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

Posts tagged ‘reading’

100 ideas for exploiting activities

On 3rd June 2020, I presented a webinar for IH Bucharest demonstrating how to exploit activities in lots of different ways, with minimal planning required by the teacher. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to use every activity in the same lesson, but the ideas I shared were designed to demonstrate how you can make a single exercise lead to a much wider range of practice activities, depending on what your learners need help with. The slides are here (though they’re much more useful when presenting than referring to them later! See below the slides for a more useful link!):

All of the ideas in the webinar were originally designed for a face-to-face classroom, but most of them can be used as is or with only minimal adaptations in an online classroom. They were originally shared on my blog in the post One activity, multiple tasks, based on a task from ELT Playbook 1. ELTPB 1 is a book of short tasks for teachers to help them reflect on their teaching.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is also available, both at prices designed to fit a teacher’s pocket!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

During the webinar, I mentioned Sarah Mercer’s CAN DO for improving engagement:

Competence (mindsets and self-determination)

Autonomy (give choices, learning strategies)

Network (of relationships: T-S, S-S)

Do (action to beat boredom)

Oh! (grab and keep their attention)

(from Sarah Mercer, IH Barcelona conference, 7th February 2020)

You can find out more by watching her webinar, the foundations of engagement: a positive classroom culture. She has recently published a book with Zoltan Dörnyei called Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (Amazon affiliate link). I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt it’s full of useful advice!

If you’d like more ideas to make your planning easier, 101 things to do with a coursebook page (all of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare!) covers a whole range of different ways to adapt coursebook activities. Why should they care? has lost of ideas for helping students engage with the materials or activities you are using.

My ebook, Richer Speaking, costs less than $1, and contains 16 ways to adapt speaking activities to help students get more out of them. You can find four of the ideas for free in this post.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like ideas specific to teaching online, particularly using Zoom, then try ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom. Some of these may take a little longer to prepare, but I’m a firm believer in teachers doing less work and students doing more!

Let me know which ideas you’ve tried out and how they go with your classes.

Enjoy 🙂

What I learnt at the ETAI 40th anniversary conference

On 3rd and 4th July 2019 I attended the English Teachers’ Association of Israel (ETAI) international conference. They were celebrating their 40th anniversary, so there were a few special events. This included a musical celebration hosted by Leo Selivan and Jane Cohen, which I really enjoyed. Attendees were mostly from Israel, but Poland, Serbia, Greece, Austria, and other countries were also represented. I learnt a lot about how the Israeli school system works, and particularly the shift to try to get more speaking in the classroom, hence my own session on Richer Speaking.

Ideas from the conference

Penny Ur has written A guide to talking which is a useful beginner’s guide for getting more speaking in your classroom, including a selection of ready-to-use activities.

There are resources available for 7th grade students to help teachers get their students comfortable with speaking (aged around 12). Let’s Talk includes games to teach the language of basic role plays. We were shown these by Rachelle Borenstein and Renee Binyamini.

Early on in her courses, Timna Hurwich asks her students to discuss the Einstein quote below and answer the questions ‘When is a mistake good?’ ‘When is a mistake bad?’

I happened to see the same quote in this street art two days before this conference presentation!

Mitzi Geffen said “There is no glue on the bottom of your shoes!” which I think is a great way to remind teachers to move around the classroom, or ‘circulate and facilitate’ as she put it.

She shared how she helps reluctant students get over their fear of speaking in an achievable way, in this case when she wanted them to talk about a project they had done at home.

  • Step 1: each person stands at the front and says “My name is [Sandy] and my project is about [Einstein].” Everybody claps. They sit down again. When they’ve all done that, Mitzi points out that they all spoke and nothing bad happened!
  • Step 2: in the next lesson, other students have to ask questions about the project. They can use the questions they based their project research on. As everybody has the same questions, it’s easy to be successful, and takes the pressure off the presenter to work out what to say next.

Mitzi also suggested a really simple structure for brainstorming ideas for a debate, using the phrases “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…” Anybody can add an idea. For example:

  • Chocolate is really delicious.
  • Yes, but it’s unhealthy if you eat too much.
  • Yes, and you can get fat.
  • Yes, but you can exercise more.
  • Yes, but exercise makes you tired.
  • etc.

Marta Bujakowska woke us up with a series of lively activities, including a conditional chain of actions, and countable/uncountable conversations. I’ve asked her to write a guest post so won’t say any more here!

James Kennard suggested we rethink some of the terminology connected to leadership and management. He emphasises that we often talk about them both like they should be part of the same job, but that the role is almost always given the title ‘manager’, unless you’re in a political party! Would it make a difference if we changed the terminology? He tried it at his school and it didn’t change much, but still something to think about. He also believes that ‘focus’ is a better word than ‘vision’ when it comes to describing your priorities as an organisation. Leaders need to identify the focus of the organisation and articulate it to others, so that members of the organisation can make the right decisions every time, in line with this focus.

Books as bridges: why representation matters

The two talks given by Anne Sibley O’Brien were probably the most influential for me. She was born in the United States, but when she was 7 her family moved to Korea, and she grew up there. You can read more about her story in the interview Naomi Epstein did with her. Her background has led Anne to work in diversity education, and she is the author and illustrator of various children’s books. She talked about the development of our identities, including racial identities, bias, and contact theory. Her perspective is unusual as she grew up with a minority identity, but a privileged one. We all have a mixture of identities, and generally some of them fall into majority and some into minority categories.

We learn who we are by the mirrors that are held up to us and what is made salient to us.

For Anne, she was constantly told that she was American and white, but her Korean friends were never told they were Korean, thus emphasising her difference. Majority identities are taken for granted because they are ‘normal’ and they end up disappearing. Minority identities are highlighted and everything you do becomes tied to that identity.

For example, consider being the only girl in a football team, versus being a boy in the same team. The fact of being a boy is unlikely to be commented on in this case, whereas being a girl will probably always be commented on. Members of a majority identity stop seeing what is actually there or can never see it, whereas members of a minority identities can often say quite incisive things about the majority identity because they have to be aware of the other side too, not just their own. For example, white Americans often don’t see how race affects the everyday lives of non-whites.

Children already notice racial and cultural differences from a very young age – I think Anne said that it’s around 6 months old. They get their attitudes about race from community norms, more than from parental norms (consider the analogy of accents and where children pick them up from) and from their environment, including who visits their house and what is and isn’t talked about. Three year olds already know that we don’t talk about skin colour. Consider when you’re describing pictures in a book to a child: you would probably say that it’s a blue ball, or a yellow car, but you’re unlikely to say it’s a brown or a pink baby. This is an example of our silence when it comes to race.

We all see the world through lenses, but we’re often not aware of what we see.

Our brain uses cognitive processes to make it easier for us to deal with the world. It sorts things in an unbiased way all the time, for example familiar/unfamiliar, same/different, like me/not like me, etc. This sorting initially does not contain judgement, but then we layer associations onto the categories, which can add bias. For example, same = good, different = bad.

The brain creates bias based on what it’s fed. If it only sees ‘white’, it will create white bias, but by making conscious decisions about what we feed our brains, we can change the bias. We all carry bias, but if we don’t understand this, how can we help others? If you’d like to find out more about your own biases, Anne recommends

We can also help children by referencing people they know and books they have read to start a discussion about race, instead of staying silent.

Aren’t we amazingly different? Look how we’re the same!

As we get to know each other, it can reduce prejudice and inter-group anxiety. This is known as contact theory. Anne has worked on something called The Storybook Project (?), where children and their teachers looked at 1 book a week for 6 weeks showing positive interactions between people of different races, followed by a short discussion of how much fun the children are having in the book. They found this made a difference to how children felt about interacting with people from the groups represented.

She also works on the website to help people think about who is represented in the books they use, and how. Are there interactions between two named characters of different races? Are they positive?

Her two latest books I’m New Here and Someone New [Amazon affiliate links] tell the same story of three children arriving at a new school (one Guatamalan, one Korean, one Somali) from the perspective of the children themselves in the first book, and from the perspective of the other children in the class who don’t know how to react in the second book. I will definitely be getting copies of these!

Thank you to everyone at ETAI for organising the conference, and especially to Naomi Epstein and Leo Selivan who encouraged me to attend. As you can see, I had a really good time!

Good Omens lesson plan

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is probably my favourite book, and one of very few I’ve read multiple times. This is how Wikipedia summarises it:

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) is a World Fantasy Award-nominated novel, written as a collaboration between the English authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book is a comedy about the birth of the son of Satan, and the coming of the End Times. There are attempts by the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley to sabotage the coming of the end times, having grown accustomed to their comfortable surroundings in England. One subplot features a mixup at the small country hospital on the day of birth and the growth of the Antichrist, Adam, who grows up with the wrong family, in the wrong country village. Another subplot concerns the summoning of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each a big personality in their own right.

In preparation for the upcoming series, which I am incredibly excited about, I’ve been re-reading it for the fourth or fifth time. In the process came across a short excerpt which can stand alone and decided it would make a good lesson for my Proficiency/C2 students. I think it could work for C1 students too.

We used it over two 90-minute lessons, but it’s very flexible so you can make it longer or shorter as you choose – it depends on how into the tasks the students get!

If you teach a 121 student, you may choose not to read the extract yourself beforehand, and go through the lesson making predictions, producing your own version of the text and reading it for the first time at the same time as your student. I promise there’s nothing offensive there! 🙂 A couple of teachers from our school who had never read Good Omens themselves used this plan successfully with their 121 students in this way.

Lesson stages

  • Tell students they’re going to read a short excerpt from a book. Before they read, they’re going to predict what happens. Emphasise that there are no right answers to this.
  • Show the pictures from Slide 1 of the Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205 presentation. Students work in pairs to make predictions of general events that might happen in the excerpt. Switch pairs to compare predictions and/or elicit some ideas as a class.
  • Show the word cloud from Slide 2. Tell students that this is a word cloud showing all of the language from the original excerpt. A word that is larger appears more often in the original text. Newt is the name of one of the characters from the book, and Lower Tadfield is the village he is travelling towards.
  • Students work in groups of three to write a version of what they think happens in the excerpt. They can use any of the language they want to from the word cloud. Give them plenty of time to do this: 20-30 minutes would be ideal. This is a chance for them to be creative, and to check language they’re not sure about in the dictionary or with you. Again, emphasise that the aim is not to reproduce the original extract, but to play with the language and experiment with ideas.
  • Groups read all of the other stories. Have they come up with similar ideas?
  • Slide 3 shows two covers for the book. Tell students that the excerpt they’ve been working with is from a comedy written about the end of the world. This part is a small event that happens half-way through the book. “Would you like to read it?” Hopefully their interest has been piqued by now and the answer will be yes!
  • Give them the Word document (Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205). As they read, they should compare the events in their versions of the story to the original, and decide how similar they are. They shouldn’t worry about language they don’t understand. They’ll need about 4-5 minutes to read, then should discuss in their groups the similarities and differences between their versions and the excerpt.
  • Slide 4 has follow-up questions for students to discuss in small groups. This is a great chance to work with emergent language that students are producing.
  • This excerpt is incredibly rich linguistically, as is anything written by Gaiman or Pratchett. Slide 5 gives students the chance to mine the text for any language that might interest them (see ‘language to mine’ below). They should take the lead in deciding what they want to steal.
  • Students then return to their original writing and write a new version of it. They can insert phrases directly lifted from Good Omens, or simply be inspired by the variety and richness of the original excerpt to make their own text richer through the use of synonyms, similes, and highly descriptive language.
  • They then share their original and rewritten texts (side by side) with other groups and answer the question: ‘What difference does the writer’s choice of language make to the enjoyment of the reader?’
  • As an optional extension, students could role play the situation of Newt meeting the aliens, or of Newt/the aliens telling somebody else what happened a few hours later. This would give them the chance to reuse some of the language they stole from the text.
  • To finish the lesson, show students the trailer for the upcoming series and ask them if they want to watch it. Slide 6 has the video embedded; slide 7 has the link in case it doesn’t work.

What happened in my lesson?

I only had three students out of a possible six, so my pair and share activity didn’t work when they wrote their own texts. They were surprised that the text they produced had the same broad strokes as the excerpt.

Although we used two lessons, we didn’t have time to go back to the writing and upgrade it, which would have been valuable. I felt like adding a third lesson to do this would have been dragging it out too much though.

Students were engaged in mining the text, and said they would like to try this with other texts in the future. We looked at the language of officialdom and how it was used to create humour in this excerpt.

One student had already read Good Omens before I introduced it, and went back and re-read it in Polish between the two lessons 🙂 [Here’s an Amazon affiliate link if you want to get your own copy.]

Language to mine from the text

This is very much NOT an exhaustive list of examples of language that could be taken from the excerpt. Any of these could be used by students to create new texts as a follow-up (for example a description of a crazy car journey), or could be used as a language focus if you want something more targeted than the word cloud from slide 2.

  • Phrases and phrasal verbs:
    fall over
    wind (the window) down
    think of (sth) (as sth else)
    wander off
    run sth through a machine
    (let sth) build up
    let yourself go
    see to sth
    turn sth over in his mind
    turn around
    bawl sb out
  • Features of spoken grammar:
    an’ suchlike
    one of them phenomena
    Been…, haven’t we sir?
    Well, yes. I suppose so.
    I’ll see to it. Well, when I say I…
    We’d better be going.
    You do know…don’t you?
  • Ways of describing speaking:
  • Ways of describing movement:
    a door in the saucer slid aside
    skidded down it and fell over at the bottom
    walked over to the car quite slowly
  • Descriptive phrases for a spaceship and aliens:
    satisfying whoosh
    gleaming walkway
    It looked like every cartoon of a flying saucer Newt had ever seen.
    Brilliant blue light
    frantic beeping
  • Connected to cars:
    He had the map spread over the steering wheel.
    He had to brake hard.
    rapped on the window
    He wound it down.
    He drove up on the verge and around it.
    When he looked in his rearview mirror…
  • Connected to officialdom:
    in the worldwide approved manner of policemen already compiling the charge sheet in their heads
    Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you, sir…
    …are below regulation size for a [planet] of this category, sir.
    We’ll overlook it on this occasion, sir.

A little bit of theory

This is a task-based lesson, with the focus on meaning early in the lesson. For the initial task, students have to use their own linguistic resources to come up with an episode in a story, and they are free to go in whatever direction they choose. They have the scaffolding of the pictures and the word cloud, but are not required to use any particular language point. Sharing their texts is the report phase, and they then see a model which they can mine for language. This language can then be incorporated into their own work – it is student-led, with them choosing the language they focus on, rather than following the teacher’s agenda of what ‘should’ be learnt next. This task repetition and upgrade stage is where a lot of the learning will happen, as students experiment with the language. There is then another report phase, with reflection on language use in general (writer choices), not just the specific language used in this lesson.

The language I’ve pulled out above reflects principles of the lexical approach (I hope!), working with longer chunks of language rather than isolated words. Collocations can be explored, as well as areas like features of spoken language. This can help students to move away from a focus on single words and verb tenses plus other structures typically appearing as part of a course book syllabus, which they often still have even at proficiency level.

Teaching students how to mine a text in this way can also be useful for their own self-study, thus developing learner autonomy. Techniques like this can be challenging for students to incorporate into their own learning without being shown how to do it the first couple of times.

More of this kind of thing

I’ve previously shared materials connected to the first chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

My bookshelf

This post was inspired by Naomi Epstein’s response to Grant Snyder’s comic strip My Bookshelf. I’m going to write about books in general though, not just teaching ones – lots of answers popped into my head as I was reading Naomi’s post. Here goes…

The book I couldn’t put down

This is a pretty long list, and includes pretty much everything by Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and what I’ve read of Neil Gaiman so far (still a work in progress). Also Sharon Penman books when I was a teenager, the Cicero books by R0bert Harris I’m currently reading, the Harry Potter books the first time round, the Robin Hobb books, etc. etc. etc.

The book I couldn’t pick up

I’m going to put some books here which I had on my shelf but put off reading for ages because they scared me a bit, but which I ended up loving when I finally read them.

  • Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky
  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
  • All classics, until I read Pride and Prejudice when I was 18 🙂

The book you gave me (I haven’t read it yet – sorry!)

IATEFL sent out A History of IATEFL to members last year and gave a copy of The Non-Native Teacher by Peter Medgyes at the conference in Glasgow. They’re sitting on my shelf, but I haven’t got round to them yet. I know I’ll have read them by this time next year though!

The book I brought to the beach

I’m not really a beach person, but I definitely remember getting sunburn in the back garden from spending too long outside without putting suncream on when I was reading Love in the Time of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Alexander books by Valerio Massimo Manfredi when I was a teenager.

The book I tried so hard to like

When the BBC Big Read came out in 2003, I’d already read 25 of the top 100 books, and decided to read the rest of them. This meant that I dragged myself kicking and screaming through:

  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (boring)
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams (repetitive – the rabbits eat, sleep, poo and fight)
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (I just wanted to bang Cathy and Heathcliff’s heads together and tell them to get a grip)
  • The last 100 pages of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (philosophical thoughts he’d already conveyed multiple times, and which interrupted what I felt was a gripping story)
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding (urgh)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce (trying far too hard – just annoying)

I did read every page of all 100 books though, and it led me to a whole load of authors I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. There were at least 10 books on there that are now among the best books I’ve ever read, so it was worth it! I’d love to know what an updated version of the list would look like.

The book I somehow own three copies of

Looking at my bookshelves, the thing that immediately jumped out at me was three Collins German dictionaries, and three matching French ones, though ‘somehow’ probably isn’t the right word – they chart my progress from 11 years old, to GCSEs, to university, getting considerably bigger each time!

The book that saved my life

I’m not sure I could claim that any book has ever saved my life, but the single book that probably changed the way I think in the shortest number of pages was The English Verb by Michael Lewis. I read it as part of Delta, and it completely changed the way that I think about language. I constantly tell people about it, and have it on my shelf right now, waiting for me to read again.

The book I lent you (can I have it back?)

If pushed to choose my favourite book of all time, I’m pretty sure I would go for Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I have owned various copies of this book, but now don’t appear to have any. I have definitely lent it to people in the past, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never got it back. Oh well. Spreading the love 😉

The book I fall asleep to every night

Since August 2016 I’ve been reading a few pages of Harry Potter in Polish every night before I go to bed. When I first started, it took about 10 minutes to read two pages, and I didn’t understand many of the words on the page. I only knew what was going on because of my prior knowledge of the stories. I’m now on the penultimate chapter of book three, can manage 6-8 pages in 10-15 minutes, and reckon I understand about 50-60% of what I read. It’s made me realise first hand just how useful extensive reading is for language learners.

The book I mistook for a hat

Hmm…I suspect the answer to this may also be dictionaries when I was at university – they’re certainly big enough, and we often used to have to carry them around with us!

The book I’m desperately trying to write

Well, a series actually. Book one should be out in the next couple of months, I hope, pending permission from a few publishers to use quotes from their works, and I have ideas for lots of follow-ups if it’s successful 😉 Watch this space… (and if you can’t wait, try my first e-book, Richer Speaking)

All the books that changed my life

I can’t imagine a life without books and reading, and I’m grateful to my family for instilling a love of reading in me at a young age. I don’t remember not being able to read. I do remember reading by the light of the late evening sun in the summer coming through my red curtains when I was supposed to be asleep. I’m a reading addict – when there’s nothing else to read, I’ll pick up sauce bottles on a table, cleaning products in a bathroom, anything with words on really, regardless of the language! Now I read a few blog posts every day, and have three or four books on the go at any one time. Right now it’s Harry Potter 3 in Polish, Imperium by Robert Harris, Pop-up Shakespeare by Jennie Maizels, Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin, and a few teaching magazines that have been sitting on the shelf for a while. Books really have shaped a lot of who I am. (P.S. If you want to buy any of the books in this post for yourself, and you decide to click on this Amazon Affiliates link, I’ll get a few pennies – thank you!)

My bookshelves

My bookshelves – the first furniture I bought for my new flat!

As Naomi said at the end of her post,

Here’s to all the books I’ve read and those that are waiting to be read! Life is good!

Why should they care?

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.
  • Add challenge.
    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.’

If you want more ideas for how to adapt speaking activities, I’ve got a whole e-book of them!


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.

A straw bale

Image from Pixabay

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.

Gender pay gap word cloud based on

  • Use a word cloud. 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’

Grammar points

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?

  • Contextualise.
    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?
  • Play.
    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!]
  • Add challenge.
    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 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary and word decoding

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

Translations by an Arabic-speaking reader of English

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

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

Word formation example

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

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

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

Word decoding

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

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

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

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

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

Sentence level

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

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

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

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

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

Complex sentences

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

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

Taken from Nuttall (1989)

They can answer these questions either individually or in pairs:

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

So in the end, we get something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paragraph and text level

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

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

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

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

Other elements which slow down their reading

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

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

Mask for reading

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

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

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

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

It was a cold, dark night

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

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

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


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

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

Read the text. Ignore the gaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading grid

To recap…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

About Emina

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


Activities for Christmas and New Year (BELTA webinar)

On Sunday December 13th 2015 I did a webinar for the Sundays with BELTA series from the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association.

Sandy - Sundays with BELTA square poster

Here are the slides from my presentation, including links to all of the activities.

All of the links are below, just in case you can’t see them or click on them on the slides:

Many of the activities should be self-explanatory, but if not, you can watch the recording to find out how to run the activity. If you’re a BELTA member, you can watch recordings of webinars from the past six months. Anyone can watch older webinars from the series. My recording should be freely available to all from July 2016.

I’d be interested to hear how you use the activities in your own classrooms, and what adaptations you needed to make to fit your context.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

IATEFL Manchester 2015: The ones I missed

For various reasons, not least the sheer size of the conference, there were various talks I missed during IATEFL. Thanks to the power of the internet, I’ve managed to catch up with some of them through tweets, videos and/or blogposts. Here’s a selection of them:

The ear of the beholder: helping learners understand different accents – Laura Patsko

Laura’s talk was on at the same time as mine so I wasn’t able to watch it. I know it started with her ‘having a cold’ to demonstrate how we can make meaning evefn when the sounds we hear don’t correspond with our expectations, and I’m intrigued to hear more about her suggestions. She’s shared her presentation, and hopefully there will be a video of at least some of it soon!

Here’s one of her tweets from another point in the conference:

Fostering autonomy: harnassing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Lizzie‘s talk was also in the same slot as mine and Laura’s – so many possible times and they put us all on in the same one! Lizzie has written a lot about autonomy on her blog, and demonstrated it with her own Italian learning. The aspect of learner training is key when trying to encourage autonomy, and is one I’m sure Lizzie’s presentation would have helped me with. Thankfully, she’s blogged about it as has Olga Sergeeva, but it’s not quite the same as hearing it first-hand. I’m hoping the gods of IATEFL shine on all three of us next year and put us on at separate times!

Where are the women in ELT? – Russell Mayne and Nicola Prentis

As with last year, the talk which Russ was involved in is one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. Nicola and Russ picked a subject which is another very important discussion point, after Russ tackled the myths of EFL in 2014. [Original text (see comments for why I’ve kept this) As with last year, Russ’s talk is the one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. He has a way of picking subjects which are very good discussion points, and this year he was ably assisted by Nicola Prentis.] Their talk immediately followed my own and was in a tiny room, so I knew it was wishful thinking to believe I might get in, but I tried anyway. A whole group of us were waiting outside, disappointed. Last year Russ’s talk was officially recorded (content is currently being updated on the IATEFL 2014 site), and Russ and Nicola have recorded their own version this year – thank you! This area is one of particular interest to me, being a woman and in ELT as I am. 🙂 Through the Fair List, I’d become aware of the fact that plenary speakers at conferences are often men speaking to a room full of women, which seems odd. As I understand it, Russ and Nicola were questioning the fact that men feature dispropotionately at the ‘top’ of the ELT profession, despite it being a female-dominated one in general.

They did an interview about it which you can watch as a taster:

Here are two of the blog posts which were triggered by their talk, both of which have fascinating discussions in the comments which are well worth reading:

  • He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! Steve Brown highlights the amount of time that the ‘big’ names highlighted in Russ and Nicola’s talk have been at the top (something which they mentioned in their interview too)
  • P is for Power: Scott Thornbury questions the balance of power in the ELT profession, not just in terms of gender, but also covering native/non-native speakers and the socio-economic circumstances that teaching takes place in.

Russ and Nicola have also set up their own website to examine gender equality in ELT, with a lot more information about their research. At other points in the conference there were tweets about increasing the number of non-native speakers visible at conferences and in the global community.

Walk before you run: reading strategies for Arabic learners – Emina Tuzovic

I saw Emina speaking about helping Arabic students with spelling at IATEFL last year, and she subsequently very kindly wrote a guest post summarising her talk for this blog. I’m hoping to encourage her to do the same again this year, as her ideas are very practical and deal with areas which there isn’t much coverage of in the literature I’ve read.

People, pronunciation and play – Luke Meddings

Luke shared a couple of his ideas in an interview:

I really like Luke’s focus on playing with language, which is something I’ve become more and more interested in.

Olga Sergeeva went to Luke’s talk and wrote a summary of the whole thing, although she admitted it was difficult because they were laughing too much!

Tools, tips and tasks for developing materials writing skills – John Hughes

John has shared his slides, which gives me a taster of the tips he has for developing these skills. I think the most important idea is to ‘develop a materials radar’, which echoes what Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones talked about in their presentation on using images at the MAWSIG PCE.


Mike Harrison talked about using Vine to make short videos, and Shaun Wilden and Nikki Fortova looked at apps on the iPad to do the same.
Here’s an idea from Nicky Hockley to use a mobile phone to practise past continuous:

If you’re considering whether to use technology in your class or not, this handout could be useful:

Random tweets

These are things which I retweeted because they made me think. I’m sharing them here to make sure I don’t forget those thoughts and to see what you think. They’re loosely grouped into topics where possible.

Student abilities
Memory and engagement

These link back to Joy Egbert’s plenary.

Materials design and the importance of editors

An opportunity for anyone wanting to get into materials design?

This looks amazing!

…and on Twitter!

And if you decide to self-publish:


Patsy’s accompanying blogpost is available on the OUP blog.

Empowering teachers

Yes, yes, yes to all of these!

Training and professional development

(Hoping the rate of sickness at IH Bydgoszcz doesn’t go up when I take over as DoS!) 😉

About language

Other people’s blogging

Lots of people were blogging throughout the conference. You can find a full list of all of the IATEFL Manchester registered bloggers on the ManchesterOnline site.

IATEFL Manchester Online 2015 registered blogger

As always, Lizzie Pinard was very prolific, and has helpfully indexed all of her posts. Apart from the plenaries, I only went to one of the same talks, so there’s a lot to catch up on! Olya Sergeeva also has an index of the posts she wrote about the sessions she went to, including some which I’ve linked to above. Tyson Seburn wrote about his bite-sized takeaways from the conference. Jen McDonald summarised the talks she saw in short paragraphs. The British Council had a number of roving reporters at the conference, one of whom was David Dodgson.

IATEFL online

Apart from the many sources I’ve mentioned above, there is, of course, the wonderful resources that is IATEFL online, full of interviews and recorded sessions, at least some of which I hope to find the time to watch at some point in the future. Are there any you would particularly recommend?

IATEFL Manchester 2015: In the classroom

I’ve moved away from the classroom over the past year, so for the first time at IATEFL I didn’t go to many talks which fitted this category. I got some interesting ideas from all three talks, and can’t wait to try to put them into practice when I finally do get back into the classroom in September!

A new way to teach reading – Ken Lackman

Ken‘s title seemed like a pretty dramatic claim, but that’s exactly what he showed us, and I really want to try it out!

He started by telling us some of the problems with the traditional approach to reading, mostly the fact that many of the skills used in the classroom are not easily transferable to real life. Students don’t have tasks like a pre-set gist question or vocabulary that somebody else has pre-selected from the text for them when they read texts outside the classroom.

He decided that there must be a better way to prepare students for reading in real life, and this is what he came up with, working through a demo lesson based on a short story as an example for us. You can get the story Ken used with us (A Secret Lost in the Water) as well as more information about the whole process by going to his website, clicking on Activity books > A New Way To Teach Reading > IATEFL.

  • What are the key characteristics of a short story? List them.
    e.g. Only two or three characters. One or two settings.
  • Turn these characteristics into questions. e.g. Where is it set? What is the relationship between the characters?
  • Show students the title. They add to the list of questions.
  • (Optional: Collect questions on the board.)
  • Choose one of the questions as a good gist question.
  • Read for gist, answering the question selected. As a side note, one of my favourite moments of the whole conference was how Ken got us to read fast: everybody stood up, and had to sit down once they had the answer. Still standing after everyone else has sat down? Too slow!
  • Choose other questions from the list as comprehension questions.
  • Read again more slowly to answer them.
  • Underline any words which you’re not sure of the meaning of.
  • Choose one of the words and analyse it to try to decide the meaning: What part of speech is it? Are there any clues in the parts of the word (e.g. prefixes/suffixes)? Do the adjacent words help? Come up with a synonym or phrase which you could replace it with and try it in the space. Does it make sense? Repeat as necessary.
  • Choose 10 collocations that you think are really useful for you.
  • Compare your list with a partner.
  • Divide the class into groups, each with a different coloured board marker.
  • Groups come up with discussion questions related to the text. They can’t be yes/no questions and you shouldn’t be able to find the answer in the text. Write them on the board.
  • Students choose some of the questions from the board and discuss them.

This strategy was very engaging as all of the questions were written and selected by us, and we managed to create the questions before we’d seen the text, in a way that is eminently transferable to any text type and can easily be used outside the classroom too. Repeated practice using the same lesson structure will make students more confident with their reading, and similar staging can also be applied to listening too. It encourages greater awareness of the conventions of different genres which should have a knock-on effect with writing too. If students are unfamiliar with a particular genre, you can analyse it with them the first time they see it. Vocabulary is chosen by the students rather than the materials writer, and they decide what is and isn’t useful for them. There is a lot of processing, which aids memorisation, and students are able to check it in a dictionary too if they want to. Coming up with their own discussion questions promotes critical thinking and a deeper reading of the text.

Recoleta church book

Academic reading circles: improving learner engagement and text comprehension – Tyson Seburn

Tyson’s EAP (English for Academic Purposes) students often have trouble understanding texts to a deep enough level to be able to discuss them intellectually or engage with them in their written work. When reading, they tended to treat texts very superficially and only deal with problems with lexis, with looking at the concepts at all. Academic Reading Circles were developed out of the idea of literature circles as a way to address this by dividing students into small groups and assigning them different roles to break down a text. Each group works on a single text and has time to prepare before the lesson. They then come together and share their knowledge to build up a deeper understanding of the text.

  • Leader: gauges group comprehension and situates the text for the other students, dealing with the purpose for reading, source, target audience, etc. They create one or two questions about the text to gauge understanding.
  • Contextualiser: picks out contextual references like times, dates, places and people and finds out more about them.
  • Visualiser: finds anything from the text which can be visually represented, e.g. maps, photos, videos, etc.
  • Connector: makes connections to outside sources, for example other events, other sources or their own experience.
  • Highlighter: focuses on linguistic problems, e.g. unknown vocabulary, topic specific language, anything which shows the feeling/attitude of the author.

The students deal with up to five texts per term, and no more than one per week, rotating the roles through the term. Academic reading circles lead to deeper comprehension and their writing also improves as a result, including a greater use of topic-specific language.

Lizzie Pinard wrote a summary of the session. You can read more about Academic Reading Circles on Tyson’s blog, and he is working with The Round to produce a book about them. I’m sure there must be away to apply this approach to other kinds of reading group too.

Classic exercises and why they work in the 21st century – Hanna Kryszewska

Hanna is the editor of Humanising Language Teaching magazine (always looking for articles!), which has a section called ‘Old Exercises’. These act as useful reminders of things you might have forgotten. She is also a believer in ‘thinking routines’, the idea that we need to make thinking processes visible to students. This can be draining but is very useful, so should be done little and often. Here are examples of classic activities combined with thinking routines:

  • Questions: Show students an artwork/poem. Give them post-it notes. Every time they have a question, they write it on the post-it and stick it to the board. The questions can be as deep or as trivial as they like. Students then go away and find the answers to their questions.
  • Tug-of-war: Show an image/quote etc conncted to an issue which could be debated. Hanna’s example was images of the Aral Sea showing how it has dried up over the last few decades. Students put their opinions on post-it notes, then rearrange them according to where they would fit in a debate. It’s a good way of dealing with potentially controversial issues.
  • Numbers: Students chose numbers which are important to them, then share why with other students. They aren’t forced to give information which they don’t want to, as would be the case if the teacher supplied questions for them to answer.
  • Mingle: Find two things in common with each person in the class. You can’t repeat them. Once they’ve finished, each student draws around their hand. Other students write what they learnt about their classmates in the relevant hand.
  • Thank you: Stick a piece of paper on each person’s back. Students write what they’d like to thank each person for – again, it can be as trivial or as deep as the students want.
  • All correct: In an multiple choice exercise which should have only one correct answer, get the students to justify why any of the answers could be right. This works particularly well with answers where changing the tone of voice could make a big difference.
  • Senses: Dictate the five senses. Then dictate random words, with students deciding which sense to allocate it to. They then share answers.
  • Map: In a similar way, give students a blank map. Dictate words and students write them where they ‘should’ be, entirely based on their own opinions, before sharing answers.
  • Playing cards 1: Hanna has a set of playing cards with pictures of artworks on them. She selects three at random and arranges them on a piece of paper. Students have to justify why they are arranged like that.
  • Playing cards 2: Each group gets 6 cards. They choose 3 and arrrange them. Other groups then have to say why they were arranged like that. They can then compare their justifications.
  • Exploiting the coursebook: After using a text, students are challenged to write questions to which there are no answers in the book/text. Another group then gets the questions and has to rewrite the text to include the answers.
  • Vocabulary: Draw a picture of a bicycle, but you can only include the parts that you know the names for in English. Choose which six items you need to learn to be able to compelte your picture. This is particularly good for mixed-level groups.
  • Shapes: Each group gets five slips of paper. On each they write one part of the body and arrange them into the approximate shape of a body. The teacher can offer/add more words. Students then group the words according to different categories, e.g. touching the bed/not touching the bed, important for work/not important for work.
  • Points of view 1: Have three chairs. Each represents one role, e.g. mother, daughter, dead guinea pig. Students ask questions and decide who should answer them, e.g. Was she a good owner?
  • Points of view 2: Set up a roleplay situation, e.g. breakfast time. Students start the rolleplay, but anyone watching can step in and take over at any point.

By encouraging visible thinking we encourage different points of view, build community and encourage critical thinking. You also move away from the ‘tyranny of the correct answer’. Start with simpler activities (like numbers/mingle) to introduce these ideas slowly and to build an atmosphere of sharing in the classroom.
You can find out more about thinking routines in the book Making Thinking Visible [affiliate link].

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.

Ahmad Zaytoun has created an infographic that gives you the basics of what CELTA involves. Gabriela Froes shares 5 things she wishes she’d known about CELTA before she started, including tips for those with previous teaching experience considering whether to take the course.

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.

Seth Newsome wrote about his experience on the course, reflecting on the positives and negatives, with links to other posts he wrote about the process of doing the CELTA if you’d like a bit more depth. Tesal described the challenges of the course and what he got out of itRachel 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. Vincent Sdrigotti, an experienced teacher of French origin, wrote about the ups and downs of the whole 4-week course as well as the preparation he did before it started. Here’s one quick quote from that post:

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! 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 what how trainees who came to the course with experience feel like they benefitted from CELTA.

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.

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.

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.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, teachers increasingly need to know how to teach online, particularly using Zoom. I have a post with Ideas for teaching group lessons on Zoom which provides a starting point of activities (most are not Zoom-specific and would work on other platforms). If you’ve never used Zoom before, you may want to buy a (very affordable!) copy of Teaching with Zoom: A Guide for Complete Beginners by Keith Folse (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links). ELT Campus have a set of webinars showing how to teach English online. Sara Katsonis describes her experience of being a CELTA trainee when the course had to move from face-to-face to fully online – she got a Pass A despite (or maybe because of?) the challenges.

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 Pete Clements with what he did to get his Pass A, and a report from someone else 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. 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!


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. John Hughes suggests a before/while/after you watch approach to video lessons, most of which works for reading or listening. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you a poster with suggestions for adapting materials and lesson planning.

Timing your elementary classes is a post I wrote in response to questions from my trainees about how to allocate timing when planning – it actually works for any level really, not just elementary. Jonny Ingham also has a guide to timing your lessons, as does CELTA Train.

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.

The generally very useful CELTA Train blog has tips on considering anticipated problems and coming up with appropriate solutions, including examples for the most common areas.

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. I’ve written a post with tips on getting and maintaining student attention. These tips from Fernando Guarany could also help improve your confidence as a teacher, as will Emma Johnston’s 15-minute webinar on confidence building for teachers.

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. Cecilia Nobre offers useful tips on how to build rapport when you’re not John Keating from Dead Poet’s Society (though he does many of those things too!)

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 (ICQs) if there’s a potential for confusion, or one of these alternatives from Ben Naismith. If you’re not sure when to ask ICQs or which ones to use, CELTA Train can help you. 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 and Chia Suan Chong has 10 questions you can ask yourself to improve your activity set-up. 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. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you some golden rules for instructions. ELT Notebook summarises the whole instruction-giving process in a set of simple tips.

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). She also has an YouTube video showing how to set up a jigsaw reading activity and avoid the pitfalls (8 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. CELTA train have created an infographic to help you decide how to respond to errors during speaking activities.

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! CELTA train describes ‘Presentation via a situation‘ a.k.a. situational presentations, and includes an example of one designed to introduce ‘used to’.

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. CELTA train talks about how to make sure practice activities have a real communicative purpose, and includes a few examples that could help you.


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, as will this full step-by-step lesson from Pete Clements. 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.

Nicky Salmon has put together a beginner’s guide to drilling. 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. CELTA train does something similar, and throws in a video as a bonus at the end. 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. Lorraine Kennedy gives you 10 tips for ELT teacher job interviewsAdam Simpson gives you general advice about what to say and do in job interviews. You can find out about different countries and potential up- and downsides of working there using the country guides at ESL Base, though do try to get in touch with teachers yourself too – it’s worth asking any school you apply for if you can speak to one of their teachers. 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. Jennifer Gonzalez offers tips for starting a job mid-year. Although they’re aimed at mainstream teachers, many of the tips are relevant for those of you who have completed CELTA>

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.

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

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) She also has a wide range of resources for trainers on the ELT-training website, including lots of ideas for feedback.

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. He has also written an incredibly useful step-by-step guide explaining the process of becoming a CELTA trainer: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

John Hughes offers various ways of approaching lesson feedback. Felicity Pyatt joins the TEFL Training Institute podcast for an episode to discuss what to do when a trainee fails, which also includes tips for trainees on how to deal with the fact that they have failed an element of a training course.

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).

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

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:


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!

Richmond Skills Boost: my materials

For the first time I’ve designed materials which have now been published. Richmond have put together a series of additional reading and listening materials for each level from A1-C1. At each level there are 12 reading and 12 listening worksheets available for teachers and students to download. To find them, you register on the Richmond ELT site. This takes a few days as they approve your school. Once you’re in, go to the teacher’s area, and click on Skills Boost on the left. There you’ll find all of the worksheets, audio, tapescripts and answer keys. My contributions are the C1 listening worksheets 1-6.

SkillsBoost C1 Listening

My work 🙂 (and a few other people’s too!)

I’m so proud of how they’ve turned out, and I’d like to thank the people at Richmond who made it all look so good, Stephanie, Shona and Susan, along with all of my lovely friends who contributed ideas and materials to help me come up with the ideas I needed. Thanks particularly to Ela, for putting me in touch with Richmond in the first place 🙂

It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it. I think the audio is a little slow and careful for C1 level (it would be useful for them to hear more natural speeds), but the range of topics are interesting, and a bit different to what’s in the coursebooks, as well as there being a range of accents. I’m looking forward to trying them out with my students when I get back to Sevastopol, and I’d be interested to hear your feedback if you get to use them.

Your challenge is to spot the bits I put in there to make me smile and to figure out the references to my friends in there 😉

Reading for exams

This presentation was part of the Tip-Top local conference in Sevastopol which took place on May 10th, 2014. There’s a video from the conference, with photos from my presentation from about 1:00-1:30.

I shared activities to help students prepare for the KET, PET and FCE reading exams. If you have other activities you like using, why not share them in the comments?

There is a recorded version of the presentation here:

Here is the handout with all of the reading texts referred to during the presentation:

They were taken from the official Cambridge handbooks for Key (KET), Preliminary (PET) and First (FCE), which are all free to download from the Cambridge ESOL site.

The listening book mentioned on the third slide is ‘Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action‘ by Larry Vandergrift and Christine Goh.

The signs used for KET and PET were taken from ELTpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license. ELTpics is a collection of over 18,000 images (as I write this) shared by teachers and other education professionals from all over the world. They are arranged into categories, for example ‘Signs‘, ‘Rooms and Furniture‘ and ‘Every Picture Tells a Story‘. The photos used in the presentation were taken by Scott Thornbury, Victoria Boobyer, Mike Harrison, @silpico, Adam Simpson, and me!

The extra links I shared at the end of the presentation were:

  • Cambridge English‘ on facebook;
  • Hive of Activities: a blog by Emma Gore-Lloyd, where she shares activities she’s found useful in her class, particularly for FCE, CAE and CPE;
  • my diigo list of exam-related bookmarks, which I constantly add to. You can narrow it down by clicking ‘+’ next to any of the sub-categories on the left. For example, clicking ‘+’ next to ‘FCE’ will show you only my FCE links.

I’d like to thank David Dodgson, Hada Litim, Maria Theologidou, Olga Stolbova and Damian Williams for their help in putting together this presentation.

Crisis at Clifton – Richmond Mazes

Richmond have recently released a series of readers with a difference, called ‘Richmond Mazes’, written by Alastair Lane and James Styring. They are:

  • based on the idea of choose your own adventure, where you make choices that determine what happens next in the story.
  • available as a book or an app. If you choose the book, you can download the audio to accompany it.
  • aimed at young adults and adults learning English, with the first four titles set in work situations.
  • currently available at elementary and intermediate levels. There are two books at the moment:
    Escape from Pizza Palace (Elementary) – book / app
    Crisis at Clifton (Intermediate) – book / app

I was given a code to try the app version of ‘Crisis at Clifton‘ out, thanks to Ela Wassell. This is how Richmond describe the story:

You have just started a new job at a fashionable advertising agency in Sydney. From the first day you learn that the company is in crisis. If your client doesn’t sign a new contract, the company will go bankrupt. You must create a successful new advertising campaign, keep your client happy, deal with your colleagues… and save the Clifton Creative Agency! You will find lots of useful business vocabulary presented in a natural context in this maze. As well as improving your English, you will learn lots of interesting things about the advertising industry. Good luck finding your way through the maze!


It took me about an hour to go through the whole story, and I found a lot of things I liked about the format, not least the fact that even though it was quite late, I kept reading because I wanted to know what would happen next. I used to love choose-your-own-adventure books as a child for exactly this reason!

The story is illustrated throughout, with characters looking straight out at the reader, so it seems like they’re talking to you. This is the first page, which sets the scene for the story. It’s one of the longest texts in the version of the maze I went through, with never more than a single iPad screen’s worth of text before you make a decision or click on ‘continue’.


At the end of most sections, there is a box offering you a variety of choices about what should happen next. This means students have to think about what they’ve read to be able to make the right choice, instead of just reading passively. They have to pay attention to key language to help them understand. You click to go to the next section, and you can click ‘back’ at any point.


If you make a different decision after clicking ‘back’, the app notifies you and asks if you’re sure. You can see all the decisions you’ve made in a handy summary by clicking on ‘My route’ at the bottom of the screen. You can go back to any of these decisions by clicking on it.


The stars show bonus points, which are available in every chapter for making the best decisions. In the book there are special pages where you can record any information you need to, including your bonus points and extra information that will help you later.


If you make a bad decision which will cause problems for the company, you see a message which tells you the problem, and takes you back to the start of the chapter.


I only got 5 bonus points through the whole story (out of a possible 16), so when I got to the end I was told “To improve the ending you have to win more bonus points”. This takes you back to the start, so you can try the story again.

I like the fact that you can try the story again and again and it will give you a different outcome each time. I think it would be quite a challenge to find all of the bonus points, and could be motivating for students.

Words which could cause problems are all clickable, with simple definitions appearing. They are underlined throughout the story, not just the first time they appear.


All communication which is referred to is presented in the relevant format. For example, an email looks like an email:


There are also newspaper articles, memos, and other text types business English students might expect to encounter. Voice messages are recorded, not written out as text. There is also the option to show a tapescript if students need extra support.


The voices are a mixture of Australian and other accents, including German. It’s refreshing to hear voices which aren’t just standard British or standard American pronunciation.

The story is written in the second person (‘you’), but I didn’t notice until I was on chapter 4, meaning it was very natural.

My only reservation is that the title and style of the story may not seem serious enough for some professionals. I think it would be particularly suitable for business English students who are still training, for example at university.

Overall, I enjoyed using the app, and I think it would be a motivating way for students to practise without realising that they’re working and learning at the same time. I’d really like to see something similar for general English students in the future.

Update (in response to a question): the app is £4.99 from the Apple store. I’m not sure if it’s available on Android.

How to challenge yourself

Challenge considered

This was a lesson plan in the form of a presentation I put together for the weekly 90-minute English Speaking Club at IH Sevastopol. The notes for the plan are visible when you download the presentation (in the notes pane, normally found under the slides):

Here is the SMART goals jigsaw reading (jigsaw reading is where you divide a text into sections. Student A reads part A, B reads part B, C reads C and so on. They don’t see the other parts. They then work together, with or without the text, to build the meaning of the whole by sharing information from their own parts.):

There are also tapescripts to accompany the two videos, which could be mined for language if you choose (that wasn’t the purpose of this club):

It was the first topic for the speaking club for 2014, and hopefully we’ll revisit the goals the students set for themselves later in the year. Unfortunately I was ill, but my colleague taught it and said it went well. Let me know what you think!


Ten years and one week ago I joined Bookcrossing, a site where you register books then pass them on to other people, following their journey around the world. It was my first experience of the social side of the internet, and was the first way I met people face-to-face who I’d originally been in contact with online. These are my current stats on the site:

That doesn’t tell you everything though. It’s also led to some great long-lasting friendships, as well as broadening the kind of books I have read – many I picked up by chance at Bookcrossing conventions or local meet-ups, that I would never have chosen to read in a bookshop. I’ve also seen my books travel across continents, and around the world, and received parcels in various countries from bookcrossing friends. Take a look at my profile for examples of some of these. It also introduced me to postcrossing. Although I don’t do it so actively now, I hope I’ll still be Bookcrossing for many years to come!

Reading speed

During my Delta I put together a course proposal designed to help IELTS students improve their reading and writing skills. As part of it I did a needs analysis. Here are two of the questions:

D2: How do you feel about reading in English?

1 (It’s very difficult – I often don’t understand) 0
2 4
3 1
4 1
5 (It’s very easy – I always understand) 0

D3: Why?

“I think I need to learn more vocabulary”

“The time is very short for deep reading, so when I skim through the article, I can’t find the right answer easily. Moreover sometimes in T, F and NG  question, I find it hard to decide whether it was F or NG”

“i have to read more news paper and do alot of practice”

“i am worried about time because texts are very long so time is my enemy”

“no time”

Half of the students mentioned time as a particular problem, so I had to look for ways to help them. It was difficult to find much information about reading speed, but I strongly believe that it is an area which needs more of a spotlight on it, especially for exam students. I have therefore tried to share what I found, but I would be grateful if anyone else has any ideas.

FInding an appropriate speed

The only methodology book which I could find with information about reading speed was Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language* by Christine Nuttall (3rd edition: 2005).  She says:

A flexible reading speed is the sign of a competent reader. Instead of plodding through everything at the same careful speed, or always trying to read as fast as possible, students must learn to use different rates for different materials and different purposes, and must have practice in assessing what type of reading is appropriate in various circumstances. Unless you encourage them to skim and scan and treat some texts with a degree of irreverance, they may never learn to take these risks, which are a necessary step towards becoming a more effective reader. (p31-32)

Now it’s true that we may tell students to skim or scan certain texts, or that we may give them questions or a time limit to try and encourage them to do this, but what can we actually do to help slow readers learn to process text faster?

*I get 10% of anything you spend if you click on the Amazon link and choose to buy something. Thanks in advance!

Average speeds

The average native speaker reads at approximately 300wpm (words per minute) according to most sources I could find. One article on Forbes lists the average reading speeds for different kinds of native speakers, including college graduates and high-level executives. In contrast, Jensen (1986:106, in Anderson 1999) states that “at the end of a reading course, even advanced ESL students may read only 100 words per minute or less.” To get a sense of what different speeds feel like, Breaking News English has the same text available at 100, 200 and 300 wpm.

As well as getting through the words, you also need to understand them. Nuttall states that 70% comprehension is generally considered enough (p58). Non-native speakers have various problems here:

  • unknown vocabulary;
  • vocabulary which they only recognise in spoken, but not written form;
  • cultural information;
  • unfamiliar or complicated grammatical structures;
  • (for some learners) characters different to their own language, and possibly in a different direction too;
  • and probably many other things…

It is therefore important to choose relatively straightforward texts, generally below the student’s current reading level, when focussing on reading speed.

(Arabic speakers may have an additional problem, which you can read more about here.)

Testing reading speed

Nuttall describes a method for finding out students’ reading speed which is unfortunately far too long to reproduce here. You can find it on page 57 of her book.

There are many different reading speed tests available online and as apps, which you can use easily if you have internet access, or by asking students to find out their reading speed at home. These tests are all designed for native speakers, so students need to have a fairly high level of English to use them in order to reduce the number of problems which they might encounter from the list above. Here are some of the ones I’ve tried:

There are many other sites and apps available. The best ones have comprehension questions after the speed test to give you an adjusted speed based on how much you understood. In case you’re interested, I read at about 400 wpm in English on a screen – I read somewhere that screen reading speeds are normally slower than paper speeds.

I love reading

I wonder how fast he can read?
(Photo taken from by @katysdavis, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Not always bad

Two habits which I used to discourage my students from in the past were subvocalizing (forming the sounds of the words while you are reading, and sometimes even murmuring them) and following the text with a finger/pencil. I have now realised that I do these things too sometimes, as it can be appropriate for some texts. However, if this is the only way your students can read, then you need to help them broaden their range of reading styles, or to select reading matter which is more suited to their level in terms of grammar, vocabulary and cultural knowledge.

Why is slow reading a problem?

In an ideal world it wouldn’t matter how quickly students read, and they would have all the time they needed to get through every text. In reality, students who can only read slowly are probably losing out in class, as their classmates race ahead. They will also find exams more difficult. Finally, it stops them from becoming the effective reader described at the start of this post. As Nuttall says:

The relationship between reading speed and comprehension is complex, but they are certainly closely linked. A slow reader is likely to read with poor understanding, if only because his memory is taxed: the beginning of a paragraph may be forgotten by the time he has struggled to the end of it. But it is not clear which is the cause and which the effect: do people read quickly because they understand easily, or do they understand easily because of the speed at which they read? (p54)

By only treating reading as a vehicle for grammar or vocabulary, or at best a few comprehension questions, rather than training students to improve their reading speed, we are leaving slow(er) readers behind, and denying them the chance to reap the benefits of a range of reading styles. Here are some ways you can help them.


Fluent readers group text into multi-word chunks or ‘sense groups’, enabling them to move across the text quickly. Each position their eye stops in is called a ‘fixation’. The fewer fixations your eye makes, the faster you will read. For example, the previous sentence might be broken into the following sense groups by an efficient reader:

The fewer fixations / your eye makes, / the faster / you will read.

Less efficient readers might chunk it like this:

The fewer / fixations your/ eye /makes, the /faster you /will read.

or even read it word by word. Nuttall again:

The student’s problem is often that he does not know the target language well enough to chunk effectively. Many students read word by word, especially if the text is difficult, so to encourage good reading habits, a lot of practice with easy texts is needed. There is never enough time for this in the classroom, so this is [an] important purpose for an extensive reading programme. (p55)

To train students to chunk effectively, it is important to use texts which are relatively easy, as Nuttall says above. There are various things you can then do with the text (adapted from Nuttall p55):

  • Put it into centred columns on a page. The reader tries to force himself to make one fixation per line:

Centred column

  • Do the same thing, but have students use a ‘mask’ (a piece of paper) to reveal the lines as they are reading them. You can also do this on an OHP (or using some IWB software, but I don’t know specifics) to manage the speed they’re reading at.
  • Put it into Spreeder. Set it so that it is just above the students current reading speed. For example, if they read at 100wpm, set it for 120wpm. You can choose the size of the chunks, but unfortunately it doesn’t chunk in sense groups. However, it requires a lot less work than either of the ideas above! It is also something students can use at home very easily.

I also think that this concept is a good argument for using the lexical approach, as that should help students to recognise chunks more easily.

Other ideas

Encouraging students to use a mask (a piece of card with a whole cut out to show only one line and the first part of the next) can give them more awareness of the speed at which they are reading. By moving it down the page at a constant speed it forces them to move their eyes faster and not get bogged down when they come across words they don’t understand. They could also hold a piece of card above the lines that they are reading – Nuttall (p59) recommends above rather than below the line, so that the flow of the eye from one line to the next is not interrupted.

These two links will take you to other activities you can try to help students improve their reading speed:

Increasing reading speed for EAP: three areas to focus on – Katy Simpson Davis

Improving reading speed: activities for the classroom – Neil J. Anderson

There are also hundreds of sites aimed at native speakers to help improve reading speed, which you can find through any search engine.

Summary of key points

To become effective readers, students need to be in control of a range of reading techniques, one of which is the ability to read a text quickly.

Being able to read quickly is particularly important for exam students, who normally have to read a lot of text in a short period of time.

Texts used to practise reading speed should be below the student’s current reading level.

Chunking is an important skill that efficient readers have, enabling them to read groups of words in one go, without having to read every word separately.

I hope you have found this useful. Do you do anything else to help your students improve their reading speed?

Preparing for the Delta

There’s a lot I wish I’d known before I started studying for my Delta, and I thought I’d put it all into a post for anyone else preparing for the course. If you’ve got any tips you’d add, feel free to put them into the comments.

Before you decide on a centre to study Module Two at, I’d recommend asking this list of questions from Sue Swift.

1. Take a holiday

Before you start the course, make sure that you’ve relaxed as much as possible. However you do it, the Delta is incredibly intensive, and if you go into it already tired, like I did, you’ll regret it. If you need somebody else to tell you the same, Jye Smallwood also talks about the pressures of the course and the importance of being organised here.

2. Get reading

Start reading a few general books to get you in the zone. This will also give you a starting point when you are doing the course. Reading is something you probably won’t be able to take the time over during the course, so the more you can do before you start, the better. You’ll definitely return to the books again and again, but if you’ve read them once, it’s easier to find what you’re looking for later.

Some books which I found useful were:

  • Tricia Hedge: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom* – a good Delta-level overview. It covers each area of ELT in separate chapters.
  • Michael Lewis: The English Verb – one of the few books I had time to read cover-to-cover during my Delta, I can honestly say that this book changed the way I thought about English grammar.
  • Adrian Underhill: Sound Foundations – a great guide to all of the sounds of English, designed to raise your awareness of how they are produced.
  • Scott Thornbury: About Language – half of the book has tasks to make you really think about English in depth, the other half has commentaries to tell you if you’re on the right track.
  • Scott Thornbury: An A-Z of ELT – not necessarily one to read from cover to cover, but good to open at random and test yourself. It will quite possibly become your bible during certain parts of the course.

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

ELT books are pretty expensive, and it all adds up, so think carefully about which books you really need to spend money on, and which you can borrow. Ask around the people you know, especially if they’ve already done the course, and you may find you can borrow some of them. You might also be able to get them from your school or from a library. In the UK you could also try inter-library loans at a public library.

If you’re not sure how to approach your reading, Stewart has some ideas.

You should also use the resources available on the Cambridge website to find out more about the course criteria.

3. Brush up on your Word skills

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. I’ve picked out some of the things I found myself doing all the time.

Two more things you might find useful, taken from other sites (not Liz’s):

  • How to check the size of a file – Windows / Mac (Cambridge have a 10MB upload limit, especially annoying for Module 3)
  • How to add footers

Lizzie Pinard shares the three Word functions which she has found most useful.

4. Start learning phonemics

In the Module 1 exam you must use phonemics in question 4. If you don’t, you will lose marks. You may also need them for question 5, and you will probably also need to include them at various points in your Module 2 and Module 3 work. Even if you’re not comfortable with them and would never use them in the classroom, you MUST learn them.

Cookie studying the IPA

Photo taken from by @senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Adrian Underhill has all the best materials for making you aware of how phonemics work. Try these to get you started:

  • Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation on YouTube – one hour, but well worth it
  • Sound Foundations – the book mentioned in part 2 of this post
  • Adrian’s Pron Chart blog – breaks down the phonemic chart into easy sections, often comparing two or three sounds, and goes into depth about how the sounds are produced

I learnt phonemics largely thanks to the English File pronunciation chart. I found the pictures really helped me to remember the sounds. However, my accent is largely standard British English, so most of the sounds aren’t a problem for me – I find the ‘u’ in ‘bull’ and the ‘ou’ in ‘tourist’ the most challenging sounds, and most of the time drop the latter, as it’s dying out in British English.

If you have an iPad or iPhone (possibly Android too, but I’m not sure), you could also try these apps:

  • English File Pronunciation – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Record yourself and compare your pronunciation to the original.
  • Macmillan Sounds – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Read and write phonemics throughout the app – great for forcing you to match sounds to symbols.
  • British Council Sounds Right – free, but no activities.

You can type IPA (International Phonemic Alphabet) using various typewriters online, for example here, then paste it into Word. When typing your documents, use a ‘Unicode’ font, for example ‘Lucida Sans Unicode’. If you’re not using a Unicode font, it may well turn into boxes like this [][][][][][] when printed.

5. Choose the four areas you’d like to focus on in Module 2

During Module 2 you have to teach four observed lessons (LSAs). These are divided into systems (grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse analysis) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

The four lessons you teach are made up of two systems and two skills lessons, one of which should be receptive (reading/listening) and the other productive (writing/speaking). To pass the course, you need to pass a minimum of two of your lessons, one systems and one skills. You cannot repeat an area, i.e. if you have done a lexis LSA, you cannot do another lexis one during the course.

If you have at least a rough idea of the four areas you’d like to investigate, you can start to read some of the most important books in those areas. For example, if you know you want to do a listening lesson, you might want to read Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field.

Note: please check with your centre before setting your heart on your four areas. They may have set rules about which areas they want you to focus on. For example, on Distance Delta, your first LSA is always grammar, and for the second you have to choose between listening or writing. You have free choice for the other two.

6. Choose your specialism for Module 3

In a similar vein, if you know the general area you will look at for Module 3, you can also start reading some of the books that you need. You can find the list of specialisms to choose from on page 68 of the Delta handbook. The handbook is generally a very, very useful document to have. This is the latest version I know about (if there is an updated version, please can you let me know. Thanks to Alex Case for doing just that!)

I chose Teaching Exam Classes, which I then narrowed down to reading and writing for IELTS. The first section of Module 3 is (loosely) about teaching general English is different to teaching students within your specialism, so in my case it was how general English classes differ to exam classes. You don’t focus on the specific exam until later. I found How to Teach for Exams by Sally Burgess and Katie Head particularly useful as a general overview.

7. Read up on needs analysis and diagnostic testing

While this is most useful for Module 3 (the whole of section 2 revolves around it, and it’s the basis for the whole course you put together), it’s also good to know to help you identify the needs of your students and justify your choices when putting together your LSA lesson plans in Module 2. I found Curriculum Development in Language Teaching by Jack C. Richards to be the most useful book in this regard, although they’re obviously covered in many other books. The same book was the one I referred to most when it came to justifying my course proposal too.

I didn’t really find out the principles of good needs analyses or diagnostics tests until very late in the course, meaning that my needs analysis and diagnostic test were thrown together very quickly for Module 3, and I then had to retrofit the theory to it – not easy!

(Sidetracking a little – I bought Syllabus Design by David Nunan to help with Module 3, but found it pretty confusing and not very practical. Could just be me though…)

8. Network!

Last, but definitely not least, start networking! Join Twitter and facebook, and find other teachers around the world on there. The Teaching English British Council and Cambridge Delta facebook groups are particularly useful. I could not have survived my Distance Delta without the support I got from my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). This may be different if you study face-to-face, but it’s still useful to have a set of people who can respond to questions you may have at any hour of the day or night.


You can read other people’s advice on how to survive the course in the Delta conversations series.

And with all that hard work, don’t forget to take time off, be with people and to find things to laugh at. 🙂

Good luck!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy* has been one of my favourite books since I first read the trilogy in five parts at the age of 11. (It also led to me reading A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, because my grandma would only buy me H2G2 if I promised to read A Town Like Alice too!) Since then, I have read all of Douglas Adams’ books, and regularly return to different iterations of them, the latest being the BBC version of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Douglas Adams was a genius, and he is sadly missed.

Douglas Adams -  I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day

When my advanced (C1) class told me they wanted to do some reading, I thought Hitchhiker would be perfect. The activities I put together are in the document below. It contains the complete text of chapter one of the book. No copyright infringement is intended – I only want to introduce the book to as many students as possible!

This activity requires a bit of cutting out beforehand (it’s the activity on page 6 in the document above):

There are also two Quizlet sets, one for general vocabulary from the first chapter. The second set has the collocations from the penultimate section of the chapter.

Overall, we spent about 7 hours on all of the activities, including discussion between them. In the final lesson of the week, we watched the film.

Thinking about it while I write this post, I believe Douglas Adams has had a huge influence on the way that I think. His books were some of the ones that really influenced my teenage years. I don’t know now, but it’s possible that his words were the ones that led me towards being a lover of Macs, or consciously deciding that God doesn’t exist. And his essays on ‘Y’ and on attitudes to technology in The Salmon of Doubt have stuck with me, still memorable 12 years later.

I’ll leave you one of my (many) favourite quotes from Douglas Adams:

“A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

The special case of Arabic

At IH Newcastle, we have a relatively high proportion of Arabic mother-tongue students. In my experience, one of the biggest problems they have is with spelling in English, which causes them trouble with both reading and writing. I have tried many strategies to help them to improve in this area, including recommending Quizlet and the read-say-spell, cover-write-check method which was one of the ways I was taught to spell in English. These have had limited success, and until today I didn’t really know why.
I’ve just come across a section entitled ‘The Special Case of Arabic’ by Ann Ryan of the University of Wales, Swansea (in Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy edited by Norbert Schmitt and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp.184-192). She gives examples such as:

  • we get water from deep wheels (wells)
  • you get upstairs in a left (lift)
  • I met my friend in the model of the square (middle)

These examples immediately struck a chord. I had always put such problems down to poor spelling-pronunciation awareness in the learners, but could never understand why these seemed to be so much greater for Arabic learners than for those from other languages, even those written in non-Roman scripts.
Ann Ryan’s explains that in Arabic, words are based on a root that normally consists of three consonants, which can be combined with different patterns of vowels to produce word families, for example k-t-b generates maktaba – library, ketaab – book, kataba – he wrote and so on.
She then goes on to show that Arabic speakers often carry this convention over to their English reading and vocabulary learning, meaning that they use consonants to represent English words. Thus, Arabic learners translated the English ‘cruel’ to equivalents meaning ‘curl’ or ‘cereal’; or translated English ‘finish’ to Arabic ‘fishing’.
Arabic speakers also had much greater trouble in identifying when vowels had been deleted from words than when consonants had been deleted. Their reaction time and errors in this experiment were significantly higher than that of Japanese, Thai and Romance speakers. In short, they have a kind of ‘vowel blindness’. As Ann Ryan says:

The problem seems to take the form of ignoring the presence of vowels when storing vocabulary and an almost indiscriminate choice as to which vowel to use when one is needed.

I would recommend reading the full chapter to follow up on my brief paraphrasing and check I haven’t missed anything!

The implications of this for teaching Arabic students are quite serious. If students aren’t seeing the vowels, or aren’t remembering them, this could inhibit their learning greatly. What can we do to help them notice and pay attention to vowels? In short, to help them completely change a cognitive process which is carried over from L1?

As a visual learner, my only current idea would be to give each vowel a colour, e.g. ‘a’ is red, ‘e’ is blue…and encourage learners to use this in class for words which they struggle to discriminate. What do you think? How would you tackle this?


Photo taken from by @notyetlanguage, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (EFL activities)

This week my students have been reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I took my students on a trip to Durham (where some of the first two films were filmed) last week because one of them is a huge fan of the books, and while we were there we talked about reading in English. 

My class in the cloisters in Durham

My class in the cloisters at Durham Cathedral, where some of the Hogwarts courtyard scenes from the first two films were recorded

I discovered that they don’t really read in English, partly because it’s daunting, and partly because they can’t be bothered 😉 so I decided I’d make them do it by bringing it to class. We’ve done a whole range of activities based on the chapter, none of which included comprehension questions, but I’m sure you could write some if you wanted to. Let me know which ones you use, and if you have any more 🙂

Harry Potter

The first question was ‘What do you think of when I say Harry Potter?’ My students are upper intermediate, from six different countries, aged 18-30. There was clearly a whole range of opinions, but nobody was out-and-out negative. As feedback, I asked a list of questions, with students standing up if the answer was yes. I joined in with the standing up. Stand up if:

  • you have never read or watched any Harry Potter.
  • you have watched part of a Harry Potter film only.
  • you have watched a complete film in your own language.
  • you have watched all of the films in your own language.
  • you have watched a complete film in English.
  • you have watched all of the films in English.
  • you have read one or more of the books in your own language.
  • you have read all of the books in your own language.
  • you have read any of the books in English (one student had finished Philosopher’s Stone the day before!).
  • you have read all of the books in English.

The titles

On scraps of paper, students guessed what they thought the titles of the books are in English – one title per piece of paper, with a number (1-7) indicating which book. The students who had no idea became the teachers. They collected the paper and compared the answers against a list I took with me.

I then put the titles on the board one at a time, and we talked about what they meant and how they differed, mostly in terms of word order, from the translations. We also talked about capitalization.

The titles in Britain are:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

For students who didn’t know the books, we talked about the meaning of some of the words, especially goblet and phoenix.

The first page

To get into the book, I started off by asking students to read the first page (until ‘high chair’ if you have it in front of you). When they finished, they had to stand up. It wasn’t a race, but rather was designed to help them appreciate different reading speeds in class. Afterwards, I asked them two questions:

  • How did you read the page? For example, did you follow words with your pen? Did you underline words you didn’t understand?
  • How would you have read it in your own language?

The aim of these lessons was to reduce the students’ fear of reading in English. One of the things I did the first time I tried to read a book in German was copy every word I didn’t know onto a long list. After 2 pages I had about 100 words, and I stopped reading because I was so depressed! My class weren’t that bad, but I strongly believe (from personal experience) that:

If you don’t understand a word, keep reading.

If you see a word you don’t understand three times, keep reading.

If you see a word 10 times and you still don’t understand it, it might be important. You should probably look it up.

Especially in children’s fiction, ‘difficult’ words are generally explained. If a ‘difficult’ word only appears once, then the likelihood of it being essential to a story are slim. We came back to this point at various points during the week, and I think the students are a lot happier to continue reading now.

Adjectives and nouns

Before reading the first page, I handed out this sheet:

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to. For some reason, the word cloud doesn’t always appear properly. If that happens, once you’ve downloaded and opened the file, right click on the word cloud and select ‘arrange’>’bring to front’ or ‘in front of text’. You should be able to see it and move it to wherever you want on the page.)

I challenged students to think of as many adjectives as they could that would collocate with each noun. i had to tell them that ‘people’ and ‘sky’ were two separate words.

Once they’d read the first page and we’d had the discussion above, they returned to the sheet and found the corresponding adjectives from page. Here are the answers:

(no) finer boy

thin, blonde woman (Mrs. Dursley)

dull, grey Tuesday

greatest fear

big, beefy man

good-for-nothing husband

the last/unDursleyish people

cloudy sky

anything strange/mysterious

very large moustache

strange/mysterious things

good reason

small son

most boring tie

screaming baby (Dudley)

Throughout this exercise, and the ones following it, I tried to discourage students from using dictionaries. Instead, they had to use what they know about the world and about Harry Potter in particular to guess what words meant and try and explain them to me so I could confirm, or help them change, their guesses.

As revision, they said the nouns, and their partner had to say which adjective collocated with it.

For homework, they used the BYU-BNC corpus to check which of their collocations were correct – I showed them how to do this during class first.

Peculiar events

On pages 8 (from “None of them noticed…”) to 11 (to “a whisper about the Potters…”), Mr Dursley witnesses, and misses, a series of strange events. Students worked in pairs to highlight the strange events, again without using dictionaries. They then summarised the events using key words, and we talked about how often each description was repeated, and the fact that even if they didn’t understand the description the first time it appeared, they usually did by the last time. These were the key words and events I came up with:


owls flying in the day

page 8: “None of them noticed a large tawny owl flutter past the window”. 

page 9: “owls swooping past in broad daylight”

page 10: “there have been hundreds of sightings of these birds flying in every direction since sunrise”

page 11: “Owls flying by daylight?”



page 8: “a cat reading a map” “It was now reading the sign that said ‘Privet Drive'”

page 10: “…the first thing he saw […] was the tabby cat he’d spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall.” “It just gave him a stern look.”



page 8: “…there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks”

page 9: “This lot were whispering excitedly.” “‘The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard -‘”

page 11: “Mysterious people in cloaks all over the place? And a whisper, a whisper about the Potters…”



page 9-10: “The man was wearing a violet cloak. He didn’t seem at all upset at being almost knocked to the ground. On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passers-by stare: ‘Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!’ And the old man hugged Mr Dursley around the middle and walked off”


shooting stars

page 10: “instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they’ve had a downpour of shooting stars!”

page 11: “Shooting stars all over Britain?”

Peculiar words

Once they’d identified all of the events, the groups had to try to work out the meaning of any of the words they didn’t understand in the lines they’d highlighted. I emphasised that they should focus on these lines, as these are the important events here.

After they’d guessed as many as they could, each group was allowed to choose one word from each page, i.e. one from page 8, one from 9, one from 10, and one from the top of 11, to look up in the dictionary.

They then mingled to share their words.

Fan pictures

The website Harry Potter companion is a repository for everything you ever needed to know about the Harry Potter universe, and many things you probably didn’t. They have chapter-by-chapter guides to all of the books. Each guide has a set of fan pictures accompanied/inspired by quotes from the relevant chapter. Here are the pictures from chapter 1 in a slide show, so you can print them out and cut them up:

Students had read the rest of the chapter (page 11 to page 18) for homework. Only one of them failed to heed the warning that the next lesson would be very difficult if they didn’t. Before looking at the pictures, we started the lesson with students verbally summarising what they could remember from the chapter. I put the pictures around the room. Students had to circulate and try to identify a quote which could be matched to each picture.

You can check the answers by going to the Harry Potter Companion.

Verbs and adverbs

I wrote these verbs on the board:

say, sniff, nod, blink, repeat, appear, whisper, behave, act, climb, sit, lay sth down, look up (emphasising that this is the opposite of ‘look down’ not the phrasal verb)

Students had to decide which adverbs you could use with each verb. Once they had as many as they could think of, they went back to the book and looked for more. While they did this, I checked their lists and we talked about why some of their suggestions were not possible. Finally, we put the adverbs on the board to check, and talked about some of the stranger combinations, like ‘blink furiously’.

Verbs and adverbs

Summarising the chapter

We spent a whole two-hour lesson today on writing a summary. In pairs or groups of three, the students had to summarise the main events of the chapter in not more than 100 words. Inevitably, they tried to include every event they could think of, which meant a lot of editing.

The groups swapped first drafts. They then had to improve on these and rewrite them, with a little help from some prompt questions on the board and some advice about what to look up in the dictionary. Examples of my prompt questions were:

  • Are all of the main ideas included?
  • Is tense use logical?
  • Are capital letters in the right places?

The second-draft summaries were excellent, but unfortunately I forgot to copy one to put on here!

Never judge a book by it’s cover

For our final two-hour lesson, we’re going to look at some of the different covers for the first Harry Potter book:

Students will:

  • identify the objects they can see on the covers;
  • describe some of the similarities and differences between the covers;
  • think about why those images were chosen for each cover;
  • decide which cover would make them most/least likely to pick up the book – disregarding the language barrier of course!

The great Harry Potter language quiz

The final activity of the week will be a quiz bringing together the language we’ve studied this week, so the Harry Potter fanatics shouldn’t have any particular advantage over the newbies!


All of the adverbs are one small pieces of paper, one per piece.

In a variation on the classic adverb revision game, the adverbs will be divided between the groups. They have five minutes to decide how to mime or act out all of their adverbs, without saying it. 

Each group will then perform, winning five points for each adverb another group guesses, and losing one for each one they fail to guess from the other groups. (this scoring system may be edited on consultation with the students!)


One word: pictionary. 

The rest of them

I’ve kept a list of the random words which have come up during the week. The final part of the quiz will be a backs to the board/hot seat game. In this game, students work in pairs. One student can see the board, the other is facing them and cannot. The teacher writes a word or phrase on the board. The student who can see it describes it to the one who can’t, without using any of the words on the board, or variations of them, and without translating. As soon as the student with their back to the board thinks they know what is on the board, they stand up and tell the teacher. Two points for being first, one point for any other pair who gets the correct answer but are slower.


Although I enjoy Harry Potter, I’ve only read them once, and watched them twice (once at the cinema, once on DVD) or sometimes a couple more times. I’m interested in the universe Rowling has created, but nowhere near as obsessed as some of my students. Her books are sometimes the whole reason they want to come to the UK! I was lucky, in that only one student didn’t really like Harry Potter at the start of the week, and two of them had never read or watched any of it, and they seem to have enjoyed the classes as much as the fans.

Sharing the richness of her language has made me re-appreciate how good her writing is, and how suitable it is for teaching, as well as the many layers of what she put together, no matter how much it might be sneered at by those who ‘hate’ Harry Potter. I’m sure there’s a lot more you can do with it too. The activities I’ve written about here, I came up with fairly quickly. You could use it to focus on so many different aspects of language. 

The best thing about this week, though, was that today, in our fourth of five lessons, two of the students walked in carrying brand-new copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Neither of them have read a book in English before. One of them had even decided that he would use each chapter to focus on a different kind of language, once he had read it. In chapter two, he had circled all of the verbs of speaking, and all without any encouragement from me.

And if that isn’t an argument for extensive reading, I don’t know what is.


Dear students

Welcome to our class! And if you’ve just arrived in Newcastle, welcome to this beautiful city! Why did you decide to come here? I went to university in Durham, and the north-east is my favourite part of England, although I’m not from here originally. I moved to Newcastle a year and a half ago, in July 2011. I’m staying here for at least another 18 months. What about you? When did you come? How long are you staying?

I love learning languages. I studied languages at uni, and I’ve lived in many different countries so I know how you feel. Is it your first trip to the UK? What do you think so far? If you have any problems, please let me know. I’m happy to help 🙂

What are your hobbies? I enjoy going to the cinema, and I’ll watch anything except horror – the people in horror films annoy me! I also read a lot, and I love travelling. I don’t have a lot of free time at the moment though, because I’m studying for my Delta, which is a teaching diploma. When I’ve finished it I will be allowed to train other teachers or run my own school, which is my dream. What do you do? What do you want to do in the future? Do you think English will help you with this?

I hope you enjoy your time in Newcastle and at IH. Remember, this is your class. you should always feel free to tell me if you want me to change anything or if there is something specific you want to study. I look forward to working with you!


PS (extra special for the blog!) This idea was stolen from Philip Harmer, one of the best teachers and kindest people I have ever had the privilege to work with. Thanks Philip!

Reading a short story

This week, my colleague Lesley and I decided to work on a short story with our (two classes of) pre-intermediate students. We chose the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia. We have four hours a day with them, divided into two two-hour lessons, so we dedicated the afternoon lessons to the story.

This post is intended as a list of ideas for using a short story, rather than a series of lessons you could necessarily follow yourself. If you want to follow it exactly, you need to find an abridged version of the story – I can’t find a suitable one to link to, unfortunately.


We showed the students pictures of Irene Adler (x3), Dr. Watson (x4) and Sherlock Holmes (x4), in that order, taken from various TV and film adaptations of the story. The students had to describe the people and decide what they had in common. Until they got to the final group of pictures, they didn’t know it was connected to Sherlock Holmes. After each group, we wrote a set of sentences on the board about the characters (the names were added later).

Character sentences

We then brainstormed everything the students already knew about Sherlock Holmes. Of my seven students, one had read a short story and two had seen the film. This is what we came up with:

Sherlock Holmes mind mapAfter this preparation, it was time to start reading the story. I read aloud while the students followed. I stopped on the second page of our abridged copy, so that the students had seen the description of Adler, Holmes and Watson, giving them enough information to add attach the names to the pictures.

To stop the students from trying to understand every last word of the story, I asked them to highlight every word they understood in their copies. This idea was inspired by Kevin Stein and really motivated the students. I put % on the board, and asked them to estimate how much they had understood so far, getting answers from 70-99%. They then worked together to fill in some of the gaps, highlighting any extra words they understood. Estimating the percentage again after this exercise, all of the students raised it. I pointed out that they didn’t need to understand every word to understand the story, but that it’s a good idea to focus on a couple of new words, and this is where we left lesson one.

Turn into and outsmart

Lesley had decided to start from the title, discussing what a scandal was. I never ended up doing this explicitly, but should have done at some point.


On day two we started by recapping what the students remembered from the first two pages of the story. I showed them the Watson/Holmes pictures again, and asked them to decide which Watson assisted which Holmes, based purely on the images. For example, Jude Law with Robert Downey Jr. and Martin Freeman with Benedict Cumberbatch. We talked about how they decided, using clues like the age of the photo and the kind of clothes they were wearing, as well as prior knowledge of the film. This introduced the idea of observation, and linked to a quote I had on the board: “You see, but you do not observe.”

In the next page of the story, Holmes lists four things about Watson which he has observed:

  • Watson is enjoying married life.
  • He has put on weight.
  • He was caught in the rain recently.
  • He has returned to his career as a doctor.

The students had to identify the paragraph where Watson confirmed each observation by writing a key word next to it, which the students decided would be married, fat, rain, job. They were very motivated when they realised this was easy to do, as they had initially said they couldn’t understand.

For the next sections of the story, Lesley and I had prepared pictures taken from screenshots of a YouTube video. I haven’t uploaded these, as I think they are probably covered by copyright. The students had to read the part of the story where the King describes his problem, and match what he said to the pictures. They then worked together to complete a gapped summary of his problem:

Sherlock Holmes gapfillSherlock Holmes completed gapfillFor the last ten minutes, they divided a piece of paper into four and wrote sentences describing everything they knew about the four main characters. For example:

  • Sherlock Holmes: He is observant. He lives at 221B Baker Street.
  • Doctor Watson: He is married. He works with Sherlock Holmes.
  • Irene Adler: She is very clever. She has a photo of the King and her.
  • The King: He wants to get married. He needs Sherlock’s help.


We started by recapping the summary from the end of Tuesday’s lesson. The students were amazed at how much they could remember! They also added to their sentences as we’d run out of time on Tuesday.

The next part was picture-based again, this time with the students predicting what they were about to read about. They  had pictures of Sherlock Holmes in disguise as a tramp, Godfrey Norton arriving at Irene Adler’s house, then leaving, and Adler leaving. There was another summarising gapfill for them to complete at this point.

Once they had checked their answers, they had to guess what would happen next. They were right in suspecting that Norton and Adler would get married, but were surprised when they read and discovered that Sherlock Holmes was the witness!

To finish the lesson, we read about Holmes’ plan to get the King’s photo back from Adler.

By this point, the students were flagging a little, but I told them we would finish the story the next day and they perked up a bit!


The students read about how Holmes and Watson put the plan into action. They then watched three short clips from the TV episode, showing:

To finish the story, the students had to say what they thought would happen in the final four pages, then read to check whether they were right or not.

They then started to work on an 8-10 sentence summary of the main events of the whole story, which they had to finish for homework.


All of the students did their homework 🙂 They worked together to decide which sentences were necessary in the summaries, as some students had written a lot more than eight to ten.

I divided the class into two groups of three/four students each. Each group had to choose any scene from the story and reenact it. They had about 25 minutes to plan what they would say and do (luckily there was a spare classroom next door). They then performed their scene, to much raucous laughter – one student played the King visiting Sherlock Holmes. In the story he is wearing a mask, but she made do with her sunglasses and headscarf, which none of us expected! It was probably much funnier being in the room, but affective filters were definitely lowered! While watching the scenes, the other group had to decide who was playing who, and which part of the story it was. The task wasn’t very difficult, but they had used a lot of English to prepare for it, and they really enjoyed it, as they told me afterwards.

For the final half hour of the week, we played Hot Seat/Backs to the Board, using words taken from the story. We hadn’t really focussed on anything in particular, but words and phrases the students had picked up and started using during the week included: witness, framed photograph, panel (which Adler hid the photo behind), tube (which the smoke bomb was made of), false alarm, observe, Your Majesty…

When I asked them to think back to the first lesson and how they felt when they first looked at the story, the students all said it looked hard, but that now they could understand. There was a great sense of achievement on looking around the room.

Doing it again

I definitely would! And I wouldn’t change much at all – the students were engaged, motivated, and picked up a lot of new language along the way. Hopefully it will inspire them to read a little more in English, and remind them that it’s not necessary to understand every word of something to get the main points. One student did go home and look up all of the unknown words on Monday evening, but that was the only time she did it.

The final lesson was one of the most entertaining I’ve had for a long time. The students were very motivated by the role play, and put a lot more energy into it than I expected. (The role play was included as part of my Delta Professional Development Assignment.)

What other ideas do you have for using short stories in class?

Immigration: Belongings

Last week I stumbled across an excellent photo article from the New York Times about immigrants to New York City and the objects they choose to bring with them. This is the lesson I created based on the article, but it is full of other possibilities too. I hope you find it useful, and I look forward to hearing what you decide to do with it.

Immigration belongings screenshot

I started off with the powerpoint presentation below. I displayed it on the interactive whiteboard, but you could print off the pictures and put them around the room instead. First, students were asked to speculate on what is in the pictures, and naturally they focus on the objects. Next, I asked them what links the pictures together, accepting any suggestions. I then told them that these were objects which immigrants to New York City brought with them. I then asked them to make notes about their thoughts on the gender, nationality, age, job and family of the owners of each object.

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

I then gave the students the texts and asked them to read quickly to match each text to the photos. Some of them needed quite a lot of persuading to skim read and not try to understand everything!

You can find the correct answers by looking at the original article online. The students then had to check their predictions about the people by reading the text in a bit more detail. When a colleague reused the materials, she added a worksheet with a table with spaces for each item of information, which worked better than the notes which my students made.

In the penultimate step of the two-hour lesson, I divided the ‘stories’ up around the class, so that each pair of students had two people to read about. They had to create three to five questions about each person, not including the information we had already talked about (nationality, job etc) and write them down.

Finally, they mingled and asked the other students their questions.

For homework, I asked them to choose a story from the comments board, take notes on it and bring them to class the next day to tell the other students about.

A couple of days later I was working on relative clauses with the same class, and created the following gapfill to help them practise which relative pronoun to use:

The texts could also be used to practise narrative tenses, reported speech, time phrases and much more. You could also use it to lead into a discussion on immigration.


Homework (an #eltchat summary)

This is a summary from the 9p.m. BST #eltchat from Wednesday 31st August 2011. To find out more about what #eltchat is and how to join in please go to the bottom of the post.

homework wordcloud

What can we call an effective piece of homework?

Do you believe homework is important for English language learners?

  • Homework is essential, but I think of it as pre-class preparation or follow-on work. (@hartle)
  • SS need a lot of exposure to the language and practice but effective homework should be short and to the point! (@naomishema)
  • Yes, students need to practise constantly, but depends on what the HW is as to how effective it is! (@sandymillin)
  • I provide various options for homework & do think its important to motivate learners to practice English outside the classroom (@shellterrell)
  • Homework provides more time for students to learn! (@katekidney) It gives them thinking time. (@sandymillin)
  • Homework is important to reinforce what’s been learnt in class (@herreraveronica)
  • Homework is important for consolidation and further development. (@lu_bodeman)
  • I like to provide homework if sts request it. If they do, I usually ask how much homework they want. (@ELTExperiences)
  • For language learners, hmwk provides the opportunity to apply the language learned within a real context . (@shellterrell)
  • Homework should work differently for kids at school and adults ‘only’ doing English classes – kids should have sth ‘fun’ like colouring / drawing. Adults perhaps have more motivation. (@sandymillin)
  • At IH Buenos Aires we have a saying “The lesson’s not over till the homework is done” but amount & type open to individuals to decide (@ljp2010)
  • I believe homework is an opportunity for more exposure to English and I tend to favour authentic skills work. Also a chance to process things, studies, and experiment. (@chiasuan)
  • I believe homework is an opportunity for students remember and practice everything they saw in the class! (@vaniaccastro)
  • Action research at Toyo Gakuen Uni in Japan has shown that if we don’t force students to use English outside the classroom – they don’t! (@mickstout)

How much homework should you give?

  • There is research suggesting homework is beneficial but there is also research suggesting TOO much or rote homework has the opposite effect (@Marisa_C)
  • I think the amount is variable and should in a way be up to the student. They should all do some but choose how long. (@sandymillin)
  • I’ve begun giving short homework once a week, online, something highlighting one particular element, and that is it! The funny thing I’ve discovered is that at least some of the SS take the lessons more seriously since I’ve started homework online (@naomishema)
  • It was said that if the homework is half done at school students are more likely finish it at home. True? (@katekidney)
    I think that’s true only with elementary school kids. But kids do need an example! (@naomishema)
  • I think it is crucial to know our students’ routine and plan achievable pieces of HW. (@raquel_EFL)
  • Don’t think VYLs should really have HW – they need time to play. (@sandymillin)
  • Homework can be a project of weeks/months so there is no pressure: “do this by tomorrow” attitude (@ELTExperiences)
  • I was able to run my genetics class last spring with NO homework without decrease in “rigor” (@smacclintic)
  • Age is an important factor and schedules too (@hartle)
  • Homework is effective if SS can see the point of it, rather than homework for the sake of homework (@sandymillin)
  • The Homework Dilemma: How Much Is Too Much? another interesting article RE 10-min rule (@annapires)

What homework should you give? – general

  • Don’t just tell the students to do page 43 of the workbook. (@ljp2010)
  • As a student, I won’t do it if it’s boring or I think it’s irrelevant to me. Teacher’s worst nightmare! (@ljp2010)
  • I try to make homework fun & relevant to their experiences! They have choices! (@shellterrell)
  • Like Khan academy idea of flipping classroom: homework theory and classwork experimentation (@hartle)
  • Sometimes it is not a bad idea to let the students decide what they would do themselves for the next lesson – and ask them about it! (@katekidney)
  • Individual learning styles should also be taken into account (@adricarv) There’s no reason for everyone to do the same thing (@little_miss_glo)
    I always find kinaesthetic learners hardest to cater for. What kind of things can you do for them? (@sandymillin)
    It might be to learn and act out a sketch with movement (for YLs) (@Marisa_C)
    Videotape a sketch whose lines were written in class by groups/teams (@Marisa_C)
    Make a board game in English (@Marisa_C)
  • For kids I provide games to reinforce what we learned in class! Here’s how its listed in our wiki (@shellterrell)
  • These are homework tasks I have given to my adult English language learners in their wiki (@shellterrell)
  • For young learners I like to offer in my wiki activities parents can do with their children to practice the grammar/vocabulary in context. (@shellterrell)
  • I’ve been trying to post sites SS can use on Edmodo and show in class rather than set homework. I find students are motivated by sites like English Central, English Attack or quizlet where they can see that they’re getting points (@sandymillin) A word of caution about englishattack – its roll over translations into Hebrew are atrocious! Can’t check the other languages… (@naomishema) I tell SS not to use the translations when I show it to them. (@sandymillin)
  • Offer options so learners work on skills they feel they need to improve. Not all students have the same level so homework should reflect that. (@shellterrell) Choice is not only about which exercises to do for homework but which skills one needs or wants to work on (@Marisa_C)
  • I find knowing their goals at the beginning of the year helps my students determine their outside of class activities (@shellterrell)
  • There should be a balance between online work and print work which students can use for display purposes, e.g. in a portfolio (@Marisa_C)
  • We need to be smart about what we are giving for homework…for me all writing assignments are done in class (@shellterrell, @vickysaumell)
  • Reading makes great homework if you can convince the Ss. (@theteacherjames) Adults can benefit a lot from this (@Marisa_C)
  • For teens I just ask what they like to do: listen to English music, read graphic novels, etc. & tailor to that (@shellterrell) Try to find ways to integrate homework into students real lives: things they enjoy, are interested in & choose themselves. (@theteacherjames)
  • Homework is about giving students choices to work on problematic areas too. Provide a series of links then they choose (@hartle)
  • Homework should be connected to the syllabus (@Marisa_C)
  • Teaching ESP? Then you might want to assign stuff that they can do while at work. I did that with my aircraft mechanics (@little_miss_glo)
  • Set them things related to the work place. I did a class based on emails which SS brought to class. The homework was to collect them. (@sandymillin)
  • Show them what is available (often for free) online through facebook, publisher sites etc (@antoniaclare)
  • Written production as homework e.g. letters, diaries, can really help process what was studied. (@chiasuan)

What homework should you give? – specific

  • Some favourite homework I’ve done from my spanish class – photo stories, Spanish-Spanish dictionary, making a newspaper, project stuff… (@ljp2010)
    Project work is motivating too. Students take responsibility for learning. (@hartle) Projects like going to a website to get info in English. (@chiasuan)
  • How can we make the homework/self study more personal? My idea: get students to bring in a photo and talk about it. (@ELTExperiences)
  • SS put a photo on and talk about it: (@sandymillin)
  • Real life homework task – read or listen to something outside class and come in with a question you’d like answered (@ljp2010)
  • Get students to post on noticeboard and build work together. good for this. (@hartle)
  • The funniest HW that I was involved with was phoning YLs at home and trying to chat with them to improve speaking skills in Korea. They were young (10 to 15 years) and the time the parents wanted me to phone was late evening when they were all eating. It took a while to speak to the parents in Korean and then ask to speak to the child and the child would not talk at all. I was also asked to do the same activity for businessmen for a school and I prepared topics, etc but they were too busy. (@ELTExperiences)
    I set up phoning homework with a class once and they LOVED it! (@ljp2010)
    Did something like that. Called them at a given time, gave some info that they needed to collect, and in class SS reported. (@lu_bodeman)
  • SS writing to teachers – personal emails – this is not seen as homework (@Marisa_C)
  • Kids love working online. I make them exchange e-mails or postcards with other kids around the globe. I have found a great platform at e-Pals. (@analuisalozano) Try for one-off postcards (@sandymillin)
  • Get them to write the subtitles for Bollywood films (@ljp2010)
  • I often set TV programmes or films as homework for students. Sometimes I give them a selection of about 3-4 things they can choose to watch, and we do a jigsaw sharing of what they have seen. My students are in London, so I could use the daily TV guide & get them to watch documentaries, fashion programmes or drama- their choice. (@chiasuan)
  • I get students to collect new words or signs for class. Or interview their host families (@SueAnnan)
  • I would like to get sts to write blogs or contribute to an online school newspaper but haven’t done so yet. (@ELTExperiences)
  • Did @englishraven‘s live reading in class about Edinburgh. HW was for SS to write about their own city/country – everyone did it! (@sandymillin)
  • A book club where they choose the book they want & have discussions? (@shellterrell) Extensive reading (reading for pleasure). Assign projects (book reviews, sts create worksheets, etc) (@theteacherjames) I bring a book box to class when I teach our adults and they pick a book (@Marisa_C) Doing an extensive reading project with Google Reader … Blog post about it (@hartle)
  • Film club is great too. Watch the first part of film in class – finish for homework (@antoniaclare)
  • Adults enjoy finding an interesting article in the local paper and summarising it for class the next day. (@SueAnnan)
  • Take photos on way home, then do lesson based on it, like so: (@sandymillin)
  • They could be asked to recite something while walking to school (@Marisa_C) For low levels I tell them to read all numbers they say in English / name everything they can when walking down street (@sandymillin)
  • The Baby Egg project with my teens. They enjoyed journaling about their children, etc (@shellterrell) Sounds like ‘flour babies’ by anne fine (one of my fave childhood books!) (@sandymillin)
  • Redoing commercials & advertisements with their friends (@shellterrell)
  • Get your students to bring in a computer game & talk about it (@ELTexperiences)
  • If your students like listening to music is excellent (@sandymillin)
  • I have recorded video read alouds to model fluency and posted them on Edmodo. (@MrMatthewRay)
  • Get students to watch videos, do tasks, then tweet responses (@antoniaclare / @inglishteacher)
  • With young learners make placemats in class with vocab items and pictures. Then they eat on the placemats and memorize ’em! (@naomishema)
  • SS downloaded four adverts, then chose the most touching, funniest, horrible, and amazing (@analuisalozano)
  • Encourage students to read anything they can in English if it’s available. Cereal boxes, signs, anything. (@MrMatthewRay)

How do you share homework with students / parents?

  • Edmodo ( is a useful tool to share homework/selfstudy amongst students. Provides a platform to share ideas, etc. (@ELTExperiences) How I’ve used Edmodo in class with SS over the last year (including for HW) (@sandymillin)
  • We use wikis too for our adult Ss to upload their homework which also includes presentations prezis etc (@Marisa_C) I’ve taught 2-year-olds to 80-year-olds :-). I find a wiki full of outside exploration activities motivates them a lot. (@shellterrell)
  • What we need is a website for sts like (a maths website) for English language learners to assist homework. Are there any out there? (@ELTExperiences)
  • Have used class blog and discussion forum for homework using blogger and wikispaces (@inglishteacher)
  • The primary school that my son used to attend provided a newsletter for parents with projects at the back. (@ELTExperiences)
  • Once had a class blog on ning & we all continued discussions we had in class on the blog. It was brilliant…until ning decided to charge. (@chiasuan)

Grading Homework

  • My homework is optional & I tell my SS it’s for their benefit! Majority complete it each time. (@shellterrell)
  • Don’t grade homework! (@naomishema)
  • I grade homework in class … I do not like sending homework to Ss except that related to researching. (@analuisalozano)
  • I like to get sts to mark each other’s HW. Promotes learner correction, education and autonomy. (@ELTExperiences)
  • I use Markin to work on written work with a correction code then students can correct own work. Software costs about €20 but worth it (@hartle)
    Activity one lesson one on this page of our class blog shows marked student work with Markin. Stds then correct & we discuss in class.
  • If students resist any kind of homework, it should be included in their final mark or the course evaluation! (@katekidney)

Tracking homework

  • I give homework online but keep track on paper so that I always have it in class with me! (@naomishema)
  • I give pre class prep work on blog and follow up on linoit etc. Also copies. My students are young adults so I don’t track pre-class work but homework posted online and corrections too on blog. (@hartle)
  • I use Edmodo. It allows you to input grades etc even if HW not handed in that way & you can see overview of which students have done what (@sandymillin)
  • For children: Learning Log Brain Builders homework: (@DeputyMitchell)

Problems with homework

  • What do you do with students who don’t complete pre-class homework? (@naomishema)
    I don’t force homework, if the learner doesn’t do it then I will ask why & figure out a way to motivate. Usually that’s the problem (@shellterrell)
  • I like to refer to homework as self-study. Homework has too many negative connotations. I attempt to promote student autonomy when they are motivated not the other way round. I like to reduce the affective filter and as such no pressure on homework whether it’s presentations, grammar exercises, writing. (@ELTExperiences)
    I like to call it “activities to improve their English” not homework. I think when I deem it as “activities to further improve ur English” it gives them a why as to completing the tasks (@shellterrell)
  • I give limits on how long can be delayed. I’ve had bad experience – “mañana” turns into “never” (@naomishema)
  • A lot of adolescents think its not cool to do something optional (@naomishema)
  • I still have a problem with pupils with problematic home life – they don’t organize their time and do the little work I give (@naomishema)
  • As a SS, I leave HW to the last minute. (@sandymillin) Human nature, I think. But I think the key is making it not feel like HW! (@little_miss_glo)
  • What about if your institution has a homework policy based on student/teacher/parent expectation? (@ljp2010)
    If you have to give HW then negotiating what to do with SS is important, though I guess it depends on their age (@sandymillin)

What guidelines make homework effective?

  • Varied
  • With no (or negotiated) deadlines
  • Challenging
  • Motivating
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Clear aims – known to both the teacher and student
  • Choice (topic / level of difficulty / skills)
  • Like real life tasks (not just busywork)

A couple of videos to reward you for getting this far 🙂

What is #eltchat?

If you have never participated in an #ELTchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Wednesday on Twitter at 12pm GMT and 9pm GMT. Over 400 ELT educators participate in this discussion by just adding #eltchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please take a look at this video, Using Tweetdeck for Hashtag Discussions.

The international nature of #eltchat

Marisa’s first question on Wednesday’s chat was “What time is where you are?” The answers came in from all over the world:

It’s 11:03 P.M. in Athens Greece (@Marisa_C)

Same time in Israel! except we say 23:03! (@naomishema)

It’s 5:03 PM here in Buenos Aires, Argentina (@herreraVeronica)

It’s 3:04pm in Texas (@shellterrell)

In Italy it’s 10 pm (@hartle)

I’m in the UK, so it’s 21:03 (@sandymillin)

It’s 10pm in Brussels. (@theteacherjames)

It’s 3:08 pm in Ecuador. (@analuisalozano)

10:02 PM Brno, the Czech Republic (@katekidney)

Same time as @Raquel_EFL … 5pm in Recife. (@lu_bodeman)

It is 8.10am here in Dunedin, New Zealand (@mrkempnz)

It’s 6:20am Sydney, Australia (@LiamDunphy)

We look forward to seeing you there next time!

Literature in EFL (an #eltchat summary)

On Wednesday 8th June at 21.00 BST teachers from around the world met on Twitter for #eltchat to discuss “Creative and effective ways of bringing literature into the EFL/ESL classroom”. I wasn’t able to join in, but I did get to write the summary [and add my own ideas]!

If you want to read the whole conversation, click here.

Literature eltchat word cloud


  • A language is its literature too – a very important part of its culture (@Marisa_C)
  • I think lit is one of the most powerful tools to increase a student’s language ability, & I’m amazed it isn’t used more often. (@theteacherjames)
  • The fun aspect is absolutely crucial. I want to build a reading habit that will lead to a love of the language. (@theteacherjames)
  • The great thing about literature is the way language is used so well. It’s very satisfying to read well turned phrases for students too (@hartle)
  • Using literature in class positively encourages active reading – sometimes reading is passive (@pjgallantry)
  • I like to believe students can become “better ” people if they read. Opens their world + learn English at the same time. (@mkofab)
  • Literature is a real key to higher level language skills… playing with language seems to help (@pysproblem91)


  • Use it to build critical skills (@theteacherjames)
  • “Change endings” of well known pieces by substitution followed by guessing games (@Englodysiac)
  • We have also used local folk tales and stories translated into English with our refugee classes – better than Johns and Marys (@Marisa_C)
  • Use it as a springboard: reviews, role-plays, change endings, etc. (@rliberni)
  • Use cartoon makers to predict the end of a story (@helen100463)
  • Sometimes students could read aloud, especially younger learners taking turns (@smaragdav) Most of mine enjoy doing that,they hear their own voices,know when they’re not stressing properly (@vickyloras) They could also read aloud in pairs (@fuertesun) You could pretend it’s for the radio / a podcast (@Marisa_C) It did wonders for @helen100463’s teens.
  • Show videos (example) of a person’s book choices and ask students what these choices say about the owner (@hartle) [you could also do this with photos of bookshelves]


  • Encourage students to read outside class.
  • Look at some comprehension, some vocab but also theme motif and literary devices too (@Marisa_C)
  • Ceri Jones’ activity on translating an Isabel Allende text
  • Use exam set texts: “I think the strongest groups of C2 level Ss I have taught are those who took the set text option for the CPE exams” (@Marisa_C) Should ss watch the film based on the book they read or be encouraged to read parts of it again ? (@smaragdav) – many chatters answered they should watch it
  • Use clips of the film as part of the pre-reading and prediction for reading (@Marisa_C). You could also use the blurb from the book/DVD jackets for this (@hartle) Show comprehension by discussing what’s not in the film (@Shaunwilden)
  • Students can/would never read the same number of pages in just “texts”. It is great confidence boost that they can read novel. (@mkofab) I’ve seen sts beaming because they’ve finished their first ever novel in Eng. I was proud of them too! (@theteacherjames)
  • Send the characters to be interview for specific jobs (@Marisa_C) or create fakebook profiles for them (@hartle)
  • Have groups summarise, present and order a story (@Marisa_C)
  • Making a front page of a newspaper from a book or short story is also a great idea for a class project (@Marisa_C)
  • Give students the titles of books and they have to guess the plot (@fuertesun)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse (@hartle did an extensive reading project with this)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan: “One year we experimented and did all our FCE exam prep through 39 steps – Wild success!” (@Marisa_C)
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (If anyone wants to use Peter Pan, I’m recording it for my kids. First 3 audio chapters on my website. – @tarabenwell)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

Short stories

  • Cut up the stories, students rearrange it, play with the structure and create new links (@divyabrochier): playing with words and structures is how language is learned and enlivened (@pjgallantry)
  • Use them for ‘double’ translation. Take a piece of text, get stds to translate it into L1, then translate it back to English. In trying to recollect the original piece while translating back sts learn chunks (@englodysiac) – could be seen as to much of a specialized skill though (@Marisa_C)
  • Use a timeline and a feelings line together to help students enter a short story. (@12mandown)
  • Animate the story (@Marisa_C) – some classes might not like comics, so give them a choice (@naomishema)
  • Students work together to tell stories they know from their own culture, with the teacher listening (@nutrich)
  • Mixed texts: 2 versions of one extract with mixed up parts of text . Students sort out the original (@hartle)
  • Use a story with a moral for discussion. Then students write a modern version themselves (@nutrich)
  • Reveal a story line by line and make SS think of the rest of the story (@toulasklavou)
  • Thank you Ma’m‘ by Langston Hughes
  • Frederic Brown – very short sci-fi stories, tales with a twist, e.g. ‘The Weapon’
  • Katherine Mansfield – ‘The Singing Lesson’, ‘Bliss’
  • Kate Chopin – ‘The Story of An Hour’
  • Brothers Grimm
  • Aesop’s Fables (including podcast versions) – over-familiarity could be a problem, but could help too – start with the ending and predict the story (@hartle). Also useful with weaker students. Or try ones that aren’t as popular as the well-known ones. Or get them to guess the moral. (@tarabenwell) Examples of Tara’s online learners reciting Aesop
  • Greek/Roman myths
  • Bible stories
  • Nasruddin stories


  • Use powerpoint to make slideshows illustrating lines of a poem. (@naomishema)
  • Show students limericks, then get them to write their own (@helen100463/@Marisa_C) – although can be frustrating when trying to think of a rhyme for someone’s name (@pjgallantry)
  • Use haikus to raise syllable/pronunciation awareness (@Marisa_C). A Haiku is a Japanese poem of 3 lines, with a set number of syllables in each (5-7-5)
  • Use the web to find rhymes (@helen100463), for example @flocabulary’s “What rhymes with orange?” or Rhymezone
  • Saw a lesson once where T gave ss only the final (rhyming) words of each line of poem – ss had to complete it – worked brilliantly! (@pjgallantry)
  • Expression through poetry is very satisfying for learners too, it’s real and can be done at low levels. Grammar poems reinforce too. (@hartle)
  • Poetry is expression and can be sparked by all kinds of things: music, images, words… the brain just needs something to set it off (@hartle)
  • Use a poem as a dictogloss, then discuss it. I read the poem, they had to listen and write then get into pairs and re-construct and listen again and then again (@fuertesun) I’ve also used mixed up texts , 1 group with nouns, another with verbs etc. They reconstruct text & read (@hartle) More on dictogloss
  • I use a lot of poetry: short, we can stop every now and then and comment; even those who “don’t like it” love it in the end & learn! (@vickyloras)
  • Use rhymes to teach vocabulary – ‘Word Up‘ from @flocabulary
  • Poems are great for seeing word relationships and collocations (@rliberni)
  • You can come back to a poem or story later and see what the students remember (@divyabrochier)
  • Encourage students to learn a poem by heart (@fuertesun) – espeically good for stress and intonation (@nutrich) @divyabrochier’s Arabic teacher makes them learn something by heart every week ” I am learning a lot of words and remembering them!”
  • Practise rhythm /stress by making them do them as a kind of modern rap (@mkofab)


  • Did an exercise with Romeo & Juliet which looked at using the two families in the play. Students had to spread rumours about the other group. (@rliberni)
  • Carry a story forward into our times and change the setting (@Marisa_C)
  • Modernize the text (@flocabulary)
  • Enact roles, then debate and write from the characters’ viewpoints (@pjgallantry)
  • Get them to create own keyword cues for dialogues (@divyabrochier)
  • Shakespeare – including Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet
  • Oscar Wilde – quite a few on youtube too


  • Build a reader into each term of your classes (@pjgallantry)
  • Turn a short reader into a comic book (@smaragdav)

Other sources #eltchatters have used

  • Graphic novels
  • Cartoons
  • Translated poems/stories from different cultures (not only English poets/writers) – ind English language writers from India, Singapore, Africa, Malaysia etc.. there are many (@rliberni) – for example the OUP reader Land of my Childhood has stories from South-East Asia
  • Sometimes they like buying the audiobook too and listen to it on their way to work,works wonders for their language (@vickyloras)
  • Such Tweet Sorrow on Twitter

Getting literature to your students

  • Share your novels/books with them. Start a private library
  • Use a book box.
  • Use poetry and short story excerpts if longer sources are not available.
  • Use e-books
  • Encourage students to exchange books among themselves
  • Use Google reader to select reading and listening and then do a project presenting and swapping links on class wiki (@hartle)


  • We have to teach literary concept and thinking skills with the literature. (@naomishema)
  • Be age appropriate – “I had an early put-off experience with literature in EFL class: tried teaching some 14-yr-olds some William Blake!” (@pjgallantry)
  • It’s important to set the tasks right for literature: just an overview can be enough or select bits (@rliberni)
  • What level should extensive literature reading by introduced?
  • Do students already read literature in their L1? Even if they don’t, you should still teach them reading skills. (@Marisa_C)
  • Be careful of the ‘cultural imperialism’ thingy – some lit can be controversial! (@pjgallantry) But can be avoided by presenting a range of global literature which the sts can choose from. (@theteacherjames)
  • Some topics can be controversial: “My teaching Richard Cory sparked a huge eng. teachers debate about if it is o.k to teach a poem that has suicide in it. Scared me” (@naomishema) – “Taught Richard Cory to 10th-12graders. They actually related to seemingly perfect guy on the outside is unhappy inside”
  • I worry that it is hard to ‘justify’ using literature in Further Education’s utilitarian view of education as skills training (@pysproblem81): Is being able to appreciate literature, theatre, film etc.. not also a life-skill? (@rliberni)
  • Mistakes (used deliberately) in the source text: you can use them to show non-standard use (depending on level of students): noticing this type of thing can reinforce the normal rules (@hartle) I used “Of Mice & Men” which is full of mistakes. Great practice for reading skills & they could check with peers & me. (@theteacherjames)
  • Students have trouble with higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) if they’re not taught them in L1 (@naomishema): personally think literature is a real key to higher level language skills… playing with language seems to help (@pysproblem81)
  • A lot of teachers have come to ELT from other disciplines and not familiar with literary tradition (@Marisa_C). The teacher must feel enthusiastic and communicate that feeling for any literature work to be really effective (@pjgallantry)
  • Very few coursebooks promote literary text – it’s all journalese (@Marisa_C)

Links shared

Resource Books

  • Literature in the Language Classroom by Joanne Collie (on Amazon)
  • The Inward Ear: Poetry in the Language Classroom by Alan Maley (on Amazon)

And to end with, here’s one of my favourite poets of all time, performing one of my favourite kid’s books:

Teens and technology: a lesson plan

I did this lesson with my students a few weeks back, based on an article from The Guardian. They got really into it, and we ended up making a video. Feel free to download it and adapt it as you see fit. (click on ‘View on Slideshare’ and the download button should appear above the presentation)

The video:


Twitter and Screencasts as texts

As a pre-session CAM task, we have been asked to choose one written and one spoken text-type and come up with a plan to develop a (theoretical) one-to-one student’s receptive skills relating to these text types. This is my attempt:

Written: Twitter conversations

  • Genre features: short messages. Between typical spoken and written style. Generally quite informal. Many abbreviations / codes. Use of ellipsis to shorten texts (only 140 characters are allowed)
  • Schemata: SS needs to access Twitter schema (i.e. Twitter-specific lexis), plus schema related to the type of conversations they follow (i.e. celebrity chat, teachers, businessmen)
  • Sub-skills:
    • Identifying the topic of the text and recognising topic changes.
    • Identifying text-type and the writer’s purpose. (i.e. giving information, asking for help, encouraging support for a cause)
    • Inferring the writer’s attitude. (helpful, humorous, sarcastic)
    • Understanding text organisation and following the development of the text.
  • Strategies needed:
    • Activating background knowledge of the topic before reading the text.
    • Guessing the meaning of unknown words from context.
    • Seeking clarification.
    • Indicating lack of comprehension.
  • How to develop these skills:
    • First, focus on Twitter lexis (RT, ff, via, blog, post, mention, hashtag, tweet, feed)
    • Find out from the student what kind of people they follow. Divide them into groups by the function of their tweeting e.g. Do they generally tweet ideas? links? information? Work with the student to show them how this can help them to understand the messages.
    • Choose some of the conversations which the student has tried to follow. Work with them to look at cohesive devices throughout the text.
    • Using the same conversations, examine how the writer has shortened the text to fit the 140-character limit.
    • Look at example tweets from their feed and examine the writer’s attitude in each. Identify keys to recognising this attitude, including words, knowledge of the writer (are they known to be e.g. left-wing), pragmatics.

Spoken: Screencast tutorials.

  • Genre features: Supported by visuals. May include some technical language. Imperatives and other instruction-giving structures (If you click here…) Computer lexis.
  • Schemata: Computing schema, schema related to specific tool (e.g. voice-recording software), instruction-giving schema
  • Sub-skills:
    • Perceiving and distinguishing between different sounds.
    • Dividing speech into recognisable words or phrases.
    • Distinguishing between given and new information.
    • Using discourse markers and context clues to predict what will come next.
    • Guessing the meaning of words and expressions.
    • Identifying key information and gist.
  • Strategies needed:
    • Activating background knowledge of the topic before starting to listen.
    • Using non-linguistic information (situation, context, etc.) to predict what will be heard.
    • Using non-linguistic visual clues to help infer meaning.
  • How to develop these skills:
    • Focus on computing lexis, especially related to navigating on-screen (click, hover, press, button, cursor, mouse, upload, download)
    • Watch screencasts with student highlighting instances of these words.
    • Study different methods of giving instructions (imperatives, first conditional…)
    • Watch screencasts focussing on the instruction language.
    • Watch screencasts without sound to predict the content.
    • Transcribe a screencast to work on sound distinctions / divisions.
    • Use the transcription to study discourse markers / cohesion.

Has anyone focussed on these as text-types in the classroom? I’d be interested to know if my strategy reflects your own.

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