On Sunday 27th November 2022, I presented at the first LanguageEd Day, as part of this programme of speakers:
Here are the slides from the day:
This was a slightly different version of a talk I’ve done a couple of times before. Here is a full list of all of the activities from a May 2019 post, which you can also download them as a pdf or a .docx handout. You can also find slides from a similar webinar I did for IH Bucharest, plus a few extra links, in this post from June 2020.
On Saturday 6th November 2021, I went to my first face-to-face conference since before the pandemic started. It was a strange experience, but a wonderful one too – I wrote about it here, including information about the sessions I attended. (Link will be added within a few days of the conference!)
The aim of the session is to take a single activity from published material and come up with as many different ways of varying the set-up or exploiting it as possible. It helps teachers to exercise their creativity and (hopefully) to reduce their planning time. It should also introduce them to a few extra activities to add to their toolkit.
The material we used was page 146 of English File 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate Plus. It is designed to revise future forms, like this:
A Mum! I’ve dropped my ice cream! B It’s OK, don’t worry – I’ll get / I’m getting you a new one!
A I’m freezing! BShall I turn on / Will I turn on the heating?
…and so on. There are 12 mini dialogues like this, each with two options to choose from – students can also tick if both are possible. At the bottom of the page is an ‘activation’ activity, where students write two mini-dialogues, one with will and one with going to.
This is my slightly updated list of ways to exploit this page, with suggestions for how to tweak some activities to make them online-friendly:
Remove the options.
I say A to the group, they predict B. Then in pairs.
Gallery walk (one copy of each question stuck up around the room)/Online = send one question to each student/have them in white on a doc, they highlight only their question
Evil memorisation (one of my favourite activities, learnt from Olga Stolbova) – the third activity in this blogpost
Say all the sentences as quickly as possible (AQAP on my lesson plans!)
Banana sentences (replace the key words with ‘banana’ for partner to guess)
Extend the conversations (what was said before/after)
Decide who/where/when/why it was said (by)
Take the ‘wrong’ answer and create a context where it would be right
Back translation/Translation mingle (students translate one conversation into L1, noting the English original elsewhere. They show other students the L1 to be translated.)
One group does 1-6/odd sentences. The other does 7-12/even sentences. Give them the answers for the other half. They check with each other.
Say them with different intonation/voices to create different meanings/situations.
Remember as many conversations as you can with your partner. Lots of variations for this: freestyle (no prompts), with A/B as a prompt, with (own/sketched/teacher-generated) pictures as prompts…
Hot seat/Backs to the board with a picture prompt for student looking at the board to say sentence A, person with back to the board says sentence B in response (Online = Pic prompts only)
Board race. Again, lots of variations: list as many sentences/conversations as possible on the whiteboard/in the chat; teacher/a student says A, teams write B; combine with ideas above like banana sentences…
Teacher says first half of the sentence, pausing at a convenient point. Students say second half. Then in pairs. e.g. “Shall I…” “…turn on the heating?”
Students have A sentences. They write their own Bs on separate pieces of scrap paper, then mix them up. Online = mix in a doc. Another pair tries to match the As and Bs together.
Change A to the opposite/a slightly different phrase. What’s an appropriate B? e.g. “I’m boiling!”
These were the ideas from the audience, collected via Mentimeter:
By the way, to celebrate being able to go to a face-to-face conference, there’s 10% off the Smashwords (affiliate link) ebook price for ELT Playbook 1 on November 6th and 7th 2021 – the code you need is VX68T.
Thanks to all of the people I’ve stolen those ideas from over the years 🙂
Let me know if you try out the brainstorming activity, the session, or any of the other tasks from ELT Playbook 1. I’d love to know how they work for you!
This post is based on emails I exchanged with one of my colleagues last week. He gave me permission to turn them into a blogpost – thank you!
The lesson was revision of superlatives with elementary 10-13 year olds. They had 8 prompts like this: young / person / my family. For each prompt, students needed to individually create a statement, some true, some false. This was very challenging for most of the students in the group, despite the teacher demonstrating it to them first. Only two students out of eight were able to complete the task as it was originally planned. The others ended up writing only true sentences. The teacher emailed me afterwards to find out how to do the task differently next time. The rest of the post is a slightly edited version of my reply (I’m happy to be corrected on my understanding of cognitive load!)
Especially at this level, it’s important to think about the cognitive load you’re putting onto students, and how many levels they need to complete the task on at the same time.
“Cognitive load” relates to the amount of information that working memory can hold at one time. Sweller said that, since working memory has a limited capacity, instructional methods should avoid overloading it with additional activities that don’t directly contribute to learning.
work out what the prompts are/mean (i.e. what does the teacher want from me)
create a superlative sentence (a new grammar structure they’ve only just encountered)
decide whether to make it true or false
add the information – either true or false
…so they’re dealing with the task on 4 different levels. It’s an achievable task if you break up each of those levels so students are attacking them separately. This helps students by staging the task for them carefully, enabling them to successfully complete something quite complicated. You can think of this as providing scaffolding or a staircase to help the students reach the high point of the final goal. For example:
Have 2 or 3 examples completed already for reference, refer them to the references to show how the prompt turns into the superlative
Do 1 or 2 of them in the chat box so all of them complete it, then they complete all of them as stems only + feedback
Write T or F next to each piece of information with parameters e.g. 3 x T, 3 x F – check afterwards – have you got three T? three F?
Add the true/false information depending on what letter they wrote before
Alternatively you can remove/change some of the levels – this reduces cognitive load and takes less time in the lesson. You can think of this as students joining the staircase at a higher point, so they’re already closer to the final goal. Any of the levels can be removed:
Don’t use the prompts – make it free choice with a sentence stem e.g. The _______ in my ________ is…. make it a gapfill e.g. The _______ (tall) person in my family is… (requires careful instruction checking so they don’t fill in the end of the sentence yet!)
Supply the completed stem for them to just understand and complete with information (shift from a form focus to a purely meaning focus, but you don’t know if they actually understood how to form the grammar – you can get around this by asking them to write 2-3 of their own examples at the end)
and 4. Do what you did in the lesson and take away the true/false element.
Mind Tools theorises this process like this:
Reduce the Problem Space
The “problem space” is the gap between the current situation and the desired goal. If this is too large, people’s working memory becomes overloaded.
This often happens with complex problems, where the learner needs to work backwards from the goal to the present state. Doing this requires him to hold a lot of information in his working memory at once. Focusing on the goal also takes attention away from the information being learned, which makes learning less effective.
A better approach is to break the problem down into parts. This reduces the problem space and lightens the cognitive load, making learning more effective.
Other methods of reducing the problem space include providing worked examples and presenting problems with partial solutions for the learner to complete. These approaches are particularly useful, because they demonstrate strong problem-solving strategies in practice.
The first was proposed by Rod Ellis in a 1986 ELT Journal article called Activities and procedures for teacher training. It lists 10 different kinds of task for teachers on training courses, arranged loosely from less to more cognitively/linguistically demanding:
With a coursebook page as a prompt, we used these taxonomies to come up with 6 teacher training tasks laddered from easier to harder, with the caveat that the taxonomies are guidelines, not straitjackets.
The aim my partner and I chose for our imagined group of middle school teachers was ‘to learn how to adapt coursebooks to increase student engagement’. The 6 tasks we came up with were:
List ways you already know to engage students with a coursebook page. (Listing/Remembering)
Read this blogpost – what else can you add to your categories? [On reflection, that should probably be something like ‘Choose one thing to add to each category.’ as otherwise it could be overwhelming!] (Adding)
Which of the activities on your list would/wouldn’t work with your students? What would you change? (Analysing/Evaluating)
In pairs, plan your own lesson based on the coursebook page. (Preparing/Creating)
Look at another pair’s lesson plan. Decide what works and what you could improve. (Evaluating/Improving)
Feel free to try out this session with your teachers. I’d be interested to know how it goes 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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:
There’s not much leeway, because you almost always have exactly the number of tutors you need, no more, no less. There’s no time to be sick, and any other absence is a very bad idea, particularly on days when you’re observing teaching practice (TP), when it’s vital to have one tutor per group of trainees.
We were lucky that we have a little bit of slack on the courses in Chiang Mai because of the number of trainers. Today we had demo lessons with no TP because of the level change half-way through the course, so if you have to be down a tutor, it was the best day for it. One was off sick, and another had to go to Bangkok to renew their visa.
Luckily, the one who was ill doesn’t do input, only TP, and we’d already arranged cover for the input sessions for the one in Bangkok. We shared guided lesson planning between the rest of us, and because there were no classes on Friday, we didn’t have feedback, which meant there was time to do this. The major change was having just two demo lessons in the evening, with larger than normal classes: 16 students and 10 trainees in the elementary one, and 11 students and 15 trainees in intermediate with me. We’re very lucky that we have rooms big enough to hold that many people! The lessons were useful for both the trainees and the students, and it was good to demonstrate techniques that can be applied to larger classes.
In the end we coped today, but hopefully we’ll be back to full strength tomorrow! Another reason to look after yourself…
On CELTA courses, I find the most often skipped part of language-related TPs is phonology/pronunciation. Trainees check the meaning of the language, spend ages checking the form (especially if they’ve been let loose on a whiteboard), then skip merrily along to controlled practice, without teaching students how to actually say this beautiful new piece of language they’ve taught them.
Trainees get more guidance in early TPs, and this reduces as they progress through the four weeks. At the start I can remind them repeatedly that they need to cover meaning AND form AND pronunciation, but there comes a time when they have to remember it for themselves. For two of my trainees today, that’ll be after tomorrow’s feedback.
Why do they skip it?
Often, it’s not mentioned in the plan at all, and if it’s not there, then it won’t be in the lesson unless they have a last-minute brainwave and remember it. I therefore encourage trainees to have three separate rows in their plan: one each for ‘focus on meaning’, ‘focus on form’ and ‘focus on pronunciation’, to make sure they remember to cover all three areas.
Sometimes it’s in the plan, but they blank and forget to do it in the lesson.
Still other times, it’s there, but they’ve spent hours on the warmer, the focus on form or something else earlier in the lesson, they notice they’re running out of time, and as pronunciation is clearly the least important part of introducing new language (!), they decide to drop it. Since to hit the Cambridge criteria it’s important for the students to get at least a bit of practice with the new language, this can be a sensible decision mid-TP, but I’d rather they tried to get to the point faster and gave pronunciation it’s due: what’s the point of knowing what a structure looks like if you can’t say it yourself?
No solutions here, just a general complaint…
And while we’re here, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my week two post: why, oh why, aren’t the way that meaning, form and phonology are covered in the lesson three separate criteria rather than being lumped together as one? Assessing the trainees on it as a single area frustrates me, but opinion is divided as to whether you can/should separate them out.
Does anybody know when the criteria were last updated? And when are Cambridge likely to update them again?!
Easing off in guided lesson planning isn’t easy – the temptation is always there to help too much. Trainees need the opportunity to make their own mistakes, but they also need the chance to shine without you too.
I find TP6 to be the hardest one to do guided lesson planning for, assuming a total of 8 TPs. In the first four, trainees need support to help them focus when planning, not get carried away with materials or too stressed about introducing new language, including logical stages and not dominating the classroom too much, thereby leaving little room for students to experiment with the language themselves.
In TP5, they’ve normally just moved to a new level, so guidance is about how this will affect their teaching, and how to work with the higher/lower students.
In TP7 and TP8, trainees should be showing us how independent they can be, since they’ll be going out into the real world soon, where they’ll have to work alone. They can still ask us key questions and we’re there in emergencies, but generally they should be seeking the support of their peers rather than us.
But what do you do in TP6? Mostly I just have to try and restrain myself, making sure I’m only asking questions, and encouraging the trainees to think for themselves. Definitely an area I still need to work on…
a.k.a. Assessor Day
The assessor’s visit looms around the end of week 3/beginning of week 4 on any CELTA course, and is dreaded by the trainees because they’re petrified about having another person watching their TPs. I have to say that since you already have up to 6 people watching, I’m not sure what difference a 7th one makes, but there you go.
Far from being there to judge the trainees, the assessor’s role is actually to standardise the course and make sure that the CELTA ticks all the correct boxes and everything is running as it should. They check some of the portfolios, particularly (but not exclusively) for borderline candidates where another opinion would be welcomed. They also observe some of the TPs that day and can observe/participate in feedback if it’s on the same day.
Before their visit they get lots of documents to look over, including an overview of the performance, strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. These are the basis for a grading meeting, where the assessor and tutors discuss what candidates need to do to pass/fulfil their potential/avoid failing. Earlier in the day, the assessor meets with the trainees to collect anonymous feedback about how the course is working, and they pass this on to the tutors after the grading meeting. Finally, they make recommendations about what the centre needs to do to maintain standards.
If there’s a tutor in training on the course and the centre is not a training centre, the assessor may stay for an extra day to observe the TinT doing an input session, taking notes in TP and giving feedback, as well as checking their portfolio and offering advice.
All in all, assessment day is long for the tutors, but it’s an important way of making sure that all is as it should be.
The joys of CELTA are many.
Watching people who’ve never taught before learn the buzz of being a teacher, knowing that their students have learnt something from them.
Knowing that the more experienced teachers appreciate the opportunity to develop and reflect that the course offers.
Seeing the lightbulb moment when a trainee finally cottons on to something that they haven’t really understood the point of before.
Watching the trainees’ development over the course.
When you see something used successfully in a lesson that you suggested in feedback to another trainee less than two hours before.
Terminology slips in assignments and lesson plans producing new and interesting terms that will never again feature in any ELT literature.
When a new input session you’ve never done before works.
Finally figuring out how to do something you’ve never been quite sure how to do in your own teaching because one of the trainees has just asked you how to do it, and you’ve got to answer them.
Teaching people to reflect.
Having a TP group who work together like clockwork, so you don’t really need to be in the room because the support network and bond they’ve built up between them does your work for you.
Working with inspiring people and learning their stories.
Sharing my love of teaching.
Playing: with the room, the space, feedback sessions, interaction patterns, normal sized classes (not just 2 or 3 students!), teaching style, new activities, ideas, thoughts…
Hearing that somebody you’ve trained has got a job and is excited about starting their new life.
Knowing that you’ll be working with a great trainee, and have the chance to help them build on the initial course.
I could have sworn I’d done an input session on functions before, but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer, so it must have been a figment of my imagination. The system I’ve developed for creating a new input session is:
If I can’t make an educated guess, check what areas need to be covered in the session, especially if I know it can have different interpretations, e.g. ‘Phonology 1’ could be sounds and the phonemic chart, or a general introduction to phonology.
Find all the documents I think might be relevant/interesting and put them all in a dedicated folder on my computer/lay them out on my desk. For example, for this session I found the centre’s folder for the functional language session, went through all the activities and laid out the ones I thought I could use on my desk. I also looked at the handful of related documents I have on my computer, all of which I’ve inherited from various other tutors.
On a piece of scrap paper, come up with a rough running order for the session, including timing. Today that consisted of writing a list of the documents, crossing out duplicates, linking ones that could be combined, numbering them in order, and adding times.
Type out a running order, underlining the materials I need as I go along. Number the file ‘0’ so it always appears at the top of the folder and is easy to find.
Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
Try to remember to do something with said notes, if I can find time.
I’ve got much better at timing my inputs now too, working on the basis that if I think it’ll take 5 minutes, it’ll probably take 10; if 10 minutes, 15; and so on. By adding 5 minutes to everything, I seem to get it roughly right, although I still need to drop an activity every now and again, or just give things as reading rather than dealing with them in the session.
The whole process took about 3 hours, plus printing off yesterday’s feedback and eating, which took me up to 2 minutes before the session was due to start. It’s true that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them!
I was watching a different TP group and a different set of students (still elementary) tonight, and there were some timing issues. Two of the three trainees went 7/8 minutes over their 45 minute slot, making the whole lesson 15 minutes longer than it should have been. That prompted me to finally get round to blogging about timing, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Thanks guys, but please don’t do it again!
Two days into week two, and illness has struck. Three trainees had to go home today for various reasons and lots of others looked pretty tired all day.
In general, the trainees haven’t had enough sleep, and they’re feeling stressed out and under pressure, no matter how much we try to reassure them and calm them down. This is not unusual for a CELTA course, due to its intensive nature. I’ve reminded a few of them individually about looking after themselves, but today decided to give the whole group a bit of a pep talk. It went something like this:
I know that some of you are tired and feeling a bit sick, and that the stress and pressure of the course don’t help, but you need to look after yourselves. The CELTA might seem very important right now, but your health is more important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and that you take at least a few hours for yourself at the weekend, preferably half or even a full day. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but it’s a false economy to work all the time because you’ll regret it later. You’ll exhaust yourself and/or make yourself ill, and nobody is at their best when that happens. I’d rather see an adequately-planned lesson and you’re still alive, than a perfectly-planned lesson but you’re half dead.
I didn’t do CELTA full-time; I did it part-time, but when I did Delta, also part-time, I was working for about 20 hours every weekend on top of my full-time job. I started in September and took the whole of December off sick from work, then triggered a condition I’ll have the rest of my life, which is the reason you see me eating all the time. I don’t want any of you to make yourselves ill, because it’s not worth it.
Remember that work expands to fill the time you have available. If you say you’re going to go to bed at 11pm, stick to it, because you’ll be much more productive for it, rather than saying that you’ll work until you’re done. That way you’ll end up being up until three in the morning. The same is true at the weekend. Give yourself a specific amount of time to do each thing, and be strict. You’ll get a lot more done that way, rather than just starting blankly at a computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.
Take breaks while you’re working too. Stand up, stretch, give your eyes a bit of a rest. You can download apps to help you. If you have a Mac, TimeOut blocks out your screen every 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are similar things for Windows.
Sometimes the mum just comes out in me. 😉
It was nice that one of the trainees noticed that my input was much smoother today – she asked me whether I’d done it before. It’s the fourth outing for that one, and you can really tell!
‘Not to standard’ lessons are never easy to give. On my part, at least, there is a lot of soul-searching and questioning, but ultimately you have to follow the criteria. So far I’ve never given this grade without discussing the lesson and checking carefully with other tutors on my course to make sure I’ve made the right decision and have justified it clearly and accurately. Every lesson is graded against a set of criteria from Cambridge, and I have to use it objectively, no matter how difficult that may be at times. I know how much work goes into every lesson, and I know how much of a disappointment it is when it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. (Two of my four Delta lessons were below standard due to weak planning, and I put a lot of hours into each!)
Giving feedback on these lessons is also not easy, but thanks to my co-tutor in Vancouver, I’ve found one way to do it which seems to work. Divide the board into as many columns as there were trainees teaching that day (2? 3?). Then create the following rows: name, main aim, (secondary aim – optional), stages. Give the group time to complete the table. The teacher whose column it is can’t contribute to that one, but can to any of the others, e.g. if A was teaching, they can’t write in column A, but can (and should!) in B and C. (By the way, this isn’t the only time I use this method of feedback, but it’s particularly effective for these lessons.)
Using this method today made it very clear that the ‘not to standard’ lesson was that way because teacher A wasn’t clear about the aims of their lesson and lacked the necessary level of detail in their planning to successfully introduce the grammar point they were trying to teach, partly since they didn’t really understand the grammar themselves. It also affected the pace of the lesson as there were long pauses while the teacher tried to work out what should happen next. Their peers didn’t identify language as one of the aims at all, and struggled to come up with the stages of the lesson. It also boosted the confidence of teacher B, as they believed that their lesson was ‘a disaster’, but their peers could reconstruct it very easily, were clear about the aims and could see how the students had benefitted from it.
Teacher A took this feedback very well, and asked lots of questions about how to improve, especially since this was their second ‘not to standard’ on the course, out of three lessons so far. Today their first tutor and I have given them a series of steps to take to help them use their time and plan more effectively, since they tend to spend a very long time on creating excellent materials, at the expense of really knowing how to use them in class. The audio recording produced for this lesson was a case in point – it was written by the trainee, recorded by them and a friend, and even had a phone ringing at the beginning to make it sound more authentic!
The way teacher A took their feedback is in stark contrast to a trainee I had on a previous course, possibly due to the way I gave feedback. I think this was before I learnt about the stages/aims method, although I’m not 100% sure – my memory is a bit hazy on this. I tried to introduce it as gently as possible, since the trainee had been struggling with the course in general as it was very different to the ‘chalk and talk’ style they were experienced in delivering in their home country. On being told that it was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why with reference to the Cambridge criteria (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback.
It’s a little ironic that the same trainee has chosen today to post two comments on my blog, which I don’t plan to approve due to the lack of context, but will share here for the sake of completeness and to avoid being accused of censorship. I hope doing it this way will also protect the identity of the trainee in question:
Sandy is extremely rude to her students. She enjoys student’s failure. She hates to see students performing well. How could such a vicious one be a teacher?
She tortured me spiritually in 28 days.
And about 5 hours later on a different post:
Sandy Millin wants her students to worship her. If you don’t, then she steps on you. She is too proud of her being born in the UK. She feels superior than any student. It’s her personality that she treats her students with the attitude of being unfair. If you lick her ass, she will give you an A, otherwise, a C.
These blogs help others to teach, it’s useful. But can Sandy learn a lesson that teaching is to promote students, not to kill us. I got a very subjective judgement from her. Why does she work so hard? She wants to be worshiped only for she can speak some English, which everyone can.
You can’t render your rude judgement on me. I will appeal and appeal till I get the justice.
I’m very sorry that this is how I came across to this student. My aim during the course, and I think that of any self-respecting tutor, is to build on the trainees’ strengths and to support them to become the best teachers they can be within the confines of a four-week course, and hopefully instil in them the desire to keep reflecting and developing once they’ve finished the course. In case you were wondering, this trainee did pass the course, although it was a weak pass, as they continued to struggle through the course. If they’d failed, I might understand the feeling behind these comments a little more.
Does anybody have any other suggestions on how to give feedback on ‘not to standard’ lessons, so that I can try to avoid a repeat of the situation with the latter trainee?
There are four assignments on any CELTA course. Although each centre has slightly different variations on them, they are all designed to cover the following areas:
Focus on the learner: finding out about either one learner from your TP group in depth, or a little about all of the learners in the class, or both (depends on the centre), and providing materials to deal with two (normally) of their specified language problems, specifically related to grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation;
Language awareness: analysis of items of grammar, vocabulary and functions to prove that you can use reference materials to find out information about language, and break it down sufficiently to be able to deal with it in class;
Skills task: creating tasks based on a piece of authentic material, normally two receptive tasks and one productive;
Lessons from the classroom: reflection on your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher based on observations of you and other teachers during the course, and an action plan for how to continue your development.
Candidates are allowed to resubmit each assignment once if it doesn’t meet the criteria the first time, and they receive clear feedback on what they need to work on.
Today we were looking at the language awareness assignment, which tends to be the one with the highest rates of resubmission because so many people find it hard to break language down sufficiently to be able to teach it. In my experience, those who have learnt English as a second language are normally OK with this area, but may still have trouble with detailing how to check the language, whether it be with CCQs or otherwise.
Language awareness is a particular problem for native speakers, and is one of the reasons why I don’t think CELTA should necessarily be seen as the benchmark for employment that it can be in some countries/schools, since it needs to be backed up with a knowledge of how the language works. That’s not to say that people with CELTA shouldn’t get a job, just that if you’re teacher (often a non-native) with a good command of the language and no CELTA, you shouldn’t automatically lose out just because somebody else has a CELTA.
The areas trainees really ought to find out about before the course are:
the difference between parts of speech (noun, verb, preposition etc);
the names and forms of the basic pedagogical tenses in English;
the main functions of each of these tenses.
Of course, that’s only a tiny slice of the English language, but it’s a good grounding to start off with. It’ll be a bit of a confidence booster once the course has started.
Here are a couple of useful books [both affiliate links, so I’ll make a few pennies if you buy them through here]:
Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – designed with teachers in mind, it includes possible problems students might have, and tasks for you to do to help you understand the language better;
Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – very easy to find your way around, including possible timelines, ways of checking the concepts, and contexts to introduce each language point in.
Assignments are one of the places where being a CELTA tutor can feel pretty stressful, since there’s normally a very quick turn-around, and you mark them in any spare moment you have. That’s been at home on all of my previous courses, but this time I decided that work will be at work, even if it means going in early, and home will be for me, including getting some of the posts written which I’ve been meaning to do for ages! As a result, I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on this course. I hope it continues!
We’re half-way through the course, so today the trainees planned their lesson focuses (foci?) for the next two weeks, aiming for two skills and two language lessons each to cover the remaining four TPs.
The tutors also had a relatively light day, doing feedback on yesterday’s classes and preparing for and administering Stage 2 tutorials, a 15-minute or so individual meeting with each trainee updating them on their progress on the course so far, dealing with any questions the trainee raises, and telling them what they need to do to meet their potential. It’s based on a list of criteria which the trainees mark themselves against, then the tutor assesses them too, a comment by the trainee and a comment by the tutor, making sure everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any nasty surprises later in the course (at least, that’s the plan!)
Other progress reports done during the course are a brief one at the end of Stage 1/week 1 and a Stage 3 tutorial at the end of week 3 if the trainee is not performing as expected. They can also request informal tutorials.
I have to say that I find some of the criteria a bit odd/unnecessary, the main one being 2f: The candidate shows an awareness of register. I’m not really sure why this is given it’s own criteria when analysing form, meaning and phonology is a single criterion, as is teaching those three things – many trainees are really good in one or two of those areas, but not necessarily in all three. Another odd Cambridge thing is that the first group of criteria on the list (connected to planning) are all numbered 4, followed by 1, 2, 3, 5. A strange way of counting!
There was no TP tonight, so I took advantage of the early finish to have a peaceful evening bike ride. Here are a three of the beautiful views I saw:
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. 🙂