On Tuesday 18th April 2023, I presented this talk on behalf of Cambridge University Press. This is the blurb:
Recent years have seen a growth in both online teaching and technology use in language education, with an impact on the needs of trainee teachers. This talk will address what trainee teachers need to know, drawing on content from the new edition of The CELTA Course trainee and trainer books, which I have co-authored with Peter Watkins and Scott Thornbury.
I was talking about The CELTA Course Trainee Book and The CELTA Course Trainer’s Manual second editions which were released in February this year.
Here are the slides from the presentation:
In the talk I compared 2007, when the first edition was published, to 2023, when the second edition was released. I talked about changes in technology in the world, and how CELTA courses have changed in the interim – I did my own CELTA course in 2007-2007, and am now an experienced CELTA trainer myself.
I shared materials from two units in the books, which you can see on slides 14-23 in the embedded slidedeck above.
I concluded that trainees need to know these things about EdTech (educational technology):
How to move between online and face-to-face classrooms:
Adapting activities / Choosing new ones
Choosing appropriate teaching techniques
How to identify the knowledge and skills they need to use tech successfully
How to support learners with technology
How to adapt as it changes!
…and that all of these are facilitated to some extent by units in The CELTA Course Second Edition!
If you’d like to get your own copies of the books, they’re currently available from the Cambridge website. I’ll update this post as they are released in more places.
Exciting times! The second edition of The CELTA Course Trainee Book and Trainer Manual are now available. So happy to have worked on this with Peter Watkins and Scott Thornbury, as well as Jo Timerick at Cambridge. Can’t wait to hold it in my hand (this photo is borrowed!)
Joanna’s brother recently did a course which focused on:
Planning and scripting
Noticing language, analysing language, using language
Focus on delivery: emphasis and prominence: pausing, volume
Set-up, presentation, build to a point/outcome/result
Constant monitoring of response, involvement, looking for signs from the ‘audience’
Managing stress, performance
This was to become a stand-up comedian. This made Joanna reflect on the connections between this and teaching. Does rapport mean making people laugh? Is this how we judge the success of our lessons?
How do we – experienced teachers – create rapport?
Interaction / affective features
Names – learning names, using them, putting names on the board so everybody can learn them
Role adjustment: lack of hierarchy / barriers
Natural interaction and follow up questions to show care and empathy
Sense of humour, gentle mocking, sharing jokes, self-deprecation on the part of the teacher
Group dynamic: encourage students to learn about each other, vary interactions, cross-class pin-pointing to find common ground
Adapt coursebook to create relevance and connection
Warm-ups and lead ins
Language work = make reference to what SS have said, use their countries, life in London
Making use of their own lives e.g. photos on their phones
Mingles, information sharing
Why do trainees sometimes struggle with rapport?
Perception of the teacher role – what does a teacher actually do? They picture the teacher as being the knower in the room imparting knowledge to the learners. This can be a challenge to break down.
Lack of attentional resources – there are too many other things to think about. Mercer and Dornyei: ‘Getting caught up in the mechanics of teaching and forgetting about the learners in the room’
Devotion to the plan / wedded to the coursebook
Personality? Is it natural? Is it style over substance?
Lack of understanding of what it is, and level-appropriateness (e.g. complicated jokes at A1 level)
Lack of awareness of its importance – ‘my job isn’t about being funny’. ‘Rapport is important’ but we don’t necessarily say how or why.
Time – not enough time in the plan, prioritising language work over communicative tasks; time in our courses – do we have time to devote sessions to rapport and engagement? Balancing it with everything else we need to cover
Raising awareness of rapport and the importance of it
Joanna has been working on setting it up on day one, and creating that dynamic from the beginning of the course. They start with lots of activities to reduce stress levels at the beginning of the course. Then they reflect on what they’ve done: Do you feel there’s a good classroom atmosphere in the room now? They come up with the criteria – what did they do during the day to create this positive atmosphere?
Making a connection between what’s int he room and the world around them
Small, achievable tasks
What’s the difference between when you walked into the room (nervous) and now (slightly less nervous!)?
Why did this help?
A safe space
More open to learning
Level of trust in the room that might not have been there initially
This then became their criteria for developing rapport with the students. They incorporated it into observation and self-reflection tasks. They had to tick what they felt they’d achieved within the lesson.
Creating time and space: collective responsibility
It’s not just one person’s responsibility on the course. Joanna encouraged them to create learner databases. At the end of each session, the trainers would leave the classroom and the trainees would add all of the information they’d learnt about the students during that lesson. This database was added to after every TP, and over time they built up a lot of information about the students. This provided information for the Focus on the Learner assignment too.
Another way of creating time and space is unassessed practice. It’s vital in allowing the trainees to make connections with the learners without feeling under pressure. Joanna has experimented with doing it daily – 15-20 minutes of student feedback at the end of each lesson, where trainees discuss lessons and activities with the learners. They could then use this information to plan the next lesson.
I felt much more comfortable teaching them as I knew a little bit about each of them.
I saw the students as people.
By making the students the focal point, we are better able to teach to the student’s strengths. For example, getting to know your students where/when possible and incorporating their personal interests or personalising the course materials.
This conversation and database happened after the lesson and before tutor feedback, which meant that tutor feedback was then driven by the learners. Not ‘Did I do OK?’ But ‘Esme didn’t understand me when I said x. Why is that?’
Putting the knowledge into practice: planning
In one input session, trainees drew the faces of the learners in the group. They looked at the topic of the lesson. They had to design ways that they could get the learners involved in that discussion. Trainees changed their perspective: teaching individuals within a group, rather than a whole group. Planning became easier rather than more difficult, as they were thinking about the people in the room.
Incorporating knowledge into the lesson plan
Joanna added a motivation and engagement section to the lesson plan. Here’s one example of what a trainee wrote:
As a logical extension of this, differentiation started to appear in the lesson plan, and trainees started to comment on how they would work with this.
Advice from trainees
This is what trainees on this course commented on at the end – ideas for building rapport. It’s quite a similar list to what the experienced teachers commented on at the start.
Address rapport explicitly – co-create criteria with trainees, so they all feel they can build it
Establish it as criteria via paperwork
Focus on the learners in feedback
Visualisation and differentiation
Discuss humour – what is it?
This all creates care, which led to investment in what they were learning, which led to more care. This group enjoyed working with these learners so much that they’ve continued volunteering to teach this group of learners.
The CETA Symposium was held online and brought together teacher trainers from over 49 different countries. It was an excellent opportunity to share knowledge and experience, particularly regarding teaching and learning during the pandemic.
As with all areas of life during COVID-19, teacher trainers and training courses in 2020 have had to adapt and react to the ever-changing circumstances and follow the sometimes contradictory guidelines emerging on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order to save jobs and businesses and satisfy our ‘clients’ i.e. those wishing to complete and/or gain a teaching training qualification this year.
My own session at the conference was about the 100% online CELTA qualification and the aim was to synthesise the aforementioned guidelines and conclusions. The aim was not only to raise awareness for Centres that have yet to take advantage of this exceptional opportunity, but also to offer a review and possibly standardise delivery and ‘best practice’, which is what has always characterized the face-to-face and blended CELTA award, and which has led to its undoubted reputation as the ‘gold standard’ pre-service teaching training course. Therefore, I was very flattered to receive Sandy’s invitation to write a post for her blog to summarise the findings and offer them to an even wider public. It was also very timely, as I have just started tutoring on our second full-time, 100% CELTA course and wanted to make adjustments and improvements to our own course in response to:
recent recommendations from Cambridge Assessment English
CELTA assessor suggestions
previous candidates’ feedback
results of a brief, facebook survey I sent to teacher trainers (60 responses)
but most importantly for the following reasons:
The certificate awarded at the end of the course is exactly the same as for the face to face and the blended formats – there is no mention of the delivery format on the certificate.
The same criteria have to be met by candidates in order to pass the course.
The candidates, although studying and teaching 100% online, need to be prepared to teach in both online and face to face contexts post-course.
Employers will expect candidates to have the essential skills to teach in both online and face to face classrooms.
You can find our conclusions and ideas for achieving these in this table I have compiled:
Note from Sandy: the table is incredibly comprehensive and is an excellent starting point for anybody planning a CELTA course from this point forward, covering as it does all of the Cambridge recommendations for online courses so far, and lots of tips and ideas from Kate’s own experience and research.
Kate French started her TEFL career in Poland, at IH Bydgoszcz, before moving to Argentina two years later. [Note from Sandy – I didn’t know about that connection before!] She has worked at International House Belgrano in Buenos Aires since 1995 where she has been ADoS, DoS, In-company Coordinator, and Head of Teacher Training. She is currently DoS and Teacher Trainer, overseeing the online classes during the pandemic and tutoring on the institute’s full and part-time 100% online CELTA courses. Kate is also a Cambridge ESOL and IELTS examiner, and a CELTA assessor.
CELTA trainers, do you have anything you’d add? Change? Questions you have about the online format? It’d be great to get a discussion going!
The Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) Symposium is another event which I would never have been able to attend face-to-face because of the timing and the location, but now it’s online I can go – yay! It’s aimed at trainers of Cambridge certificates: CELTA, Delta, CELT-P, CELT-S and TKT, though a lot of the content is relevant for all teacher trainers.
I talked about Life after CELTA. This was the abstract:
Even a Pass A CELTA graduate ‘will benefit from further support in post’. What might this support look like? What are the main areas that CELTA graduates continue to need help with? What can trainers do during the CELTA course to lay the groundwork? I hope to answer all of these questions in this session.
Here are my slides:
Here’s the recording:
Key areas for new teachers
When I employ an early career teacher, I know we’ll probably need to work on five key areas:
These are areas which many new teachers struggle with and need particular support in. I’ll look at each area below, with ideas for how CELTA trainers can develop these skills as much as possible during the course. Many of these things are already incorporated in courses, but it’s worth being reminded of their importance, so apologies if I’m preaching to the converted!
For each area, I’ve suggested a task from an ELT Playbook which could be used with trainees or as a trainer. These are the current Smashwords discount codes, valid until 5th October 2020 [affiliate links]:
Materials preparation time: This is probably the biggest time sink for new teachers. This might be created a huge PowerPoint presentation, cutting up loads of bits of paper, or going down a rabbit hole to find the perfect image/video/text etc. I generally recommend that trainees do materials prep last, once they have a completed plan, with all of the documentation. I also try to show them how to teach lessons without PowerPoint, and challenge them to do at least one lesson like this during a course, especially if they’re a stronger trainee. Weaker trainees can aim for one or two activities per lesson without PowerPoint.
Simplify lessons: I recommend a maximum of one or two all-singing, all-dancing activities per 60 minutes. If trainees come to me with a plan with more than this, I’ll advise them to get rid of one or two, even if they can justify why it would be a great activity and incredibly useful for their students. Once I’ve told them this a few times, they start to listen!
Time-saving tips: Encourage screenshots/taking photos rather than retyping the whole exercise, even if it might look prettier! Show trainees hacks for the paper-based classroom, like putting a coloured dot on the back of each set of handouts.
Technology: Introduce multi-functional tools like Quizlet, which can also be used for printing flashcards in a face-to-face classroom. Show trainees how to find and copy existing sets, not start from scratch every time, and encourage them to save sets with the book name, edition, unit number and page number in the title so they’re easy for other teachers to find (like this). Create templates for documents on Word/PowerPoint which are reusable and easy to complete – show trainees/new teachers how to do this too if possible.
Lesson planning: I strongly believe that trainers should intervene as soon as possible if planning documentation is not up-to-scratch and be explicit about what will help trainees in lessons. There’s normally somebody else in the TP group who’s understood how to write a useful lesson plan, so I normally ask their permission to share the plan with the person who’s struggling. This is better than a generic lesson plan as the trainee knows how the lesson went, and can see how having a solid plan helped the lesson to be more successful. As a trainer, we should also provide clear feedback on the plan, with one or two specific areas to focus on each TP to improve the plan, not the just the lessons. Generally, a strong plan = a successful lesson = teacher confidence. There’s plenty of time for teachers to move towards less detailed planning later, once they’ve got the basics under their belt.
Rehearsal opportunities: Encourage trainees/teachers to rehearse things they’re nervous about, preferably with their TP colleagues, but with you if nobody else is available. This is particularly true for complicated instructions – make sure the lesson isn’t the first time the trainee/teacher has ever tried to say those instructions out loud.
Lesson plan as film script: Emphasise the importance of trainees/teachers knowing exactly what they want from the students during the lesson. Imagine it’s a film script, where everyone needs to know where to stand, what to hold, what to do at each point in the lesson. This can help trainees to add more depth to their lessons, though sometimes it can go too far! If it does, remind them that improvisation is an important part of great film-making too – there needs to be space for the actors/students to breathe too; it can’t all be about the director/teacher. This can help them to understand the idea of handing over to the students more too.
Wait time: Give trainees/teachers tricks to increase the amount of time they wait after asking questions, for example counting ‘1000, 2000, 3000’ or putting a post-it on their computer saying ‘Wait!’ The pauses add natural breaks into the lesson, allow everyone to think a little, and can reduce anxiety. They also mean students are more likely to give answers of some kind, and maybe even successful ones 😉 All of this can increase teacher confidence, and help them feel more in control of the lesson with better teacher presence.
Provide necessary support: Don’t leave trainees/teachers to flounder or spend hours trying to figure things out themselves. This is particularly true of teaching grammar: show trainees/teachers how to do this the first time out. This will add to their toolbox, and give both teachers and students a better experience. A lot of our in-house training at IH Bydgoszcz connected to lessons is about supporting teachers to feel confident in grammar lessons. One useful tip is for teachers/trainees to do the exercises themselves as part of their lesson planning, and make sure they know WHY the answers are correct, not just what. Modelling this kind of scaffolding is useful for teachers to see how to help students too.
Self-talk: There’s a free bonus activity connected to ELT Playbook 1 looking at self-talk and teacher confidence. Download it here.
Give guidance: Show trainees how to participate in communities within their course, for example by creating Whatsapp groups for everyone on the course, their TP group, and their 3 TP colleagues. Point out chances to use these communities e.g. it’s a good idea to discuss this part of the lesson…you could vent about this…
You are not alone: Remind them that there’s always somebody they can call on, both during and after the course. Emphasise how to work together during TP prep, and tell them never to spend more than 10 minutes trying to figure something out – after that they should ask for help. ‘The people around us’ in ELT Playbook 1 can help teachers/trainees to realise who can help them with what.
Exemplify reflection: As a trainer, be human! Own your mistakes and tell trainees how you have learnt/will learn from them. Show them that it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong. Also highlight areas you’re particularly proud of, especially if you were experimenting with something new. Be excited 🙂
Strength spotting: I learnt about this from Sarah Mercer, and there’s a specific task connected to it in ELT Playbook 1. Encourage trainees/teachers to learn from the strengths of others. Really emphasise this by making TP peer feedback focussed on strengths as much as possible and then telling them how other trainees can do the same thing. In your spoken feedback, highlight one thing each trainee did that you want the others to do in future TPs.
Specific feedback: Give specific feedback, including comments were possible, not just generic comments. For example: ‘Good drilling’ becomes ‘You used a consistent model with a natural stress pattern.’ This shows trainees/teachers what behaviour to repeat, in the same way that our (normally much more specific!) negative feedback shows them what behaviour to avoid/modify in future. Model this, but also encourage trainees to avoid the word ‘good’ in their own feedback to each other. Thanks to Kate Protsenko for highlighting this to me, and inspiring the task ‘What is ‘good’?’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training.
Practise what you preach: Teachers should model effective language learning behaviour to their students, trainers should model effective teaching to their trainees. 😉 I think most of us do this already, but it’s still worth reflecting on what you do and don’t model to your trainees. Follow through on your advice in your own demo lessons and input sessions: vary activities, give concise instructions, don’t use too many ICQs, start/finish on time…sometimes easier said than done! The task ‘Practising what you preach’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Trainingcould help with this.
Be human: Model compassion towards yourself, model taking care of yourself during courses, highlight when you need help or when you’ve found support somewhere (in a book, on a site, from another person). I’ve already mentioned owning your mistakes. Don’t try to be a computer, or to be perfect. We need to model this so that new teachers don’t feel that they need to be perfect either. Perfectionism is boring.
What’s not here?
The surface things:
feedback techniques, etc.
These are generally considered to be the stuff of CELTA, but I think they’re less important than any of the five deeper areas above. Those deeper areas are universal: any teacher needs them, in any context, online or offline, wherever they are in the world. The surface things are all useful techniques to be aware of, but they’re context-dependent. A confident, reflective, practitioner who can learn from their community, manage their time well, and understand the power of modelling will learn how to do all of these bitty things sooner or later. Remove any of those five areas and the chances are much slimmer.
Do you agree? Are these areas you work on? What would you do to support new teachers with these or other areas during an initial teacher training course?
I bought this book at the IH Barcelona conference in February 2020, in what feels like another life entirely!
Title: Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT
Author: Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Lesley Painter-Farrell
Place of publication: Oxford
Affiliate links: (none – the first book I know of that doesn’t seem to be on Amazon!)
Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)
What’s in it?
Here’s the description from the Richmond page (retrieved 23rd August 2020):
Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT is a coursebook that introduces aspiring teachers to the main principles and practices associated with reflective teaching in the field of foreign and second language instruction. It can also be used as a reference and resource in professional development programs for more experienced language teachers wishing to update their professional knowledge base.
Written in accessible language.
Departs from comments on teachers’ and students’ needs for language teaching and learning.
There are reflective tasks throughout each chapter to consolidate and personalize information.
Content is clearly introduced and diagrams in mind maps for each unit.
Reflective Journal Tasks, Observation Tasks and Portfolio Tasks at the end of each chapter help to consolidate and keep record of the information learned along the chapter.
Written by well-known and world wide experienced authors from the world of ELT.
Pictures and diagrams in each chapter facilitate understanding and bring information alive.
The 12 main sections of the book are:
Learning about our students
Observation: a learning tool
Managing our classrooms
Organizing language lessons
Understanding and teaching language
Developing literacy skills
Developing oracy skills
Integrating language skills
Assessment and evaluation
Mindful, corrective feedback
There’s also how to use this book, a glossary, a bibliography and a list of online links.
The structure of the book mirrors the principles it is trying to get across, with lots of opportunities for the reader to reflect on what they have read. This is particularly true of the final two pages of each chapter, where there are tables to complete and portfolio tasks, all of which are designed around the reflective principles described in the book. There’s plenty of space to take notes throughout the book, including wide outside margins.
The order of the chapters is logical and feels different to other books I’ve read aimed at the same target audience: starting with the students, where all of our teaching should begin, introducing reflective principles, applying them to observing other teachers, then moving into our own teaching.
Quotes and references from teachers and students begin each chapter, introducing a range of voices beyond the authors’ and encouraging the reader to consider different perspectives on their teaching. Having said that, the authors’ voices are strong, and they include clear examples from their own personal experiences to back up their points.
The book is generally full of useful tips and examples, such as a teacher’s reflection on their lesson on page 61.
Teaching language skills is covered in an appropriate level of depth for teachers with this level of experience, and is very accessible. I also like the fact that the language section starts with lexis rather than grammar. There is a balanced discussion of different approaches to assessment in chapter 11, and a real focus on assessment for learning (rather than of learning) with practical tips for how to go about it.
Some of the pages/features I particularly liked were (numbers = pages):
159-161: the rationale for telling students the aim of the lesson, and the description of lesson rhythms
175: the idea of lessons which are student-centred but teacher-designed
181-184: the list of techniques for scaffolding learning
184-192: the description of lesson shapes (a new way of thinking about them for me)
242-243: the list of general questions for clarifying use when teaching language
271-275: the comprehensive list of writing activities
384-385: the characteristics of a good test
386-389: practical advice for writing test items
Even as an experienced teacher and trainer, there were new concepts in there for me. One of these was Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) (p390-391). The idea is to evaluate language skills in an integrated way, as they would occur in real life, rather than as isolated skills.
Areas to improve
It frustrates me when reference books don’t have an index. Although the contents page is very detailed, I have to guess which section to look at if I want to find out about a particular topic and it’s not listed in the section headings.
Occasionally assumptions are made about what the reader might know, with some terminology introduced which isn’t in the glossary. For example, on p180, the terms ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ are introduced without being explained, or on p215, ‘Audiolingual Approach’.
One or two assertions are made without being fully referenced:
For example, at a recent conference, a presenter suggested that the optimal number of iterations of a word is nine. (p208)
Who was this presenter? What was the conference? When is ‘recent’? What research did they base this ‘optimal number’ on? Having said that, these woolly sections only happened a couple of times in a 400+ page book, and the book is generally very well researched with appropriate amounts of references to possible further reading.
Both ‘he’ and ‘she’ are used interchangeably throughout the book. Generally this is fine, but when it’s done in a single example lesson plan, it makes it difficult to follow.
Most frustratingly, I found there were a number of typos/proofreading errors. However, while this distracted me when I was reading, it’s not enough to stop this book from being useful.
Apart from the index, all of these issues suggest that the book would have benefitted from one more edit before publication.
It provides a comprehensive basic introduction to ELT, and clearly exemplifies reflective practice. I feel like it’s mostly aimed at Masters students based in the USA (unsurprising, as the authors both teach/taught on The New School MA TESOL programme), but a lot is relevant to teachers in other areas of ELT as well. This would be a useful book for early career teachers to have a copy of and I think it’s one I’ll come back to.
As teachers, we care about our students. We want to do the best for them. This is important and admirable, but it can also create a lot of pressure, especially for new teachers.
When we first pick up a tennis racquet, we don’t expect to be able to win an Olympic medal.
When we first sit down at a piano and put our fingers to the keys, we don’t expect to be able to play Chopin.
But when we first walk into a classroom, we expect to be able to teach perfect lessons.
Just like playing a musical instrument or a sport, teaching is a skill which takes time to develop. Don’t expect to win a medal or play Chopin without practice, and don’t expect to teach perfect lessons.
Perfect lessons don’t exist. That’s why I still love this job – because there’s always something new to learn.
When our students make a mistake with their English, especially if they’re beginners, we don’t tell them they’re bad students and shouldn’t be in the classroom. We don’t point out all of the problems with their language. Instead we choose one or two areas and give them feedback to help them develop. We also praise their strengths and build their confidence in their abilities.
When we make a mistake as a teacher, especially a new teacher, we often tell ourselves that we’re bad teachers and have no place in the classroom. We dwell on the problems with our lessons. We beat ourselves up about what went wrong. We forget to notice the things that went well and what we’ve improved, which probably far outweigh any problems there were.
This is not fair to us or our students.
Learning a language is like building a house. We need to lay the foundations and build it up brick by brick. If we build it too quickly or without having proper foundations, the house will fall down. And although we can build it alone, it’s much faster when we get help from other people who are supportive and can share their experience.
Learning to teach is the same. Let yourself be a beginner. Notice your strengths and be proud of your progress. Notice where you need to put the next brick. Give yourself time to build the foundations, and ask for help whenever you need it.
When you’re using the internet, if you’re trying to download a big file it slows everything down. If you have too many things open, it can crash. There isn’t enough bandwidth.
We all have a finite amount of attention, which I call mental bandwidth. When we’re teaching, we need to pay attention to a lot of things: what’s next in our plan, how to make the technology do what we want it to do, how to answer the question a student just asked us, the fact that we forgot to have a snack before the lesson and are starving…and how stressed and overwhelmed we’re feeling right now.
As we build up experience, some of these things become automatic. We know how to set up the next activity, we’re confident with the technology and have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work, we’ve heard that question five times before and don’t need to think about the answer, we remembered to have a snack…and we’re so much calmer and less stressed in general now. We no longer have to think about these things, releasing mental bandwidth for us to pay attention to other areas, and particularly to be fully present in the classroom and pay attention to the students. This doesn’t happen on day one. It takes time.
Yawen Jin was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Nadia’s post will appear tomorrow). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Yawen!
I heard before I started CELTA that I could only sleep three hours a day on average during the four weeks. Therefore, I felt very complicated feelings. I signed up and tried to pass the interview because I had great expectations for CELTA, but at the same time, I was afraid that I would not survive. A friend even told me that on the first day of her face-to-face CELTA course last year, one of her classmates left the class crying because of stress and never went on with the class. Maybe what she said was exaggerated, but after experiencing it, I also felt that the course intensity, homework and lesson preparation content were quite a lot. However, in the end, I did it, and the rest of my classmates also did it. It has been proven that if you attend classes well, participate in discussions, help each other, complete tasks on time and do what trainers suggest you do, you can and you will survive. So, there is nothing to worry about. There will be nothing to lose by taking this course, and there will be a lot of growth for each of trainee.
Now, let’s talk about my experience over the last four weeks. The first two days of the first week I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I used to feel anxious in order not to feel too much pressure. Therefore, I rechecked my schedule, reviewed the input lessons, confirmed what I had to do, and right after I had done these three steps, i.e. I made a detailed plan, and then the pressure came on me. It took me a long time to prepare for one lesson, often up to eight hours to make a high-quality PowerPoint and write a lesson plan. It was often necessary for me to stay up until three in the morning, sleep for about five hours, and continue on with a full day of classes. Besides, there were one or two assignments (four in total) to be written every week, and the first weekend I had no rest at all. Even when I was sleeping, the dream was about how to prepare for the class and there were fragments of the input classes.
At the beginning of second week, I felt my mental and physical state was very bad, so I asked two classmates to talk about it. Because there was no private communication before, I didn’t know what other students were like and how they felt about the course. But after the communication, I found that everyone was happy to help each other, such as sending me the methods and websites to relieve mental stress and improve sleep quality. In fact, I found my classmates who looked very energetic had to work very late as well, but they had been working very hard. I felt that even though we were attending classes online, we were all in a group rather than a single person. Then I became more and more accustomed to CELTA’s rhythm, and the time for class preparation was reduced. After each teaching practice, the trainer and other trainees need to give comments on each class. Often the evaluation contained a lot of affirmation and encouragement, and also included objective suggestions. In this process, everyone had more confidence. For example, in the beginning many of us felt that they have little strengths, and lots of weaknesses, but after some time we thought we actually had some advantages. For me, when I was in the third TP, I suddenly released myself and no longer felt nervous. Others commented that they found the strength of my personal charm and self-confidence. This is due to my every effort and every encouragement and recognition from my lovely trainer and trainees in the team. (Another important point is that I learned a lot of useful information and skills from the daily input lessons, and then used them in my own TP, which often produced some good responses.)
By the third week, each group had to change a trainer. The new trainer of our group is a very energetic person who loves education and is willing to discuss and solve problems. (The owner of this blog, Sandy :p) Her requirements were more strict than the previous trainer, which made our workload heavier. And in my observation of her classes, I could say that student-centered teaching method achieved the best degree in my opinion. That is to let the students learn by themselves or let students help each other to learn then achieve the learning outcome. When I was learning educational theory in the uni, I knew the benefits of such a teaching concept and thought I could do it if I wanted to. But after the first two weeks of TP, I tried to spend more student-time each time, thinking that I did quite well, and it seemed that STT might not be added any more. But her demo lesson made me stop being self-satisfied and feel that there was so much to improve. For the first TP in the third week, I agonized for three days but still didn’t reduce the TTT much. Then I communicate with her for a while, she found out I give yourself too much pressure, so she gave me some advice on her experience and her, and told me she had also frets about how to reduce TTT in the past and every step grows through experience. The most important point is that this course values the growth of each trainee, so do not be too anxious.
Therefore, I tried to prepare for the class with a relaxed mood. Although it took a lot of time to increase STT, I made great progress. It should be mentioned that after the members of our group gradually got used to the new trainer, everyone’s growth was remarkable, that is, the so-called strict teacher produced brilliant students. And as the team members got more familiar with each other, everyone was supporting each other and cheering each other on. Although the first half of the third week seemed to be harder than the first week, the rest of the one and a half week were very happy. It is no exaggeration to say that up to the last stage, I felt sad for the end of the course, because this praiseworthy experience, the good atmosphere of mutual support and the fact that I enjoyed every day of lesson preparation and teaching, they made me feel happy and fulfilled.
There are a lot of details to remember these four weeks. First of all, the three trainers were very patient and supportive, and they encouraged trainees to deal with the problem actively and they shared a lot of resources. They all have different teaching styles, and we can learn different teaching methods from their courses. It should be mentioned that in these four weeks they were offering help and support to each trainee. Secondly, even if trainees are from different countries, different cultures and different languages, we always cheer each other on. We were happy to share our own stories, sometimes also talked about our own country’s culture, future plans and interesting views. It’s an amazing experience and I’m sure everyone learned a different kind of wisdom. For example, I feel the power of others to believe in their dreams, and also found different life attitudes. It was all fun and gave me courage. Thirdly, it’s important to believe in yourself. At the beginning of the course, it is necessary to adapt to the pace, but after the initial adaptation period, everything will become more interesting. As long as you can find the fun, it won’t be as difficult as you thought. In the end, you will be glad to have taken such a valuable course. I do love CELTA and the people I met in it.
Do exactly what trainers say
The trainers are experienced teachers, you can discuss questions with them (because there is no standard answer for some questions). But in the general direction, especially the suggestions for improvement must be followed (just my suggestion). This will definitely help you progress faster and more efficiently.
Manage your time and materials
You need to be clear about your goals and plans for each week to help save time. You also need to organize your documents every day, whether it’s printed or in a folder on your computer. It’s important to keep your documents in order!
Prepare the materials you need
I bought books that might be useful (including Teaching English Pronunciation, Grammar for English Language Teachers and Learning Teaching) before the course started. In this way, I won’t be in a hurry when I need materials (in fact, I don’t need to buy any books myself. The trainer has distributed the resources we needed, but I like reading paper books). Prepare white board, white paper and notebook at the same time.
Watch your diet and sleep
When you’re in a high-intensity class, not eating well only makes your body feel more uncomfortable, and you don’t get as little sleep as the rumored average of three hours. The time required to write each assignment is not ten hours, but three to six hours is enough if you concentrate (and even less if you are a native English speaker).
Find some help and don’t be alone
People under high pressure tend to be mentally fragile. If only a person silently thinking and suffering, will only make themselves more painful. Communicating with other trainees will help you solve problems, maybe help you with practical problems like preparing for class, or maybe relieve pressure. People will meet different difficulties, and it’s helpful to try to ask for help. Me, in particular, had planned to learn and digest the stress on my own from the beginning, so I felt extremely anxious. But it’s much better to talk to someone.
I’m Yawen Jin. I have been teaching young learner English in an educational institution for two years. I then completed a master’s degree in Education Studies at the University of York, followed by CELTA in July 2020. In the future, I will continue to engage in the English teaching industry that I love.
If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!
When a Twitter account called What they don’t teach you on CELTA started to pop up on my stream I was intrigued. Looking at their tweets, it seemed they were trying to fill the gap in post-CELTA development that I’m hoping ELT Playbook 1 also helps with. This is one of my main areas of interest for all the reasons Chris Russell describes below, so I was very pleased when he agreed to share the story behind the site and the Twitter account with us. Thanks Chris!
As for many of us, lockdown has been a strange time for me. Along with some colleagues, I’ve spent most of it furloughed and with a desire to do something productive with all that time on my hands. Fortunately, my colleague Stephen, an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and examiner, identified a problem waiting to be solved.
He got a few of us together on Zoom and asked us to think back to our early days of teaching, and all those moments we cringe at: the overly-ambitious lesson plan; the activities that fell flat; the grammar explanations that confused more than helped. CELTA and equivalents are great courses, but there’s only so much that’s possible within the confines of a month-long course. They should be one of the first steps on a journey in learning to teach, but for many it seems that their professional development doesn’t progress much after it.
As we thought of those moments, we wondered if there was a way of others finding a kind of shortcut. Especially those not lucky enough to work in a school with a supportive manager and opportunities for professional development. For teachers who have some experience, but aren’t ready to be thinking about doing a Delta or Master’s yet. We toyed with a couple of names, but ultimately settled on What they don’t teach you on the CELTA.
The name is a little tongue-in-cheek, and not intended as a criticism of CELTA per se, but an acknowledgment of its limitations. It can’t teach you everything. Cambridge are quite open about this: it falls under the ‘foundation to developing’ stage of their teaching framework, rather than ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’. We also noted the number of job opportunities that simply require a CELTA-qualified candidate, without asking for relevant experience or offering sufficient support to newly-qualified teachers, perpetuating the myth that CELTA is the final destination, rather than a first step, in ELT.
So, with our combined experience as teachers, teacher trainers, DoSes and language learners, we got writing, trying to help others benefit from our experience. We thought about what we wish someone had told us in our first years in the classroom, from the websites we now can’t imagine living without to knowing how to deal with classroom cliques. We’ve also thought about the things we do in class now, almost as second nature, like correcting students effectively and dealing with being observed. We don’t intend to imply that none of what we discuss is actually covered on any CELTA courses! However, expecting trainees to retain all that knowledge from such an intensive course doesn’t seem realistic, and so we hope some reinforcement will prove useful.
We know there are lots of other resources out there, but we don’t feel there are enough aimed at this audience – likely time-poor (planning and teaching 25 hours is a very tough ask at first!) and in need of a bit of guidance. The industry churns out lots of CELTA graduates, but how many really last in ELT? I’ve seen some have an initial unfulfilling year and never return – could some more support and development have helped them have a better time and retained them? Those staffroom tears and breakdowns that I’m sure many of us have seen really shouldn’t be the norm. I’ve also seen plenty of teachers with many years of experience, but whose teaching ability seems to have stagnated early, doing a disservice to their students and perhaps limiting their job satisfaction.
A blog certainly won’t solve all those issues but we hope to provide some help as well as to start a conversation around this issue within the industry. If nothing else, writing it has helped us reflect on our journeys within ELT and been a mixture of interesting and cathartic, emphasising the good that can come out of blogging and reflection – another important tool in professional development!
Chris Russell is a CELTA- and Delta-qualified English language teacher who has been working in ELT for 8 years in the UK, Spain and Poland. He recently took on the role of school director at Alba English in Edinburgh. He blogs with some colleagues at https://notoncelta.com and tweets at @ChrisRussellELT.
On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week three. Here’s week one and week two.
Why is it a slog?
SM: Week three is often the most challenging one on any full-time CELTA course, especially one where you change groups halfway through the course. Sometimes you change groups more often but most courses I’ve worked on just change once in the middle. Everybody gets the changeover blues. You often have new language students to work with (though sometimes you’re with the same students throughout) and a new group of trainees. The trainees have to get used to you and you to them. The change in level can come as quite a shock for some trainees. They feel comfortable with the first level, in our case pre-intermediate, and working with students who expect something completely different of them can really knock their self-confidence. This is also when we’re starting to expect trainees to become more independent, and this can also knock their confidence or make them feel stressed.
Week three is when everything feels like it’s happening at the same time. Everybody has assignments to submit, and lessons to work on in more detail, and it feels like your brain is full and has no space for any more information from input. It’s like a sponge which can’t take in any more water.
For trainers, it’s also a challenging week because we have to manage the changeover and the expectations of trainees, as well as keeping students coming to the lessons. We also have to continue our preparation for input sessions, mark assignments, work with trainees on assignments which need to be resubmitted, and particularly with any trainees who are not making the expected progress. It’s always a long week. This weekend [as of Friday night] I still have to finish TP feedback from Friday and send it, mark 6 assignments and 3 assignment resubmissions, plan my input sessions for next week, or at least know which ones need more work, and prepare some tutorial documents. [Sunday update – I got everything done except the input, but finished at 23.25 to make sure I would have a full day off!]
We have TP at the end of the day. When a trainee needs more help, it takes more time to do feedback, particularly making sure that you’re highlighting the most important areas for them to work on and not overwhelming them. Thankfully I only got behind on feedback on Thursday, when I sent one lot of TP feedback at the end of the day, not the morning as I usually do.
SW: Week three was full of long days, and it’s easy to feel like you’ve hit a wall because there’s so much to get done. I was definitely feeling exhausted at certain points through the week. Our TP is in the morning, and I usually get TP feedback by the end of lunch, but had one day when I couldn’t do it until the end of the day because everything was taking longer.
There were a lot of resubmissions on our course this week, meaning trainees were feeling quite stressed. They can ask me questions by email, and often did this at very odd hours of the day and night. I spent a lot of time reassuring them and being clear about what I can and can’t tell them for their assignments, but also had to be clear that to stay healthy myself I can’t reply to them in the evenings because I need to have a break from work.
The changeover is challenging as different trainers naturally give slightly different advice. You have to develop a rapport and a feeling of trust with your new TP group, and show them what your expectations are. For example, when there are only a few students in class, my colleague has left small groups in the main room and suggested teachers switch their cameras off to monitor, whereas I’ve suggested that trainees still put students into breakout rooms. I think this better helps them to learn to monitor appropriately, know when to move in and out of the rooms, and consider when to intervene and when to close the rooms. [SM: I’ve emailed trainees to tell them we’re going to use this approach next week if we don’t have many students – Stephanie has mentioned it every week, but I hadn’t done anything about it until now. One trainee put students into a BOR when there were only three of them, and another commented that this gives the activity a clearer start and end point, which I agree with.]
How do you cope with spending so much time in front of the computer?
SM: As a manager I already spend a lot of my time in front of a computer. Obviously this increased in March, but apart from adding an occasional online lesson, it wasn’t that much of a difference for me. The online CELTA is definitely a lot of computer time, especially this week, but that’s also fairly normal for me as I’ve always typed my feedback and have all my input sessions on my computer. In some ways I think I have less eye strain because I don’t have to keep focusing on the classroom and then my computer repeatedly. I can also move around more easily if I start to get stiff. Having said that I’m getting a slight pain in my neck from turning my head to the right all the time to look at the lesson on my second screen. I also have achey eyes at the end of this week from the long days.
I try to manage the physical effects by taking regular breaks. I have a piece of software which reminds me regularly to spend one minute or 5 minutes away from the computer when I’m not in sessions. I look away from the screen and out the window to refocus my eyes. I also do stretches as often as I can, mostly on my hands and my back. I have my phone set on night mode and try to use dictation when I can (including for my parts of this post) to rest my eyes and my hands. The biggest challenge I’ve had is that my days this week have been longer than normal. I think I have had three 11-hour days, finishing late in the evening. The quality of my sleep has been affected a little though thankfully not too much. The main problem is not being able to get back to sleep if I wake up in the night because I haven’t had time to process the day before I go to bed – I find myself making mental to do lists or planning blog posts 😉
SW: In a previous career I spent a lot of time on the computer, so I’ve had experience of long periods of screen time, but this is quite different from my recent experience because I’m normally in front of people moving around a lot. CELTA is normally the most sedentary thing I do, especially sitting during observations. An online CELTA is less strenuous on my back because I can move around when I’m observing because my camera is off. I can sit, stand, move or stretch as I need to. For half of the day, I’m not stuck in a chair so in some ways it’s easier than a face-to-face CELTA.
I need a gap between concentrating on anything and sleeping, so I make sure I have a clear two hours with no work before bedtime. That helps me to relax and means that I sleep better, though I work early in the morning and at most free minutes during the day to get everything done (that’s normal for CELTA though!).
How did you manage Stage 2 tutorials?
SM: We had no inputs on Monday morning of week three. On Friday we scheduled 30-minute meetings with our trainees, and they joined our TP room when it was time to meet. I prepared all of my grades using this template, and put my comments into a separate document ready to copy and paste. The trainees filled in their ideas of their grades on Moodle before we met. As we would face-to-face, we worked through the criteria, discussing any differences between their self-assessment and my assessment. They wrote the areas they think they need to work on in the second half of the course into the chat on Zoom, while I uploaded my comments to the Moodle (so we weren’t both editing at the same time). We then discussed the comments, with specific ideas for how to work on any problem areas, and signed off on the tutorial.
SW: Our tutorials happened on Tuesday afternoon as we started TP1 slightly later than on Sandy’s course. I had 20-minute tutorials instead of one input. The second input was slightly shorter to give us time to do this. I told the trainees when to join me on Zoom. I’d already pre-written my list of grades and notes for the last page. We have everything on Google Drive, include a version of the CELTA 5 document which we can edit. Trainees download it, fill it in, then upload it again. I download it, fill my parts in then upload it again. Unfortunately we can’t both use the same document at exactly the same time because the formatting messes up in the file version we have. Normally I start with the criteria, but this time I talked about final page first, then went through the criteria with them, pasted my comments, talked about any issues they had, then uploaded the final version to Drive. When one trainee hadn’t filled in the criteria on their CELTA 5, I sent them away to do it and they came back at the end after the rest of the tutorials. On a face-to-face course, I normally do tutorials with teachers ABC one day and DEF on the next day, but doing them all on the same day was fine.
SM and SW: In the tutorials we both found that trainees all marked 5A (“arranging the physical features of the classroom appropriately for teaching and learning, bearing in mind safety regulations of the institution”) as N (not applicable), but we both believe that Zoom still has features which can be exploited, just like a physical classroom does, and there are still safety regulations (for example issues with Zoombombing). As trainers, we need to check we’re applying criteria in the same way on Zoom as we do on a face-to-face course.
What worked this week?
SM: This week I experimented with an input which was based completely around a Google Doc. I had one document with activities to work through to help trainees understand present tenses in English. The answers were in a box under each activity in white text so that the trainees could be self-sufficient. I also added some clues in white which they could use if they wanted to, and some little summaries inspired by Michael Lewis. I put trainees in pairs with one second- and one first-language English speaker in each breakout room, gave them the document link and left them to it for just over an hour. My role was to monitor progress and intervene if they were having problems. As expected, one pair managed all of the activities, some only managed two or three, and others managed about two thirds. In our brief feedback afterwards we talked about how knowing a language includes procedural and descriptive knowledge and that it was useful to work with each other to fill the gaps. It was great to hear how excited people got when they realised that they had understood something which they had originally found quite challenging. I got some positive feedback after the session as trainees enjoyed being able to work at their own speed and get and give support to each other. It took a while to prepare, even though I had materials to adapt, but I can now reuse this session every time I want to work on present tenses from now on (on a face-to-face course too).
My CPD input always involves setting up assignment 4 and talking for a bit about my career, then sharing a list of resources which trainees can explore in the rest of the session. They can also ask me questions about any area which they can’t see covered on the list. This always seems to work well as everyone can explore what they’re interested in, and I think it transferred well online.
I continued using the same feedback strategy of trainees working with a Google Doc in pairs, and realised this is useful for quotes from peers for Assignment 4 reflecting on the course. Listening to what Stephanie does though, I realise that when we come back together it’s me lecturing and summarising – quite trainer-centred!
SW: I’ve been using Padlet in feedback, with trainees making notes during the lesson. I tell them before TP what the three lesson focuses are and what their observation task is. During feedback they do a carousel in breakout rooms in pairs, so each teacher speaks to three observers and can ask questions. Looking at Padlet gives them feedback from everybody. Then we have 15-20 minutes to talk about things together. Teachers do a summary of what they’ve heard when we come back together, and I fill in any gaps. I ask any questions if there’s anything they missed, for example: What do you think about the pronunciation focus? This works well because they’re doing all the summarising.
It was interesting hearing a discussion between trainees and students this week about how weird it is having 3 consecutive lessons with 3 different teachers. We’re so used to it as trainers, sometimes we forget it could be an odd format for other people!
What challenges did you have this week?
SM: In a classroom-based CELTA, if one trainee has very high unnecessary teacher talking time, I get them to agree on an action their colleagues can do while observing to highlight that they should stop talking, for example fingers on lips or putting their hand up. This normally drastically reduces their TTT within two or three lessons. It’s harder to do this kind of thing online, though perhaps trainees could private message each other. This doesn’t work in breakout rooms though as you can only publicly message there.
At this stage on a course, trainees can get very wrapped up in their own lessons and feel like they have to do everything themselves. I think it’s important to remind them that when teaching three lessons, they should know what the other two teachers are doing, and how all three lessons might fit together for the students as one lesson, not three. Some trainees also need to be encouraged to ask for help from each other, which is good practice for working in a supportive staffroom and for sharing classes with other teachers.
Week three is when I often find myself having individual meetings with some trainees to help with real problem areas they haven’t been able to get a handle on yet, or to boost their confidence to get them through the last part of the course. This week I had three 30-minute meetings with trainees at the end of the day, and one meeting on Saturday to help people with things that I would normally do in between sessions on a face-to-face course. It’s much harder to deal with things in little bites as you go along – everything needs scheduling and organising.
To support trainees with resubmissions, I gave them one hour before input when they could schedule meetings to discuss their assignments if they wanted to. To help trainees understand how to choose activities for the Focus on the Learner assignment, I talked to them about remedial tutorials we have at our school: teachers have to choose an area for the tutorial and give the tutorial teacher an activity to do. This worked really well and I think it helped them to understand the kind of exercises it’s useful to choose. As a trainer, it’s harder to ask colleagues little questions about assignments as you go along. You end up saving up all the questions for one big meeting, again generally at the end of the day/week.
SW: Trainees can’t just grab you for quick questions between sessions. I get an email in the morning but can’t look at it until the end of the day, so rather than solving a problem in those little minutes in between, trainees are left waiting all day. Next time I do an online course, I think I’ll have office hours so trainees can make an appointment if they want to speak to me about something.
When there were low student numbers, I asked trainees to help in a speaking lesson, the same as I would in a face-to-face classroom.
An input session that works really well offline about minimal materials and which is normally interactive and fun ended up being a slide show. I was tired from marking and got sidetracked by trying to do a running dictation online and forgot about what I needed to do with the rest of the session! They still learnt about the activities, but didn’t try anywhere near as many as I would normally do with them.
What tips do you have/did you give?
SM: A couple of things I’ve told trainees:
Make sure you ‘clear all drawings’ after you use the annotate function on Zoom if you’re still sharing, as otherwise they’ll show up on the next slide. If you stop sharing, they’ll disappear.
Think about when to screen share and when not to. It’s easier to discuss things when there’s no slide on the screen, especially for students who are on a phone or tablet.
SW: You should still use breakout rooms, even if there are only one or two students in the lesson. This gives them space, in a way that just you having your camera off doesn’t do.
On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week two. Here’s week one.
Do you feel you have bonded with the group in the way that you would on a face-to-face course?
SM: As I am working on a large course and have not done very many input sessions, I feel like I only really know my TP group. This is not that unusual for a CELTA course in my experience, as you spend so much more time with the teachers you are observing.
I observed sessions on the first two days because I didn’t have any input until Wednesday of week one. This was partly to see how online input sessions might work, but also to give me an idea of all of the trainees because I suspected this might be an issue. I have also talked to the other trainers about all of the trainees, so I feel I know a little about them. However it’s nowhere near as much as if it was face-to-face because you don’t have those little chats in between sessions.
I noticed when I was doing the first input session of the week that when I went in to break out rooms for the first group task, the teachers were having a chat about their weekend (input morning, TP afternoon). I think that the first session should perhaps include an opportunity for the trainees to chat with each other as they are missing that on this course – social time needed. ask us for extensions – CELTA is not the end of the world
On the other hand, I feel like I know my TP group better than normal because we are dealing with their everyday lives in the background. For example, we have talked about their children when we’ve seen or heard them, and discussed things you can see in their home behind them.
SW: That was one of my big surprises of the week – we ARE bonding. There’s almost more intimacy because you’re staring at each other’s faces and there’s no escape. We have TP in the morning and input in the afternoons. I normally open up breakout rooms 15 minutes before the first session. I leave my camera on so they know I’m still there but have my mike off. That was especially important this week when I was supporting trainees through the challenges of the end of week two. They can chat together, but they know whether I’m at the computer or not so are aware that I might be listening.
Week two is often exhausting and overwhelming, both for the trainees and the trainers. In one input session towards the end of the week, I gave the trainees thirty minutes to vent and to share with each other. Some of them had got to the stage where they didn’t want to have their cameras of microphones on because they were so overwhelmed. I let them talk to each other, but also encouraged them, and reminded them to wait until they’d slept to make any big decisions about what they’d do next. This point in the course is always challenging, and we were still able to help each other.
How do you stay connected to your co-trainer(s)?
SM: What I miss most is socialising with the other trainers during the course though – I’m normally ‘on holiday’ while doing the course, using the opportunity to explore a new place. My co-trainers are either in the same position, or (adopted) locals who are happy to show me around. However, there are lots of similarities to a face-to-face course. It’s the first time I’ve worked with both of my colleagues, though they’ve often worked together before. As a freelancer joining a course, I always have lots of questions. tech support + making templates, I enjoy the fact that (as in any good team) we’re able to share the different areas of knowledge. My co-trainers have done the course online before and are much more experienced CELTA trainers in general. I can bring my experience of teaching on Zoom over the last few months, and my confidence with technology.
Our trainees are all teaching pre-intermediate using the same TP points. During lessons, we can WhatsApp to discuss the lessons if we need to. This is made much easier because we’re all watching the ‘same’ lessons at the same time – we don’t need to describe the TP points to each other. We’ve also started sharing other things in WhatsApp: photos out the window, bits of information about what we’re doing in the evening, or what we did yesterday – all the things you would normally chat about.
SW: I’ve worked with my colleague on one course before, and I trained him up originally, so we know a bit about how we both work. We have one online meeting a week, and keep in touch on WhatsApp apart from that. This feels quite different to the constant communication you have on a face-to-face course, every time you’re in the trainers’ office before, after and between TPs. It also feels different outside work, as part of the experience of being a freelancer generally includes socialising with other freelancers, as Sandy described above.
What effect has being online had on your input sessions?
SM: In the first week I only had two input sessions and one video observation with a few minutes for a little input afterwards. I did two phonology sessions which I decided to completely rewrite. This obviously took a while! I based it on mistakes I had observed in the demo lessons with the pronunciation of the words ‘squirrel’ and ‘bear’. I think I will share these input sessions on the blog soon as I was very pleased with how they worked – to time, hitting all the important points, and having a noticeable effect in my trainees’ TPs. 🙂
This week I had a session on vocabulary which I had also rewritten because my views on what it is important to know about in the vocabulary session have changed in the last couple of years since I did the input my previous CELTA course. This took me 4 hours on Sunday night, creating new materials for the session, getting bogged down in materials from old versions of it, overplanning it, then boiling it down and writing the handout. Then the first two activities both took twice as long as planned, so I ended up ditching two activities anyway. I still think the trainees came away with most of what they needed as the two things that went were a revision of lesson stages and planning activities from upcoming lessons (though obviously it would have been nice to still have these).
The other input session I have done is authentic materials, and I did that largely as I would in the classroom, using the same presentation, but with breakout rooms for discussions, including a jigsaw discussion. I did this by renaming the breakout rooms (Pros 1, Pros 2, Cons 1, Cons 2 etc.), handwriting a list of names for who they needed to pair up with afterwards and then manually creating the rooms for the second round. Normally I would have a carousel of authentic materials around the room for the final stage and trainees would move from one to the next. We normally have about 30 minutes for this. This week we had 15 minutes because everything takes a little longer on Zoom. I set up a Google doc which you can see here. The trainees could find any authentic materials that they had in their homes or online, and I could give them immediate feedback because I could move from one group to the next and see everything they were writing in the document very quickly without having to decipher handwriting! I could add and highlight comments which they could deal with when they were ready, rather than interrupting the discussions. I think this worked really well, and took a lot less time to plan than the other input sessions.
I’ve been lucky to be able to take my time with my planning because it’s a large course so inputs are shared between three of us. I think it would have been a lot more exhausting on a smaller course, and I’m not sure I’d have had the luxury to change as much (though there have still been some late nights!)
SW: This week I realised that most of my input sessions were entirely paper-based. I’ve often travelled for courses so I took my folder of input sessions with me. I kept thinking of digitalising them, but never did, and now I’ve been forced to. I always had some online sessions, but mostly what I’ve been doing is turning paper versions into digital versions – it’s a lot of work to turn them into something that functions online. It can be a challenge having everything ready for the input in time.
Having said that, it’s been really interesting to try and keep activities like mingles and different grouping as part of the session. You can still make it quite interactive. Sometimes I thought of ways I could do some of these things, but they would be way more energy than they’re worth for the return on them. One thing that worked really well was in the functional language session. Normally I would cut up exponents, functions and contexts for trainees to match in a mingle, then sit with their partner. This time I gave each group one column each, and they came up with the other two. They were really engaged with this.
For me, the whole process has been great because we can get stuck as trainers doing the same session in the same way for a long time, and this becomes repetitive. This is a chance to rethink all of our sessions – we have no choice. The content is still there, but how are we going to make it into something trainees can learn from in terms of teaching techniques too?
What are the logistics of observations, especially using breakout rooms?
SM: I’m using a desktop computer with two screens, so have Zoom displayed on one and feedback on the other. When I join the room I’m the host. I make all of the other teachers co-hosts. I ask them to change their names to ‘Teacher XYZ’ and I change mine to ‘Trainer Sandy’ so we’re all grouped on the participants list.
I hand over the host role to the teacher and they make me a co-host. You lose a host role and become a normal participant when you hand it over. Because it is my room I can reclaim the host role if that is a problem but I don’t normally need to do this.
When teachers make breakout rooms for students they also divide the observers between the rooms. Only the main host can set up breakout rooms. However if you are a co-host, after you join a breakout room you can see the list of all the rooms and move between them whenever you like. Sometimes I follow the teacher to see what they see, and sometimes I stay in the rooms separately to see what problems students have with the activity and whether this is because of them or because of the teacher. By staying in one room with the breakout room list open, you can also get a feel for how long the teacher is spending in each room. We have mostly only had two or three rooms in the lessons I’ve observed.
If there haven’t been many students, I’ve suggested that we stay in the main room, but the teacher switches off their camera and microphone to give the students space to do the task alone. In feedback, we discuss what would happen if you’ve got 10 students and how this would influence the lesson, for example how feedback stages need to be different on returning from a breakout room.
During the break between each lesson, the teacher hands over the host row to the next picture. Teacher to then makes teacher one a co-host. At first I needed to remind them to do this but by the end of this week, they were doing it confidently without my intervention.
SW: I’m observing on a tablet and using my laptop to type feedback. I think the functions are more limited on a tablet, though I’m wondering if I can change that and will try again to move around the groups next week.
Trainees always put me in a BOR to see what the students are doing. I stay in the same room because of my tablet. I’ve noticed that trainees are monitoring well and coming in and out regularly to check in with students. When our class sizes are quite small, we have conversations about dealing with limited numbers of students. I suggested that teachers put students in breakout rooms as private time, but pop in and see how they do. Maybe next week I could suggest that students stay in the main room but the teacher puts themself in a breakout room to give the students space.
I didn’t specify what to do with the other trainees while teachers are first learning what to do with Zoom. It cant be overwhelming thinking about what to do with breakout rooms when you have so many people to deal with. I told teachers to put TT in capital letters after their name to help teachers see who is and isn’t a student. I think the mid-course changeover is a good time to change this, and get them to start putting observers into rooms too.
What good things have happened this week?
SM: Because everything is typed on our course, preparing stage 1 tutorials was very easy. I normally type them anyway, adapting them from my typed feedback. On this course I could make a single table with strengths and action points and copy things across from TP feedback ready to edit them. Instead of trying to make them fit into the little box in the CELTA 5 booklet when you print them out and mess about with scissors and glue, it took about 5 minutes to copy and paste all of the information across to the portfolio on Moodle.
Over the course of the week, the trainees have started to hand over control more to the students. This normally happens at this point on a CELTA course, but I still think it’s worth mentioning because of a comment from one trainee in TP prep. She said ‘But I just want to teach them!’ when we were discussing how to help students with new vocabulary without presenting each item one at a time before doing an exercise (something which I’ve never seen suggested as an approach on CELTA, but which about half of trainees do themselves despite being explicitly told not to!). This reminded me again of the long shadow that the apprenticeship of observation casts over new teachers. We talked about how there are many ways to teach and lecturing is just one of them. The TP prep group reflected on when it is they learn best, and whether this comes from having something explained to them or trying it themselves, finding solutions, making mistakes, and getting feedback. The conclusion was that the latter is better, and I started to see the effect of this towards the end of the week. I think one problem is that the teachers haven’t seen very much of other models yet, because they’re only in week 2 of the course and they probably have thousands of hours of lecturing to contend with. This is an area I want to continue to think about.
The final interesting thing from this week and the one I’m most impressed by on the part of the trainees came from a 10-minute discussion about the use of the word ‘good’ at the end of feedback on Tuesday. During TP feedback, they have been writing notes about each teacher from that day. The word ‘good’ appeared 24 times in about 450 words of comments in our Google Doc on Tuesday, including 5 times in consecutive comments for one teacher. We discussed how as feedback it’s not very useful because it’s not specific enough. We also talked about what kind of comments you would make if that was a problem and contrasted the two approaches, and also talked about the value of specific feedback for students. Their feedback has always been pretty great for the stage of the course they were at, but the next day the difference made me so excited I jumped up and down at the computer. 🙂 On Wednesday, it appeared 17 times (12 from one pair of teachers!) in about 620 words of comments from all six trainees on three lessons – it had been replaced by really valuable, insightful feedback. They had noticed so many specific things, and were able to describe them in a beautiful level of detail which I have rarely seen even at the end of a CELTA course. They also inevitably noticed things I had not seen. We discussed this change afterwards and the trainees said that because they knew that they needed to put specific examples and not just write ‘good’, they were paying much closer attention throughout the lessons.
SW: The way the trainees supported each other when one trainee was talking about quitting mid-week was amazing. The chat lit up – they were all sending her fantastically supportive messages.If that had happened in person, I’m not sure everyone would have said something to her. Everyone can join in, including the quieter people. The online element could allow for more communication between trainees in difficult situations. The bonding and the support and commiseration over where they all were and how they were all feeling on Thursday continued on Friday – they opened up and were really greeting each other at the start of Friday’s sessions.
The other great thing that happened on Thursday and Friday was the moment in the course when you see trainees break bad habits they’ve been getting feedback on, something clicks and they succeed. This is not unique to being online – it always happens at this point in the course. There was so much of that at the end of the week. Watching them gain confidence because of that, contributing more, growing and transforming as people and teachers is fantastic. It’s difficult to understand if you don’t experience or see it, and trying to persuade potential trainees of this at interview and earlier in the course can be a challenge. As a trainer, you have to keep trainees with you and encourage them not to give up, trying to convince them that the stress and struggle is normal for this point in the course. Other people have done this before, and you can do it too. And the trainee who was thinking about quitting? She taught an amazing TP on Friday. She’d got some of the stress out of her system, received an outpouring of support, and came back super strong with a great lesson.
What problems have you had this week and how have you solved them?
SM: Last week I mentioned that I was surprised at how few technical problems I had had. I spoke too soon! This week I had a power cut at the end of feedback, luckily when I was only speaking to two teachers about assignment questions and we’d pretty much finished. However I’d made a recording of the feedback session for a teacher who had to leave earlier and I thought I had lost this. Zoom recording only converts into a file when you close the room. I was very happy to find that when I restarted Zoom the next morning the recording was still there. Thank you Zoom!
I also got kicked out of Zoom randomly for two or three minutes during one TP. I didn’t miss anything important, but it made me realize that I could end up missing quite a lot. I told the trainees that if any of them noticed that I’m not in the room, they should press record straight away. Only a host or a co-host can record a meeting, and you have to have this function turned on in the settings. Luckily the meeting doesn’t end if you get kicked out and it’s your Zoom room. Somebody else is randomly allocated the host role if you are still the host. When you rejoin the meeting, you need to ask the teacher to make you a co-host again.
A couple of students have dropped out because of internet, but normally immediately come back. Some have to leave early because of work – but slightly changing numbers during TPs is normal on any course.
SW: I tell trainees to sit closer to the router if they have a connection problem. One trainee has to sit next to the router as it was on a different floor in her house. That seems to be working.
Another trainee has had technical problems and has been finding workarounds to avoid excessive teacher talk. For example, she has somebody else play the listening and/or downloads the listening so it’s not using as much bandwidth. This is reflective of the kind of real-life problems trainees will have to deal with in the classroom and online after the course, and at least now they have the support to help them resolve them.
My internet kept dropping out in one particular input session and I have no idea why. I sat by the router and it was much better. It’s the same as in the classroom – when there’s a problem, you give the trainees something to do while you try and resolve it. I was setting up an assignment, so told them to keep reading it if I dropped out again and ask me questions whenever I made it back.
What other tips do you have?
SM: Write down all of the Zoom codes that you need in a clear table on a piece of paper which you can keep next to your computer. This is invaluable when moving quickly between rooms, for example when input has finished and TP prep is about to start. The main course tutor sends out links for TP each morning to all the trainees.
I train my trainees on any course to name their files consistently. When you have a lot of computer files appearing in your inbox every day you can waste a lot of time trying to work out which generic plan belongs to which teacher. The formula I always use is TP1 Bob lesson plan, TP1 Bob materials, TP1 Bob feedback, etc. It keeps all of the files together in a logical order, and makes it easier when sending them back to the trainees. Shared screen to show them why this is useful/important to me
SW: I have all of the Zoom codes on a post-it notes. Going into the week 3 changeover, we’ll send out one email with all the links so everybody has the links in one place
Get as much done ahead of time as you can. This is particularly true of planning input, especially if you’ve previously done things in a paper-based way.
Above all, enjoy the process of thinking about and discovering new things, and rethinking old things in a new way. Don’t try to make the course exactly what it is face-to-face. Keep the integrity and standards of course, but remember that it’s a different environment. Just as you would as a freelancer moving between schools, you’re doing the course in a different place, each of which has pros and cons. You ask yourself: How does it work in this centre? When you teach somebody else’s timetable, you look how things change when they’re in a different order. So treat this in the same way: look how things change when you do them online. It really refreshes your practice. Enjoy the advantages – they do exist!
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE US TO TALK ABOUT?
Thank you to those who commented on last week’s post here and elsewhere – I hope we’ve been able to answer your questions. Let us know what else you’d like us to discuss in the comments below.
As every CELTA trainee knows, a CCQ is a Concept Checking Question. What they often don’t know is how to approach writing them. They can be the bane of trainees’ lives and they took me a long time to get my head around. Don’t worry if it takes you time as well. Here’s my advice for how to go about it.
Step 1: Research the language
Choose a marker sentence containing the vocabulary in context.
Look up the word/phrase in a good Learner’s Dictionary, for example:
Even better, look it up in two or three and compare the definitions. Write them all down. You’ll need these later.
Make sure you are checking the same meaning as the one you are teaching. For example, ‘ages’ in the sentence ‘It took me ages.’ is not the same as in the sentence ‘The Iron and Stone Ages were a long time ago.’
Identify two or three ‘marker sentences’ from the context which make the use of the grammar clear.
Use the language information in the course book you are using to learn about the grammar point at the appropriate level for your students. There may also be extra information at the end of the course book unit, in the final sections of the course book, and/or in the teacher’s book or work book. Use the information you find to write the meaning or use of the grammar point in your own words. Aim not to use the grammar points in your explanation. For example, if you are explaining the present perfect don’t use the present perfect in your explanation.
If you want to beef up your understanding or the course book is confusing you, use a grammar book designed for teachers. I recommend Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener (Amazon, BEBC) and Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott (Amazon). Both of these will tell you about problems students might have with the grammar point, and suggest some ideas for CCQs. A new book aimed at helping new teachers with grammar is Learning to Teach Grammar by Simon Haines (Amazon, Delta, BEBC) – I haven’t used the book, but the previews look like it would be incredibly useful. [All Amazon links are affiliate links in this paragraph.]
As with vocabulary, be careful to research the exact area of the grammar which you are teaching to the students. For example, present continuous for actions in progress and for future arrangements are two different areas of meaning which need two different explanations (and therefore CCQs) when you first start teaching grammar.
Step 2: Boil it down
Take your definitions of the vocabulary item or your explanation of the grammar. Reduce it to two to four key words or concepts that you express in as few words as possible. Occasionally you need more than four, but this is very unusual. Here are some examples.
My reduction: after a long time, difficult (probably)
I’m going to meet my mum tonight.
Talking about the future
Decided before I speak
In my head, not my diary
Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my head
I’m meeting my mum later.
Talking about the future
Decided before I speak
In my diary (probably)
Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my diary
I’ll meet you later.
Talking about the future
Decided now (as I speak)
Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided now
If you’re struggling with this process when describing tenses, it can help to change the verb to another tense and think about the difference between the new and the old sentence. As you can see in the examples above, there are subtle differences which hold most of the time (often enough for you to help students understand them!)
Step 3: Make your questions
Look at the keywords you have created. Turn them into questions (sometimes easier said than done!)
The easiest questions to create are yes/no questions, but I don’t believe that the learners necessarily process the language if they only answer yes or no. I prefer questions which get the students to repeat the keywords I have identified to summarize that area of language. The best CCQs:
Are as short as possible. Don’t be polite or bury the question in unnecessary fluff: get to the point.
Are in the present simple or past simple.
Don’t contain the target language! (So no present perfect in your question about the present perfect.)
Use only language below the level of the students.
Require thought to answer.
Can be endlessly reused every time you check the meaning of that grammar point or vocabulary area.
Can clearly show the difference between similar grammar points in an unequivocal way with only slight variations (see below).
Are in a logical order starting from the biggest part of the meaning and moving to the most specific. Consider it like a flowchart, with each CCQ taking you on a different path, leading to a different tense/word choice (Read the examples below, then read that bullet point again if it didn’t make sense on your first pass!)
Here are examples taken from the key words above. Always keep your target language in a marker sentence to make the questions clearer.
Decide if the word can be shown with a picture or an item of realia, or demonstrated through mime. If so, stop here. However, you might want to use one or two CCQs to supplement the picture or the mime to clarify the boundaries of the meaning e.g. the difference between ‘chair’ and ‘armchair’.
The three example words I’ve selected can’t be easily shown using any of these methods, though a timeline or gesture or series of words (don’t understand, don’t understand, don’t understand, understand!) might help to emphasise the idea of a long time. That means it’s important to have CCQs in case a student is confused about how to use the word.
It took me ages to understand CCQs.
How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
(optional) Is ‘ages’ more formal or more informal? More informal.
I eventually understood CCQs after reading this blogpost.
Did I understand at the start or the end? At the end.
How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
I feel like I finally understand CCQs.
How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
Was it easy or difficult for me to understand? (Probably) difficult.
Notice that the order of the questions reflects the order of the concepts in the dictionary definitions. This can be a useful guideline – it works most of the time.
I’m going to meet my mum tonight.
Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
Is it in my head or in my diary? In my head.
I’m meeting my mum later.
Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
Is it in my head or in my diary? In my diary.
I’ll meet you later.
Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Now.
Step 4: Use them when you’re planning
One of my least favourite phrases on a lesson plan from somebody who is new to teaching: “Ask CCQs”. Please please please tell me exactly what you’ll ask and what answers you expect to hear from the students. This is far easier and more efficient than trying to think of them on the spot in the lesson – I still write exact CCQs on my plans now.
Complete any controlled practice exercises yourself which you plan to give the students. For each answer, use the key words you wrote in Step 2 to help you decide why that is the correct answer.
Step 5: Use them in the lesson
You can use CCQs to check if students understand the marker sentences. Make sure that the context the sentence is from is very clear. Don’t use isolated, decontextualised sentences as this will make it harder for the students to answer the questions correctly.
You can also use CCQs to help students decide if they have the correct answers in controlled practice exercises when they are choosing between different words or tenses. Having very short, clear keywords makes this efficient. CCQs which require the students to repeat the key words can reinforce the meaning for the students. This is where including reasons with the controlled practice answers in your planning will make things more efficient in the lesson, and make more learning happen.
Research the language.
Boil it down.
Write your questions.
Use them when you’re planning.
Use them in your lesson.
Trainers, what other CCQ advice do you give?
Teachers, what other problems do you have with CCQs?
*or “5 things no CELTA trainer ever said but which they see on every course!”
Please don’t do these things! Read on to find out what to replace them with and why.
Spend 10 minutes lecturing students about grammar
That’s definitely not how we learn grammar: by listening to somebody else tell us about it for ten minutes, often in confusing, over-complicated language, with only minimal examples. Also, the students have probably heard versions of the lecture before. The problem isn’t whether they can understand your lecture and explain the rules to somebody else, it’s whether they can actually use the language.
Instead of lecturing, get the students doing a task showing whether they can use the grammar as soon as possible.
If you’re not confident with this area of grammar, the task might be asking them to match rules to examples, with all of the examples taken from a clear context introduced earlier in the lesson. Often this is what a grammar box does in a coursebook (a light version of guided discovery), if you’re using one. Focus on the form, drill pronunciation, and give them controlled and freer practice activities. This is called present-practice-produce or PPP. While it’s not always the most efficient way of teaching language, students can still benefit providing they get enough practice and feedback on their performance.
If you’re a little confident, get students to start with an activity where they have to produce this specific language point. A controlled practice exercise can be turned into a mini test (in a test-teach-test or TTT model), which you can use to find out which parts of the grammar the students are having problems with. Check carefully whether the exercise tests their knowledge of meaning or form, and consider how you can test their pronunciation too. One activity I like is to give them a couple of minutes to say all of the sentences as quickly as possible in pairs. Don’t put them on the spot in open class to do this as that might put them off English for life if they struggle! Once you’ve gathered information about what they can and can’t do, fill in the gaps with your teaching, for example, by revising the negative form only because they’re already OK with the positive form. Test them again at the end of the lesson. This is a good approach because it allows you to target your teaching to the problems they have, instead of the broad brush approach of TTT.
If you’re very confident, give them a fully communicative speaking or writing activity which might lead them to using the target language of your lesson – you can adapt this from a freer practice exercise in the coursebook. An easy example would be having students tell each other a story at the beginning of a lesson on past tenses. You can find out the range of tenses they’re using (only past simple and past continuous? only present tenses?), as well as spot problems with form and pronunciation of the language you’d like to focus on. Then choose one or two grammar (or lexis or pronunciation or discourse) areas to focus on in your teaching to upgrade their language. Give them more opportunities to practice, perhaps with controlled practice, but most importantly with another speaking or writing activity where the focus is on communication, not accuracy of language, but where they can use the definitely use the target language. This is called task-based learning (or TBL), and is a useful approach because the focus is primarily on communication using all of the language resources at students’ disposal, not only using the specific target language the teacher has chosen for today.
Present all vocabulary items separately before students do their first vocabulary exercise
This might feel like you’re being helpful, but it removes all of the challenge from the vocabulary exercise, generally takes a long time, and reduces the opportunities students have to struggle a little, make mistakes, and get feedback – where the real learning happens. If we’re not struggling, we’re not learning.
Instead, let the students have a go at the exercise first. If they work alone, give them a chance to compare in pairs before you check their answers with them. Make sure you have analysed the meaning, form and pronunciation of all of the words in your lesson plan, just in case, but you don’t need to go over all of them with the students, only the problem words.
Even better, let the students work in pairs to do the exercise. That way, they can support each other with questions they find challenging and learn from each other. You can also hear them pronouncing the words. When monitoring during the activity, you can identify which words you need to check the meaning of more carefully and which ones you need to drill.
This might mean you go from looking at the meaning, form and pronunciation of eight words, to the meaning of two, the pronunciation of four, and checking the spelling of two other problem words. As you can imagine, this will take a lot less time, and students will be more engaged because it’s only dealing with their problems, instead of going over ground they’ve already covered before. It also means more time for the all important practice and feedback on it.
Read every question from a comprehension exercise aloud before you start the activity
While it’s great that students are aware of the questions before they do the reading/listening activity, this means students are listening to you for a long time. If you’re displaying the activity too, they’re trying to read and listen at the same time, which we normally do at different speeds. While this can help some students, for others it will interrupt their processing and make it harder. If you’re not displaying the questions, the students are trying to work out how much attention they should be paying – should they answer the questions? Remember them? Or what? If you ask students to read out each comprehension question, you’re generally putting them on the spot (they’ve rarely rehearsed) asking them to pronounce things that were meant to be read not spoken, and possibly are quite challenging. Other students are struggling to understand what they’re hearing, and again possibly getting distracted by the written form of the questions.
Instead, if it’s questions for a listening activity, give students 1-2 minutes (depending on how many questions there are) to read the questions in silence. You can give them a little task if you like e.g. underline any words which you’re not sure about. I don’t tend to do this though, as I’ve either already taught them a challenging word or two from the questions, or they’ll ask me themselves if they don’t know it and I’ve built up a relationship of trust and asking questions openly. It might also be worth highlighting the pronunciation of one or two words with strange sound-spelling relationships, such as queue, to prepare learners to notice it in the audio. Then ask learners if they’re ready to listen and play the audio.
If it’s a reading, it’s generally enough to highlight one or two words students might not understand in the questions, trying to elicit the meaning where possible rather than just telling the students. Then let them do the reading – they don’t necessarily need separate time to read all of the questions first.
Drill all the answers
After a reading or listening activity, you don’t need to drill the correct answers as students are answering the questions. It shifts the focus of the stage from ensuring that students all have the correct answers and know why they’re correct, to a pronunciation drill. If they’ve already got an answer with a similar meaning, they’re likely to start doubting themselves. They might not want to volunteer an answer if they’re worried about pronunciation. It can particularly confuse students when you shift back and forth between asking for an answer, drilling a version of it, asking for the next answer, drilling it, etc. as they don’t know what to focus on: the answers or the correct pronunciation?
Instead, make sure the students have all of the correct answers first. Here are a few ways to do this (some of them are Zoom-specific):
Teacher nominates students for verbal feedback (what we most commonly see, but this can take a long time and be very teacher-centred)
Students nominate each other.
All students answer the question verbally. (works well for short answers e.g. a, b)
Thumbs up/down if you agree with my answer.
Reveal the answers on PowerPoint from behind boxes – one at a time / all at once
Move pictures or words to provide visual support to oral feedback.
Type on the screen to provide visual support to oral feedback.
One student reads out all of the answers, the others say if there are any problems.
Display the answers with a couple of mistakes. Students have to find them.
Zoom: Type in the chat box – everybody types the same answer at the same time, controlled by the teacher.
Zoom: Type in the chat box – 1 student types each answer, e.g. Student A types 1, B types 2, C types 3, etc.
Zoom: Use the stamp function in annotate to tick/cross statements. (tell them it’s under ‘view options’ – only on computers, not phones)
Zoom: Get students to send answers only to you in the chat using the private message function.
Zoom: Students type all the answers, but don’t press enter until you tell them to (especially good for two or three short answers)
Zoom: Write longer answers in Google Docs/Padlet, preferably while doing the activity rather than afterwards.
If there were any major pronunciation problems which really impeded communication, make a note of them and go back to them once the students have all of the correct answers. If they didn’t impede communication, it’s OK not to worry about them.
The teacher must be in complete control of everything the students say and do throughout the lesson
This includes but is not limited to:
Lead ins which are a question and answer session between the teacher and the whole class, with only one student speaking at any one time
Long teacher-centred grammar presentations
A complete lack of pairwork or groupwork, only whole class, teacher-mediated activities
Feedback stages which consist of the teacher nominating each student in turn to basically repeat when they just said during pairwork
While each of these activities may (very!) occasionally be useful, if you never give the students any space or freedom to experiment with the language during the lesson, they won’t learn. Again, if we’re not struggling, we’re not learning. If you try to make sure that everything they ever produce is perfect, some students will shut down completely and stop trying to communicate. If you fully dominate the lesson, the pace often drops, students lose engagement and (particularly with kids and young learners) you start to have problems with classroom management as students don’t want to be there. I once heard this salient reminder from a feedback session (substituting my name for the person concerned): “Remember, Sandy, it’s not the Sandy show. You’re there to help the students, not do the work for them.”
Instead, hand over control to the students as much as possible. Set up pair and group work and monitor from the sidelines, being prepared to help when needed. Do this right from the start of the lesson, and take yourself out of the question. Find other ways to work with grammar (see the first point above). Vary your feedback stages so they’re not as teacher-centred. Let them decide how long activities should take, or choose which game you’re going to play (if they already know a couple). Give them opportunities to make the lessons and the language their own.
(A tiny bit of theory)
If CELTA trainers never tell their trainees to do these things, why do they happen on so many courses? I think I’ve seen all five of these things on every course I’ve done!
My feeling is that the apprenticeship of observation has a lot to do with it. This is a term coined by Dan Lortie in 1975 describing the fact that we spend many hours in classrooms as students and therefore form very fixed pre-conceptions of what a teacher should do and be. For many trainees, CELTA is the first time they’ve encountered a student-centred approach to teacher, where the aim is to set up the conditions for students to learn and facilitate activities and practice, rather than lecture them and control everything. When planning a lesson and not sure what to do, trainees are unlikely to remember a minute or two the couple of hours or so of a demo lesson or an observation showing them how we’d suggest they do a particular activity, especially if the trainee doesn’t really believe this is the ‘correct’ way to teach. Instead they fall back on ‘tried and tested’ methods of teacher control, lecturing, and reading aloud and nothing much changes until they get trainer feedback.
I know some trainers try to combat this by doing an early session on the course encouraging trainees to think about what being a good teacher actually means and how we learn both inside and outside the classroom. This helps trainees to uncover their beliefs and begin to question them straight away. I’d be interested to know what other ideas people have for resolving this issue, or at least bringing it to light as quickly as possible.
On Monday 6th July I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences over the next few weeks. This is a long post as it sets the scene, but hopefully the others will be a little shorter!
What’s your previous experience with CELTA?
SM: I’ve been a CELTA tutor since August 2014. In 2014-2015 I did courses full-time around the world, and since then I’ve just done courses in the summers in between my other job as a Director of Studies. I didn’t do a course last summer as I started my MA, so my last course was in July 2018. All of the courses I’ve done have been full-time, four-week, face-to-face courses.
SW: I became a CELTA tutor in June 2015and I’ve have been working as a full-time trainer since then. I worked as a Teacher Training Manager from 2016-2017, when I did a course every month. Since then, I have been a freelance teacher trainer working on CELTAs and other training courses in the Middle East, Latin America, Central Asia, the US, and Europe. In that time, I have worked on full-time and part-time CELTA courses, but they have all been face-to-face up to now.
What’s the context?
SM: My course has 18 trainees based in a wide range of locations: the UK, Italy, Andorra, Poland, Romania, Jerusalem and Gibraltar; they’re from the UK, Ireland, China, Italy, Russia, Poland, Romania and Germany. Our students are also from many different countries: Turkey, Brazil, Chile – some living at home, and some based in the UK now. It’s one of the most international courses I’ve worked on. As I’m based in Poland and the course is run from the UK, time zones are a little confusing, and we’ve definitely had one student who’s arrived an hour early because of this! The other two trainers are based in the UK and have previously run online CELTA courses, so I’m definitely benefitting from their experience.
SW: I’m based in Slovakia and working on a course run from Gran Canaria. There are 11 trainees, all based in Gran Canaria as far as I know. They’re from Gran Canaria, Morocco, Poland, the UK, Ireland, Ukraine, and Argentina. Our students are all Spanish from different parts of Gran Canaria, mostly lawyers who are also participating in online courts sometimes have to miss some lessons. They’re mostly in their 30s and 40s. My co-trainer is in Gran Canaria.
How did you originally feel about online CELTAs?
SM: When I first heard about online CELTAs back in March, I was really worried that they would not maintain the standards of the face-to-face course. It’s hard now to put my finger on why, but I think I was worried that the technology was new to most of us as trainers, and we wouldn’t know how to train teachers to use it properly if we weren’t fully confident with it ourselves. I was concerned about how CELTA criteria designed for a physical classroom would map onto an online environment, and I also wasn’t sure how the extra layer of dealing with technology would impact on trainees who already have a lot to get their heads around. I originally felt like CELTAs run fully online should be a separate course with separate certification. As a recruiter, I was concerned that CELTA graduates from online courses would not be ready to stand in front of a classroom full of people and confidently teach them, and that as a school we would have to do a lot of extra training to get them to that point.
SW: Initially, I wasn’t completely sure about whether trainees who’d done courses online would feel fully prepared to teach in a classroom. I feel like a lot of trainers initially thought that online versions of the course wouldn’t be as high quality and we were biased against it. When we realised things weren’t going to change overnight and the world was changing, we started to open our minds more and we started to see what opportunities this situation has to offer. I’m still deciding how I feel about this, but in the near future current CELTA trainees will certainly be more trained for the environment we will probably have to teach in. There’ll be a much more blended world afterwards – we don’t know what level of safety there will be, but more people will teach, work and learn from home. However, the success of the online CELTA will depend on who the trainers are and what they’re bringing to trainees’ attention. Employers need to know what training they have to do after an online course to get teachers ready for the classroom. As trainers, we need to make it clear to trainees how it’ll be different face-to-face.
How do you feel now? Why?
SM: Over the past few months I’ve followed a lot of discussions between CELTA trainers who have been running courses online. I’ve also built up my own experience with Zoom, and learnt a lot from my colleagues at IH Bydgoszcz and other IH schools. I’ve completely changed my mind about CELTAs run fully online, and now know that they’re here to stay. They’ve offered so many people the chance to do the course who wouldn’t normally be able to.
The trainees I’ve seen this week are already better at giving and checking instructions and demonstrating activities than some trainees in week 3 of face-to-face courses I’ve worked on before. Their reflection is already deeper and more productive. They’re more aware of the students right from the start of the course: normally they’re so focussed on what they’re doing as teachers, that they forget the people in front of them. As on every course, the trainees are immediately taking what they learn from observing each other into their lessons the next day, but I feel like it’s happening across the board with the whole group, instead of just the stronger teachers doing this. These are all things I’ve seen reflected in discussions with other trainers.
There are a few possible reasons for this: not having a commute or having to get used to living somewhere new frees up time to focus on the course. Everyone being in their homes means trainees are relaxed, and therefore more able to take in what’s happening in input and feedback. When we observe lessons, our cameras and microphones are off. That means that if you need to stand up and move around, or have a snack, or have an emotional reaction to what’s happening in front of you, you can do it without fear of distracting the teacher. This makes it easier to maintain concentration when you’re observing. Trainees aren’t spending ages cutting things up, fighting with a printer or a copier, or worrying about where *that* bit of paper has disappeared to, so they’ve got more mental space to focus on what’s actually happening in the lesson and what the students are doing. Trainees are also not as aware of or distracted by the other people watching them – instead of looking for the trainer’s reaction to something they’ve just done, they just get on with it. Students might feel more confident too as only one teacher is obviously focussing on them, rather than a rather intimidating seven!
I’ve also really enjoyed the input sessions I’ve done, as I’ve been able to demonstrate various ways to use Zoom, and have also been able to incorporate technology much more easily. For example, when I asked trainees to look at a couple of websites which are useful for learning phonetic symbols, they didn’t have to find and start their laptops before they could explore the sites. Another benefit has been how easy it is to observe my colleagues. I’ve been able to watch a couple of their input sessions and they’ve watched mine, while still being able to get on with other work in the background.
SW: We know this is likely to continue for a long time. The reality might be that these trainees are more prepared for the next year of teaching than traditional teachers who are adjusting, fantastically but have old habits to break. New teachers don’t know any other way of teaching. What we’re providing them with on an online CELTA is a good thing for the future.
Technology skills are a big factor – logistical things like which link to use to go to TP (teaching practice) or input can be quite confusing. Trainees fresh out of university are generally not having a problem as they already have the technology skills and their study skills are fresh. They’re very supportive with those who are finding it harder. I emphasise that the trainees are there to support each other, as I do on every course. We have a couple of people who were unfamiliar with technology before they started and that’s been very challenging for them and us. They weren’t completely prepared for the learning curve of moving to an online environment and the pressure that adds on top of CELTA. Dealing with Google Docs, learning to use breakout rooms, understanding where to find all of the documents – we had one person drop out because of this learning curve. Some people might feel like they have to do a CELTA course because they want the qualification and now there’s time to do it. There’s pressure on them, so they dive in without being fully prepared. On the other hand, some people love all the online courses they’re able to do and get really into it. One person really enjoyed learning all of the technology that was completely new to them, and now knows how to talk about it and use it in the classroom after just one week.
Our trainees all had a 45-minute unassessed TP with feedback before they did TP1. That meant they’d had more lessons and some feedback by the time they got to TP1 – they’re further on before they got assessed for the first time. They were more insightful already at this point, and trying more challenging things. For example, some trainees were already negotiating meaning with their students in TP1. The pressure is off, and it’s not so scary by the time you get to the assessed part. I’m meant to be running my first face-to-face course since the pandemic soon, and I’d like to carry this over from the online CELTA so that they have unassessed TP before they get the pressure of assessment.
Observing lessons is much more comfortable and relaxed than in a classroom. 2.5 hours of TP always feels like a long time to sit still and observe. At home, we can move around, stand up, or stretch, and it doesn’t look awkward. I’m using my tablet to watch the lessons, with my laptop open to type everything up. Trainees aren’t watching our reactions all the time, they’re just thinking about teaching.
What are the challenges of the online CELTA and how have you dealt with them?
SM: Our course had extra sessions the week before the main course to introduce some of the functions of Zoom, particularly breakout rooms. We sent out a short tech questionnaire before the course, asking how familiar trainees were with Zoom, word processing software, presentation software, and internet functions. We also checked what kind of computer they’re accessing the course on and whether they have any recurring tech problems. This was a very useful needs analysis to help us find out who needs what tech help straight away. Trainees also had a 20-minute unassessed TP to familiarise themselves with managing the tech while teaching.
There was a big storm here yesterday and I thought I’d have a power cut, so I asked a trainee who was observing to start a recording if I dropped out of the lesson so I’d be able to watch it later. I think I’ll prepare a trainee to do that each day regardless of the weather from now on.
When trainees have had internet or other tech problems, I’ve had to decide whether their TP should be extended for a few minutes or not to compensate for this. Luckily our TP is at the end of the day, so I have the flexibility to do this.
The strangest thing for me is that I don’t feel like I know all of the trainees after a week. We had a very short getting to know you activity on day one, but then had to show them the Moodle where they’ll upload all of their documents. I can’t chat to them in breaks or just before and after input sessions as easily, so although I know the six trainees in my TP group well, I’ve only had limited interaction with the other twelve in the two input sessions I’ve done. I observed sessions run by the other trainers on the first two days so I could see the trainees in action, but haven’t interacted with them much at all.
SW: Our course had an extra day the week before when trainees had a Zoom tutorial and watched demo lessons. I taught my demo from where I was on holiday, so didn’t participate in the rest of the day, which was run by my co-trainer. That meant that I missed out on getting to know you activities, so my first input session was a challenge as it felt a bit awkward, but this was much better by the end of the week. I’ve made a real effort to pair trainees up with those from the other TP group (as I do face-to-face too) so they can all get to know each other better. At first the trainees thought I was Slovak with a really good American accent. They didn’t realise I was American until my phonology session later in the week!
One teacher had internet issues during her lesson. The video and audio were breaking up, and she was worried that if she put students into BORs, they’d disappear. She decided to keep them in the main room, but this increased her teacher talking time and reduced the student-centred activities. It’s a challenge deciding what to do in feedback in this case, as she’d clearly made a decision based on the circumstances, but that meant students got less speaking practice.
What have you learnt this week?
SM: These are the tips I’ve picked up this week.
When I was teaching on Zoom before, my students all had course books. On the CELTA course, they don’t have any materials, so they have to take a picture of the activity before they go into breakout rooms (BORs), either on their phones or by doing a screen shot.
When students are doing a reading, display the reading text on the screen and get them to take a picture of the questions. If they’re doing this task in BORs, they need the reading text in a document which one of them can share (e.g. a Google Doc link for the reading, and the questions on their phones).
When monitoring in BORs, switch off your camera and microphone to make it less intrusive. (Thanks for the tip Rebecca!) Scott Donald called this ‘ninja mode’, a term I’ve already stolen!
I’ve found I’m spontaneously interrupting trainees more to help with tech problems, for example when a reading doesn’t display or when their video is off (if the students haven’t told them). Normally I would only interrupt during TP if a trainee asked for my help. I think it’s OK to do this at the start of the course while trainees are familiarising themselves with the platform, but I’ve told them I’ll only do this in TP1 and TP2, and after that they should ask for help if they need it.
SW: I hadn’t been teaching on Zoom before, apart from one small conversation class, so I’m learning as we go as well. It can be a challenge sometimes, but it’s really beneficial learning from our trainees as well – they’re more familiar with some aspects of the tech than me. Because of lockdown, trainees know we’re probably new at the technology. This has levelled the playing field as we’re all learning from each other. You have to be open about learning along with them. I’ve found the Teaching English Online course from FutureLearn and Cambridge really useful. Here are some things I’ve realised this week:
Put all the links for rooms in one place to simplify things for trainees.
A Zoom tutorial before the course starts is essential.
Remind trainees that sometimes students should switch the camera off. This is the procedure I’m teaching them for reading lessons to students them some space.
You can move from one BOR to another directly, rather than going back to the main room each time.
How do you organise TP feedback?
SM: BORs are great for reflection on TP! I’ve adapted an idea from CELTA trainer discussions. I set up a Google Doc with a table for trainees to write strengths and action points for each teacher they saw. Above the table I display the criteria we’re working on at this point in the course, so they know what to focus on.
I did this in pairs in BORs, one teacher from that day and one observer, so there were three sets of criteria and tables in the document. I told them to start with other people’s lessons and finish with that of the teacher in the pair, i.e. if ABC taught and AD are discussing the lessons, they discuss B and C’s lessons first, then A’s. They have 15 minutes to complete the document and I look at their notes while they’re doing this but leave them in peace in the BORs.
For the other 15 minutes of our feedback, they read each other’s comments, then I talk about general strengths from all of the lessons and one specific strength and action point for each teacher. I also add any Zoom tips based on problems that day, and perhaps demonstrate one or two techniques trainees should find useful in future lessons.
Afterwards, I send them the link so that everyone has access to some written follow-up to the feedback from that day, not only the teachers.
This is different to how I’ve done feedback on face-to-face courses, when I often feel like we spend a lot of time on what problems there were because I set up more of a carousel, with each teacher getting individual feedback from each of the three observers, and having little time to reflect on the lessons they saw, instead talking about their own lesson three times.
I feel like this approach to feedback has been incredibly positive. Around 20-25 minutes of our 30-40 minutes are focussed on strengths, with only about 5 minutes on action points, and another 5 or so on how to work on the action points. Trainees are learning from and focussing on each other’s strengths, and I’ve seen them putting this into action straight away.
SW: I think it’s important to give trainees space to talk about things together without me being there. I leave them in the main room and tell them I’ll be back in 10 minutes. We also talk about the importance of trainees giving the students space, for example through activities with the video off, which creates a different dynamic. By removing yourself from the discussion by switching the video off or leaving the room, you’re not tempted to keep stepping in and solving problems. I used a Padlet I set up as their observation task. I started columns of positive points and constructive criticism for each teacher which trainees added to as the lesson went on. I could watch who was participating and what was happening, keeping trainees active in our morning TP.
What else would you like us to talk about?
Over to you: if you’ve got this far (thank you!), what questions would you like us to answer in the next three weeks?
This year’s IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference happened in Greenwich from 9th-11th January 2020. As always, I enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice as much as possible.
You can read about previous AMT conferences I’ve attended in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)
Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about at this year’s conference. (As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own, not those of the speakers – please correct me if needed!)
Managing performance in ELT
Maureen McGarvey asked us to draw the organisational structure and consider the organisational culture of our schools. She emphasised that without knowing the structure and culture of our school and how teachers perceive them, we can’t effectively manage performance at our schools. We need to clearly articulate the culture of our school to teachers, as you bring the culture with you from previous places you’ve worked. This can be one source of frustration for managers, and may lead us to think staff are being pig-headed, when in fact they’re butting up against the culture of the school and their perceptions of it.
She surveyed staff about how they want to be managed, using 5 questions:
What do you expect/would you like your line manager to do for you in terms of support and development across the year?
How would you like your line manager to manage your performance across the year?
What systems does your LTO (language teaching organisation) have in place for managing performance, as far as you’re aware?
Do you think the systems you identified are adequate? Any amendments or changes you’d suggest?
How would you like your line manager to deal with performance issues should they arise?
This threw up lots of interesting responses, mostly connected to personal awareness. When we talk about change and CPD as managers, we tend to present it as data. But those who changes or development are being ‘done to’ perceive it through their anxieties and fears. We need to create personal connections with staff and follow up regularly, not just check in once or twice a year. The survey showed up various variants on the idea of “regular, brief, human conversations” and “personal, face-to-face” contact, including a key focus on positives. Performance management isn’t just about managing negative performance and dealing with problems, but also about helping good teachers get better.
She reminded us that an interested beginner draws on every possible resource to learn, but that as we become experts in a particular area, we often stop doing this. We can also become poor listeners as we assume we already know things.
To stop being blinded by our expertise, we need to get a sense of wonder back into what we do: ‘I wonder how this works?’ We should also ask ‘What am I not asking you that I should?’ more often to keep in touch with those who are still beginners in our area, or who haven’t reached the same level of expertise that we have. This is just a taster: there are a lot more ideas in the HBR article, which I definitely recommend reading.
Christopher Graham told us about the environmental impact of ELT, for example the number of students who study English in the UK every year and are therefore flying in and out of the country. Even EU-based students tend to fly, when they could potentially get the train.
Emma Gowing talked about how we can refocus the training of how to teach listening to make sure new teachers are really teaching listening, not just testing it. She suggested the following ideas:
Help teachers to write aims that focus on developing rather than practising listening skills.
Highlight that comprehension tasks are a diagnostic rather than a teaching tool, to help teachers find out what learners are having trouble with.
Avoid right/wrong answers in listening activities. Instead use activities that promote the negotiation of meaning.
Get trainee teachers to take notes to identify difficulties.
Show how to use the audioscript to isolate difficulties and identify whether the issue was meaning or hearing related (i.e. do they know the meaning of the word(s) but couldn’t identify it in the listening?)
Include a ‘listen again’ stage focussed on difficult parts, helping students to recognise why the listening was hard for them.
When teaching staging, reduce the importance of preparation stages (lead in/gist) in favour of more in-depth detailed/post-listening activities.
Use authentic materials, grading the task not the text, wherever possible.
She has summarised her ideas for teachers in this article for the IH Journal.
Fun at work
Lucie Cotterill’s talk was called The Fun Factor – Let’s Play Leadership. She shared ideas that they’ve used at IH Reggio Calabria to get more fun into the school, and shared the research behind why it’s important to have fun at work. It makes us more productive, improves mental wellbeing, and increases staff satisfaction.
My favourite idea was a Christmas gift they gave their staff. They created a Google form for all staff (including admin staff). Respondents had to share the first positive adjective they thought of for each staff member. One adjective was selected and sewn onto a pencil case with the teacher’s name. All of the other adjectives were put on a piece of paper inside the pencil case. Now the teachers have a reminder of how much they are valued by their colleagues, and they can see it all the time.
Better self evaluation
Manana Khvichia described how they’ve reorganised their CELTA to improve self evaluation and help their trainees to quickly become reflective practitioners. Their CELTA now only has one input session a day and much longer feedback sessions. Self evaluation forms are created personally for each teacher, with the trainer writing a series of questions during the observation. Trainees write their own thoughts first, then look at the trainer’s questions and respond to them. They can do this because they’ve seen models of the trainer’s self-evaluation after the demo lesson on the first day, analysed this together, and had a full session on how to reflect. Feedback sessions often turn into mini inputs based on what the trainees need at that point in the course.
This was the most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, and I’ve asked Manana to write about it for this blog, so watch this space!
What I’ve learnt about teaching training this year
Diana England described what they’ve done at IH Torres Vedras to make drop-in observations more effective for their teachers. She says that having regular drop-in observations makes them a positive thing, not just something that happens when there’s a problem. It also shows students that multiple people are involved in their progress, not just their teacher.
During induction week, the teachers discuss terminology related to drop-ins, and decide on their own definitions, for example of ‘rapport’, ‘classroom management’, etc. They complete a questionnaire to show their beliefs related to these areas. The drop-in observer completes the same questionnaire, with a space at the bottom for extra comments. Post-observation feedback involves comparing the responses to both versions of the questionnaire.
The questionnaire is made up of factual statements, such as ‘I can spot early finishers and ensure they are purposefully engaged’ or ‘I know and use all my students’ names’, with the responses ‘Definitely’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Not enough’, ‘I need more guidance with this’. This system has evolved over time, so that now the teachers create their own questionnaires, rather than using one developed by the school.
This is definitely something I’d like to experiment with at our school.
Improving the agency and confidence of novice teachers
Marie Willoughby talked about a workshop she ran to help novice teachers adapt coursebooks to make them more engaging. It was much more teacher-centred than her workshops used to be. She designed it this way to help teachers build their confidence and realise that they are able to solve problems and ask for help, rather than relying on their own knowledge and worrying when they don’t know something. This topic was selected following interviews with the teachers, as they said they often used coursebooks to help them plan but didn’t know how to make them engaging for students.
The workshop looked like this:
Brainstorm ‘What is engagement and why is it important?’
Discuss what engagement looks like at each stage of a CAP(E) lesson and how you can evaluate this.
Teachers created a list of questions based on their own experience up to this point to help them consider engagement at each stage of the lesson. The questions showed up their current needs, and formed the basis of group discussions.
Session homework was to take a piece of material, choose two parts and evaluate whether they’re engaging, change if needed, then evaluate it afterwards. Afterwards they had to tell a colleague: I did this, it worked. OR I did this, it didn’t.
Marie said that she felt like she hadn’t taught them anything in the session, but that afterwards she got great feedback. It helped the teachers realise that they had the right to change things, and didn’t have to just use them as they were.
She contrasted classic training with agency-driven training. In class training, the outcome is pre-determined by the trainer/tasks, there is a focus on best practice, elicitation and leading questions, and a power differential in dialogue. In agency-driven training, the outcome emerges during and beyond the session, there are no right answers (open-ended tasks), a collaborative effort to explore choices and evaluate (not talking about procedures), and equality in dialogue.
By making this shift, Marie says that she has realised the power of training lies in the process, not the product, of training sessions. Returning back to Monica’s idea of being blinded by our expertise, we need to question our training routines: when are we empowering when helping and when not? Do we praise confidence, collaboration, evaluation and leave it there? Without having to give trainees the answer or find the next step: sometimes we shut down options when we help, instead of letting teachers find answers themselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help trainees, but rather that we should reflect on the help we give.
Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone told us why it’s important for us to work with different accents in the classroom. She talked about how cultural knowledge includes knowing about stereotypical accents and phrases. For example, in the UK we have stereotypical images of what a policeman, farmer, Asian corner shop owner, etc sound like. We know that in real life people don’t always sound like this, but there are a lot of reference points, for example in comedy, which rely on us being aware of these stereotypes.
We should work with a range of accents to help students gain familiarity with different models of speech. The hint that an accent might be present can impede understanding, even if the person speaking if completely clear – we put up mental blocks.
The series Death in Paradise, which is pre-watershed so contains nothing you’d need to bleep out, but has a wide range of accents
Young learner safety
Edward Evans described what they’ve done at IH BKC Moscow to put a policy in place to ensure teachers know what to do to keep young learners safe in the school, and so that the school knows what to do if there is a concern about the safety of young learners.
He reminded us of the importance of considering safety before anything bad happens, rather than only as a reaction. This is especially important in some countries where you might have issues when working with child safety: a lack of good state school policies, an aversion to procedures, training is unavailable, or where child abuse is not a ‘hot topic’. ‘Common sense’ is not a good yardstick for behaviour, as it means different things to different people. Schools need to have clear policies in place.
At Edward’s school, they drew on UK state school procedure to put policy documents in place. These are accompanied by a clear system of which offences lead to a warning, and which lead to instant dismissal. They have reporting procedures in place, along with procedures for how to handle any reports which come in. This is detailed in a two-page document which teachers need to sign when they start working at the school, and every year thereafter to remind them of the policies.
Q & A session
Along with Ian Raby, Giovanni Licata and Jenny Holden, I was part of a panel taking questions from the floor related to various aspects of training and management. I really enjoyed this, but you’d have to ask other people what we said because I (obviously!) wasn’t tweeting what happened 🙂
Lindsay Clandfield gave an updated version of his IATEFL 2019 plenary about mythology, methodology and the language of education technology. You can watch the 2019 version of it here, which I’d recommend if you have any interest in how we talk about edtech.
Jonathan Ingham asked whether an incremental coaching model can improve teaching. He works at a college where he observes English teachers, but also teachers of many other subjects, like brickwork, carpentry, and media make-up.
Jonny’s school was inspired by UK state schools who have implemented this model, summarised in this blog post. Rather than 2-3 observations per year, each with a range of action points to work on, teachers are observed every one or two weeks with only a single action point to work on. Feedback is brief and on the same day where possible, with opportunities during the feedback session to practise the changes that the observer suggests. As it is much more focussed, Jonny says that teachers have responded really well: it feels less intrusive, and changes to teaching have been really noticeable. This is something I’d like to try out at our school next year.
Kieran Donaghy showed us various frameworks we can use to help students develop their visual literacy. Viewing is becoming the ‘fifth skill’ and has been added to curricula in Canada, Australia and Singapore as viewing and images have taken over from reading and the written word as the principal way we communicate.
He suggested the following resources:
Into Film’s 3 C’s (colour, camera, character) and 3 S’s (story, setting, sound) as a way of approaching videos – the link contains lots of examples of how to use them, and questions you can ask
The Center for Media Literacy’s educator resources, particularly 5 key questions and 5 core concepts
Visual Thinking Routines such as ‘see-think-wonder’ (I’ve used this routine a lot with my teens and they really like it)
He also shared work from Richard Chinn into how we can help teachers learn to work with emergent language more quickly. Working with emergent language is a skilled practice, so how can we help teachers arrive at this more quickly?
Rachael Roberts finished off the conference by help us to recognise the warning signs of burnout. She gave us the following tips to help our teachers:
Cut down on paperwork. Is this actually helpful/useful? For example, do the agenda at the start of meetings to keep focus. Examine marking policies and whether students benefit from them.
Help your staff keep boundaries. Don’t expect teachers to reply outside school hours. Expect them to take real breaks. Be clear about your own boundaries as a manager. Only check emails when you know you can actually respond to them – otherwise you’re raising your stress hormones for no good reason!
Examine unconscious beliefs you hold about teaching. For example: ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.’ Is sacrifice really the model we want to hold about teaching?
Learn to say no to people and projects, and allow our teachers to say no. This includes to things that might be enjoyable, not just things that are difficult!
Notice your feelings and attitudes towards situations. If you have a choice, choose to be positive.
Where possible, empower teachers to make decisions for themselves.
Don’t jump to conclusions about why people might be being difficult. Avoid a culture of perfectionism, and show your own vulnerability.
Explain the rationale behind what you are doing. Involve and consult staff when making decisions. Be patient with their responses/reactions.
We are excited to share this video with you from our annual #IHConfAMT! 🤩 The community of International House DOSes and senior teachers met in London for 3 days of sessions, networking and sharing ideas. We just wanted to say a big thank you to everybody who joined us! pic.twitter.com/ST7PNLbsOX
Every May, International House World Organisation runs their Teachers’ Online Conference (TOC) event. This is a day or two of short talks on a huge range of topics presented by teachers from across the IH network. They are recorded and you can still watch talks from previous years. I’ll add the recordings from this year once they’re available (in the next week or so).
This year, the event happened on Friday May 17th. My presentation was designed to help you reduce your planning time, but still teach an effective lesson. It’s based around adapting a double-page coursebook spread to maximise the usefulness for my students while not adding huge amounts of planning/materials creation to my day.
The questions I suggested you could use when thinking about planning are:
How can we do these pages?
What do my students need the most?
What do they already know?
How much time do they need to bridge the gap?
How can I maximise engagement?
What can the book support the students in?
What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
How much variety is needed? How can I add it?
Another possible set of questions I’ve come up with in the last couple of days is:
What do my students want to know (how to do)?
What aspects of that language/skill/function etc. do they already know? How will I find that out in the lesson if I’m not sure?
How can I help them bridge the gap between what they can already do and what they want/need to do? What problems might they have with this language/skill/function? What can they/I do about them? (Is there something in the book that already deals with this? Do I need to add/change something?)
How can I check/make sure students realise they’ve improved?
I’d be interested to know what happens if you try out either of these sets of questions as a planning approach as they’re a reflection of what I think I do when I approach planning, and I’ve only written them down this week!
Elementary functions lesson
These are my notes for the Speakout Elementary coursebook spread above, which I used to generate the questions. You can see me voicing them and adding extra detail in the recording of my session.
“Teaches itself” – Everything is here – could work through page from start to finish, and SS would learn. But book-bound, little variety and most importantly… probably too long – potentially 2-3 hours of lessons here if you really exploit it. Start with timing – 90-minute lesson, take away warmer/homework check = 70 minutes-ish left over.
Need to prioritise. What’s main aim? What’s most useful to my students? Unlikely to have time to do justice to both function and telling a story so pick one to really work with in depth. Ask students which one in previous lesson? At elementary = aim should be building confidence, rather than rushing through and ‘finishing’ everything. Repetition, practice, chances to use the language.
So I choose apologies (I think my students will be able to use this every lesson – they’re always having problems! And useful when they travel/meet new people) Stories are great too, but I’ve got to pick one – not enough time to do justice to both.
Where could you start? How can you engage them in the topic?
The image in 3A might not generate much conversation, though the story is good. Set up situation – clear context. Going into work. You had this problem from image (either cartoon or p93 pictures). What did you say to your boss? Mini roleplay – test what they already know. Start from communication rather than language (TBL) + help students to notice the gap. Tells you how much you need to teach them later.
Could also start with images from p93 – what are the problems? Who apologies? Why? Start with finding out what students already know.
Or the excuses vocab from 2A/2B if they’re a lower level and really need the help, or this could follow looking at the images if it turns out they don’t know the language – they’re producing ‘lost keys’ ‘didn’t wake up’.
> Materials needed = images scanned/photoed from your phone (with copyright information!) rather than spending time Googling other images, or the book software if you have access to it, or a quick cartoon you can draw on the board of one of the situations from the book, or you need 3A/3B from book/board. If in book, ask students to cover ex 4 onwards.
Various options for next stage: if you’re confident, you can work with student-generated language and build up dialogue with them on board, adding in phrases from 4A/4B/4C as needed – could be engaging if you can keep everyone involved, could also be very teacher-centred! Less teacher-centred = they write out their roleplay in pairs/groups and you go round feeding in language. If less confident, work through 4A/4B/4C as is. = meaning, form. Language bank gives some extra practice if needed.
BUT what’s missing? What about pron, drilling, memorisation, student confidence? Will they be able to use these phrases accurately and fluently later? This is where your time will probably go in an elementary functions lesson! What could you do that’s minimal prep here? Key word drill, deletion drill, first letter drill, remember/test/write – all useful. Decide how much needed in the lesson.
> Materials needed: book, board, choice of key words (but students can help you decide those in the lesson – better if from them!)
Lots of practice of phrases, now back to context and communication.
Show them the framework from 5A (in book/photo on board with copyright/key words written on board – up to you, but minimal prep!) – pairs think of conversations between teacher and student, practice for a couple of minutes, ask if anyone wants to perform.
Could use 5B to show who apologises to who, or could elicit from students on board – probably more engaging and creative
They come up with more conversations, perhaps in a mingle – they haven’t moved yet in the lesson! Or use 5C as is – they listen and guess = engaging, reason to listen. Feed back on what they’ve done / Language upgrades / Ask if they’ve improved their confidence.
Intermediate grammar lesson
I ran out of time to discuss this in my presentation – I wanted to show how you could use the questions generated by the elementary spread to plan with another coursebook/level. I’m imagining planning a lesson for a group of 12 students, aged 16-45, about half and half teens and adults, with a 90-minute lesson of which the first 20 minutes are revision/HW check.
Here are my answers to the seven planning questions:
What do my students need the most?
Aim is to get them using relative clauses (which I know my intermediate students don’t use from observing them in previous lessons), not learning about Che; communication key – lots of speaking.
What do they already know? (in this case, at the planning stage what do I think they already know?)
Have seen defining clauses before, but probably don’t use. Maybe first time with non-defining within our school, but teens are likely to have seen it at school fairly recently and will probably be faster.
How much time do they need to bridge the gap? (in this case, what’s my prediction when I’m planning?)
Time spent on seeing what they already know about relative clauses, and giving them plenty of time to produce their own = start planning with the end of the lesson? Adults will need more time than teens.
How can I maximise engagement? (when answering this, I ended up writing out a whole plan!)
Teen students unlikely to know about him, and I’m not sure the adults will be that interested in him either. So raising interest important (could find another person to describe, but that creates loads of work and we want minimal prep!) Right from start, get them talking about films about famous people & they could return to this at end of the lesson producing their own description of person/film for example. Should be more accessible for all ages (could be real film or one they wish existed) – so a twist on the topic.
To segue to the reading, do a KWL chart. Or they could write 5 questions they want a film about Che to answer, rather than testing their knowledge (which I suspect most of them don’t have!) – student-generated = more interesting. Or use the photos but not the quiz? Lots of options!
When they were talking about their own people/films, did they use relative clauses? Probably not – so point this out to them before 1d to give them a reason to pay attention. 1g is OK as text follow-up, but won’t use that many relative clauses. But you could use it as another test of whether they’re producing relative clauses, since they’ve seen examples of them now – retelling a text is a great way to see what language they already use.
Bridge the gap by working with sentences you collected while monitoring when they were talking about their films, or predicted they’d get wrong before the lesson (this is a good approach if you’re less confident/find it difficult to hear what students say) – with relative clauses, the biggest problems are normally the form (word order, which relative pronoun to use, producing sentences like GGB is the actor who he played Che where the word the pronoun replaced isn’t removed) and the intonation difference between defining and non-defining clauses (Can they ‘hear the commas’?), so these are the things you should plan to help them with. Do memorisation work with Ex 1d to keep it in context – get students to reproduce sentences without looking (probably with some form of key word prompt), or read-remember-cover-write-check, or translate the sentence into their mother tongue then back into English with their books closed. In all cases, compare the differences between what they wrote and the original – they’ll notice the problems and you can point them out if they don’t! None of these ideas require extra prep! Keep the grammar bank in reserve if they really need extra form help, but you’ll lose the context of Che/famous people here.
For pron work, they read all of the sentences in 1d in pairs as quickly as possible, though without worrying about the pron of words like Che, Bernal and Rosario! You can get them to write he or it above the sentences to make it easier. Do an open class drill of any sentences that cause problems, including pointing out the commas and the difference that makes to intonation if they had trouble with it.
Another possible activity for practice: students write out a sentences from 1d, but separated (The photo is probably one of the best known photos in theworld. It was taken in 1960.) on scrap paper, then test each other by mingling with one piece of paper each and asking their partner to recombine them verbally. You don’t need to prep this – it’s a challenge to work out how to separate the sentences and students will learn from this, also chance to mingle and move around. This activity can take quite a long time though, so decide in the lesson whether it’s needed and have your scrap paper ready. No point spending ages prepping it yourself if you’re not going to end up using it! Could be reused as revision in future lessons too if you collect the scrap paper.
Then they do the writing/speaking about their film again at the end but with a new partner, and you can praise them on how many (more) relative clauses they’re using and/or how accurately they’re using them now compared to before!
What can the book support the students in?
See point 4.
What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
See point 4.
How much variety is needed? How can I add it?
They’ve moved, changed groupings, worked with heads up and heads down, and produced something creative (talking about their films). There’s speaking, listening (to their partners), writing (if you do the scrap paper activity), reading, grammar, pronunciation, and probably a bit of vocab from the reading or fed in during the speaking activities.
The lessons as described above:
are relatively flexible
leave the students space to show what they know
allow you to respond to their needs by filling gaps in their knowledge instead of trying to cover everything because it’s in the book (and are therefore more focussed and engaging)
require no extra materials, or some quick-to-prepare materials if you want to do this, using what’s in the coursebook as a jumping-off point
include time for memorisation and confidence-building
have a range of activity types, not just completing exercises from the book
give students the chance to notice their progress
require minimal preparation beyond thinking about the answers to the questions! No cutting up 🙂
If you want to have a go at this kind of brainstorming yourself, there’s a task called ‘One activity, multiple tasks’ in ELT Playbook 1. Find out how to get your copy via the ELT Playbook blog and share your ideas on social media or in the comments below.
I’ve just finished working on a CELTA course in Strasbourg, and one of the things some trainees had trouble with was getting and maintaining the attention of their students. Here are some of the questions I asked them and tips I gave in feedback after the lessons.
Do they know what signal you will give them when you want them to pay attention?
If you tell the students what signal to expect before the activity, they are more likely to notice. For example, you could tell them that you will:
Clap your hands.
Press a buzzer.
Ring a bell.
Switch the light off and on again.
Use a call and response signal, for example: Teacher: ‘Macaroni cheese.’ Students: ‘Everybody freeze!’ (Thanks Rose!)
Put your hand up and wait for them to put theirs up too.
Countdown from 5, starting quietly, and getting louder as you reach 1. (Particularly good for speaking activities.)
When the background music finishes playing, the activity ends.
Stand in a particular place.
It’s good to get into routines with this, and always use the same signal for the same kind of activity. For example, I normally put my hand up to signal the end of a pair discussion.
Did you give everyone time to respond?
After you’ve given the signal to pay attention, make sure that you pause for a few seconds to let them stop before you start speaking. Wait for attention from everybody – don’t just start with the next instructions or feedback, as you’ll only end up repeating it!
Try praising students who are paying attention, rather than picking out those who aren’t, especially with young learners: ‘Thank you, Sandy.’ rather than ‘Sandy, stop talking please!’
Is the signal visible/audible to everyone?
If you’re giving an audio signal, make sure it is loud enough. If you’re speaking, you don’t need to shout, but do project your voice over the volume.
If you’re giving a visual signal, make sure all students can see you.
Are they deeply involved in the activity they are doing? Are they ready to finish?
Monitor closely to find out how students are progressing with the activity. If they’ve only done half of the activity, they are unlikely to want to stop when you try to get their attention.
If you know that timing will be a problem before you start, try to change how you set up the activity. For example, tell the students to do as many questions as they can in 3 minutes, rather than making them finish the exercise. Getting them to check in pairs can help them to fill in the gaps in their answers.
Have short extension tasks available for students who finish very quickly, preferably ones that don’t require too much extra input from you! For example, ask students to:
Read a sentence from the exercise, remember it, turn over your paper, write it from memory, then check whether you’ve got it right.
Change the sentences so they’re true for you.
Turn over the paper and remember as many of the words from the exercise as possible, either speaking or writing them. Then look and check.
Start saying the sentences/words to practise pronunciation.
Decide what was the most interesting thing your partner said, ready to report it to the class.
Is there a valid reason for them to need to pay attention to you or the other students who are talking? (i.e. Why should they care?)
For example, some teachers interrupt speaking activities to get everybody’s attention to try to elicit a single word from the group that one student asked for. This is unnecessary, as you could just give them the word without stopping all of the other conversations.
During feedback stages, students might pay attention at the beginning, but drift off if the stage gets too long or boring. Think of how to keep feedback concise, and try to give them a real reason to listen to the other students.
How long have you required their attention for? Can they maintain focus for that long?
It’s difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time without drifting off and losing attention. Vary the activities and the interaction in the lesson, so that students aren’t just listening to you for long periods of time. Give them clear things to do and keep them active.
Do you truly believe that you have the right to their attention at this point in the lesson?
This may sound quite odd, but I’ve noticed that a lot of teachers feel like they’re being rude when they interrupt students, especially if the students are older than them, and/or if they’re inexperienced teachers. I think if you don’t believe that you need students’ attention right now, then there is less conviction in your voice, and they are less likely to listen to you.
In lessons I have observed, it is often a little step that is missing that could make a real difference to the students’ engagement in a particular activity. By asking yourself ‘Why should they care?’ at every stage of the planning process, it’s easy to make little tweaks that could help students to get more involved.*
Do you recognise any of these situations?
You ask students to discuss a question like this in pairs:
Tell your partner what you did at the weekend.
They each monologue for about 30 seconds, and the whole activity peters out after less than two minutes. Neither student really listened to their partner, and apart from saying a few words in English, they haven’t really got anything out of the activity.
Why should they care?
Here are a few little tweaks that might avoid this situation.
Give them a listening task too. These can also be used as questions for feedback after the activity.
‘Find something your partner did that you didn’t.’ > Feedback = ask one or two students to say what their partner did and why they didn’t do it.
‘Decide whose weekend was more boring.’ > Feedback = put your hand up if you had the most boring weekend.
Students have 15 seconds to tell their partner what they did – time it strictly. Afterwards they change partners and tell someone else what their partner did. Give them thinking time first to decide/rehearse what to say in that time.
Students can only say two sentences before their partner speaks. Give an example, and make sure you include questions!
Change the interaction pattern.
Students mingle, speaking to as many others as possible. They have to find one person who did the same three things as them/did none of the things they did/did something they wish they’d done.
Play Chinese whispers with two teams racing to correctly write down one thing each person in their team did.
Give them some functional language you want them to use.
‘No, really? Why did you do that?’
‘That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.’
You ask your students to write a blog post about a place they want to visit. Some of them write a paragraph, others write a whole page.
Why should they care?
Get them interested in the topic first.
Talk about the most popular places a tourist can visit in the students’ countries.
Get them to decide three things which make a place worth visiting, then compare the list with a partner and narrow it down to three things from their combined lists.
Show them what you expect from them.
Give them a framework, e.g. Paragraph one = a description of the place, including at least three pieces of information about it. Paragraph two = why they want to visit it. Paragraph three = why they haven’t visited it yet/when they plan to visit it. > This can also be used for marking if necessary, giving you an objective way of deciding if they get full marks for content.
Show a couple of examples from real blogs.
Change the interaction pattern.
Allow students to choose if they want to work alone or in pairs.
Get students to write a paragraph, then pass it on to the next student/pair who write the next paragraph, then pass it on again for the final paragraph.
Give students other choices.
They could write about a place they don’t want to visit/the last interesting place they visited/the most boring place they’ve ever visited.
Let them decide on the format: a blog post, a poster, a newspaper article, a comic strip…
There is a three-minute audio recording about straw bales in the course book your school requires you to use. 30 seconds in, the students are clearly incredibly bored, and starting to fidget.
Why should they care?
Use an image.
Show them the picture above. Give them a minute to imagine this is real – they think about what they can see/hear/smell/touch/taste. Then tell a partner.
Give them the image in the middle of a piece of paper. They should draw the bigger picture, then compare it to a partner. Do they have similar pictures?
Set them a challenge.
Get them to think of a minimum of five different things they could use a straw bale for, then compare to a partner.
Somebody has dumped a straw bale in front of the school. It’s too heavy to lift easily. How will they move it?
Make sure they have a clear task to do while they’re listening.
The first time they listen, they could check predictions they’ve made before listening.
Get students to come up with three questions they want the answers to. They can be as simple as ‘Why am I listening to a text about straw bales?’ 🙂
Use the audio in other ways.
Break it into 30-second chunks. After each chunk, students should tell a partner what they remember. They could also come up with one question they think will be answer in the next section.
Pause the audio at a particular point and ask the students what they think the next three words are. You can decide on these points before the lesson if you want to focus on particular pieces of language. This can build students’ confidence when listening to English if you choose chunks of language students are already familiar with.
There’s an article about gender pay gaps in the news, which you think is an important issue and should be discussed with your students. Some students have previously said they would like to read ‘real’ things in class, but in the lesson the students just aren’t interested in the article, and you end up moving on to something else after a few minutes.
Why should they care?
Deal with part of the topic first.
Have pieces of paper around the room, each with the beginning of a statement. Students walk around and write as many sentences using these beginnings as possible in two minutes. Examples might be ‘Women are…’ ‘Men are…’ ‘Women can’t…’ ‘Men can’t…’ ‘It’s important for women to…’ ‘It’s important for men to…’
Ask students to list five jobs where people get paid a lot of money, and five where they don’t get paid much. They compare lists with other students, then decide whether they think more men or women do those jobs.
Use a word cloud. Wordart.com allows you put a whole text into their creator.
Students have five minutes to write as many sentences as they can using the words in the word cloud. These become predictions – they read the text to check what was included.
They choose one big word, one medium word, and one small word, then predict how these are connected to the story. You could also give them the headline to help.
Reflect real life.
Show students the headline. Ask them if this is something they would read about in their own language. Encourage them to discuss why or why not. If they say they would, ask them to read it. If they wouldn’t, ask them to choose another article from the BBC homepage (give them a time limit). In both cases, get them to tell a partner what they think they’ll still remember about the article tomorrow.
We often read online articles by skimming them quickly as we scroll down the page. If you have a projector in your classroom, replicate that process. Scroll down relatively slowly, but fast enough that students can’t read everything. When you get to the bottom, minimise the window and ask students to tell their partner what they saw, what they understood, and what (if anything) they’d like to go back and read in more detail.
Work with the language.
Ask students to find phrases which describe companies or replace the name of the company, e.g. ‘major companies’, ‘organisations with 250 or more workers’, ‘the carrier’, ‘the firm’. They discuss why these phrases were selected in each case.
Get them to list five different sentences with a percentage in them, e.g. ‘Many financial firms feature in the list, including the Co-op Bank – where mean hourly pay is 30.3% lower for women.’ or ‘It said 7% of apprentices last year were men, compared with zero in 2016, while 41% of roles involving helping at children’s tea time were filled by men – compared with 25% in 2016.’ They can analyse the structures these percentages appear in, e.g. ‘X is % lower for Y.’ or ‘% of X were blah blah blah – compared with % in year’
You’ve recently taught students how to use the passive in news articles. In a follow-up piece of writing, there is no evidence of passives at all.
Why should they care?
Make sure that example sentences you use are all taken from clear contexts, not plucked at random from thin air. Context can really help students to understand new grammar.
After doing a practice exercise, ask students to choose three sentences. For each sentence they should add a minimum of two sentences before and two after, making a longer paragraph or dialogue. They could leave a space where their chosen sentence appeared for other students to remember what it was.
Get them to notice how it’s used outside the classroom.
Ask students to open an article from English-language news at random. They should underline all of the passive structures they can find. Afterwards, they can compare usage of the passive in different kinds of article – for example, is it used more in articles describing a crime? A sports event? An election?
Send students on a treasure hunt. Ask them to find one example in the news of each kind of passive you have studied, e.g. present simple passive, past simple passive, present perfect passive. They should find as many as they can and write out the full sentence, all within a specified time, for example 15 minutes.
Compare and contrast.
Give students pairs of sentences in the active and the passive, with each sentence in the pair conveying the same information. Ask them to choose their ‘favourite’ sentence in the pair and say why. For example: ‘The dog ate the cake.’ ‘The cake was eaten by the dog.’ ‘Somebody stole my bag.’ ‘My bag was stolen.’
Show students a 2-3 sentence paragraph including a passive structure. Ask them to translate it into another language they know. They then use the translation to analyse differences between how the idea of a passive is expressed in their own language(s). For example, emphasis on the object might be conveyed through a change in word order but no change in the verb form.
Add it in.
Give students a short news article in pairs. Ask them to add three passive sentences into the article, wherever they like. They can then compare the results to another group.
Tell students you expect to see a minimum of two passive structures in the news article you want them to write. Include this in criteria for peer checking before the article is handed in.
You introduced a range of words connected to clothes in your last lesson, like ‘button’, ‘zip’, ‘sleeve’. During a revision activity at the beginning of this lesson, the students need a lot of prompting and they can’t really remember any of them accurately.
Why should they care?
Find out what they know.
If you’re working on vocabulary from a particular lexical set, do a board race first. In this case, divide students into two teams. They race to write as many clothes words on the board as possible in five minutes. Teams switch and work out the points for their opponents: one point for completely correct, half a point if there is a spelling mistake.
Show them pictures of clothes – three or four items is enough. Ask them to list as many things they can see in the pictures as possible. Point to various things and ask ‘What’s this?’ to prompt students to notice features like the buttons or sleeves, not just the items of clothing themselves.
Help them to notice the gaps in their knowledge.
Display all of the words you’re planning to teach on the board. Ask students to draw pictures for as many of them as possible, but not to worry if they don’t know any of them – they will by the end of the lesson! To reinforce this, repeat the same activity at the end of the lesson and point out how much they’ve improved.
Give them the first and last letters of the words, like this ‘b_____’, ‘z__p’, ‘s_____e’. Ask them to complete the words to describe parts of clothes. Again, they shouldn’t worry if they don’t know them.
Add extra processing.
Don’t just ask students to read words from a flashcard, show them the picture and get them to remember the word. For extra challenge, they could then spell it. It’s better to do this chorally or in pairs/groups, rather than putting individual students on the spot, as this may affect their confidence if they can’t do it or increase their fear if they think they might be next.
Display all of the pictures on the board/floor. Students should write as many of the words as possible in their notebooks, then compare the spellings with the vocabulary list. To add challenge, you could get them to switch notebooks with somebody else for the checking stage.
Make it real.
Ask them to choose a word which is new for them. They should think of one time they would expect to say/write the word, and one time they would expect to read/hear it. For example, they might say ‘button’ if they’ve lost a button, or read it in a craft magazine which tells them how to make a teddy bear.
They choose three new words they want to remember, and write them into short sentences connected to their lives, e.g. ‘I’ve lost three buttons from my coat.’. As an extension, they could then google the sentences and see if they exist on the internet anywhere.
All of the vocabulary tips can be connected to the idea of ‘hooks’. This is a metaphor I use to describe how you remember new information. The more hooks you hang something on, the more likely it is to stay where you put it. When you think about learning new vocabulary (or grammar for that matter), you need to give the students as many hooks as possible to ‘hang’ the new vocabulary from and keep it in their heads.
When you ask students to repeat sentences after you as part of a drill, they sound really bored and/or refuse to do it.
Why should they care?
Do you care?
Record yourself doing some pronunciation work. Listen back to it. What do you think your tone of voice and body language conveys to the students? What does your intonation sound like?
Before you drill anything, imagine somebody is going to ask ‘What was the point of that?’ Do you have a good answer for them?
Experiment with different tones of voice, speeds, characters (the Queen, Arnold Schwarzenegger…), positions (standing, sitting, superhero poses)…
A really popular activity at my school is a stickman drill, where students are in teams. Each team gets a stickman, with one or two extra features of their choice, like a hat or an umbrella. Each team repeats the sentence. Whoever the teacher decides did it best can remove part of their opponents’ stickmen. The aim is to have the most complete stickman by the end of the game. [I still haven’t actually tried this, but I’ve seen it used many times!]
Don’t just ask students to repeat the same sentence again and again. Get them to change parts of it. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph, you could change the verb (ask), the person (students), the infinitive phrase (to repeat the same sentence) or the time adverbial (again and again). This is known as a substitution drill. Students or the teacher can decide what changes.
Use key words or images as prompts, so students have to remember the language without having it all in front of them.
Add extra support.
Give students a minute to read and remember the language you’re going to drill, then close their books during the drilling process.
Break down longer sentences into smaller chunks, then put them back into the full sentence. This is known as backchaining if you do it from the end of the sentence.
*I recognise that a lot of the tweaks I’ve suggested above may more appropriately answer the question ‘What can I do about it?’, but I find the phrasing ‘Why should they care?’ adds a bit more impact when I’m asking my teachers!
Have you tried any of these tweaks? What other little tweaks do you use to encourage students to care more about activities in class?
P.S. This blogpost has been in the back of my mind for a while now, and reading this post about lead ins by CELTA train is what made me actually write it today 🙂
For a lot of teachers, it can be hard to find the time or the opportunity to observe and learn from other teachers’ lessons. If that’s you, hopefully you’ll find these videos useful.
I’ve divided them into loose categories, with a sentence or two to help you decide which are the most relevant to you. Within the categories, they’re just in the order I found them! I’d like to thank the many people who’ve sent me links to these videos over the years (though unfortunately I can’t remember exactly who sent me what!)
Please feel free to tell me about other videos I may have missed in the comments, as well as any broken links. I’d particularly appreciate any VYL, YL or teen videos that may be out there, though I know they may be hard to find.
P.S. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched all of these from start to finish, just bits and pieces, so please proceed with caution…
Hubert Puchta introducing vocabulary and using Total Physical Response (TPR) and telling an action story (7 minutes)
An American kindergarten teacher working in a French-language immersion school (27 minutes) (via David Deubelbeiss)
Teacher Allen singing a song and teaching a demo lesson with Chinese kindergarteners (10 minutes)
Another kindergarten lesson in China, this time with 33 children (30 minutes)
Michael Roxas working on adjectives, using TPR and introducing clothes with a kindergarten group, working with a Chinese teacher (27 minutes) Michael has other videos of him teaching kindergarten on his YouTube channel.
This one shows Mark working with puppets (3 minutes)
Paul Pemberton teaching kindergarteners in China (30 minutes), including a really nice routine for getting kids to put their hands up
Shaun teaching 3 year olds in China for a parents’ open day (15 minutes)
Hannah Sophia Elliot teaching kindergarten in China (41 minutes)
Ann teaching children using a story bag (9 minutes)
Watts English have a series of videos showing children in Prague kindergarten. Here’s the first (20 minutes) Look at the Czech playlist for more, as well as the games bank.
Here’s an example of a teacher using a puppet as part of their WOW! method (5 minutes)
Savannah building rapport with a brand new group of students (4 minutes)
Tony using role plays as part of a demo lesson (23 minutes)
Najmul Hasan (a.k.a. Peter) also has a range of videos of him teaching kindergarten. Here’s one (25 minutes)
Rebecca Eddy teaching shapes to a kindergarten class in China (13 minutes)
This video is designed to show teachers how to run a demo lesson, but there are also lots of useful tips in there and examples of how to set up activities (9 minutes)
Tanner Applegate teaching 3 year olds in China (6 minutes)
Marco Brazil teaching colours to very young learners (4 minutes)
Teaching weather to kindergarten children, with a Chinese teacher also in the room (15 minutes)
Introducing body parts (4 minutes)
Thanks very much to Lucy, who suggested in the comments that I look up kindergarten ESL teacher on YouTube, which led to most of the above videos!
Adi Rajan suggested the Teacher Development films available on the British Council website, accompanied by workbooks. Here’s one example (52 minutes):
Marisa Constantinides playing the ‘please’ game, and thereby demonstrating total physical response (TPR) (8 minutes) She wrote about this activity, plus two more with accompanying videos (Thanks for letting me know, Marisa!)
Ashley Haseley teaching sensory reactions in China (12 minutes)
Kaila Smith talking about teaching children in China, with lots of clips from her classes (4 minutes)
Pass the bag, a video of a game shared by Ian Leahy (90 seconds)
Sam playing a days of the week game with Thai children (2 minutes)
This video shows you how to do guided reading with elementary learners – it’s mostly describing the technique, but there are various clips of the teacher at work (11 minutes)
A counting game for kids (2 minutes)
This is a video describing various classroom management techniques shared by Ian Leahy. Although there is a voiceover throughout the entire video, there are lots of clips of exactly what’s happening. (16 minutes)
Gunter Gerngross demonstrating TPR with young learners (3 minutes)
Karlee Demierre using a body parts song (3 minutes)
Introducing animal vocabulary in a demo lesson, with lots of flashcard games (32 minutes)
A shopping lesson with pre-intermediate students using Solutions Pre-Intermediate (17 minutes)
Ross Thorburn introducing the rooms in a school (6 minutes)…
…and showing how unmonitored group work ran (35 seconds)
Ross Thorburn using flashcards with beginner young learners (1:10)…
…and with elementary young learners (1:30)
Ross also has tips for behaviour management, including live examples from class (5 minutes)…
…and demonstrating routines (7 minutes)
In this video, Ross introduces vocabulary, then takes his class into a shopping mall (8 minutes)
Sarah Troughear teaching a group using Life Pre-Intermediate, based on the topic of transport (60-minutes, including post-lesson analysis)
Clive Brown teaching a group using Life Upper Intermediate, based on the topic of documentary film-makers (37 minutes, including post-lesson analysis)
Andrew Walkley using an image to get students interested in a coursebook topic and lead in to a discussion (6 minutes)
Hugh Dellar teaching listening lexically – part 1 (13 minutes)
and part 2…
Stacey Hughes teaching using an e-book – find out more (10 minutes)
Me 🙂 teaching upper intermediate students – working with gerunds and infinitives (8 minutes) – find out more
Me clarifying the difference between ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ with upper intermediate (9 minutes)
Me teaching money vocab to intermediate students (15 minutes)
Billy Hasirci teaching a demo lesson for a CELTA course (he’s the tutor!) He’s working with intermediate students, listening to a song (41 minutes)
Lindsay Warwick teaching second conditional (1 hour)
Hugh Dellar demonstrating the lexical approach, including lots of whiteboard work (18 minutes)
Elizabeth Kuizenga Romijn teaching high-level beginners (I would say elementary) cooking vocabulary using realia (38 minutes)
John Bartik teaching beginners the phrase ‘I like ______’ (13 minutes)
Chris Westergaard teaching animal vocabulary to a group of intermediate students (14 minutes)…
…and movie vocabulary to another intermediate group (10 minutes)
Functional language to help students debate, I’d guess at intermediate or upper intermediate level. I don’t know the teacher’s name, but it was shared on the ELT Experiences blog (17 minutes)
Hugh Dellar teaching a one-hour Skype lesson based on Outcomes Advanced with three students from Krasnodar, Russia. It includes examples of Hugh works with lexis, as an advocate of the lexical approach.
Angelos Bollas teaching a CELTA demo grammar lesson to upper intermediate students on Zoom, showing you what it’s like from the teacher’s perspective:
Angelos again, teaching another CELTA demo lesson, this time using task-based materials using the Fluency First blog:
CELTA TP7, as uploaded by English with Stephanie, intermediate students, restaurants (45 minutes)
And TP8, focussing on functional language, again with intermediate students (35 minutes)
David teaching during CELTA uploaded by Insearch LearningCentre (60 minutes) – I’m guessing it’s elementary or pre-intermediate students, talking about a trip to Japan
Anastasia, a Russian trainee who did her CELTA in 2012 (47 minutes)
Please feel free to suggest any extra videos or to tell me if there are any broken links.
Rachael’s e-book is arranged as a series of short entries based around key CELTA concepts such as ‘rapport’ and ‘setting up pairs and groups’. Each entry starts with a definition of the concept, telling trainees why it is an important area to know about and offering tips to deal with key pitfalls, like finishing a lesson early or realising you’re going to run over. There are often examples too, such as of stage aims or what and how to elicit. There was even a new idea for me in the pre-teaching vocabulary section, that of getting students to write a sentence connecting two or more of the items you plan to introduce. As Rachael acknowledges though, that idea only works if the vocabulary items are already half-known. The entries end with a summary of three bullet points pulling together the most important things to be aware of. In the pdf version, these are in a blue box, making them stand out clearly when you are skimming through. There’s also a bibliography of further reading at the end of the book, which I was pleasantly surprised to find my own Useful Links for CELTA page in 🙂
It took me ninety minutes to read the epub version from cover to cover, or whatever the ebook equivalent of that is, while I was at the airport on the way to my current CELTA course. I found it easy to access and highly practical. I also liked the way it addressed trainees directly, as if Rachael was in the room chatting to them instead of her words being on the page. Rachael’s sense of humour is also evident, and I laughed more than once while reading the Compendium, particularly when talking about how to use variety to manage pace when teaching young learners and adults. The sections are easy to navigate, with the concepts listed in alphabetical order, main concepts hyper-linked to each other within the text, and a contents page at the start. I also really like the cover design.
There are only two minor faults I can find with the book. The first is that there is no separate entry for context, an area which trainees often have problems with, though it is referenced various times in the book. The other is that Rachael’s suggestion that it’s a good idea to write the exact start time of lesson stages on your plan, which I believe can be quite confusing if you end up starting late.
The book is aimed at those currently doing a CELTA, and to those working within private language schools, with a reference to ‘what they’re paying for’ in the error correction entry. However, I believe it’s useful to anyone wanting to build up an understanding of basic concepts in language teaching, as it is so clear and practical. It’s also affordable, at just under $5. If you’d like to get yourself a copy, you can find more details at the round, and buy it in various formats from Smashwords and for Kindle from Amazon [the latter two are affiliate links]. Thank you very much to Rachael for putting this together, and for those involved in publishing it at the round – it’s definitely a valuable addition to our profession.
This is the second time I have had the pleasure of hosting a post by Amy Blanchard on my blog. The first time, it was all about Peace Boat, a Japanese scheme to promote peace and cultivate a wider understanding of different cultures. This time Amy is talking about her first conference presentation, which she did at this year’s InnovateELT conference. Over to Amy…
Last weekend I had the opportunity to present at the third annual InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. The brainchild of the lovely people at ELTJam and hosted by Oxford TEFL, it’s become famous for a diverse and friendly crowd, relaxed and productive atmosphere, and innovative format: 10-minute plenaries in the garden, sessions involving learners, and 30-minute talks. I delivered one of these short sessions on the topic of using the whiteboard. No, not interactive, just the act of writing with a pen on the board. As a CELTA tutor, observing lessons and boardwork is a key part of my role. It’s something that frequently comes up in feedback. Yet there is no dedicated session on boardwork, nor did I have one on my initial training course.
Is boardwork still considered relevant in this era of technology, projectors and digital books? I think so, and attendance showed I wasn’t the only one, with a good mix of teachers and trainers alike.
The session began with a short discussion between the attendees: what do they write on their board? The following were all discussed as possibilities. Ultimately, teachers who know their students can make the best decision about which of the following might be useful to have on the board for their particular classes.
Seeing the content of the class in advance can be motivating for learners. Knowing what is coming up can make them feel more comfortable and give a sense of achievement when it’s done. Personally I use it more with my younger classes than with adults. My YLs often need to know that there’s something more appetising on the horizon, and they feel more secure knowing the routine of the class.
Again, this is not compulsory but can motivate students, especially if they are phrased in a way that makes the menu content make sense. So ‘telling anecdotes’ rather than ‘practising past simple’.
A few people used their board to highlight information for their students: course dates, exam dates, instructions to tasks, page numbers, and homework. Set homework immediately after the lesson component it refers to, and try to avoid leaving it to the end of the class; this makes it seem like an afterthought.*
Some teachers have a separate chart for this, or many now use Class Dojo or a similar system. Either way, seeing a visual representation of behaviour can be useful for YLs.
Errors for delayed correction
The majority of attendees use their board for noting down errors and give corrective feedback. One important thing to note – if you do write an error on the board, make sure you cross it out clearly. Leaving it on the board can reinforce it in students’ minds, even if you’ve told them it’s incorrect.
As we discussed these points, I drew areas on the board for each section. Have a system and be consistent in where you put this information. Learners find what they need more quickly if they know where to look.
The majority of the talk focussed on what all teachers said they use their board for: emergent language. This is ‘unplanned’ vocabulary which emerges during the lesson due to students’ needs. Giving students language when they need it is a huge part of our job and it’s important that we help them to the best of our ability. In order to clarify and consolidate this language, it’s vital we put it on the board. Remember that the students’ notebooks typically reflect what we put on the board. We need to consider what information we can add to the vocabulary to make it most useful for students.
One of the morning plenaries at Innovate was given by a polyglot, Lýdia Machová, who shared her tips for language learning. One of these was to learn vocabulary in context. Recording vocabulary with co-text (i.e the language with which it appeared) can help our students remember the meaning and give them a better idea about how it is used. Highlighting difficult phonemes, stress and features of connected speech helps them remember the pronunciation long after the lesson has finished. Using different colours to highlight dependent prepositions or the separability of phrasal verbs helps them learn even more, or – as Duncan Foord put it in his plenary, What Have Teachers Ever Done For Us? – helps resolve their doubts before they even appear. I demonstrated these points with the words photography, photograph and photographer.
One of my favourite ways of exploiting and developing new language is through vertical extension. By eliciting more examples from students, we can check their understanding and help students to use the word by highlighting common collocations. It can also be useful to point out things that do not collocate, as this is often a problem for students. I demonstrated this technique using the phrasal verb call off.
If our board is systematic and informative, hopefully our students’ notes will be, too. It’s very important to give students time to copy, so that they can concentrate while the language is being discussed. I recommend monitoring to ensure they copy accurately. This also gives shyer students the chance to ask questions.
Colours are important too. Personally, I’m a stickler for writing in black. Although everything looks clear when you’re stood up at the board, if you’re sitting at the back of the class, or have problems with your vision, red and green pens can be really hard to read.
By the end of the lesson, the board should be covered in lovely new language. Use the last 5 minutes of the class to review it, either through some extra drilling practice, or a game of Backs to the Boards/Hot Seat that just requires you to point at the language.
Encourage students to take a photo of the board. If you have an online platform or whatsapp group, they can share it (great for absent students!) or just keep them on their phone to flick through next time they’re bored on the bus. It’s also useful for the teacher to take a photo; an easy way of keeping a record of new vocabulary to recycle and consolidate in future lessons. Furthermore, taking a photo of your board is a wonderful way of reflecting on the lesson, and on your board work. You’ll see things you could have added or expanded, and ways to make things clearer.
Teachers are also sharing pictures of their boards on twitter, using the hashtag #ELTwhiteboard. It’s a wonderful place to connect with other teachers, to ask for advice and to pick up some great ideas for lessons. Get involved!
This was a 30-minute, streamlined talk that only had time to focus on a few aspects of using the board. The biggest omission is the issue of who writes on the board. Do your students write on the board? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @admiralwamy
With industry veterans like Geoff Jordan, Hugh Dellar and others out there swinging their hammers at CELTA, I thought I’d take the opportunity to defend the pre-service ELT teaching certificate. Not the CELTA, mind you, but its oft-snubbed, dubiously legitimate little brother. I’m here to defend the humble TEFL certificate.
For the record, I completed a 120-hour TEFL program with 6 hours of teaching practice at the now-defunct ITC Prague (i.e. not an internet-only certificate). The instructors were Geoff Harwood and three other guys whose names I no longer remember (Geoff’s was written on my end-of-course certificate). ITC Prague (as I found out later) eventually failed as a business, but the teaching instruction these guys gave was excellent. The TEFL has had a sort of slow-drip effect on me, and some of what I learned only really struck a chord years later.
So I want you to tell me what you think went well, what you think didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time…
Sound familiar? If you’re a teacher trainer, academic manager or even just a teacher who has been through a training course, then the above is probably burned into your brain and has become a mantra. In initial teacher training, at least in my experience, these three points form the start of the post-lesson discussion. And the reason? Reflection.
Most teachers, I hope, would agree that reflection is a useful, maybe even vital, tool for professional development as it helps us dig into what we truly believe in order to then subject it to scrutiny, with the final goal being improved practice. The question I ask myself, though, is would someone on an initial training course (CELTA/CertTESOL) see things the same way? Do they see it as a route to professional competence or merely another hoop to jump through to satisfy the tutor on the other side of the table? Are the reflections that follow the prompts a genuine attempt to understand what just happened to them in the previous 45 minutes? Or strategic responses to tell the tutor what they want to hear? Or even in some cases an attempt to rescue a failing grade by showing real awareness of their class? Only one person in the room truly knows the answer to that question, but, again, from my experience I’ve had reason to believe that required reflection in such stressful circumstances doesn’t always lead to genuine reflection and may in fact be counter-productive.
I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I came to the conclusion that forced reflection will always be unreliable, so can you engage the trainees in genuine reflection during teaching practice?
The answer…? you can’t. At least, not all of them. Genuine reflection has to come from a place of genuine desire for development and if we’re honest, we have to admit to ourselves that that’s not where the majority of our future teachers are coming from.
In the end, the solution was a simple one: to teach the trainees the benefits of reflection for future development and more importantly how to go about it. This way if they are truly invested in their future development, the tutor can allow the time and space for reflection in feedback. However, for those not interested in future development and more concerned with the certificate they need to secure their visa to work abroad, there’s no need to make them squirm or to elicit the same strategic responses that waste the tutor’s time, their time and the time of their co-trainees.
In response, I’ve created a series of activities designed to lead the trainees through the reflective process and to provide a framework to guide reflection for those interested. This was incorporated into an input session during week 1 of a four-week course.
Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process
The session starts with a look at the stages of a reflective process and trainees organise them into what they feel is a logical order. The aim is to lead trainees away from the notion that reflection is simply looking back and highlight the importance of seeking to name the issue and, more importantly, to devise hypotheses for future action. As a kinaesthetic problem-solving activity it tends to generate a lot of discussion too.
I use this process taken from Rodgers (2002:851) which is a summary of John Dewey. However, the exact process isn’t so important. What’s more important is that there is a framework to guide the trainees.
An experience is required to trigger some sort of reflective thought.
The teacher seeks to interpret the experience.
The teacher seeks to name the problem.
The teacher seeks explanations for the problem and general questions are created.
A concrete hypothesis is developed.
The hypothesis is tested.
Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events
In this stage trainees consider typical classroom “problems” and seek to find potential reasons, encouraging them to think deeper than their initial knee-jerk reactions in the classroom. Once they’ve made a list of reasons they spend some time in groups discussing possible ways of addressing each of them in the classroom, which helps to encourage the hypothesis forming described in the stage 1.
Stage 3 – Categorising reflection
In this stage I get trainees to look at real reflections taken from recorded feedback meetings (these could also be written by the trainer) to highlight the different angles we can reflect from. They spend some time reading them and then categorise them according to what the teacher is talking about. For this I use four categories inspired by Zeichner and Liston (1985).
Reflection which simply recounts the events of the lesson with no real analysis of them.
Reflection which focuses on what worked and didn’t work and how they could address it.
Reflection which focuses on why the teachers chose to do certain things in the lesson and what they hoped to achieve.
Reflection which moves beyond the lesson and questions larger curricular issues.
There is typically a lot of grey areas here, which is good to generate discussion, and leads to the creation of questions to ask themselves to elicit each type of reflection. This has been identified by the trainees as a very important stage.
Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching
Using the reflections from the previous stage, trainees discuss what the teacher’s beliefs about teaching may be and then compare them to their own beliefs and discuss how aligned they are with how they think languages are learned. This stage should bring the reflective process to a logical conclusion and encourage more critical reflection.
Since introducing this session on the course, feedback has changed. It no longer starts with the holy trinity of feedback questions from earlier, but instead begins with something much simpler: “How do you feel about the lesson today?” Those invested in their own development reflect; not always in useful ways, but as with any skill it takes practice. Those interested in their grade often respond with “How do you feel about it?” or more commonly “Did I pass?” and that’s ok.
Rodgers, C. (2002) ‘Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking’ The Teachers College Record Vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 842-866.
Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. (1985) ‘Varieties of discourse in supervisory conferences’ Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-174
About the author
Dan Baines has been teaching English since 2004 and been involved in some form of teacher development since finishing his DELTA in 2008. He currently works for the British Council in Prague and as a freelance Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor.
At IATEFL 2015 Manchester I was disappointed to miss a workshop by Helen Dennis-Smith with tips for more mature CELTA trainees on how to enter the profession once they’d finished their course. I contacted her and she very kindly agreed to write this post for me. She’s now a teacher at Wimbledon School of English, London, UK.
I entered the EFL profession at the age of 56 in 2010, taking my CELTA in London and needing to sell myself into an overcrowded market place. My recommendation is to tailor the way you market yourself to carefully reflect the experience you have and the subsequent impact that this will have on your teaching.
My own experience looks like this:
I recommend taking the time to complete this kind of exercise for yourself before applying for jobs. The market place is tough, and your application needs to make it as clear as possible that the school you want to work for is going to benefit hugely by employing a more mature teacher than a very young one.
The challenges and how we can rise to them
Having obtained my first job, my initial thinking was to work as many hours as possible in as short a space of time as I could. This was based on my research into the market place in London, where it had become clear that permanent jobs in good quality schools were given largely to DELTA qualified teachers rather than CELTA teachers. The result of that was that I was eligible to start my DELTA just two years after initially qualifying. This also potentially opens up pathways into management for anyone considering this.
It also seemed essential to consider the need to squash the lifecycle of a teacher into a much shorter time than most teachers.
In this video she suggests that we need to start tinkering with our teaching as soon as we have got through the initial survival phase. This implies that we will experiment with different teaching styles, approaches and activities and never be afraid to try something out. Younger teachers may take some years in the survival phase. We do not have such luxury!
By doing this, we also make ourselves more marketable, as we can talk from direct experience both in applications and at interview and indicate clearly that we are not going to get stuck in a conservative approach to methodology.
The final area I would like to highlight is technology. It seems to me very important to keep up-to-date with what is available in terms of technology wherever you are teaching, but it is also important not to attempt to be seen as “cool” by the students. For me, the best approach has been to let, to some extent, the students teach me! Enquire what they use and what they would like to be able to use in class and let them show you where to find it and then adapt it for teaching purposes. The students will love to be the teacher for a while.
Last of all, we need to remember why we started teaching English. We need to enjoy ourselves, so when you get that first, albeit seemingly elusive job, make sure you have fun!
With thanks to Sandy Millin for allowing me to be a guest writer on her blog.
I’m very pleased to announce that Helen has been awarded the Teaching English British Council Featured Blog of the Month award for September 2015 for this post. You can find links to all of the nominated blogs by clicking on the image below. Well done Helen!
For the last year I’ve been CELTA training around the world. Here is a collection of random thoughts about what the CELTA does and doesn’t do, and what being a trainer has taught me.
What the CELTA does
Improves the confidence of trainees Even those who are particularly shy at the beginning of the course are able to stand in front of a group after a few lessons and project confidence, even if they’re still worried!
Shows them some ways of staging a lesson logically Though of course the list is not exhaustive, it is a good grounding and can help them plan their own lessons later, whether or not they choose/have to use a course book. Simple things like giving students an activity to do before reading/listening, rather than saying “Read this’, then springing questions on them afterwards, or important steps like providing feedback after activities, may seem obvious to a seasoned pro, but they rarely are to a complete beginner.
Encourages trainees to think in depth about planning a lesson and setting up activities The lessons which fall flat are normally the ones which have had the least amount of thought dedicated to them. One or two of those and the trainees soon realise that they really need to think through what they’re planning to do more carefully.
Makes them think about the instructions are going to give and the way that they talk to a class I sometimes take for granted how easy it is for me to grade my language for different levels of student, and forget that it takes real effort when you’re a new teacher. The key area which this normally affects is instruction giving and activity set-up, often requiring careful planning.
Starts to make trainees adapt materials so that they are more suitable for their learners Although this only done to a limited extent on many courses, stronger trainees show they can adapt to learners’ needs by changing the topic of a text or updating it to make it more relevant to the present day. The ‘Focus on the learner’ assignment also encourages trainees to think about learner needs and finding or adapting materials to meet them.
Makes them analyse language so that they are ready to teach it
Teaching grammar is seen as a big scary thing by most trainees, and language analysis is actively avoided by some and misunderstood by others. The same is true of vocabulary lessons, but to a lesser extent. However, once they’ve observed or taught a language lesson they normally see the value of analysing language carefully before teaching it, and this process also encourages them to start using reference materials to help them.
Gives them the basics of theory for them to build on later
A 120-hour course can never cover everything, and doesn’t claim to either. Instead, trainees are offered an overview of teaching, with ideas about how to further their professional development in one or more sessions in the final week of the course. This grounding in theory is a good basis to build on and the reflection built into the course is designed to encourage them to reflect on this theory and to begin to question it.
Gives them a collection of activities to draw on when they go into the classroom
My friend once told me her German teacher used to suggest the only way to become a good language speaker is ‘Vorsprung durch Diebstahl’ (progress through theft – a play on Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’). I think the same is true of any skill you learn, teaching among them. By ‘stealing’ from teachers observed during the course and used in input sessions, trainees have a good bank of ideas to vary their lessons when they first start teaching, and find their teaching style (because let’s face it, that’s what new teachers are doing way more than adapting to their learners!)
Gives trainees the opportunity to observe about 36 hours of classes
When else do you get the chance to observe so intensively, outside of the Delta or something similar? On the CELTA course, trainees are required to observe six hours of experienced teachers’ classes and approximately 30 hours of their peers’ lessons. I often think that this is actually where most of the learning on a CELTA takes place, with the input sessions just providing the language to talk about teaching, and a few of the ideas to steal. Until you’ve seen it put into action and noticed what does and doesn’t work, nothing really sinks in.
Shows them whether they really want to teach or not
Not to be underestimated! By exposing trainees to the classroom and making them teach, instead of just concentrating on theory, the CELTA helps trainees to realise whether the classroom is really the right place for them.
What the CELTA doesn’t do
Show them how to placement test students The main question I’ve been asked by trainees towards the end of the course or soon after it’s finished is something along the lines of ‘X has asked me to organise some classes for them. Do you know a placement test I can give the student(s) to find out their level(s) and decide which materials to use?’ Thus far, I don’t, so if anyone else can recommend something free, online and fairly reliable, I would be very grateful.
Show trainees how to teach materials-light or materials free
While there are some CELTA courses which focus on this, they are few and far between. I’m not sure what else to say about this as I don’t want to ignite a whole new debate – it’s just a fact.
Tell the trainees everything they ever needed to know about teaching
As I said above, a 120-hour course could never hope to do this. Doing a CELTA is not the be-all and end-all, and does not negate the need for continuing professional development. It is an initial teacher training course and should be treated as such. It frustrates me when a CELTA can trump somebody without a CELTA and relevant experience. If there is no follow-up training or development, it’s worth is diminished. I suspect this is particularly so for trainees who had prior experience before the CELTA, as they may well slip back into old habits (although feel free to prove me wrong!)
What being a CELTA trainer has taught me
How to give clear, concise instructions And about time too! This is something I’ve always struggled with, and it turns out that watching lots of trainees get it wrong, offering tips on how to do it better, and reflecting on it constantly throughout the year have finally sorted out this problem. I even discovered that I highlighted it as an issue in my own end of CELTA reflection, a document I’d completely forgotten about until I was training as a tutor last August!
How to time lessons more accurately As with instructions, this is a long-time issue of mine. Again, offering guidance to others on how to do it has really helped me, and I’m much better at prioritising to achieve my aims, something which seems more key in the intensive CELTA input sessions of a four-week course, than it ever did on a seemingly ‘never-ending’ language learning journey (!) I even came up with some formulae after my trainees kept asking for them.
No two CELTA courses are ever the same While there are the inevitable differences brought on by location and trainees, I didn’t realise that each CELTA course is put together by the Main Course Tutor and others working at the same centre if relevant. It is the result of experience and is constantly tweaked, so each course I worked on this year had slightly different documentation and assignments that were set up in different ways, as well as timetables that we organised very differently from one place to the next. Having said that, all of the courses are judged on the same criteria, covering the same basic set of input sessions, and with the same requirements for teaching and observation. The assessor’s visit on each course and annual Cambridge standardisation ensure that wherever you get your CELTA, it has the same value.
I’m ready for some stability
For anybody coming to this fresh or who has got a bit lost in my adventures of the last year (I don’t blame you – I can’t believe them myself!), this is where I’ve been:
Until August 2014: Director of Studies in Sevastopol, Crimea and trained as a CELTA tutor
September-October: Action English Language Training, Leeds, UK
Apart from in Thailand where I had the luxury of nine weeks, I spent four weeks in each place, living in a range of accommodation including apartments, a residential hotel and lodging with two different couples. I improved my packing skills, and felt like I was living out of a suitcase. In between, I was at home for up to a month, ‘camping out’ at my aunt’s house, then off again. I’m really looking forward to my next adventure, when I’ll be moving to Poland to start a new job, and hopefully staying for at least a couple of years, enough time to build up a bit of a (social) life there! I also can’t wait to have my own kitchen again 😉
I love my job
Well, I knew that already. But a year of sharing it with other people, and helping them to enter the wonderful world of EFL teaching has reaffirmed it again and again. I have no regrets whatsoever about the career path I have chosen, and I know that I have been incredibly lucky to have the year I have just experienced, despite commenting on the lack of stability above. The people I have met and the places I have been will stay with me forever, and I hope it won’t be the last time I work with these inspiring people or visit these amazing places. Now, on to the next adventure!
When I was at IATEFL I decided to use some of my birthday money to buy a couple of books in the sales on the final day. Because of my current role as a CELTA tutor and my move into management as a Director of Studies, I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development recently. I thought it would be a good investment to read some of the literature about it and get a few more ideas about how to help the teachers I work with to continue their development. Here are brief reviews of the two books I bought. Clicking on their titles will take you to Amazon, and I’ll get a few pennies if you decide to buy them via these links.
Books in the Delta Teacher Development Series (DTDS) are always easy to read and full of great ideas, and this one was no exception. I saw Duncan speak at IATEFL 2012 and as well as being a good communicator, I got the impression he must be a very good person to work for because he seemed to really care about the people he managed. That care comes across in this book.
Each DTDS book is divided into:
Section A: a look at the current theory underlying the area being discussed;
Section B: practical ideas to try out;
Section C: further areas to explore.
In this case, section B was further divided into five areas of investigation or ‘circles’, moving out from the teacher and gradually involving more and more participants:
You and your students
You and your colleagues
You and your school
You and your profession
(I don’t have my copy in front of me, so I hope I’ve remembered those correctly!) Each circle starts with a checklist of possible tasks, where the reader is encouraged to identify what they have already done and what they would like to try. This is then followed by a variety of different activities, broken down into the aim, the reason for doing them, and the steps needed to achieve them.
Section C focused on longer term projects, such as how to set up action research. The projects could draw on some of the activities from section B, or be completely independent of them.
Overall, I felt the book would be particularly good for less experienced teachers or for those looking for inspiration to put together a professional development programme, and less so for more experienced teachers. Through the schools I’d worked at and the online development I’ve done, I’d tried most of the ideas already. There are still some I’d like to experiment with, though I can’t recall any specific ones now a few days after I finished it. It will be a useful book to refer back to when I want to try something a bit more unusual for my development.
This is the first book I’ve read from the Cambridge Language Education series, which Jack C. Richards is also the series editor for. It was easier to read than I expected – even though this has been the case with most of the methodology books I’ve read, I’m still pleasantly surprised when they are written in such an accessible way.
It is divided into 12 chapters (again, no copy here so do correct me if I’m wrong!), plus a brief introduction explaining how to use the book. Each chapter focuses on one particular approach to professional development, including:
In each case, a definition is given and the benefits and potential drawbacks of engaging in this kind of development are examined. This is followed by a step-by-step guide to how to approach it. Throughout every chapter there are vignettes to show real-world examples of how they were used by teachers around the world.
I had only heard about the concept of peer coaching from Ela Wassell in the last year, but this book had a different definition of it, seeming to express it as something closer to a form of delegation of training. Critical incidents was a term I’d heard, but didn’t really understand before reading this, and case studies were completely new to me. The information about action research and teacher journals complements Foord’s book, and taking the two together would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to try either of these for their development.
One frustrating thing for me was the lack of a contents page or index, so you have to flick through the book if you want to find a particular section again. The depth of the book was useful to me as an experienced teacher, as was the way that the chapters and ideas fed into each other. For example, critical incidents were suggested as possible fuel for a teacher journal. However, I feel this depth and difficulty of navigation might be off-putting to newer teachers, and they may feel overwhelmed. For them, the suggestions in the book may need to be mediated or introduced chapter by chapter rather than being read in one go as I did.
Having said that, it has given me a lot of ideas for possible professional development sessions over the next couple of years – I just hope I can remember some of them!
This was my first IATEFL since I became a CELTA tutor, so I had a whole new set of talks to discover. Here are the three I went to, all of which made me think about how I approach CELTA tutoring and what an ‘ideal’ course would look like.
Strictly Come CELTA: An analogy and some thoughts on feedback – Jo Gakonga
I’ve found Jo’s CELTA training videos very useful and enjoyed a meal with her and a few other CELTA and Delta trainers at the beginning of the conference, so was looking forward to hearing her speak, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Jo compared the role of CELTA tutors to that of judges on the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Each of them has a distinctive personality and gives feedback in different ways, which reflects our roles as CELTA tutors. She asked us to consider which of the judges we are similar to, and how this may change throughout the course or with different trainees.
She also talked about differentiated grading scales (compared to ‘To Standard’ and ‘Not To Standard’ from Cambridge), and how this can create standardisation issues. On SCD, there is a 10-point scale, but only one of the four judges really grades like this. One of them only really uses a five-point scale, because she never gives lower than 5. In 12 series, one judge has given 113 ’10s’, another 146 and another 35, but they’re all supposed to be grading on the same scale. She used this to encourage us to think about whether differentiated grading is useful or not.
The development of cognitions and beliefs on CELTA courses – Karla Leal Castañeda
I first learnt about the concept of teacher cognitions (what teachers know, believe and think) at the IH DoS conference in January this year. I believe it has a big effect on participants in CELTA courses and how receptive they are to the training they receive. I chose to go to this talk in the hope of finding out more.
In a nutshell, Karla’s research was to investigate what the trainees believed coming on to the course, whether this changed through the course, and how it influenced their performance. She did a combination of interviews and observations with 8 trainees from 3 different courses.
Most of them had unrealistically high expectations of what they might be able to learn on a four-week course, including ‘grammar’, a formula for how to be a good teacher, or a completely new way of approaching teaching. By the end of the course, they recognised that it was impossible to cover all of this within the time constraints, but still found the learning experience to be ‘rich and far from disappointing’. As they said, CELTA can only give them an insight of what teaching is and experience will give them the rest.
They highlighted the importance of planning in their post-lesson reflections, as they realised that problems in the lesson often stemmed from a lack of preparation. Based on negative experiences they had had in lessons, trainees had aspects of teaching they would prefer to avoid after the course, for example, CCQs (concept-checking questions). Despite this, they recognised that they needed to give techniques a fair trial before discarding them categorically, and that a four-week course was not enough time to say that a particular technique would or wouldn’t work.
Coming on to the course, most of the trainees talked about their own previous negative experiences learning languages and expressed that language learning needed to be fun to be effective, with a good rapport between teacher and students. This led to them prioritising fun in their own evaluations of their lessons, often disregarding what the trainer had to say about the lesson in terms of how successful it was if they (the trainees) thought that it wasn’t fun. There was a belief that language teachers need to be different to teachers of other subjects, since language teaching cannot be as teacher-centred as other subjects: interaction is crucial. By the end of the course, classroom management was added to the list of desirable teacher characteristics, in addition to subject knowledge and good rapport with students.
During the courses, there was shift towards a more student-centred approach to teaching. However, trainees stated that when teaching more student-centred lessons they felt less professional, and less ‘teachery’, which echoes my own informal observations of the need for trainees to adopt ‘teacher position‘ to feel like they are being effective and useful to the students. There is a continuous struggle against deeply rooted previously ‘learned’ behaviour, either from their own experience in the classroom or from the ‘apprenticeship of observation‘: what they have learnt from being a student and observing their own teachers.
In the Q&A session at the end, a trainer in the audience highlighted that sometimes we are not very good at managing expectations during the CELTA course, and that perhaps we need to revisit them more often. Another trainer suggested including regular slots in input sessions where you encourage trainees to compare what they have learnt about teaching with their own beliefs about how to teach. This is definitely an area which warrants further research, and one in which I will watch developments with interest.
The natural CELTA – a farewell to language? – Joanna Stansfield and Emma Meade-Flynn
This was the final talk I went to at IATEFL this year, and was a great note to finish on as it inspired me to consider a completely different approach to putting together a CELTA course by rethinking it from the ground up, rather than basing it on more traditional structures.
Joanna and Emma wanted to remove as much of the stress from the CELTA course as they could and make sure that their trainees were as prepared for real-world teaching as possible. To do this, they decided to get rid of language instruction from the timetable, since this is the most stressful area for most trainees.
They also tried to integrate the course as much as possible, so everything fed into the teaching trainees would do and nothing felt like extra work, since many trainees find it difficult to prioritise when juggling assignments and TP (lessons). They still had to meet the criteria set by Cambridge though, and demonstrate that their trainees could be effective language teachers. To do this, they changed the course in the following ways:
Replacing language analysis sheets with task analysis, focussing on the specific activities that trainees were planning to use. Different sheets were used for receptive and productive tasks. This had many effects on the trainees, for example realising that lexis is important for listening tasks. Trainees also created more meaningful productive tasks as a result.
Basing the language skills assignment around task analysis sheets which had been used in previous TPs, with trainees reflecting on what problems the students had with the language and re-planning the lesson in light of this. This is instead of the over-analysis and the added stress of a more traditional assignment, which can create an atomised view of language. It can also mean trainees over-explain to students because they try to give them all of the knowledge they have instead of just what is relevant.
Teaching a model lesson at the beginning of the course in the same way and using the same materials that they expected their trainees to use, then incorporating more explicit reflection on the model lesson throughout the first week of input, unpacking the techniques used in it. Trainees were noticeably better at lesson cohesion after this.
Adding a 20-minute slot at the end of TP where trainees could speak to students about what happened in the lesson without trainers in the room. This was recorded, and fed in to the Focus on the Learner assignment. Trainees were more aware of their students as people and of their needs, and better able to understand their accents. There was also higher student retention because of this, and this reflects the real world, since student retention is something we all need to be aware of.
Encouraging trainees to note questions they wanted to ask the students and their co-teachers while observing.
Learning more about students meant TP points weren’t needed after week one, as lessons were based around student needs, although a course book was still used.
Changing the layout of the lesson plan, including a column for self-evaluation. Before seeing trainer comments, trainees had to fill in a stage-by-stage reflection, rather than only reflecting on the lesson in general.
Integrating assignment 3 with trainees designing materials they would then go on to use (I think – my tweets aren’t very clear at this point!)
They got very positive feedback from their trainees on this course. They developed their language awareness naturally, in a similar way to how teachers do in the real world, and language became much less scary as a result. They also realised how important lexis was and were much better at teaching it because they had built up a good rapport with the students through the 20-minute conversations. Students weren’t afraid to ask how new lexis should be used. Trainees were also much more self-critical and reflective as a result.
This is definitely a course structure I would like to find out more about, and I think it will influence my own course design when I finally put together a CELTA course myself as a Main Course Tutor (I’m an Assistant Course Tutor at the moment).
Anyone following my blog will know that CELTA took over my life in August last year (2014), and will continue to dominate until the same time this year (2015). I’ve been building this list in my head for a while, and it’s finally time to get it onto the blog.
It’s arranged into categories, with subtitles and topics in bold to help you navigate. There’s a lot here, so just use the bits you need as you need them rather than trying to look at all of them – if not, you’ll end up being overwhelmed!
A quick way to find what you need it to press CTRL + F (CMD + F on a Mac) and type a key word connected to what you’re struggling with, like ‘TTT’, ‘instructions’ or ‘writing’ – this will take you straight to the relevant section.
Please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I also plan to add to it as I write/find more posts. [Note added 12/12/2022: I know that the links to Jo Gakonga’s videos are broken, but hopefully if you visit her site or put the titles into a search engine you should still be able to find them. I’m hoping to be able to verify all of the links at some point in the next 6 months, but it’s a challenge to find the time! Hopefully you will still find the post useful in the meantime]
Before the course
CELTA is a very intensive experience, and it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Take a look at these to give you an idea of what to expect.
Cambridge English has a 30-minute webinar called The Ultimate Guide to CELTA which details different types of CELTA and tells you what to expect from the course. (Thanks to Viacheslav Kushnir for telling me about this)
Is the CELTA worth it? As a course and as an experience I would have to give a resounding YES!!!
Although the interviews on Adi Rajan’s blog are called ‘Life after CELTA‘, they give you a great idea of what different professionals at various stages of their careers got out of the CELTA course and why it was worth doing, even if they already had a PhD in one example! [Note: when I checked on 4/10/20, these posts aren’t available, but hopefully Adi will share them again in the future!] My favourite quote is from Vaidehi Kenia:
What running 5 miles daily for a month will do to your physique, the CELTA will do for your mind.
If you’re still not sure whether to do the course or not, Chia Suan Chong, a CELTA trainer, describes 10 things she likes about the CELTA, all of which I agree with. If you’re a more experienced teacher, you might be interested in Jason Anderson’s research on how trainees who came to the course with experience feel like they benefitted from CELTA.
If you’d like to do a course before your course, you could invest a little money in the ELT Campus Complete CELTA Preparation Bundle, online training in key ideas, teaching methods and concepts, as well as a grammar refresher.
Brushing up on your technology skills could also help you out. You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a computer, and every timesaver you can learn will make a difference. Regardless of how confident a Word user you are, it’s worth checking out my friend Liz Broomfield’s very clear posts about making the most of Word. She uses Word for Windows. If you have a Mac and can’t work it out, Google it first, then ask me and I’ll try to help – I have Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac.
Keyboard shortcuts save a lot of time in the long run. These are 100 for Windows and some for Mac too. If you’ve got a long time before your CELTA, working on your touch typing will help you now and later. On a side note, set up a filing system on your computer and start naming files with lots of detail in the file name so you can find things easily in the future. “Document 1.docx” won’t help you, but “Personality adjectives and definitions NEF Pre-Int SB p6 and SB p145 U1B.docx” will. I always try to include the book, chapter and page numbers so I can use the search function to find things again quickly in the future.
If you set up your goal as “I’m gonna gits me an A!” then, well, it’s a worthy goal and all, but you’ll probably give yourself an ulcer, and stress so much about whether you’re doing enough or doing well enough that your freaky-outy stress will cause you to lose focus and actually do worse. Don’t look for a magic bullet or secret formula – there is none, and trying to guess at the magical combination of factors that leads to an A will just cause you to get even more freaky-outy. Always remember that it’s not a competition, so if you see someone who seems to be doing better than you, hey, you’re in it for four weeks with that person and you are quite possibly friendly with them – you are not in a race. There is not just one gold medal. Their good work does not mean you’ll get edged out for the one top spot, because there is no “one” top spot.
By the way, when I did my CELTA, one of my fellow trainees got a Pass A with no prior teaching experience, so it is possible! However, in the courses I’ve tutored on so far, I’ve yet to see an A candidate. Update (May 2017): I’ve seen a couple of A candidates now, and they’ve been very hard-working, and followed all of these tips from Ricardo Barros, among many other things!
Nicky Salmon, a CELTA trainer, tells you how to write CELTA lesson plans to make the documents as useful as possible for you and your trainer, so that you’re ready to give your students the best possible lesson.
I have a step-by-step guide to setting up an information gap, a speaking activity in which each student only has part of what they need to complete the task and they need to speak to others to complete the information.
This post has ideas from five different teachers on how to maximise student talk time, the most useful of which is probably Dorothy Zemach (the first) demonstrating how to model the kind of conversation you expect your students to produce. Doing this makes them more likely to produce quality talk, not just short answers.
Jo Gakonga also has a webinar introducing you to PPP, TTT and TBL – three different ways of presenting language, whether grammar, vocabulary or functions (35 minutes). It will tell you what the abbreviations mean! CELTA train describes ‘Presentation via a situation‘ a.k.a. situational presentations, and includes an example of one designed to introduce ‘used to’.
Pronunciation Bites has a collection of links to online transcription tools, along with reviews for each. It also tells you how to download IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) scripts onto your computer, and how to use them. Don’t forget to put the phonetics into Lucida Sans Unicode font to make sure they’ll print on any computer (I hope!)
ELTchat is a weekly hour-long Twitter conversation which happens every Wednesday. In February 2012 there was a discussion about the IPA, including reflection on its usefulness and suggestions for how to exploit it.
Nicky Salmon offers tips on how to reflect on your teaching during CELTA courses, including examples of language you can use. As she says, reflection is a skill which takes time to learn, but is one of the most important things you can do to develop professionally.
The main problem most people have with the CELTA is the workload. It’s not unusual for some trainees to stay up for most of the night and forget to sleep, and there are always some people who don’t hand in lesson planning documents because they ran out of time. In a 10-minute webinar, Lisa Phillips offers some tips for time management for teachers in general, but many of them apply to the CELTA course too. Remember to ask for help if you need it – you’re not bothering people, and you might find they’re in a similar situation. As for your trainers, that support is what you’re paying for!
Don’t forget to take some time for yourself during the course. You’ll benefit from it more than you will by just pushing on through, and no matter how important the CELTA is, your health and well-being should take priority. Get enough sleep, look after yourself and take regular breaks. If you need inspiration this might help:
Here are a few of videos I send out to encourage my trainees to take a brief break – I won’t tell you what they are so it’s a lucky dip! One, Two, Three – each one is 3-4 minutes, clean, and should make you laugh!
And just in case you think you’re entering a serious profession involving a lot of work, take a look at EnglishDroid – he’ll burst your bubble quickly (this is a site to return to as you learn more about the world you’re entering!)
To continue the reflective cycle you started on CELTA, you could keep a reflective journal, as recommended by Dale Coulter. Another option is to write your own blog, which I’ve found really useful. However you choose to do it, Jason Renshaw explains why reflection should be a vital part of any teacher’s development (and offers another suggestion for how to keep a reflective journal). Oh, and if you want to send a few pennies my way, you could investigate ELT Playbook 1, an ebook of 30 reflective tasks designed for new teachers, written by me and only costing around 5GBP/5.50€ 🙂 If you complete all five tasks from a single section, you can earn yourself a badge to put on your CV or social media, showing potential employers and/or students that you are continuing your development after the course.
The best resource on Twitter is ELTchat, a weekly one-hour chat on topics chosen by participants. Summaries of chats going back to 2010 can be found in the Summaries index on the website and cover pretty much every topic you could possibly imagine related to ELT teaching – if it’s not there, you can suggest it for a future chat.
Conferences are a great source of ideas. Both IATEFL and TESOL hold multi-day conferences each year, and although the IATEFL conference is the highlight of my year (!), they can be quite expensive. IATEFL streams some sessions from the conference, and these are available to watch after the event (for example Harrogate 2014). One- or two-day local conferences can provide lots of inspiration. There are also online conferences and webinars provided for free. David Harbinson has a long list of sources for webinars to start you off.
There are various journals and magazines dedicated to ELT, full of articles from around the world with lots of great ideas and issues to think about. The IH Journal is available free online. Most teaching associations have their own newsletter or journal. Other magazines include English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher, both of which are subscription only – you can choose whether to get them online or as a hard copy.
If you’d like to work on your own skills as a trainer, you might want to get yourself a copy of ELT Playbook Teacher Training, my book of 30 reflective tasks in 6 categories, as you can see below (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links).
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant lots of things changed, including the sudden need for provision of fully online CELTAs. Brendan O Sé from University College Cork, Ireland, blogged about running their first fully online CELTA. James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni took their CELTA course online and offers tips for other centres doing the same. Angelos Bollas has a demo lesson with upper intermediate students on Zoom which you might want to use to show trainees how it works from a teacher’s perspective:
What do you mean, you don’t understand? 😉 The face you’re pulling right now is the one which the students will show you if you attempt to set up a ‘complicated’ speaking activity and the instructions go wrong. Information gaps are activities which can work brilliantly if you set them up efficiently, and fall completely flat if you don’t.
Before we go any further, what exactly is an information gap?
An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps. It is often used in communicative language teaching and task-based language learning.
They’re very common in coursebooks, and are often used to practise specific language points at the ‘freer practice’ stage of a lesson, but they can easily be used for fluency practice without a particular grammatical focus too. Boggle’s World ESL has some examples if you’re still a bit confused.
Here’s a simple guide to setting one up, including some potential problems so you can think about whether/how you’ll check instructions.
Step 1: Allocating roles
Tell your students what role they will take in the info gap.Don’t move the students yet! To make the rest of this explanation easier, I’ll say you’re doing one with two sets of information, so roles ‘A’ and ‘B’. A ‘C’ in brackets shows what you would do with an info gap with three sets of information.
Potential problems and possible solutions
The wrong number of students, e.g. an odd number when you need pairs. Don’t work with the leftover student – you need to be free to monitor and help! Instead, have two As or Bs in one pair, and tell them how to share the work, e.g. take it in turns to ask/answer a question. Think carefully about who your two As/Bs should be to make sure you don’t end up with a strong student doing all the work or a less dominant student with no opportunity to speak because their partner won’t let them get a word in.
Students can’t remember which role you allocated. Before you go any further, ask them to put up their hands to check they know who they are: “Who’s A? Who’s B?”
Step 2: Preparation time
Before your students speak, they need time to understand the task and work out what they’re going to say. Group As together and Bs together: AAA BBB (CCC) to prepare. For example, for a question and answer task they could work out the questions. For a ‘describe your picture’ type task, they could describe the picture they have to each other. This will give them a chance to rehearse and to ask you for any language they need.
Potential problems and possible solutions
Students start trying to do the actual information gap. Make it clear that this is preparation time and that e.g. they should only write the questions, not answer them – their partner will do that later.
Step 3: Information gap
Your students should now be ready to do the task. Regroup them AB(C) AB(C) AB(C). When they’re sitting in the right places, tell them exactly what they need to do. Something like this:
A, you ask your questions. B, you answer them. Then B, you ask, and A, you answer.
A, tell B one thing in your picture. B, tell A if it’s the same or different to your picture. If it’s different, circle it. Then B, tell A one thing in your picture. Find 8 differences between your pictures. Don’t look at the other picture.
Potential problems and possible solutions
Students speak their own language. This is natural if the task is too difficult for them. They may not have had enough preparation time, so you could give them more. Encourage them to speak English, and tell them you realise that English might be slower, but they need practice to help them get faster!
They look at each other’s paper/sheet/picture etc. When giving your instructions, check carefully that students know they’re not allowed to look. You can also seat them back to back:
or in two rows facing each other with a large gap between. Bear in mind that this may create noise issues, although that can encourage quieter students to speak more loudly to make themselves heard, and helps students to get practice with phrases like “Can you say that again please?”
Students forget to write the answers/circle the differences etc. Check that they know what to do, and monitor during the activity so that you can remind them if you need to.
Step 4: Checking the answers
If students should now have all of the same information on their paper, they can compare their sheets side by side to spot differences/mistakes/missing information etc.
Otherwise, it’s good to return students to their original AAA BBB (CCC) groups to share the things they found out.
Step 5: Feedback
Don’t forget this stage! You need two parts:
Feedback on content: This can be as simple as ‘Did you find all of the differences?’ or ‘Did you both get all of the information right?’, followed by further checking of the problem areas.
Feedback on language: While you were monitoring, you were (hopefully!) taking notes of some of the language students were using successfully and any problems they may have had. Choose a few of these to focus on, and make sure you praise the good language too.
If I’ve done my job right, the image at the top should now make perfect sense 🙂 I made it off the cuff during a CELTA input session when the trainees asked me how to do this, and I thought it might be useful for others too. I hope it works!
Or at least an attempt at paragraph blogging (I find it hard to stop writing, so maybe this will help!) The idea was proposed by Ann Loseva and Kate @springcait.
Today two different trainees on my current CELTA course mentioned that they didn’t want to ask for help because they felt like they might be bothering people. This is a feeling I often used to have, but I’m hoping I’ve got over now.*
What I’ve realised is that most of the time when you ask somebody something, they’ll say yes.
Need help? Ask: you’ll get it.
Stuck at home and bored? Invite somebody to do something with you: they’ll do it.
Nobody to spend your birthday with? Tell your friends: someone will be free.
What’s the worst that can happen? They might say no.
And if they do? At least you tried.
We’re normally a lot more worried about bothering other people than they are about being bothered.
Of course, it’s a two-way street. You have to be prepared to say yes when other people bother you. After all, you never know where it might take you.
I often see trainees who spend hours and hours producing beautiful materials, then have so little detail in their plan that they end up teaching a pretty poor lesson, sometimes even below standard. Another problem with organising planning time is failing to complete the language analysis sheet, normally a required part of planning from TP3 (teaching practice) onwards.
One trainee on my current course was having particular trouble with approaching their planning, so today we came up with this step-by-step approach to prioritising when doing lesson planning for CELTA:
Write your main and secondary/subsidiary aims.
If you don’t know this, the rest of the lesson is very hard to put together!
Complete the (relevant) language analysis sheet. For many trainees, this is left to the end, and becomes a big scary thing that is just there to be put off and/or rushed at the end. By getting it out of the way right at the start, you know what you’re dealing with. The LA is designed to help you feel more confident in the lesson, and be able to deal with whatever the students throw at you related to those particular language points. It’s also the grounding for the language focus in your lesson, as it helps you to find out what you need to cover. Do include any CCQs you plan to use, because there’s nothing worse than writing ‘ask CCQs’ on your language analysis, then in the lesson wondering how on earth to phrase them! This is the best time to think about them, not in the middle of TP!
Based on the aims of your lesson, decide what kind of lesson it is, and check what the main stages of that type of lesson should be. For example, if you’re teaching vocabulary, will it be text-based? Situational? Test-teach-test? Does the lesson include speaking skills? What are the stages of a speaking lesson? etc Don’t write procedure at this point, just the stage names.
Decide which of the stages is the most important, and should therefore account for the longest activity(ies) in your lesson. In a writing lesson, this would be the writing stage, for example.
Allocate the remaining time you have available to the rest of the stages you listed at step 3. If you’re teaching elementary and you need help, see here. You might still find some useful tips there if you’re teaching other levels.
Now you know how long you have for each stage, it’s time to add the procedural detail. Exactly what will you do at each stage? How will you set up the activities? How will you give feedback? Do you need a peer check? And will you realistically be able to do all of this in the time you allocated to that stage during step 5? Can you make it more efficient? If you’ve allocated too much time, do you need to rethink step 5? And do you really, really have time to do that amazing activity you’ve just read about and really want to have a go at, even though it doesn’t really help you achieve your aims? Is there anything else you need to remind yourself to do?
As a tutor, I’ve noticed that until it’s second nature, if it’s not in the plan, it’s not in the lesson, so if you want to do it, write it down. It’s not a 100% guarantee, but you’re more likely to manage it if it’s in the plan!
Fill in the rest of the planning document, e.g. assumptions, anticipated problems/solutions, materials etc. By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what to write for all of these, since you’ve had plenty of time to think the lesson through.
Finally, the fun bit! Prepare your materials. Now that you’ve completed all of the important paperwork you need to do, you know how long you have left to be able to dedicate to creating/adapting/cutting up those all important materials. Go nuts!
If you’re anything like me, your mind goes blank when you look at a computer screen (oddly enough, not when blogging, but I digress!) and you think much better with paper. I’d therefore recommended plotting out steps 1-5 roughly on paper before you go anywhere near the computer, and possibly 6 too if it helps.
The following four steps are optional extras, to be added if you have time to do them, or a particular problem with these areas:
Script your instructions. A great tip I got from my main course tutor in Sevastopol was to aim for instructions of three sentences of three words each. While this can sometimes be impossible, it helps you to avoid long embedded sentences of the “What I’d like you to do now is I’d like you to…” variety. Use imperatives. Something like: “Read this. Answer the questions. Work alone.” accompanied by pointing at the handout is good. It might sound harsh because there are no politeness markers in there, but it’s efficient and to the point.
Script ICQs. Seeing ‘Ask ICQs’ in a lesson plan without them being followed by said ICQs is one of my personal bugbears. As with CCQs in the language analysis, if you’re going to use them, script them. Make sure they only deal with potential problem areas, as otherwise they may well confuse the students more than if you hadn’t asked them. And remember that doing a clear example/demonstration can often negate the need for ICQs, and sometimes instructions too!
Create a skeleton plan of your lesson. If you get overwhelmed by looking at your complete plan during TP, this can be a useful way to give yourself a reminder without having to spend hours working out where you’re up to while the students are staring at you. A skeleton plan is a brief outline of the stages of the lesson, perhaps with one or two useful reminders.
Rehearse the lesson. If confidence is a problem, going through your plan one more time before the lesson, either alone or with someone else, can really help you to feel more confident, and more sure about what’s coming next.
This was a system I came up with off the top of my head today, so I’d be interested to hear whether it works for you. And trainers, do you use anything similar?
Tips I give my CELTA trainees, which kind of work, sometimes.
I’m now on my fourth CELTA course since September, and on all of them I’ve worked with the elementary students only (that will change next Monday when I’ll finally be with intermediate). Trainees are constantly asking me how to work out the timing on their lesson plans, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try to calculate some formulae to give them at least approximate guidance. Since I was always pretty rubbish at timing my lessons before I became a tutor, and haven’t had chance to see if I’ve improved yet, these notes are to help me in the future too!
(July 2018 update: This was originally written with elementary students in mind, but actually I think the formulae work at most levels having now used them much more extensively!)
This is what I’ve come up with so far:
Starting the lesson
Make a note of the time you start, and calculate what time you should finish. Do this during the first activity before you forget. If it helps, write it vertically at the side of the board as a reminder. You’re less likely to erase it if it’s vertical than horizontal. To make doubly sure, draw a box around it. Enlist your TP groups’ help with timing, and ask somebody to give you a 5-minute warning if you think it’ll help.
This shouldn’t be longer than 10 minutes in a 45-minute lesson, preferably closer to 5. Allocate a couple of minutes for greeting the students and setting the initial task, a couple of minutes for them to speak in pairs or small groups, then one minute for quick feedback. You should be setting the context/getting students into the topic here, not having a full-blown discussion.
Always allocate 1-2 minutes for giving instructions and activity set-up, especially if you need to move the students/furniture.
Students generally need about 1 minute per question, possibly each if they’re working in pairs/groups. Remember that at elementary they are probably translating the question into their language, coming up with the answer, then translating it back into English, no matter how much you might want them to operate in English only. That takes time!
For speaking tasks which required extended production, not just one or two sentences, you needed to allocate preparation (‘ideas’) time too, say 5 minutes give or take, depending on the task and the amount of support they get in the way you set it up.
Students also need practice time before performing in front of the whole class (‘language time’), when they can ask you for help. Again, depending on the way you set it up, this is going to be about five minutes.
As with speaking, students need both ‘ideas time’ and ‘language time’, though here the language time is when they’re actually producing their writing. Whether they’re working alone or in pairs, 10 minutes is probably about right in a 45-minute lesson, although again, this depends on the length of the text you want them to produce, and how much input you’ve given them before they write. Another way to work it out is to time yourself doing the piece of writing, then multiply that time by three or four.
Before students write, you need to allocate time to focussing on useful language from the text which the students can steal for their own writing. Set aside 5 minutes for this, maybe longer depending on how many things you want to highlight.
Reading for gist should be quick. That’s why it’s for gist – it’s to get an idea of the general topic and structure of the text, to prepare you for more detailed reading later. Set a time limit, probably 1 or 2 minutes depending on the length of the text, and stick to it. Don’t let the students keep reading after this – if necessary, get them to turn over their paper/close their books. Remember that you still need a peer check after this, which again should only be about 30 seconds, because if your gist task is appropriate it will only be a couple of relatively easy questions which don’t require long answers.
On the other hand, more detailed reading takes time, especially if students aren’t confident. I’d recommend 3-4 minutes for your average detail/specific information task, depending on how much the students need to reread/write. Again, don’t forget to allocate time for the peer check!
You don’t have so much control over time in a listening lesson, because the length of the audio determines it to some extent. That mean’s that when you’re preparing, you need to check how long the recording is! Work out how many times you’re going to play it, including the initial/gist activity, and (probably) one more repetitions than you expect, so that you can focus on any problem areas that come up during the lesson. You may also need to consider the time it’ll take to set up the tech, although hopefully you’ve done this before the class starts.
As always, don’t forget to factor in peer checks, perhaps between listenings as well as at the end of each stage, as this particularly helps weaker learners.
This is the major time sink in most lessons I’ve observed, especially if the teacher decides on a board-centred presentation. It’s hard not to keep talking when everyone is looking at you, and verbal diarrhoea eats time!
Avoid long board-centred presentations if at all possible. How can you hand it over to the students?
If you do have to do one, allocate about 15 minutes. They never seem to take less time than that! And in a 45-minute lesson, remember that’s a third of your time.Remember to allocate time for meaning AND form AND pronunciation. Again, do you have to be the centre of attention, or can you break it up somehow?
That’s not to say that T-centred presentations are a complete no-no, but make sure you’ve planned them thoroughly, and you know when to stop talking!
If you’ve managed to make it SS-centred, follow the tips in ‘language practice’ below.
This depends on how quickly your students pick up new forms, how big the class is, how many pieces of language there are and how long each item you’re trying to teach them is, but it should be at least five minutes. Shorter than that and there probably isn’t enough repetition in there. Consider breaking it up a bit by getting students to repeat things to each other in pairs or small groups after the whole class stage and monitoring for problems. This takes the focus off you for a few seconds, and adds a bit of variety.
Again, this depends on the type of activity students are doing and on how good your teaching was. If they still don’t really get the language, then this will all take longer. These are tips for controlled practice activities, based on the most common ones I see. For freer practice, see ‘speaking’/’writing’ above.
Matching: about 15 seconds per item.
Gapfill with words there: about 15-30 seconds per item, depending on the number of words.
Gapfill with no words (open cloze – students have to think of the words themselves): about 30-45 seconds per item.
Writing/rewriting sentences: about one minute per item.
Reminder number one: feedback shouldn’t take longer than the activity you’re feeding back on, unless there are major problems for some reason.
Reminder number two: writing things on the board takes time. If you’re doing it, make sure you have a good reason why, and that it’s not just for the sake of having something to do. If the students are doing it, is everyone involved? What are the other students doing? Are they just watching? (It can be a good way of keeping fast finishers occupied, as long as they don’t end up doing it all the time.)
I’m not sure there’s a particular rule on the length of feedback, but it should make students feel like it wasn’t a waste of their time doing the activity, and it should round off the activity enough that students are ready to move on. Here are some approximate amounts:
Speaking/Writing: Allocate time for both ‘feedback on content’ and ‘feedback on language’, probably about 3-5 minutes for each, depending on how you set it up.
Reading/Listening/Controlled practice activities: 2-3 minutes, including dealing with any problems, unless students need to see the written form of the answers (especially for full sentences) in which case you may want to get them to write things on the board, which will take longer. To make it shorter, have the answers ready to show/give them.
Peer checks should be factored in before open-/whole-class feedback, probably 1-3 minutes depending on the length of the task and the difficulty students have had with it. Monitor carefully during peer checks so that you can make your feedback more efficient (read, faster).
I’ve found that planning in nice round 5-minute units is generally the way to go. They normally balance out across the lesson. If I try to do odd 3/6/8-minute times, they always end up being 5/10-minute ones anyway! That means that in a 45-minute lesson, you have nine 5-minute units to play with. Use them wisely. 🙂
It’s a very long time since I wrote one of these (nearly 3 years to be exact)! On Wednesday 14th January 2015 I took part in my first ELTchat for about a year, and since my topic was chosen, it’s only fair that I did the summary too 🙂
If you’ve never come across ELTchat before, it’s a weekly hour-long conversation which takes place on Twitter (almost) every Wednesday, alternating between 12pm and 9pm UK time. At the end of the chat, one lucky person takes the transcript and summarises the discussion. All of the summaries are then added to the amazing summaries index, which goes back to October 2010. These are the people who took part in this chat (no underscores, so check the transcript for their proper Twitter handles!)
What are authentic materials?
There were many aspects to the definition of authentic materials. There’s a bit of repetition, but you can pick and choose the parts that make up the best definition for you:
Anything written for any purpose other than language instruction;
Not designed for linguistic purposes (no input flood/specific language point);
Things to consider when choosing authentic materials
The function/purpose of the text, not just the language included in it.
Is it interesting/motivational for your students?
What will they learn from it?
What do the learners need to be able to produce themselves? Can you find real examples of it?
Can the learners provide them for you?
With ESP (English for Specific Purposes) materials, do you need to know the jargon/terminology, or can your learners explain it to you?
Will the students’ knowledge of the content make it easier for them to access the text?
They don’t have to be perfect. Materials with mistakes can be just as useful for students as ‘perfect’ ones, particularly if they’re documents that the students may encounter, e.g. in-company documentation.
It’s not a magic bullet – the text and tasks still need to have relevant content and be at an appropriate level.
Ways of using authentic materials
Exploit language to develop vocabulary, raise awareness of grammatical patterns/collocations/connected speech etc.
Encourage students to personalise chunks of language taken from the text.
Correct the mistakes/improve the text.
Analyse the text structure and/or style (text/genre analysis).
Develop skills in the same way as you would with non-authentic materials (e.g. coursebook texts).
To promote discussion about the content of the text.
As warmers for writing lessons (videos from BBC Breaking were particularly recommended)
Top-down: start from the context and move towards the language.
Bottom-up: start from the language and move towards the wider topic.
For enjoyment! Extensive reading/listening practice.
Show examples, then let students create their own.
Match pictures of food to items on the menu.
‘In a restaurant’ role play.
Focus on the connections between the messages and the development of the conversation.
After working with the examples, students post their own reviews on the websites.
Choose the most suitable candidate for a job.
Write a story based on the characters whose CVs you have.
Email your students with a problem you have. Get them to reply, then screenshot/print the replies and work on the language in them. They’re responding to a real text you’ve written. [Note from Sandy: I did something similar by asking friends on Twitter/facebook to tell my pre-intermediate students their problems so they could solve them – SS loved it!]
Points of debate
Should you pre-teach vocabulary?
It may be easier for students to access the text if you do, and some ‘blocking vocabulary’ (things which are vital to understanding the text) may be important so that students have an idea what’s going on in the text and don’t get too depressed.
If you don’t pre-teach, it reflects real-life conditions more and may help them to develop coping strategies. Giving students the chance to look up vocabulary might be more useful to them than pre-teaching it, as would priming them for the content/ideas in the text rather than specific vocabulary (activating schemata – alerting the students to prior knowledge they may have of the topic).
Consider your aim: are you using it primarily for the content, or as training in how to approach authentic materials?
Should you choose materials to fit your aims or just things which take your fancy?
One idea was that it’s important for the teacher to be interested in the materials, otherwise it might be difficult to put together a ‘super duper’ lesson! Although our training is there to help us make boring stuff more exciting 😉
We need to consider what materials students need to access outside class and base our choices on this.
Should you adapt or simplify the materials?
Adapting or simplifying the text removes the authenticity of the language. It is also time consuming. Managing to understand a text without knowing all the words is a vital skill which students need to develop. You can train students to use paralinguistic features, such as images or layout, to help them understand the text. Being able to understand unadapted materials can be very motivating for students.
On the other hand, simplifying the text can help students to access it in the first place, and you can build up to exposure to the original once they are familiar with the content. This could help beginner/elementary students in particular. If students become frustrated with the material because it’s too difficult, they may just stop trying to understand it. Audacity is a useful tool for slowing down audio through changing the tempo.
You could also choose ‘usable excerpts’ from a text, rather than using all of it. Examples might be a short section of a longer video, or a couple of paragraphs from a longer article.
Is authenticity important in the tasks too?
i.e. Should the texts be used in a way which is faithful to real life?
Authentic tasks can be more motivating for the students, perhaps because the purpose of the tasks is clearer to them. However, they may require extra tasks (scaffolding) before you get to the authentic tasks though to ensure students are prepared sufficiently. There is also the argument that language work is a necessary part of what we do in the classroom in order to aid learning. On the other hand, authentic texts sometimes have a ‘magic’ of their own and help to motivate the students without language work.
Using materials like menus in atypical ways could add an interesting twist for students. Examples of tasks include using the menu to practise reading prices, rather than just for ordering food, or an information gap with different information blanked out for each student. The intended use of the text in real life doesn’t need to be paramount.
Can you use authentic materials with lower-level learners?
Yes! Grade the task, not the text. Give them achievable targets, for example, identifying the names of the main characters in a short story could train learners to notice the use of capital letters for names. Another activity could be reading a DVD case to find the length of the film and whether the actors have won any awards.
Support can also be provided in the form of pictures, pre-teaching vocabulary and/or a summary of the text beforehand. With audio materials, you can repeat it as many times as necessary. Pausing helps learners to assimilate the text, and you can discuss what SS have heard and what they think will come next.
Bear in mind, though, that sometimes the text is just too difficult for the students. Widdowson suggests that authentic materials may be too challenging for lower-level students, but those living in English-speaking environments have to deal with them, so as teachers we need to help them.
Is it worth it?
The general consensus was that when used correctly students really enjoy authentic materials, even if they don’t understand it all. You’re exposing learners to real patterns of language which they can use. Those teaching in English-speaking environments thought it was particularly important to use authentic materials with their students as this is what they encounter as soon as they leave class.
Links and further reading
Pinterest or wikis were suggested as ways to collate authentic materials.
At the IH Director of Studies conference last week Gavin Dudeney did a session about managing technology. In it, he expressed the hope that technology in the classroom will eventually become normalised. As he said, nobody talks about ‘pen-assisted language learning’, so why CALL? He also wants it to become an integral part of teacher training courses, rather than something special or tacked on. He mentioned me as someone who does this and, of course, immediately after the session someone approached me and asked me how, to which I had no ready answer, probably because for me it already is an integral part of my teaching and training!
I started thinking about it, and in conversation with Anthony Gaughan, we decided that we use technology when it’s necessary to solve problems. So here are some of the ways that tech is used when I’m working as a CELTA trainer:
For the occasional PowerPoint-based input session (thought I’d better get that out of the way!)
To show longer videos for observations and shorter clips as part of input sessions.
To help trainees find out about language by demonstrating how a corpus works (I normally use BYU BNC).
Getting trainees to take photos of each others’ whiteboards during TP (teaching practice).
Trainees also sometimes video/audio record themselves/each other, although we have to get the students’ permission first.
To send out relevant extra links to the trainees, particularly to my diigo bookmarks.
(On one course) To provide after-hours support via email – this got a bit much for me, so I only did it in emergencies on later courses.
(On one course) Experimenting with Edmodo as a way of giving handouts – this got a bit overwhelming for the trainees, although they still have access to it after the course. Hoping to ask them in the future whether they ever look at it.
Trainees show images using their own tablets or a projector, rather than printing off endless pictures.
Where available, trainees can use the overhead projector (old-school tech!) to display answers/texts etc.
Teaching trainees how to put images into PowerPoint, instead of spending hours formatting them in Word (not that this frustrates me at all…) – amazed at how many people, especially under 25s, are still petrified of PowerPoint and/or have never opened it in their lives!
I also have a 75-minute technology input session which I’m happy to pass on to anybody who needs inspiration – just message me below or on Twitter. A key part of this session is demonstrating how to use Quizlet and another is introducing online professional development, if it hasn’t already been done in another input.
I don’t feel like any of this is particularly revolutionary, but maybe that’s because tech has always been normalised for me. Is there anything else you do?
The last five months have been pretty busy. Here’s what I’ve been doing.
(You can click on any of the collages to see larger images.)
28th July-19th August
Train to be a CELTA tutor The place: Sevastopol, Crimea The trainees: 9 Russian native speakers; 8 women, 1 man; early 20s-mid 30s The tutors: two Russians The assessor: from Moscow How I got the job: training as a CELTA tutor was one of the reasons I moved to Sevastopol The accommodation: the flat I’d lived in all year The evenings: writing a couple of input sessions; meals and evenings at the beach with my co-tutors; relaxing; packing The weekends: exploring Crimea; packing up my life into boxes ready to move out of my flat and leave Sevastopol for an indeterminate length of time until I get another visa The lows: basically sitting non-stop for four weeks watching other people do things, at the hottest time of the year in Sevastopol; not knowing when I would be back in Sevastopol The highs: redoing my CELTA and remembering so much I’d forgotten
Return to the UK, via Moscow, where there was a slight blip with my passport because I had a Ukrainian entry stamp, not a Russian one. The supervisor managed to sort it out in ten minutes though.
21st August-13th September
Holiday and catching up with family and friends
Including a week at a caravan with family, and trips to Wolverhampton to sort out some of my stuff, Newcastle, Hadrian’s Wall, Beamish, Sheffield, and a London 2012 reunion on Piccadilly
Mum driving me to Leeds, via a trip to Hardwick Hall with my grandma
15th September-10th October
My first course as a CELTA tutor The place: Leeds, UK The trainees: 10 native speakers, 1 Iranian; 8 women, 3 men; early 20s-mid 50s The other tutor: a Brit who’s been in Turkey for a while The assessor: a Brit How I got the job: on 10th September I got my first ever email from the CELTA mailing list, and Leeds were looking for a tutor. After discussing it with Sevastopol and knowing I probably wouldn’t get a visa any time soon, I applied straight away and it all worked out 🙂 The accommodation: a very nice attic room with a homestay couple The evenings: chatting to my hosts, putting together input sessions, cooking, going to see Paco Peña The weekends: catching up with friends, exploring Leeds, visiting Ulverston and the Lake District The lows: gettting home every evening and knowing I still had to work; walking away from feedback on some days knowing I might have been too demanding The highs: staying in a great home-stay; the support of my fellow tutors (on both my course and the one running in parallel); realising I could tutor!
Car back to my aunt’s, thanks to my mum
Recovery/preparation time, including trying to get my hair cut, and to get enough prescription medicine for a trip of indeterminate length from a doctor in a random part of the country
Train to Manchester, an evening at my friend’s house cooking for my journey
Fly to San Diego, via Amsterdam and Detroit, arriving at 9:45pm SD time
Settle in, getting very lost finding the school because I decided to walk, but seeing 3 eagles because of my detour
Trips to San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld with my co-tutor
20th October-14th November
CELTA tutor: course 2 The place: San Diego, California The trainees: 9 native speakers; 7 women, 2 men (1 man quit after the first day; 1 woman after the first week); early 20s-mid 50s The other tutor: a Brit who’s based in the UK, but does training all over the world and loves the States The assessor: a Brit, now based in Texas How I got the job: via the CELTA mailing list. Until two weeks before I left, I’d never had any plans to go to the States! The accommodation: at a residential hotel, with a microwave and fridge in the room, and shared kitchens The evenings: putting together input sessions, cooking, planning my travels, basketball, exploring San Diego The weekends: exploring San Diego, whale watching (no whales, but lots of dolphins!), Torrey Pines, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Lowell Observatory, LA, Hollywood, space shuttle The lows: self-induced tiredness, having to cook all the time (due to my exclusion diet) The highs: an amazing opportunity for adventure – it definitely won’t be my last trip to the States!
Fly to San Francisco
Staying at the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel, where I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from my window through the trees.
Whale watching (a pair of humpbacks 🙂 ), hop-on hop-off bus tour, Alcatraz, exploring, a cable car all to myself, a day in Yosemite
Greyhound bus to Sacramento, where I stayed in a beautiful hostel (bottom left in the collage). Visited the Capitol building – until recently I didn’t realise Sacramento is the capital of California, as I’m sure many people don’t!
Old Town Sacramento, underground tour, California Railroad Museum, river boat trip
Overnight Greyhound to Portland, Oregon
A very wet day in Portland, when most of my attempts to explore failed. The one that didn’t was the Wells Fargo museum, where I discovered they used to transport everything from wedding cakes to cattle!
Trip to the cinema with a Portland native who was in the bed next to me at the hostel in San Francisco 🙂
Whole day on the bus from Portland to Vancouver, arriving at about 9pm
Settling in, walking to downtown Vancouver, seeing the sun set from the Lookout above the city
24th November-19th December
CELTA tutor: course 3 The place: Vancouver, British Columbia The trainees: 18! 14 native speakers, 1 Russian speaker, 1 Iranian, 1 French, 1 Chinese; 8 women, 10 men; early 20s-late 50s The other tutor: a Brit who’s lived in Canada for the last couple of years The assessor: a Brit based in Vancouver How I got the job: via the CELTA mailing list and the connection between the schools in San Diego and Vancouver The accommodation: week 1: in a shared house with travellers from all over the world, all in Vancouver on working visas; weeks 2-4: at a building which used to be a hotel and has recently become little apartments The evenings: putting together input sessions (though not as many as before), cooking, marking assignments and more assignments The weekends: meeting family friends and a fellow blogger, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Victoria, Butchart Gardens, Whistler, Stanley Park Seawall, exploring Vancouver, the aquarium, two hockey matches (one of which was a teddy bear toss) The lows: self-induced tiredness and illness; problems with the first accommodation (although the people were lovely!); the fact that the assignments seemed to be breeding! The highs: more adventures; fantastic wildlife sightings (bald eagles, a sea otter, raccoon, herons); the natural beauty of BC
I wrote most of this sitting at Pacific Central Station waiting for the bus to Seattle. I’m now finishing it off at Manchester Airport where I’m waiting for the train which will take me on the last leg of my journey. I’ve spent 2.5 fun days in Seattle, relaxing and exploring the city, and I even got to see Mount Rainier.
It’s now 9:45am on Christmas Eve in the UK, and my body thinks it’s 1:45am, so I’m nicely jetlagged in time for Christmas with my family!
Who knows? I’m hoping to get a visa to go back to Sevastopol as soon as I can, but all that sits in the hands of bureaucracy, over which I have no control. It also depends on the situation between Russia and the West not getting any worse. The final factor is the opening times of the embassy, which is closed for both the UK and Russian public holidays. All that means I have no idea when I’ll be back in Sevastopol.
My only other firm plan in the near future is the IH Director of Studies conference in early January, by which time I hope to at least have applied for my visa!
So that’s why I haven’t really blogged since the end of July 🙂 I hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure and the photos!
Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope you have a successful and happy 2015!
CELTA stands for ‘Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults’. It is a four-week full-time initial teacher training course, designed to introduce you to the basics of teaching English as a foreign language.
It is suitable for native English speakers, and non-natives who have achieved an English level of at least C1 on the CEFR.
Why do CELTA?
CELTA is internationally recognised as an introductory qualification for English teachers, and opens the door to good quality schools around the world.
For those who have already been teaching for a while, it is a good introduction to Communicative Language Teaching.
What does CELTA involve?
During the four-week course, you will do a total of six hours of observed teaching practice, where you try out what you are learning in a real classroom situation.
To help you do this successfully, you will receive 120 hours of input covering a wide range of topics. including how to teach grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and the four language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking), as well as how to plan your lessons, use materials effectively and manage the classroom, among many other things. You will be introduced to a wide range of activties which you can take straight into the classroom.
Before and after each observed lesson you will work with tutors and your peers to ensure that you improve as much as possible over the course of your CELTA.
There are also four short written assignments during the course, one per week. There is no exam: assessment is based on your written assignments and your observed teaching practice.
How much is it?
Anyone who registers for our courses before 1st June 2014 will get a 15% discount, meaning the whole four-week CELTA will only cost you £850, including Cambridge registration fees, considerably cheaper than it is in most places, where it can cost up to £1300! Even with travel costs and accommodation, you will pay considerably less than at many other centres.
If you register after 1st June, it will still only cost £1000.
IH Sevastopol can help you to arrange travel and accommodation, and anything else you may require during your stay.
Why do CELTA at IH Sevastopol?
Every summer International House Sevastopol runs two CELTA courses: one in July and one in August. In 2014 the dates are:
June 30th-July 25th
July 28th-August 23rd
The course is run by two experienced trainers, Olga Stolbova, the Director of IH Sevastopol, and a guest trainer from Kharkiv, Ukraine. In July 2014, I will be training as a CELTA tutor, so I will be there as a third trainer if you decide to join the first course.
You will be teaching students in a private language school in a classroom setting much like you might expect to go into once you have finished your CELTA course.
International House has affiliates all over the world, and while we cannot guarantee you a job, we can offer advice on where to apply for work once your course has finished.
Sevastopol itself is a fascinating city, and at the weekends when you have finished planning and writing assignments, you can explore its history or go out into beautiful Crimea. Sevastopol and Crimea have been in the news a lot recently, and this is your chance to discover what it’s like here first-hand! You can read a lot more about Sevastopol on our site, and see pictures and videos of the city, including BBC Top Gear‘s visit in November 2013.
Here’s what Ryan Williams, a Canadian who trained on our 2013 CELTA, said about the course:
I left the Canadian oil field and started my teaching career with a TESOL certification. Within my first year of teaching it was clear that I wanted more education to fall back on. The decision to take a CELTA course was an easy one and based on some key factors, career advancement, stability, self-confidence and professionalism played a key role.
IH Sevastopol offers a great experience in a city rich with culture and history. Also, the early schedule for the course gives you a competitive edge when interviewing for September start. The tutors are top notch and committed to providing you with the tools needed in a modern teaching environment in order to be successful in the classroom. A four week course is intense, no question. However, by applying yourself the rewards are fantastic. I can attest by saying that a CELTA certification has opened doors for me that we’re not achievable in the past and I am now enjoying a fruitful career with teaching English.