introduced to, this is the model I’m most likely to use when checking questions/instructions I have produced or looking for inspiration for my materials. The downside is that it’s specifically aimed at reading comprehension, though I think the main categories could be adapted to other areas of materials.

Looking at the same coursebook double-page from English File as before and attempting to use Freeman’s taxonomy, I think I can see the following types of questions:

  1. (not sure – doesn’t really map onto this taxonomy – probably a Language question?)
  2. Language: Lexical
  3. Language: Form (? might not be possible to map onto this taxonomy)
  4. Language: Form (? might not be possible to map onto this taxonomy)
  5. 5a: Content: Textually explicit (if memory serves! I don’t have access to the transcript/audio now)
    5b: Affect: Personal response
  6. Language: Re-organisation (matching)
  7. Affect: Personal response
  8. Content: Inferential
  9. Language: Lexical
  10. Affect: Personal response

Based on the prompts we were given about problems with questions, these are my tips for writing good questions, some of which are still the same as when I started this section, and some of which are more specific 🙂

  • Use display questions with caution – don’t overdo them.
  • Aim to convert closed questions into open questions when appropriate, to increase thinking and language output.
  • Limit memory testing questions to testing memory! If you want to teach and you want learners to learn, use a wider range of question types.
  • Make questions specific, so it’s clear what kind of answer is appropriate.
  • Keep question wording/structure simple, so that learners have cognitive space left to give complex answers, rather than struggling to understand the question. (this refers back to the language level in my ideas)
  • Make sure that if a range of answers are possible, you don’t rely on learners getting one specific answer for the next stage of the materials. Avoid ‘guess what I’m thinking’. (this refers back to ‘make sure they are answerable’ in my ideas at the start)
  • Have a clear pedagogical purpose in mind for questions you include in materials.
  • Check that questions require genuine understanding, not just lifting of information.

Effective instructions

These are my ideas for what makes for clear instructions in materials:

  • Use imperatives.
  • Keep sentences short and language simple.
  • Have one idea per sentence in the rubric, or, if necessary two which are linked by a simple conjunction, like ‘and’.
  • Break down stages of activities into separate instructions or parts of the task as needed. (Stage instructions.)
  • Include all of the instructions that a learner would need to complete the task. Don’t leave them guessing or struggling to work out exactly what is needed. For example, tell them where to write the answers.
  • Include parameters where appropriate, for example time limits or an indication of the number of items learners should think of.
  • Wherever possible/appropriate, supplement instructions with a worked example of what learners are expected to do.
  • Design : Make sure that instructions stand out from the rest of the text.
  • Design: Avoid having instructions run over to a new line wherever possible – this can make it easier for learners with dyslexia to follow.

There were a few extra points in the materials we were given on the module, but this was a pretty good start. I’m afraid you’ll have to do the course to get the full list!

Think globally, act locally

We watched this talk by Alan Pulverness.

Before watching: When and why do you usually adapt materials?

I adapt materials all the time – I rarely use materials exactly as they are in class, even if that’s what I planned to do when I started the lesson. I adapt them for a wide range of reasons (in no particular order):

  • To be more engaging for learners (I hope!)
  • To make them longer/shorter
  • To add/decrease challenge for the learners
  • To change the presentation style, for example pulling out images to work with them separately without the text to distract the learners
  • To localise them, for example adding references to Polish culture
  • To match my teaching style
  • To change the structure of the lesson, for example reordering the stages to fit my learners’ needs more appropriately

Before watching: What kinds of adaptations do you make?

I might adapt/add to/change:

  • The layout
  • The presentation
  • The content
  • The questions asked
  • The task
  • The amount of support provided
  • The examples given
  • The language covered
  • The instructions

And probably more!

While watching: Why adapt materials?

Materials adaptation can span a range of procedures from adding carefully contextualised role plays with the objective of providing more opportunities to communicate to not finishing a pronunciation drill because of time constraints.

Islam and Mares (2003)

…to make material more suitable for the circumstances in which it is used; to compensate for any intrinsic deficiences in the materials.

McGrath (2002)

From conscious (designing extras) to less conscious (making decisions in the lessons), we all do it, to a greater or lesser extent. No coursebook is ever perfect.

What are the limits of the course book? These are possible answers according to Alan Pulverness:

  • Fail to provide: choice, variety, topicality, phonology
  • Not provide enough of: practice, assessment, productive skills work
  • Course books expected to provide: texts, language information, visuals, structure
  • Should be provided by the teacher: warm-up, presentation, practice, consolidation
  • Could be provided by the learners…

Clarke (1989) in an ELT Journal article called something like ‘Why leave it all to the teacher?’, says that the learner can play a role in adapting materials too:

  • Learner commitment: enlist them to take a fuller part in the lesson
  • Learner as materials writer and collaborator: as consolidation or extension exercises, use in revision, maybe with other groups
  • Learner as problem solver: give learners a materials design task as a problem which they can solve, for example adapting it for stronger or weaker students (not sure I agree that this is a good idea)
  • Learner as knower: put them in a position of authority for example about a particular area of language
  • Learner as evaluator and assessor: can peer review, suggest further adaptations

Alan suggested some ways that learners could adapt materials:

  • selecting texts
  • extending texts
  • creating tasks
  • constructing activities
  • constructing texts

He told us about some research by Yan (2007) published in HLT Magazine about trainee teachers and their adaptation of materials. They did this for a range of reasons:

  • Integrating traditional and communicative methods.
  • Catering for students’ needs.
  • Integrating listening and speaking skills into lessons based on reading.
  • Meeting teachers’ own preferences and needs.

Cunningsworth (1995) gives the following reasons for adapting materials in Choosing your coursebook [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]:

  • Classroom dynamics
  • Learner personalities
  • Syllabus constraints
  • Availability of resources
  • Learners’ motivations and expectations

Alan gives the following suggestions for when you might want to adapt materials:

  • To provide more systematic grammar coverage
  • To provide more practice activities
  • TO make texts more accessible
  • To provide more challenge / more support
  • To make tasks more meaningful
  • To devote more attention to phonology
  • To replace inappropaite content
  • To provide greater visual impact
  • To provide more authentic language input
  • To provide variety, topicality, engagement

Islam and Mares (2003) give these reasons for adaptation:

  • To add real choice
  • To cater for different sensory learning styles (!)
  • To provide more learner autonomy
  • To encourage greater use of Higher Order Thinking Skills (according to Bloom’s taxonomy)
  • To make language input more accessible
  • To make language input more engaging

Alan lists various problems with materials:

  • Mismatch with curriculum goals
  • The textbook as de facto syllabus
  • More material than time available
  • Dependence on technology / supplementary components
  • Written for the widest possible audience
  • Culturally inappropriate

While watching: So what can we do about it?

This was Alan Pulverness’s summary:

  • Extension: How can I augment it?
  • Modification: How can I change it?
  • Supplementation: What can I bring to it?
  • Substitution: What can I replace it with?

Alan Maley (1998) suggests the following:

  • Omission
  • Addition
  • Reduction
  • Extension
  • Rewriting/modification
  • Replacement
  • Re-ordering
  • Branching

McGrath (2002) has the following principles motivating change:

  • Localisation
  • Personalisation
  • Individualisation
  • Modernisation
  • Simplification
  • Complication
  • Variation
  • Extrapolation (taking what’s there, following the logic and adding more)

Check that your adaptations are:

  • Principled rather than ad hoc, when possible
  • Informed by evaluation
  • Responsive to learners’ needs (and wants)
  • Proactive or reactive (what fits in this situation?)

While watching: What can you adapt?


  • Instructions
  • Explanations
  • Texts
  • Exercises
  • Output


  • Classroom management
  • Modes of interaction
  • Activities
  • Tasks
  • Learning styles


  • Topics
  • Contexts
  • Cultural references


  • Linguistic demands
  • Cognitive demands

Everything basically!

While watching: How do you approach materials adaptation?

Ideally, there should be some kind of flow…

  1. Textbook evaluation.
  2. Identify strengths and shortcomings.
  3. Consider principles for adaptation.
  4. Decide on specific adaptations.

While watching: Caveats

  • Don’t adapt or replace too much! Otherwise you become a materials designer [I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it could lead to overwork, stress, a loss of continuity, learners/stakeholders who are frustrated at wasting money on materials they never use…]
  • Make sure that adaptation is principled.
  • Avoid replacing one routine approach with another – be creative.
  • Don’t be self-indulgent – be self-critical.
  • Be congruent…

Effective adaptation is a matter of achieving ‘congruence’…The good teacher is constantly striving for ‘congruence’ among several related variables: teaching materials, methodologies, students, course objectives, the target language and its context, and the teacher’s own personality and teaching style.

McDonough and Shaw (2003)

i.e. take into account all of the variables when deciding on adapting your materials…no easy job!

Advice to a new or inexperienced teacher who is unsure how to adapt coursebooks

This is a short email I wrote as a forum task:

Dear new teacher,

You’ve been given a course book which doesn’t work for your students. What should you do? Ask yourself:

– Look at the pages. What do my learners most need to practise/learn?

– What should therefore be the main lesson aim?

– How will I prove learners have improved their performance connected to the lesson aim?

– What activities on the page could I use unaltered? What small tweaks could I make to engage, support or challenge learnes more?

– How long are those activities likely to take? What stage of the lesson are they best suited for?

– What other stages are needed to ‘glue’ the course book activities together? For example, do you need to add preparation before speaking? Or extra language clarification? Or feed in functional language before pair work? Is there anything on the page you could adapt or re-write to help with this?

– Look at your plan so far. Does the lesson flow? Is there a clear context tying activities together? How will you introduce the context? Using the coursebook, or supplementing from elsewhere?

– Look at the whole lesson. Is there enough practice of the language or skill the aim focusses on? Can you exploit the activities you’ve already selected in other ways to add practice? For example, adding post-listening activities to focus on connected speech.

– Go back to the aim. Does the plan really fulfil it? Will you definitely know that learners have improved?

– After the lesson, ask to what extent did the adaptations I made benefit my learners?

By repeating this process of experimenting and reflecting, you will get better and better at adapting coursebooks successfully. When you’re ready, you can also research the theory behind coursebook adaptation, but until then, good luck!


Differentiated learning

In the feedback on an assignment I did, our tutor referred be to the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson on differentiation, and particularly this interview with her.

These were quotes which I found particular interesting.

Differentiated instruction assumes a more positive mindset: Let’s assume they can all do good work, and let’s attend to the ways that they need us to teach them in order to get there.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

It’s really important for kids to come together and understand and appreciate their differences, and to be willing to help one another succeed—as opposed to the cut-throat competition that sometimes goes on in schools.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

If what you differentiate is boring enough to choke a horse, you’ve just got different versions of boredom.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

These are some of the principles of differentiated learning which Carol Ann mentions:

  • Respectful tasks: “everybody’s work needs to be equally engaging, equally appealing, and equally important” with every students having to “think to do their work”.
  • Flexible grouping: systematically moving kids into different groupings, so they can see “how they can contribute in a variety of contexts”, not just arbitrary groupings or at the same skill level. Examples of grouping types given are:
    • similar readiness groups
    • varied readiness groups
    • mixed learning-profile groups
    • interest groups
    • mixed interest groups
    • student-choice groups
  • Teaching up: start with “high-end curriculum and expectations” then “differentiate to provide scaffolding, to lift the kids up”, rather than starting with “grade-level material and then dumb it down for some and raise it up for others”.
  • Ongoing assessment: “continually checking in on who’s where with the knowledge and understanding I’m trying to teach”, not just through formal quizzes and tests, but also by “systematically watching kids, taking good notes, checking work regularly and closely, and asking good questions”

I’m sure there are more! Her book The Differentiated Classroom, looks like a good place to go if you’d like to find out more [Amazon affiliate link].

Unit 4: Language input and output

Language input

How do you feel about the way grammar is dealt with in the books you use?

It’s good enough, though formulaic in many ways. Learners will only pick up the grammar when they are ready to, regardless of the order in which it’s introduced in the books, though having grammar in materials can help them with this. The rules vary in quality, truthfulness (i.e. how fully applicable they are to any example of that language point), complexity and accessibility – for example using lots of metalanguage in a book aimed at beginner 10-12 year olds. There are generally plenty of different types controlled practice, and some freer practice and/or personalisation opportunities. Over the time that I’ve been using coursebooks, I’ve noticed that it’s generally become much better contextualised, and there is a shift in some books to move slightly away from a fully traditional grammar syllabus, such as in the Outcomes books.

How do you feel about the grammar syllabus in one coursebook you use?

I don’t have any particular feelings about the grammar syllabus. If I’ve chosen to use a coursebook, it’s because I think that the grammar syllabus has the potential to work wirth my students.

Can you think of some different approaches to teaching grammar?

Task-based learning – working on grammar as the need arises.

Grammar reference tools

We looked at three different grammar reference tools which we might want to refer to when developing materials. The pros and cons are related to materials development and are my responses.

British Council – Eaquals Core Inventory for General English (2010)


The core inventory table is available as a single page, and therefore very easy to refer to.

The appendices map a range of different areas: written and spoken text types (p36-37), functions/notions (p38), discourse features (p39), grammatical forms (p39-41), lexis (p42), topics (p42). These are all potentially useful reference points.

p43 onwards contains a comprehensive list of exponents which were considered core, and which appeared less often – this would be a great starting point for example sentences in materials. There are also some short texts showing how some features can be used in context, for example ‘describing places’ at A2 on p47.

It summarises common practice in the industry in a descriptive way, so materials created could be slotted into industry standards.

It shows the “extent of agreement between the different types of sources” and “the broad agreement” across the profession regarding consensus on when particular language points might be introduced to learners, so a materials writer would be more likely to introduce level-appropriate language points, if creating a grammar syllabus is an important factor for them in materials design. (quotes from p18)

The scenario on p14-15 shows an interesting structure for considering how to approach planning lessons and/or materials for a given situation, in this case a business meeting. There are more scenarios from p26-35. Each scenario shows an overview (what is needed to succeed in this situation) and implementation (one way in which this might be transferred to the learning process).

It is aware of its own limitations (p20), emphasising that it can act as a point of reference but that needs analysis should “give the basis for actual teaching”:


It implies a somewhat linear study of grammar, vocabulary, topics, etc. though it does specify that “the language point appears at the level(s) at which it is considered of most relevance to the learner in the classroom.” (p11)

There is some overlap in levels. A2 covers elementary and pre-intermediate. Elementary is included in A1 and A2.

Although there is a lot of consensus in levels A1-B2, there is less consensus for C1. The consensus which does exist throughout may well have been influenced by previous editions of similar documents (such as the Threshold Level, 1976), meaning it’s potentially somewhat self-perpetuating: learners are taught those items at those levels because people have previously decided that’s what they should learn, and they decide what they should learn based on what is taught to them at those levels.

C2 is not included – consensus was only shown regarding preparation for the CPE exam. (p20)

It’s based on a range of sources, but this doesn’t included learner language (I think).

Some items appear in multiple places on the summary page on p10-11, such as collocation and colloquial language (B1, B2, C1) or leisure activities (A1, A2, B1) – this makes it seem very generic.

There are numbers throughout the list of exponents, but no clear information about what those numbers actually refer to (at least, not that I could find!)

English Grammar Profile 


It’s very comprehensive.

It includes definitions and examples of each item to make it easy to understand what grammar feature is being referred to.

It was compiled from learner data. There are learner examples, both corrected and uncorrected, for every item. The learner examples are taken from a range of different language backgrounds, and include information about when they were collected and what level the learner was.

It can be searched and filtered by level.

It allows you to see progression across levels in terms of how a single grammatical item might be used.

The levels are colour-coded, making them easy to pick out from a longer list.

The grammar spotlight posts analyse the database in an interesting way to show what kinds of language learners are likely to use at different levels, including how this might differ depending on their language background, if relevant.

Lists can be downloaded.

It’s free!


It could be quite overwhelming to navigate due to the amount of information included.

There’s potentially far too much information for any single level. For example, filtering by A1 gives 109 items, so it might be hard to select which could be the most useful to include in materials.

It only covers grammar items, or very fixed lexical expressions containing grammatical words, for example ‘might as well’. (The English Vocabulary Profile also exists – we’re focussing on grammar in this unit of the course though)

The data was compiled from exam scripts, so the conditions learners produced the language in was controlled. I think they may also be written scripts (though I’m happy to be corrected) so it doesn’t feature examples produced when speaking.

Global Scale of English Teacher Toolkit 


It breaks down levels more than the CEFR does, including pre-A1. It also includes A2+, B1+ and B2+, which the other two resources we’ve looked at don’t.

It can be filtered by language skills, rather than only grammar or vocabulary.

It can be filtered for academic learners, adult learners, professional learners or young learners (6-14) for skills. Grammar and vocabulary have fewer options in this case.

The GSE allows finer grade filtering than the CEFR due to its use of numbers.

Lists can be downloaded.

There are resources linked to some of the grammar can do statements, which might provide inspiration for materials design.

Grammar can do statements come with a sample structure, examples, and related learning objectives which are functional, for example “Can form questions with ‘what’ and ‘who’ and answer them.” is connected to 20 different possible learning objectives.

It has a text analyzer you could check your writing with, which could be useful for rewriting or selecting what to include in a glossary.


It could be quite overwhelming as there is so much possible information.

It could imply a very linear ‘first learn this, now learn this, now learn this’ approach (I’m sure there’s a proper term for this, but can’t think of it now!) which might seem somewhat mechanical.


I think if I’m writing materials for a specific level, and especially if I decide that having a grammar component is important, I would potentially use the BC/EAQUALS core profile as a starting point, then supplement it by referring to the other two databases, comparing what I found in each to help me decide on my grammar syllabus. This would obviously also be connected to a needs analysis and my own predictions of what language learners might need in given situations.

What is practice?

(My ideas)

  • Why do language learners need to practise?
    Without practice, learners will never activate their knowledge. They also need the opportunity to experiment, and to get feedback on their efforts. The more practice they do, especially if it is accompanied by useful feedback, the more likely they are to remember language they are trying to learn. Without feedback, they may remember this incorrectly though.
  • What are some elements of an effective practice task?
    It has a clear pedagogical purpose.
    It’s engaging.
    It’s motivating.
    The instructions are clear and achievable.
    It practises what it is supposed to practice. Anything else it practises is within the learner’s skillset.
    There are clear opportunities for feedback, and the feedback provided will enable learning.
  • What is the difference between an activity for practising language and testing it?
    Activities for practising language include feedback on performance, and the opportunity to repeat the activity again. Learners would ideally get support while they are completing the activity if they need it. Activities for testing language are far less likely to include feedback. Support is not available during the activity, and it’s much less likely that repetition will be built in.

Review and recycling

(My ideas)

What do we mean by recycling language?

Reusing it in different contexts within materials so learners get multiple exposures to the language. Encouraging learners to recall and reuse language in later practice activities covering a range of contexts.

What are the benefits of recycling?

  • Learners get more exposure to the language, making it more likely they will be able to recall it later.
  • Learners see the language in a range of contexts, building up their awareness of possible collocations and co-text.
  • They are able to get feedback on attempts to use the language in a range of different ways.

How do we incorporate recycling into our materials?

  • Building in a spiral syllabus.
  • Including revision activities.
  • Providing opportunities for learners to reuse language in later tasks.

[I feel like I should definitely have more ideas than this, but I’m out!]

Yep, there were a lot more ideas in the unit, though some kind of overlapped with what I said.

Quotations about teaching grammar and my reactions to them

Despite the advent of the Communicative Approach over recent years, and despite the daily evidence offered by learners that the difficulties they encounter in using another language to encode their own meanings to do with lexis and (in the spoken mode) with phonology, the dominance of grammar in teaching materials remains high, to the point of obsession.

Stranks in Tomlinson 2003 p. 329

I agree with this. Most teaching materials I’ve used seem to prioritise grammar, with the grammar syllabus forming the core of the book. There is a fair amount of discussion about this within the teaching and materials writing community as far as I’m aware, but it’s a challenge to shift away from this due to the expectations of many different stakeholders. Some minor attempts have been made, such as the local coursebook Bruno Leys spoke about at IATEFL 2021.

input + output (interaction) + affect + cognition > meaningful purposeful interaction > language acquisition

Mishan and Timmis 2015 p. 25

That seems like a reasonable sequence of events and set of parts in the formula. The challenge for a materials writer is making sure that affect, cognition and meaningful purposeful interaction are all referenced in the activities.

Many people involved in ELT – and that includes learners – have considerable difficulty accepting exercises which do not have clearly demarcated right or wrong answers. Unfortunately, however, language – and that includes grammar – is frequently not a matter of correct or incorrect, but possible or not possible.

Stranks in Tomlinson 2003 p. 337

I think some learners may have trouble with understanding that grammar is not always correct or incorrect – they struggle with the idea of language as choice. To some extent, I think this is due to them having done lots of activities in the past which are correct/incorrect, and therefore relatively easy to administer and mark. Our challenge as teachers and materials writers is to help learners to move away from this, and to feel comfortable with the uncertainty of language, while still building their confidence in their own ability to understand and produce ‘acceptable’ language in a given situation.

Why is ‘grammar’ equated so much with verbs?

Buckmaster 2001

(I’m really happy that this source exists – I’ve never seen it before. It seems to build on ideas from The English Verb by Michael Lewis, one of the books which has most influenced my thinking about language.)

Tense, aspect and voice seem to be a huge part of the way which languages carry meaning, and each language seems to have a different way of approaching their verb system to a greater or lesser extent. These systems rarely map cleanly onto each other, making it challenging to directly transfer knowledge of one language to another language. The verb system also influences the way in which we perceive actions and how they might be divided up: for example, in English we might perceive actions as factual, remote, before but connected to a later event, or in progress, whereas in Polish we might perceive actions as complete or incomplete. Because of these differences, we therefore focus a lot of our grammar teaching on verb forms to help learners to see how the languages differ. This is not true to the same extent in other areas of grammar, or it can be much easier to clarify how differences work between languages, for example in the system of comparatives, or the use of adverbs.

The exercise format should reflect the objective of the exercise […]. Worksheets which do not necessitate language production or which closely control what students produce will have at best an indirect effect on their ability to produce language fluently in less controlled situations.

McGrath 2002 p.94

To some extent this is true, but control over production can be useful in the early stages of understanding a new language point, or attempting to produce the form correctly. There should be a range of different types of practice activities, including ones which encourage learners to “produce language fluently in less controlled situations”.

Research on methodology is inconclusive, and has not shown detectable, lasting and wide-ranging effects for implicit versus explicit instruction, for inductive versus deductive learning or separated-out study of structure versus incidental focus on form during communicative activity.

Swan 2006 quoted in Mishan and Timmis 2015 p.153

This doesn’t surprise me, as it would be very difficult to tease out any of these variables in long-term research. Each of learn differently and have so many different opportunities to get input. Ultimately each person has to find what works for them, and that may be different for different people. What we really need is instructions and activities which engage learners and keep them coming back. For some learners that might be listening to somebody else explain language and processing that explanation for themselves, for others it might be picking things up as they go along. For some it might be experimenting with language in real life, for others it might be completing practice activities and getting a confidence boost when they realise they’re right. Each to their own! As materials designers, we need to include a range of activities and types of instruction to appeal to a range of learners, and to cover our bases when it comes to SLA research.

Beliefs about materials for teaching grammar or functions

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for teaching grammar or functions. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long! The principles are numbered so I can refer back to them in the section below, rather than to imply any particular order – I think they’re all equally important.

  1. Language should be clearly contextualised, and the context should be exploited to support understanding.
    Why? Decontextualised grammar or functions involve learners trying to figure out when or where the structures might be applicable. By providing a context, you are already helping them to see how the language can be used in longer discourse, rather than only seeing individual sentences.
    What does it entail? The context needs to be understood before any study of the language can be effective. This can be done in two main ways: by providing the context, through supplying a reading or listening text, or by creating a space for the language to potentially be produced, through a speaking or writing task. In the former case, you can work with the text for comprehension, then highlight the language. In the latter, learners can focus on the task, then teachers can help them to notice gaps in their language and how to fill them. The context also shouldn’t be abandoned or lost once the language study starts – there should be references back to the context, and it should continue to be a part of the activity sequence.
    But…? How do you deal with the fact that grammar or functions can appear in a wide range of different contexts? How do you balance understanding the context and understanding the language?
  2. Learners should be engaged in the language clarification process.
    Why? I believe that learners are likely to switch off or miss key information in pure lecture-style/text input language clarification. By providing opportunities for some level of interaction, they are more likely to process the input they are being given regarding the language.
    What does it entail? This could be done at a low level by creating gaps or options in rules. At a deeper level, it can be done through more detailed guided discovery, asking questions to help learners to find the rules themselves. At the deepest level, it could be through asking learners to formulate rules for themselves, as Danny Norrington-Davies suggests in From Rules to Reasons [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link].
    But…? Just because learners have participated in formulating a rule for the use of particular language, how can you guarantee that they actually know it or will remember it? If they are formulating their own rules, how do you check that the rules are ‘correct’ or applicable to other contexts? How much support do learners need to be able to create rules themselves? How do you make sure this process is engaging rather than intimidating or off-putting?
  3. There should be plenty of opportunities for learners to practise the language and to get feedback on this practice.
    Why? Without practice, input is just information. It won’t be transferred into long-term memory, nor will it become automaticized as part of the skill of understanding or using English. But practice without feedback is just testing – they need to happen together.
    What does it entail? Practice opportunities should be varied, including opportunities for a focus on different areas of the language (meaning/use, form, pronunciation), different levels of control and support (controlled, semi-controlled, freer – not necessarily in that order!), different activity types (spoken, written, games, etc.), different interaction patterns (individual, pairs, groups, teams, whole class). Obviously not all of these can be included for every grammar item or function mentioned in the materials, but there should be suggestions for how activities could be tweaked in the teacher’s notes, and a range of activities across the materials. Feedback suggestions should be built into the teacher’s notes, with ideas for how to make the most of the learning opportunities available in feedback stages, rather than simply giving information about what was and wasn’t correct and moving on.
    But…? How do you decide what practice activities to include in the main materials, what to suggest in teacher’s notes/other supplementary materials, and what to leave out? How much space and time is available in the materials to include all of these different practice opportunities?
  4. Language should be revised and recycled.
    Why? Once is never enough! Learners need multiple exposures to new language, both receptively and productively, for it to be available to them for understanding and use. Multiple exposures also mean building up a better awareness of when it is and isn’t possible/appropriate to use a given grammatical structure or functional exponent.
    What does it entail? Including opportunities for revision or recycling in materials, using a range of different techniques. Some of the ones mentioned on the course include end of unit reviews, self-assessment activities, writing personalised questions, useful language boxes, task repetition and revisiting texts.
    But…? There is a limited amount of space in materials and a lot of language ground to cover – how do you balance these two issues? Is recycling and revision the responsibility of the teacher or the materials writer, since different students will have different needs?

Evaluating digital activities

We were asked to think of a grammar or functional area that we are likely to teach or write materials for soon, find three different resources, and evaluate the activities according to the beliefs we noted.

I selected ‘English for travel’ as this is an area I’m interested in writing for, and decided to particularly focus on checking into hotels. I did a Google search for English for tourism: checking in at hotels and found three resources from different websites of varying quality and for different audiences. The numbers refer to the principles in the section above in this post.

The first resource is two gapfill pages from Learn English Feel Good, which I’ve never come across before. It’s designed for self-study, and I think it would probably be best for intermediate due to the types of phrases included. There are two pages with short gapped written conversations between a hotel clerk and a tourist. The first conversation has somebody turning up at the hotel and selecting a room during the conversation. The second conversation has somebody with a reservation who wants to see the room before they pay.

  1. Context
    The phrases are used within a conversation. There is not other support for understanding the context, for example pictures or a video.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    Each sentence is a 3-option multiple choice activity – learners could guess if they don’t already know the phrase. There is no language clarification at all, much less any which might involve cognitive processing of the meaning of the phrases.
  3. Practice opportunities
    There is only one practice activity, and it is the same format for both conversations. Learners could do it as many times as they want to, but they would have to create their own supplementary activities, for exampe by looking at the phrases, hiding the window, and trying to write the phrases elsewhere. Learners are probably unlikely to know this kind of activity or do it if they do know it. The feedback only says whether something is right or wrong, not why, so learning is likely to be minimal – learners can just try again until they get it right, but won’t necessarily know why.
  4. Revision / recycling
    This is not present in the materials.

The second resource is a podcast from British Council Premier Skills English. It’s designed for self-study, but could be used by teachers as the basis of a lesson plan. It would probably work best for pre-intermediate and above as it’s fairly straightforward but there’s quite a lot of input. It’s the first in a series of four podcasts on the topic of English and Tourism. There is a transcript to accompany the podcast, as well as a vocabulary activity and a description of some key phrases and how they’re used, divided up to correspond with the four sections of the podcast: introductions, problems at reception, resolving problems, and costs and changes. There’s then a gapfill to practise the key phrases, a quiz, and a hotel review writing task which learners can respond to by writing in the comments.

  1. Context
    The phrases are used in a clear context: a conversation between a customer and a hotel receptionist. The conversations are somewhat buried in the rest of the podcast, but they clearly follow the football theme of the website, and listeners are likely to be familar with the format of the podcast. The context is introduced clearly, including listeners being told that the role play will be in four sections. After each section, the language is dicussed. There is a question to answer when listening to each part of the roleplay to help learners focus on comprehension. The context is very rich, and contains a lot of potentially useful language. It is referred back to in the clarification.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    The language clarification is all described, with no pause or questions for learners to think about their own answers. Learners are passive during the language clarification process. They can hear the clarification in the podcast, read it in the transcript, and read a slightly different version of it on the webpage.
  3. Practice opportunities
    There are no practice opportunities in the podcast, and the written task of describing a hotel stay is connected to the vocabulary rather than the functional language of checking in. There are two written practice activities on the webpage. The first is a gapfill, with each sentence missing one word from each sentence, though sometimes these are functional language, and sometimes they’re vocabulary. The second is a quiz, but you could only see if it you log in. I imagine it’s possibly multiple choice, but I don’t know.
  4. Revision / recycling
    The hotel review allows revision of the vocabulary, and learners could read each others’ reviews to see the vocabulary used in multiple contexts. They could listen to the podcast or read the information as many times as they want to, but there are no opportunities for retrieval practice.

The third resource is a lesson plan from One Stop English and is available at elementary and intermediate – I looked at the elementary plan. It’s a complete lesson plan with teacher’s notes, and also covers checking in at an airport. The plan is aimed at learners who are 16+ years old and should take 90 minutes. There is a warm up to elicit vocabulary, a mime to introduce the topic and elicit more collocations, whiteboard work to focus on the vocabulary in more depth, revision of numbers, eliciting questions hotel reception staff might ask (the first stage of the actual functional language), a running dictation of a conversation / an ordering task (depending on the teacher’s choice), dialogue practice with the option of changing the dialogues, and a role play.

  1. Context
    By the time the phrases are introduced, the context of checking into a hotel is clear. They are within a short dialogue, and a sample answer is provided with a longer version of the conversation (in one of the pdfs – slightly confusingly, there are two very similar pdfs!) There’s no clear language clarification in the notes, so it’s not clear whether the context would be referred to again for this, though the dialogues are reused in stage 7.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    Before they see the dialogue, the learners are given the opportunity to come up with their own possible questions, meaning they will be processing the meaning themselves. It’s not clear from the teacher’s notes in stage 5, but presumably the assumption is that the teacher will upgrade any language they produce to ensure that the questions are correctly formed. The ordering task involves the learners in processing the meaning, although again there doesn’t seem to be any feedback or meaning checking included in the teacher’s notes to ensure that the learners have got it right.
  3. Practice opportunities
    The main opportunity to practice comes in the dialogue (stage 7), with learners repeating the task multiple times and reducing the amount that they look at the dialogue as they go through. They also change roles. There is then a freer practice activity (stage 8) consisting of a role play with learners switching roles multiple times. To some extent the running dictation (stage 6) is also a form of practice, as they say and/or write the phrases, though if they don’t know what the phrases mean this stage may not be particularly useful in fixing the language in learners’ memory. There is an extension activity for stronger students related to including requests in the check in conversation.
  4. Revision / recycling
    There are lots of opportunities for the learners to revise the language through the task repetition in the dialogue and the role play.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Materials Development (1)

These are my notes notes based on a chapter by Tomlinson (2013) in the book Applied Linguistics and Materials Development [Amazon affiliate link]. He also edited the book and it was published by Bloomsbury.

Some terms defined at the start of the chapter (p11):

  • Second language acquisition: “the process by which people acquire and/or learn any language in addition to their first language. It is also the name of the academic discipline which studies that process.”
  • Acquisition: different definitions depending on the researcher: “the informal, subconscious process of gaining a language from exposure and use”; Tomlinson (2007a, p.2) “the initial stage of gaining basic communicative competence in a language”
  • Learning: “the deliberate, conscious study of a language in order to be able to use it”
  • Development: Tomlinson (2007a, p.2) “the subsequent stage [after acquisition as defined above] of gaining the ability to use the language successfully in a wide range of media and genres for a wide variety of purposes”

Most researchers seem to agree that learning is insufficient and needs to be at least supplemented by acquisition.

Tomlinson (2013: 11)

What we know about the process of SLA

It is facilitated by (headings lifted directly from the chapter):

  • A rich and meaningful exposure to language in use
    Rich = “contains a lot of implicit information about how the language is actually used to achieve communicative effect and that it provides natural recycling of language features (Nation, 2011)” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    Meaningful = “relevant to the learner and the learner is able to understand enough of it to gain meaning from it” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
  • Affective and cognitive engagement
    “Learners who are stimulated to laugh, smile, feel joy, feel excited and feel empathetic are much more likely to acquire communicative competence […]” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Positive emotions seem most likely to stimulate deep processing (Craik & Lockhard, 1972) and therefore to faciliate language acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Negative emotions […] are much more facilitative than no emotional responses at all.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Self-confidence and self-esteem are also important aspects of affective engagement, as is feeling positive about the learning environment.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “If they do [use high level mental skills], they are much more likely to achieve deep processing and to eventually acquire language and develop language skills […]” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Put very simply, in order for learners to acquire a second language they need to think and feel in the process of acquiring it.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
  • Making use of those mental resources typically used in communication in the L1
    Examples include our inner voice, visual imaging, motor imaging (“to recreate movements which are described”) – collectively “multidimensional mental representation” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    “L2 learners rarely make use of these mental resources at all. [For a range of reasons, they engage in] linguistic micro-processing which takes up all the brain’s processing capacity.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    Tomlinson and Avila (2007b) has suggestions for activities to help with this.
  • Noticing how the L2 is used
    “Noticing linguistic features in the input is an important facilitator of language acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    “One way of doing this is to draw the learner’s attention to language features in use either through direction of through making the understanding of that feature important for task completion. This does not lead to instant acquisition of the feature but it does contribute to and can accelerate its eventual acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    Two approaches are suggested to help learners achieve what Pienneman (1985) calls “psychological readiness”: learners “respond personally to the content of an engaging written or spoken text and then go back to make discoveries about the form and function of a particular feature of that text” / “a form-focused approach […] in which learners first focus on the meaning of a text and later focus on the form and function of a specific linguistic feature (through instruction and or consciousness raising)” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
  • Being given opportunities for contextualised and purposeful communication in the L2
    Output = “producing language for communication” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “It can provide learners with contextual feedback, it helps to automatize language, it constitutes auto-input and it can elicit further comprehensible input too.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14) [I’m not sure what ‘auto-input’ is.]
    Pushed output = “communicating something which is not easy to express” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “[Pushed output] can be particularly beneficial as it stretches the learner’s capabilities by making them make full use of their acquired language and of their strategic competence, as as providing opportunities for new but comprehensible input from their interlocutors who are helping them to negotiate meaning.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “This would suggest that setting learners achievable communicative challenges is likely to be more useful than providing easy practice.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
  • Being encouraged to interact
    “It helps to make input more comprehensible, it provides meaningful feedback and it pushes learners to modify their output.” especially when communication breaks down (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “Such communication is contextualised and purposeful, it is relevant and salient, it is generally comprehensible and it promotes meta-talk about the L2.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
  • Being allowed to focus on meaning
    “Learners are more likely to acquire forms if their primary focus is on meaning rather than form.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “However it does seem that more attention to form is needed as the learner progresses to advanced levels.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    Possible approaches suggested are an “experiential approach”: “learners first experience an engaging text holistically, respond to it personally and then return to the text to focus discretely on a salient feature of language use”, what Long (1996) calls a “form-focused” approach, rather than a “forms-focused” approach (on a “predetermined, discrete form”); “language awareness approaches”: “learners first experience a form in use and are then helped to make their own discoveries about it”; “consciousness raising approaches”: “learners are guided towards finding out how a form is used” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14-15)
  • Other generally accepted features (all taken from Tomlinson, 2013: 15):
    • being relaxed
    • being motivated to participate and to learn
    • being help to develop an emerging interlanguage which gradually moves closer to the target language
    • developing hypotheses about how the language is used for communciation
    • being catered for as an individual
    • making full use of non-linguistic means of communicating
    • being ready to acquire a focused feature “which can be powerfully influenced by materials which create a need to ‘know’ a language feature in order to complete a motivating task and by materials which help learners to notice a particular feature being used” (Tomlinson, 2013: 15)
  • On the same page, Tomlinson also says there are other features which he discusses in other literature (Tomlinson 2008, 2010, 2011a):
    • Allowing for the inevitable delayed effect of instructions
    • Impact
    • Self-confidence
    • Relevance
    • Self-investment
    • Positive attitudes
    • A silent period at the beginning of instruction

SLA and published materials

So many areas to consider! In the next part of the chapter, Tomlinson analyses a number of global coursebooks to see how their practice matches up to this theory.

I found that none of the coursebooks focus on meaning, that they are all forms-focussed and that the majority of their activities are language item practice activities. Some of the coursebooks provide some opportunities for noticing and most make some attempt at personalization. None of them, however, offer a choice of content, route or activities.

Tomlinson (2013: 16)

The mismatch between SLA theory and practice is demonstrated in a number of ways on p16-17. By implication, any materials which want to match up to SLA theory should:

  • Include more use of literature
  • Use longer and more complex texts
  • Include activities which focus on use, rather than practice
  • Choose topics and activities which stimulate affective responses
  • Ask learners to think for themselves and be creative
  • Aim to vary approach, not only using conventional practice activities like T/F, matching, gap fills, sentence completion, role play, working in pairs to compare ideas
  • Recycle language in use
  • Encourage learners to speak or write at length
  • Encourage learners to interact for a communicative purpose and at length
  • Focus on form, not on forms

Some ideas for ways to vary materials from p17 which I might want to include in materials I create for this module are:

  • Visual imaging tasks
  • Inner speech tasks
  • Extensive / creative writing with an audience and a purpose
  • Tasks offering choice
  • Different versions of texts for learners to choose form
  • Thinking tasks
  • A meaning focus

On p17-18 Tomlinson lists various reasons why this mismatch between SLA theory and materials might exist, the biggest of which I think is the “massive mismatch between typical examination tasks and SLA principles”.

Unanswered questions in SLA research

One question he asked is “Is there a natural sequence in langauge acquisition?” (Tomlinson, 2013: 19) This answer appeals to me:

One plausible explanation for similarities in sequences of acquisition is offered by MacWhinney (1987; 2005). His competition model claims that what learners can pay attention to at any one time is limited and that they filter out features of language when they listen to a second language. Learners gradually get better at processing sentences and mental resources are freed up to focus on more complex features of the input. […] What is essential for communication is learned before what is perceived as redundant.”

Tomlinson, 2013: 19

Another area discussed was text enhancement (TE) “(e.g. colour coding, boldfacing, audio repetition) as a means of drawing [learners’] attention to salient features of their input”, as proposed by Sharwood Smith (1993) (Tomlinson, 2013: 19). “Lee (2007) found that only when input has been understood can learners attend to form.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 20)

I foudn it very interesting that three of the questions included in Tomlinson’s list demonstrate that three things which feature in a lot of materials and which I personally find to be useful don’t necessarily have any SLA research behind them:

  • Do controlled practice activities facilitate acquisition?
  • Does memorization facilitate language acquisition?
  • Do repetition derills facilitate language acquisition? (Tomlinson, 2013: 20)

It would seem that many coursebook procedures have become accepted as dogma to be followed, even though there is little research or even anecdotal evidence to support them.

Tomlinson, 2013: 20

Suggestions for applying SLA theory to ELT materials development

  • Task-based materials “provide the learners with a purpose and an outcome […] which can only be achieved through interaction in the L2.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 21)
  • In problem-based approaches “learners communicate with each other in order to solve a problem.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 21)

There is an example from task-based materials of instructions Tomlinson wrote for learners, where the first time they listen and visualise what they’ll do, and the second time they listen and do (making use of mental resources…)

  • Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approaches “help learners to acquire an L2 by teaching them a subject, topic or skill they are interested in through the medium of the L2) (Tomlinson, 2013: 22)

Some examples of wording I think might be useful from CLIL instructions Tomlinson wrote:

Visualize your idea in action and talk to yourself about its potential applications.

In your group help each other to understand any ideas which were not completely clear.

Reflect on your presentation. Decide how you would make your presentation even more effective if you had to give the presentation to another company.

Tomlinson, 2013: 22-23
  • Text-driven approach (Tomlinson, 2003): “Text-driven materials are determined by potentially engaging written and/or spoken texts rather than by language teaching points. The learners’ interactions with the texts drive personal response activities, thinking activiites, communication activities, creative writing activities and language awareness activities, as well as often inviting supplementation with other locally appropriate texts.” The table below outlintes a “flexible text-driven framework” (Tomlinson, 2013: 24, based on Tomlinson and Masuhara, 2004)