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

Posts tagged ‘grammar’

Simplified articles chart

Once upon a time, I created many different versions of charts to help students work out whether they needed articles or not. Some of them were very complicated because I tried to include way too much information in them. Then I went to the other extreme. Now I think I’ve found a happy medium:

Articles chart

Here’s the Powerpoint version for you to download.

The 90% figure in the box is obviously a complete guess. I’ve found that most article choices can be covered by the chart, though occasionally you have to be a bit creative about it! The box gives students a set of fixed phrases which they can learn to start them off with the exceptions that aren’t covered.

‘Normal noun’ is something like ‘republic’ or ‘kingdom’. This covers the use of phrases like ‘the Czech Republic’, ‘the United Kingdom’, and also ‘the University of Durham’, but not ‘Durham University’. By the way, does anyone know why the latter two uses operate differently when it comes to articles?

Countable > plural > specific covers ‘plural’ countries like ‘the United States’, but also groups of islands like ‘the Maldives’ or ‘the Canary Islands’.

Uncountable > specific covers deserts like ‘the Sahara’ and bodies of water which aren’t lakes, like ‘the Atlantic’, ‘the Sargasso Sea’. Lakes are an exception as they don’t normally take an article: ‘Lake Tahoe’, ‘Windermere’.

Hopefully this will be my final version of this, although I know I’ve definitely said that before…

Über-simple articles

Having spent six of the last eight years working in countries where the mother tongue is Slavic, articles are a real problem for most of my students. This is an old photo from Sevastopol, which I’ve just rediscovered, of a diagram which I use again and again to help them understand the rules, although the percentage I attach to it changes from use to use!

Articles flowchart

I encourage students to use the chart whenever they’re not sure which article to choose or why an article has (not) been used. They ask a series of questions:

  • Is the noun countable or uncountable?
  • Countable only: Is it singular or plural?
  • Is it general or specific?

Most of the time, this is enough for them to choose the correct article, or to understand why articles have or have not been used in a reading passage they are analysing. I count ‘a/an’ for first mentions as general because you don’t know which one people are referring to yet. I also point out to them that if in doubt, ‘the’ is correct in 50% of situations!

Of course, if this isn’t enough and you want to cover the exceptions too, you could try my über-complicated articles chart in which I attempted to cover everything! It’s probably time to simplify that a bit 🙂

Out of the window

A very simple activity, which works very well as a filler, as revision, or as the prompt for a whole lesson. All you need is a window with something going on outside.

The view from our classroom

The view from our classroom at IH Sevastopol

Ask the students to look out of the window and tell each other/you what they can see. With my elementary students I encouraged them to use a few structures they’d recently studied:

  • There is/are…
  • Present continuous
  • NOT: I can see… I can see… I can see… (which is what they started with!)

Feed in any vocabulary and structures that they might need, and make a note of them on the board. The students should focus on speaking as much as possible for now, rather than note-taking. Give them time and space to think of ideas – it took my students time to warm up, but then they came up with lots of ideas.

When they’ve run out of steam (after about ten minutes for my group of four elementary students), let the students make notes based on what you put on the board, as well as ask more questions about language.

I repeated the activity a week later, and the students managed to remember about half of the new vocabulary they’d used the first time, as well as adding adjectives and more description without any prompting from me at all. They had resorted to ‘I can see…’ again, but after a reminder from me started to use ‘There is/are…’ and present continuous again.

I’ve read many times about this kind of activity, but this is the first time I’d used it, and it definitely won’t be the last!

[I wrote this post nearly a year ago, but never pressed publish. Better late than never!]

Useful links for CELTA

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

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

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

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

Before the course

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

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)

CELTA diaries is a series of videos following two trainees taking the course at International House Belfast. IH London have some helpful tips for trainees. Nicky Salmon tells you How to survive a CELTA course, with tips from trainers and past trainees.

Giulia wrote about her experience on the course, reflecting on the positives and negatives, and Seth Newsome did the same with links to other posts he wrote about the process of doing the CELTA if you’d like a bit more depth. Rachel Daw wrote a week by week diary of her course, showing you what it’s like in depth: one MTW TF, two, three, four. Anne Hendler was interviewed each week by Matthew Noble, himself a CELTA tutor, on his blog: before the course, week one, week two, week three, after the course.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, when I did my CELTA, one of my fellow trainees got a Pass A with no prior teaching experience, so it is possible! However, in the courses I’ve tutored on so far, I’ve yet to see an A candidate.


Lesson planning

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

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

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

Timing your elementary classes is a post I wrote in response to questions from my trainees about how to allocate timing when planning. Many of the points in it apply to intermediate classes too. Jonny Ingham also has a guide to timing your lessons.

Jo Gakonga has three webinars connected to lesson planning:

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

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

If you decide to create your own materials for your lesson, here are a few tips from the Oxford University Press blog. Adam Simpson talks about 6 things that can go wrong when making a worksheet and how to avoid them.

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

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


Classroom management and activity set-up

Standing at the front of a classroom can be a scary prospect. If teacher presence is a problem for you, the Times Educational Supplement can help you get the students’ attention. These tips from Fernando Guarany could also help improve your confidence as a teacher.

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

Both of these will affect your ability to build rapport with students. Chris Ożóg offers more tips on how to increase your rapport in a 10-minute webinar.

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to getting instructions right. You might want to follow them up with instruction checking questions if there’s a potential for confusion, or one of these alternatives from Ben Naismith. Edward Evans has a 10-minute webinar about giving efficient instructions, including how to check them, as does Jo Gakongagiving clear instructions (13 minutes). She also has one on setting up and running activities (12 minutes). Marc Helgesen has lots of tips for setting up activities effectively. Here is a 3-minute video of instructions for making a mini book by Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa – it’s designed for young learners, but the way she does it would demonstrates clear instructions that would work with adults too with only minor modifications.

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

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

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


Teaching receptive skills


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

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching reading skills (7 minutes). You can also watch Fergus in action teaching reading to an elementary class (22 minutes). Jo Gakonga has a webinar on exploiting reading texts (35 minutes).


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

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

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

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


Teaching productive skills


Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

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

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.


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

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

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


Teaching language


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

Jo Gakonga also has a webinar introducing you to PPP, TTT and TBL – three different ways of presenting language, whether grammar, vocabulary or functions (35 minutes). It will tell you what the abbreviations mean!

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

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

Anthony Gaughan has an 8-minute audio podcast for CELTA trainees on what makes good controlled practice and how to make sure students really understand.


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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:


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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:


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


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

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

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

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

Julie Tice has tips on making drilling more fun and varied. Lee Shutler has some ideas too, and also talks about the benefits of drilling. ELT Concourse looks at the arguments for and against drilling, then provides examples of different types of drill. Marc Helgesen’s tips about pronunciation, drilling and task repetition are in the second half of this post about classroom managementJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners, which includes tips on drilling (22 minutes).

Jo Gakonga has webinars on connected speech:


Classroom techniques

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

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

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


Observing and being observed

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

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

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


Teaching in different contexts

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

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



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

Focus on the learner

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

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

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

Language-related tasks (language awareness)

See links in the Teaching language section of this post.

Skills-related tasks (authentic materials)

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

Lessons from the classroom

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

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


Surviving the course

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

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

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

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

50 ways to take a break

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

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


After the course

You’ve survived! Well done! Now what?

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

To help you Jonny Ingham tells you how to write a TEFL CV and Karenne Sylvester explains how to avoid overseas EFL teaching job scams. Gordon Scruton gives you questions for a potential employer, plus all important social questions about life outside the school. Rachel Daw talks about her experiences getting work as a newly-qualified freelance teacher and shares examples of questions she’s been asked in job interviews, as well as comparing the relative merits of working for a language school and being a freelancer. Adam Simpson gives you general advice about what to say and do in job interviews. Once you’ve got the job, Elly Setterfield has a very useful series of posts specifically designed for new teachers, answers questions such as’What should I pack?’, ‘What if I hate it?’, and with Teaching Kids and Teaching Teens 101s. She’s also written about how non-native teachers can improve their confidence.

Isabela Villas Boas offers tips for a great beginning in a new teaching jobRichard Whiteside has 3 things to help new teachers. Lewis Waitt tells you about how to survive your first year as a teacher. Michael Walker has 5 tips for new teachers. Rebecca Cope describes what it’s really like, from the perspective of being six months into her own first year as a teacher. Elly Setterfield offers tips for planning on a daily basis, as it’ll be hard to keep up the amount of detail you had to produce during the course.

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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If this list isn’t enough for you:


For CELTA trainers

(Just so you don’t feel left out!)

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

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on ‘flipping’ CELTA input sessions. (22 minutes)

Matt Noble regularly posts reflections on being a trainer on his Newbie CELTA Trainer blog, as does Ricardo Barros on his. Anthony Gaughan talks about a completely different way of doing CELTA on his Teacher Training Unplugged blog.

John Hughes offers various ways of approaching lesson feedback.


Everything else

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


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

Hitting the drawing board

This is a very simple two- or three-stage activity I’ve successfully used with small classes of young learners and teens to revise both grammar and vocabulary. They love drawing on the board!

Stage one: drawing


Drawing the past simple

Divide the board into a space for each student/team.

Say a word (e.g. car, trousers) or a sentence featuring the grammar structure you want to practise (e.g. I went to the beach. I played with my brother.)

Ask the students to draw a relevant picture. They shouldn’t worry about their artistic skills, just draw anything that they feel represents the language.

Repeat, ensuring they don’t clean the board in between.

When they have about 10 pictures, stop! 🙂

Stage two: hitting


Before giving students the flyswatters, I normally give them two rules:

  1. If you hit anyone with it, we stop.
  2. They’re very cheap. If you hit the board too hard, it’ll break and we’ll have to stop. (This happened once!)

Give the students flyswatters.

Call out one of the words/sentences.

The students hit the relevant picture.

Start with them hitting their own pictures, then move them around – this can be quite challenging if other students have interpreted the language in a more abstract way!

You can also ask one of the students to be the teacher. With small groups, you replace them as the player.

Stage three: cleaning (optional)

Repeat stage two, but this time, instead of flyswatters, give the students board rubbers. They clean the relevant picture each time you say the language.

When there are only two pictures left, they have to tell you the words/sentences.


You can also use paper rolled into a tube instead of flyswatters. Stage two works well with flashcards too.

Adults would also enjoy this game.

With larger groups it could be done in teams or on paper.

Simple, minimal preparation, and lots of fun! Enjoy!

How I’m learning Russian (part two)

At the start of May I wrote about my Russian lessons and what I was and wasn’t doing at home to further my learning. To finish the post, I made a commitment to study Russian for ten minutes every day and gave a list of activities I would try. So what happened?

Planning and recording

About two months ago I moved to a system of having a daily to-do list for everything. At the beginning of each week, it looks like this:

To-do list

To-do list

Each day I have a series of codes: ‘Ph’ = physio, F = feedly (blog reading to try and keep up!), R = Russian, FJ = flo-joe (FCE word bank) and, new last week because of the success of the others, W = walk. By having them on the list, I’m much more likely to make time for them every day. Other things to do are then added around them, as you can see from Monday. (On a side note, I’ve discovered this daily to-do list makes me much more efficient, as long as I’m realistic about what I put on each day based on the time I have available. Everything else is in another list at the side, and when I’ve finish the things for the day I can start on the less urgent things.)

Since I started doing this, I have very rarely missed a day of Russian. I record what I’ve done on an old calendar, along with my physio/exercise. I started using a similar system when I was trying to walk more last year, and I found that the gaping holes when  nothing was written made me feel bad, and I wanted to minimise them! This is the final result for May:

May 2014 Russian

May 2014 Russian

…and the work in progress for June:

June 2014 Russian

June 2014 Russian

As you can see, in the seven weeks since I wrote that post, I’ve only missed four days, all in May. You can also see that very often I spent considerably more than ten minutes on my Russian. It seems that once you get started, it’s easy to get sucked in and do more 😉

Towards the end of May I experimented with a trial version of Lizzie Pinard’s language learning flower, where she suggested colouring in the flower depending on what you’ve done. I didn’t realise that it should be divided into squares, and was already using the calendar, so only used it once, but it did make me realise that I was doing almost no writing.

Language learning flower

Language learning flower for May 2014


I took my own advice, and started to write a journal in Russian, which I asked my teacher to correct and reply to. Thankfully, she was happy to do that!

Russian journal

Russian journal

The mistakes I’ve made have taught me a lot, and because I’m a good language learner/very sad person/have way too much time on my hands, I rewrite every piece of writing I do into another notebook…

Colour-coded rewrites

Colour-coded rewrites

…using a colour-code to show the kind of mistakes I’ve made. I put the code into the front of my notebook so I can refer to it, and add to it if another category of mistake starts appearing.

Deciphering the rewrite code

Deciphering the rewrite code

From only three journal entries I’ve already noticed an improvement in my spelling of a few common words, and I’ve learnt new phrases from my teacher’s rewording of my sometimes clumsy production, as well as having a new page in my vocabulary notebook entirely devoted to stealing phrases from what she’s written. I’ve also put some of my favourite phrases onto the sentence cards I mentioned in my last post (more on them below).

Of course, the real reason I started to do this was nothing to do with improving my Russian. When I bought my journal, I couldn’t decide which notebook to buy, and being a stationery lover, I decided to buy both. You can’t have a notebook and not use it! 😉

Two notebooks, both alike in dignity

Which to buy? Both of course!

This may be another sign of how sad/geeky/pathetic I am, but I really feel that it’s important to have notebooks and folders you want to open, and pens/pencils/etc you want to use when you’re studying. It might seem like a minor thing, but anything that makes you smile will help.


Inspired by Lizzie Pinard (again), I bought myself a Russian book. I’d been trying to find something for a while, but everything was too expensive or seemed like it might be too difficult for a beginner/elementary student. Then I found this:

Game of Thrones in Russian

Hello Mr Bean 😉

That’s right, Game of Thrones, in Russian, with Sean Bean on the cover. What was that about having something you wanted to pick up? I already had the e-book in English, and we have a paper copy of it at school, making it the perfect choice as I wouldn’t have to buy another book to be able to compare the Russian and English versions.

Without Lizzie talking about how she’d been reading Harry Potter in Italian from the beginning, I would never have been brave enough to try GoT. Now I’ve finished the first chapter. It’s taken me about two hours in total, broken down into 10-20 minute stints, but it never felt like a chore. Instead it was a puzzle, as I compared what I could see on the page, what I could guess, and what I could remember from the story. Each page took about ten minutes, and I reread the whole thing many times, firstly in Russian more than once, then reading the English, then going back and reading the Russian, then reading both side-by-side. Each time I reread it I noticed more patterns and more words I recognised, and I really want to continue with this. I’ve also started a ‘Game of Thrones’ page in my vocabulary notebook, including such words as меч and книжал (sword and dagger), and useful phrases like Здесь что-то не так (‘Something’s wrong here’). In her post about 12 things she’s learnt about language learning, Lizzie mentioned that learning a new word is like making a new friend, and that’s exactly how it feels.

In general, I’ve always tried to read everything around me (signs, posters, packets…) Now I feel very comfortable with the Cyrillic script. My writing of it has changed over time, developing to become more natural, and requiring less conscious processing. The more I read, the faster I can pick out the words, although I still find I have to stop and go back quite a lot, especially with some of the really long words.


Back in January, I wrote about the downsides of beginning again in a new place:

I can’t do some of the things I enjoy, like going to the cinema and switching off. I can still go, but I have to think, not least because a lot of the films here are in Ukrainian, which I don’t speak at all. Watching a film at home is good, but it’s not the same.

Going to the cinema has always been one of the motivations for me to study more Russian, helped by the political changes here which mean that all films are now in Russian, not Ukrainian. This month I’ve finally taken the plunge and started going. I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past on June 1st, and Maleficent on June 9th. I’m planning to see the second How to train your dragon film next week. Before seeing each film, I watched all the trailers I could find in English to give me an idea of the story and so I would know some of the lines. For Maleficent I watched one in Russian too and looked up the words ‘curse’, ‘evil’ and ‘witch’, all of which I promptly forgot, but recognised when I heard them in the film. This afternoon I’m going to see How to Train Your Dragon 2, and through the Dreamworks YouTube channel I’ve seen the first five minutes of the film, plus about 8 other clips, so I feel like I know the story! Having said that, I don’t want to read too much, as I still want to enjoy the story as it unrolls.

It’s amazing how good it felt to sit in the cinema again, to let the language wash over me and enjoy the experience. I probably understood about 30-40% of each film, helped by my preparation, but that was enough, and every time I go I’ll understand more. In both films I heard words and phrases which I’d picked up in the process of journal writing and reading GoT, as well as through the more ‘conventional’ language learning. I even got one or two of the language-dependent jokes, giving me a high each time.

I bought and watched Up on DVD, which I also really enjoyed. When you’re starting off, I think it’s a much better idea to revisit familiar stories in books and films, rather than try to decode something completely new. You get a lot of motivation from it, but because you already know the story/world/characters, you have more processing capacity to deal with the language.

I’ve also listened to the song ‘Happy End’ with lyrics (thanks to my Russian teacher’s excellent website, which she didn’t tell me about until recently!), a short YouTube video (my first example of Russian comedy) and the first ten minutes of the dubbed version of episode 1 of How I Met Your Mother. I didn’t get on with that at all because I couldn’t deal with being able to hear the English underneath. I’d love to find it with only the Russian as it’s one of my favourite series, and it would be a great excuse to watch it all again!

Grammar and speaking

Most of the grammar we’ve studied in my lessons has come from my questions, based on things I’ve written/read/heard. It’s often said that Russian grammar is really complicated, and there’s certainly a lot of it for a beginner to get their head around. It’s true that I have an advantage because of my other languages, but I think it could be good for a learner to at least see lots of different grammar, but without worrying too much about trying to use it. For me, knowing that the grammar exists means that I’m primed to notice it, and am even starting to use some of it in the right place at the right time.

The best example of noticing was when I asked my teacher how to express comparatives (e.g. bigger/smaller/faster than), then came home, looked out my window at a banner I’ve been ‘reading’ all year, and noticed that it’s a comparative structure!

Better prices than those of others

‘Better prices than those of others’

This week I’ve also finished the memrise Learn Basic Russian course, which I started studying again about two weeks ago after a six-month break. It was interesting to go back to as I can see some of the grammar patterns I’ve studied in the sentences that are included in the higher levels.

The fact that I don’t really care if what I say is grammatically correct or not, as long as I’m communicating, does cause the occasional problem. However, I can mostly get my message across through set phrases, vocabulary, and the basic grammar I do know, along with mime, gestures, and the patience and goodwill of the person I’m speaking to. I’ve managed to buy a bikini by myself, as well as a pair of trainers which are suitable for the warm weather (no easy feat as I have inserts in my shoes which make buying shoes very challenging!) Both processes took 20-30 minutes, and I was really tired afterwards, but I persevered and got what I wanted.

(I think) I feel like lower-level learners should be made aware of how bits of grammar work, but then should be encouraged to read and listen to see how it’s used in context. They should also rote learn set phrases which they can ‘edit’ by slotting in other key vocabulary items as needed. I’ve done very few grammar exercises as part of my Russian studies, and these were mostly connected to cases. They helped me to memorise the form a little, but I really needed to be exposed to them a LOT to actually be able to use them.

Vocabulary, set phrases and pronunciation

In my last post I said:

In some classes, I give my teacher English sentence after sentence I’ve tried to say in Russian during that week, but didn’t know, ask her to translate them, then fail to learn them. This week we have a week off school and I’ve finally had time to dedicate to Russian. I’ve copied out the sentences onto cards (made from A4 pieces of paper cut into 16 rectangles, yellow because it’s a happy colour!), with pictures on the other side as prompts. There’s a huge backlog, and I have no idea how long it’ll take to actually learn them.

Every time I get a seat on the bus, I go through a few of the cards. I have about ten with me at any one time, in a handy mobile phone case my friend gave me, which has a pocket on the front. The ones I don’t know are in the main pocket, and when I think I know them, I put them in the front.

Sandy's sentence card holder TM

Sandy’s sentence card holder TM

During my lesson, I check them with my teacher, who tells me whether my pronunciation is correct or not. My very first Russian lesson was a fairly comprehensive guide to Russian pronunciation, which was a lot of information to take in, but gave me an excellent grounding for everything since. We’ve returned to it many times since, and have added one or two of the more obscure pronunciation rules. Having sound-spelling relationships clear in my head has made a huge difference, but stress placement is still very difficult for me. Like English, Russian has fairly unpredictable stress patterns, and the stress should be marked on every new word.

In a week, I can generally learn about 10-15 of these sentences, and it’s getting easier to memorise them as I start to make connections between the sentences, as well as to the language I’ve been exposed to through reading and listening. It’s incredibly motivating to see the pile of sentences I know get bigger and bigger, and I’ve cleared most of the backlog. This is the situation as it stands now:

i know the ones on the left

Left = ‘known’, right = unknown

…although I should probably go through the ‘known’ cards and see whether I still remember them! By memorising sentences, I have phrases I can deploy in the situations I most commonly encounter, and I can ‘edit’ them as and when I need them. I haven’t always been able to drag them up at the appropriate time, but at least knowing that I’ve been able to memorise them once has made me more confident. As my stock of phrases builds, I’ll be more and more likely to retain them, or at least, I hope so!

This reflects something Ann Loseva wrote in her post about grammar on itdi:

  • These linguistic discoveries need to go through cycles of repetition, to be re-discovered many times before I might hope for them to sink in.
  • The more I learn, the more confirmed I become in that we desperately need vocabulary if we want to actually produce sentences. It’s the first thing to escape memory, too.

When it all went wrong

Considering the amount of times I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to speak or understand Russian, I’m lucky that I’ve only had two situations where communication has completely broken down and I haven’t been able to patch it up.

The first was at the hairdresser’s. She’d cut my hair twice previously, so i though it would be easy: I’d just go and she’d do it. At most, I’d have to say ‘Cut it like before’. Except I forgot to find out how to say that… When I sat down, she held up my hair and said something, but I only understood the word ‘short’. I took that word, added the context of the weather suddenly being a lot hotter, and thought she’d asked me ‘Do you want it shorter than before?’, so I said ‘No’. The conversation descended into complete incomprehension, as neither of us could work out what the other was saying. In the end, my Russian teacher translated for us over the phone. Later in the appointment, we continued talking, and she told me she was surprised by my response to her first question, as she couldn’t cut my hair longer! In fact, we’d she’d said was something along the lines of ‘Do you want it short here?’

The other example was on the bus. I had my headphones on, and called out the name of the next stop, where I wanted to get off. Three men were standing in the aisle, and one of them laughed and started talking to me. I took off my headphones, but couldn’t understand what he was saying, even though he rephrased it and said it many times. Just as we stepped off the bus, I realised that he’d been telling me he’d called out the name of the stop at the exact same time as me. In English, that would have prompted a quick laugh and the end of the dialogue. In Russian, we were talking for a couple of minutes and I got quite frustrated! Context, and continuing to try to make meaning from what I’d heard after the conversation was over meant I finally understood. During X-Men there was also a line which I didn’t understand when I first heard it, but there was no dialogue for a minute or so afterwards, giving me time to process it again and work out what the character said (the line about JFK) 🙂 This is why it’s important to give students processing time after they listen, and sometimes pauses while listening.

In summary

  • Make study a ten-minute habit, rather than an hour-long chore.
  • Find ways to visualise what you’ve learnt (on a calendar, a language flower, a pile of cards).
  • Give yourself processing time. You don’t have to understand things immediately, especially when you’re starting out.
  • Study and learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them stop you from trying again.
  • Do the things that interest you – ignore people if they say it’s ‘above your level’, and try new things regularly.
    (On that note, I’ve only done three, maybe four, of the ten minute activities I suggested at the end of my previous post.)
  • Build up a bank of successful experience, whether it’s reading, writing, listening, speaking, or remembering words and grammar. Focus on all of the things you’ve been able to do (not what you haven’t), and notice how much more you can do the next time round.
  • Buy pretty notebooks and comfortable pens 😉

In a happy coincidence, that list is pretty similar to an infographic showing the ‘perfect language learner’ which I saw for the first time yesterday, courtesy of St. George International school in London:

The perfect language learner (infographic)

A final word

I’ve come a long way with my Russian over the last few weeks. I feel so much more confident, and I’ve (mostly) lost the helpless feeling I have when I’m out on my own. I still can’t communicate in many situations, but I can at least try. Writing my first post was the catalyst I need to build Russian into my life properly (one of the reasons I love blogging). I’ve found a whole range of things I like using my Russian for and I feel like it’ll be much easier to continue now. Thanks to everyone who offered me ideas the first time round, and I hope that you find something you can take away from this post.

How I’m learning Russian

I’d hate to have me as a student.

I very rarely do homework, so much so that my teacher has given up setting it for me.

I cancel about one lesson in four, normally the one on a Saturday. I’ve recently moved it to a Thursday in the hope that I’ll be more likely to have time then. I have two 90-minute lessons a week, the other being on Monday. We’ve never managed to make up a missed lesson, and since I pay on a lesson-by-lesson basis, this must create quite a lot of financial uncertainty, which I feel bad about.

At times, I hijack the lesson and tell my teacher exactly what activities I want to do. The last example of this was after she used a bilingual Quizlet set to introduce clothes words to me at the end of our Monday lesson. In a very rare spurt of motivation, I had twenty minutes on Wednesday night, and ten minutes on Thursday morning during which I managed to play with the words and kind of learn about 70% of them. I started the lesson by drawing pictures of clothes all over the board and writing the words next to them.

Russian clothes on the board

This took about 20 minutes. I then asked my teacher to define words for me, which meant she had to teach me verbs like ‘wear’, ‘get dressed’ and ‘put on’, and prepositional phrases like ‘on your head’, ‘on your feet’. She then turned the tables and made me define words for her. This whole process took 90 minutes, and meant we had no time to do anything she had prepared. I wrote notes throughout, and listened to and spoke more Russian than I had in any other lesson throughout the year. She told me: “You’re ready for it now.”

I constantly make demands about what I want from my lessons. My main demand is to have my lessons entirely in Russian (or as entirely as possible for a beginner/elementary student), but this is difficult because of the above statement/belief, that you have to have a certain amount of language to be ‘ready’ to speak/listen to more. This is not a choice I have in the real world, where I have to deal with whatever is thrown at me, and the person who’s speaking to me often doesn’t know how to change their language to help me understand.

We’ve also got into the habit of speaking English in class. In an average 90-minute lesson my teacher probably speaks about 10 sentences of spontaneous Russian which are not read from a piece of paper and/or accompanied by an English translation. I speak less than this, and occasionally read new vocabulary/sentences from the page, although this is not consistent – I probably only say about 50% of the new language that is introduced to me during any one class. Both of us have spoken a bit more Russian in the last couple of lessons because I’ve made more of an effort, but it hasn’t lasted long. The rest of the lesson is in English, including chats and all grammar explanations. I rarely have to produce any Russian that isn’t part of a drill based on an exercise from a worksheet. I’m trying to speak a bit more Russian in class now, but I don’t have a lot of the classroom language I need unless I ask for it to be translated, because I’ve never heard it or been made to use it.

Most of the published materials my teacher uses are taken from a text-only coursebook, with lists of vocabulary and dialogues, or a slightly more ‘designed’ coursebook with some pictures and tables. Both of them are through the medium of English. I have no idea how you find published materials to learn Russian if you don’t already speak English (this is true of a lot of none-EFL materials). We have occasionally used a website with some very entertaining short videos telling the story of John, a Canadian visiting Russia, which is available in various languages. The videos are very short – less than a minute each – and accompanied by subtitles in Russian or other languages if you want to read them.

We have never listened to any ‘real’ Russian in class, like music or videos, or any audio designed for the classroom. All of my listening practice comes from life outside the classroom, very rarely with support from an English-speaker to help me, but English speakers normally do the work if they’re there, rather than me! That means that most of the time I’m trying to piece things together myself, using what skills I’ve picked up from learning other languages, and the pre-intermediate Czech that I know. This has, of course, got easier as the year has progressed.

I demand context, trying to move away from isolated vocabulary. I constantly ask for the prepositions and cases that go with the verbs/nouns, even though I know I won’t remember them at the moment. I try to get as much new language in sentences as possible. Having said that, I find the Quizlet sets useful for building up sets of vocabulary in topics like the body or clothes. I’m trying to get exposure to as much language as possible while I have access to somebody who can mediate it for me. During a lesson which isn’t based on materials, we fill a notebook with random notes. There’s a lot of Russian here, but it’s almost all written – there’s very little speaking, very little controlled practice, and almost no free(r) practice at all, unless I instigate it. The bit of text you can see in the top-left corner of the page is the second half of twenty minutes worth of writing I did at home to force myself to produce an extended stretch of Russian.

My Russian notebook

In some classes, I give my teacher English sentence after sentence I’ve tried to say in Russian during that week, but didn’t know, ask her to translate them, then fail to learn them. This week we have a week off school and I’ve finally had time to dedicate to Russian. I’ve copied out the sentences onto cards (made from A4 pieces of paper cut into 16 rectangles, yellow because it’s a happy colour!), with pictures on the other side as prompts. There’s a huge backlog, and I have no idea how long it’ll take to actually learn them.

Sentence cards

Sentence cards with pictures

My teacher has a degree in teaching Russian. She is a native speaker of the language, who also speaks very good English and knows bits of other languages, so can occasionally tell me when grammar is similar to other languages I speak. She is a lovely person to put up with me. She puts a lot of time and effort into preparing lessons and materials. Here’s an example of a summary of tenses she made:

Russian tense summary

She’s also started making Quizlet sets for me after I showed her the site and she realised that it motivated me! I copy the sets she’s made and get rid of the English if I can, trying to make things Russian only. When I got ill and was given a special diet, she translated the sheet I was given by the doctor and made me a list of all of the food in Russian and English, with pictures for things I might not know. When I found out just before a lesson that my grandad had been taken into hospital, she took me for a walk in the park and we chatted, then wouldn’t let me pay for the lesson.

The last lesson we had was at my flat, and she decided to try something different. We labelled everything in my kitchen that I didn’t know the names of already. I’d been meaning to do this for ages but hadn’t got round to it. We did this entirely in English, with me asking ‘How do you say…?’ in English. I was never forced to use Russian, and I forgot to try. I could have practised using the words in sentences and spelling them – although I can read Russian confidently now, I still have no idea how to say a lot of the letters. We could also have played a describing game again, but I didn’t think about that until I was writing this.

Russian has taken over my kitchen!

Russian has taken over my fridge!

When I have time, normally in three- to four-hour blocks about every six weeks, I transfer the language in my class notebook to a vocabulary notebook, organised by topic. This is the first time I’ve tried this approach, and I mostly use it as a dictionary. Copying the words/phrases helps me to recognise them, but I haven’t really used the notebook to learn.

My vocabulary notebook - pictures

With pictures and colours where possible…

My vocabulary notebook - English

…with English where it’s not. (or when I run out of motivation)

My vocabulary notebook - mix of pictures and English

With colour-coding to show grammar patterns

I also use index cards to write out grammar and some vocabulary sets, particularly those connected to time. I try to have as little English as possible on the cards, and use regular layout and colour-coding to help me reduce the need for English. If there is English, I often write it in tiny letters that are difficult to see – I want Russian to be the first thing I see when I look at the cards.

Russian index cards

Verb conjugation, time and reflexives

Index cards everywhere! Time time time...

Time index cards, showing colour-coding

I then blu-tack them all over my flat. (Blu-tack is the one thing that I always take with me when I move to a new place!)

Index cards everywhere!

Cards start on the cupboard I look at when I’m getting ready in the morning/doing my physio exercises

On the front door

They graduate to the inside of my front door when I think I know them. (Loosely arranged by grammar point, e.g. verbs at the top, and with the really easy stuff at the bottom)

Surrounded with postcards to be more interesting!

Surrounding them with postcards makes me more likely to look at them (maybe…)

This is what my desk looks like in the process:

My desk when I'm studying Russian


Some conclusions

  • Both the teacher and the student(s) need to have a lot of willpower to conduct the lesson entirely in the target language.
  • The student also needs to be given the classroom language they need to be able to operate in the target language.
  • The teacher needs to be flexible, to respond to the language that the student needs, the time they have available, and the mood they are in.
  • The student needs to make an effort to study what has been learnt in class.
  • Language should be introduced in context, rather than as isolated items. It should be learnt as chunks to start with, then pulled apart for grammar later.
  • Seeing language once is not enough. Students need to manipulate it, play with it, say it, use it, in class to help them remember it.
  • The student needs exposure to real language in the classroom environment to prepare them for what they will encounter outside the classroom.

Some methodological terms which I can hear you shouting at me

Comprehensible input

Lexical approach



What did I forget?

What’s next?

March and April have been pretty busy, both personally and professionally. They came not long after I’d finished Delta, and this week off has been a great opportunity to catch up and get a handle on a lot of things. Most of the things you can see in the photos in this post were written out in a one-day marathon study session. Three days later I had another whole day of study, which meant I finally finished copying everything out and caught up. This is something I want to avoid in the future!

I have therefore decided that in May I am going to try something (new) for thirty days and study Russian for 10 minutes every day. This could include any of the following activities:

  • Using my sentence cards, where I try to remember them/write them out
  • Reading my index cards out loud
  • Testing myself using my vocabulary notebook
  • Playing on Quizlet
  • Reading one of the free magazines/newspapers I’ve collected – highlighting the words I can understand
  • Watching a YouTube video in Russian, like Cheburashka or Russian Winnie the Pooh
  • Listening to a song and reading the lyrics (I need suggestions for this)
  • Writing a short text in Russian, including to Ann (who I wrote one short email to last time she suggested this!)
  • Recording myself speaking, then listening back and correcting it

Any other ten-minute activities I could try? I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of the month!

Update: here’s part two of the post, showing what I did over the following few weeks.

Drawing dictations

I have no idea who I stole this idea from, but it worked really well so I’m going to share it here!

I used it with elementary students. They had done this exercise for homework:

We checked the answers in class, and they were fine, but I wanted them to really notice the language. One student drew a picture for each idea in the text, numbering them from 1 to 10 to help her. (She was early and this was a way to help her before the other students arrived!) These are the final five pictures:

Drawing dictation images

She’s a much better artist than me! By the time she had finished, the rest of the class had arrived. They used the pictures to reconstruct the text on the board. It’s a small group, so using the board enables them to easily change their mind about the text. Students could also use mini whiteboards, tablets/phones, or good old-fashioned pen and paper!

Reconstructing the drawing dictationOnce they were happy with their version of the text, they compared it to the original and asked me questions about differences they didn’t understand, particularly why ‘three-month-old’ had no ‘s’. They spoke a mix of English and Russian, and were engaged and motivated, arguing about whose memory of the text was better.

A homemade revision game

This is a very simple game which is perfect for revision, and requires almost no pre-class preparation. All you need is some small pieces of scrap paper, some kind of blutack to stick it to the table, dice for each group, and a counter for each student. The blutack is optional, but it does stop the paper from blowing away! You could use post-it notes instead, but sometimes they curl up making it easy to see the answers! It works best for revising grammar or vocabulary in closed questions.

Give a pile of pieces of paper to each pair/group of students. Ask them to go through the units of the book which you want them to revise. They should write questions for other students in the class, writing one question on each piece of paper, and write the answer on the back. They can create the questions themselves, or copy them directly from the book, along with any relevant instructions, like ‘Write the correct form of the verb.’ My students normally spend about 15-20 minutes doing this. Here are some examples from my intermediate group:

Examples of revision questions

Once you have a pile of questions, shuffle them all up (easier if you have scrap paper than post-it notes at this point!), then divide them evenly between all of the groups in the class. Each group should lay out a track of questions to create a board game, so it looks something like this:

The board game laid out

The groups then play the board game. When they roll, they should answer the question they land on. If they’re correct, they can stay there. If not, they have to go back to the question they were on at the start of the turn. The winner is the person who gets to the end first, or who is in the lead when they run out of time.

Creative students!

The board can even go up and down!

I got this idea from somebody at IH Brno, but unfortunately I can’t remember who. I use it almost every time I’m revising for a mid-year or end-of-year test, and it always prompts a lot of discussion. The group shown in these pictures even asked if we could keep playing it when I said the time was up!


I like it because as well as reminding the students of the grammar and vocabulary areas likely to appear in the test, it always prompts a lot of discussion and shows them which areas they still need to revise.


The English Verb visualised

The English Verb (affiliate link) by Michael Lewis was one of the most influential books I read during my Delta because it completely changed how I thought about grammar.

Last week I was teaching my FCE students about tense patterns to express hypothetical meaning and I created this completely unplanned diagram to try to get across the only half-remembered explanations in Lewis’ book about how the past simple, past perfect and ‘would’ really work. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy the book here to be able to quote anything from the relevant sections for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. The quality of the picture isn’t great either, but hopefully you can see enough to get the idea.

Visualising 'The English Verb'

The idea is that you start from now/real/present simple, and remove yourself one step away either in time (present -> past), or in imagination (real -> imagined) by using the past simple. You can also remove yourself one step in imagination (real -> imagined) by using ‘would’. To remove yourself two steps away, you use ‘past perfect’, i.e. two steps back in time, or one step in imagination + one step in time.

It’s not the best diagram ever produced, but the students seemed to understand a little. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have included ‘future’ on it, and I should most certainly have planned the visualisation and the example sentences before the lesson!

Have you ever tried to visualise Lewis’ description? How did/would you do it?

Tag Cloud