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

Posts tagged ‘teacher training’

Exploiting your materials with minimal preparation (IH TOC 2019)

Every May, International House World Organisation runs their Teachers’ Online Conference (TOC) event. This is a day or two of short talks on a huge range of topics presented by teachers from across the IH network. They are recorded and you can still watch talks from previous years. I’ll add the recordings from this year once they’re available (in the next week or so).

This year, the event happened on Friday May 17th. My presentation was designed to help you reduce your planning time, but still teach an effective lesson. It’s based around adapting a double-page coursebook spread to maximise the usefulness for my students while not adding huge amounts of planning/materials creation to my day.

If you want more minimal preparation ideas for exploiting a coursebook, here are 101 of them (approximately!)

Here are links to the rest of the  English language online conference and the Modern Languages conference.

Planning questions

The questions I suggested you could use when thinking about planning are:


  • How can we do these pages?


  1. What do my students need the most?
  2. What do they already know?
  3. How much time do they need to bridge the gap?
  4. How can I maximise engagement?
  5. What can the book support the students in?
  6. What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
  7. How much variety is needed? How can I add it?

Another possible set of questions I’ve come up with in the last couple of days is:

  1. What do my students want to know (how to do)?
  2. What aspects of that language/skill/function etc. do they already know? How will I find that out in the lesson if I’m not sure?
  3. How can I help them bridge the gap between what they can already do and what they want/need to do? What problems might they have with this language/skill/function? What can they/I do about them? (Is there something in the book that already deals with this? Do I need to add/change something?)
  4. How can I check/make sure students realise they’ve improved?

I’d be interested to know what happens if you try out either of these sets of questions as a planning approach as they’re a reflection of what I think I do when I approach planning, and I’ve only written them down this week!

Elementary functions lesson

Speakout Elementary Students’ Book, Frances Eales and Steve Oakes, Pearson Longman, pp.92-93

These are my notes for the Speakout Elementary coursebook spread above, which I used to generate the questions. You can see me voicing them and adding extra detail in the recording of my session.

“Teaches itself” – Everything is here – could work through page from start to finish, and SS would learn. But book-bound, little variety and most importantly… probably too long – potentially 2-3 hours of lessons here if you really exploit it. Start with timing – 90-minute lesson, take away warmer/homework check = 70 minutes-ish left over.

Need to prioritise. What’s main aim? What’s most useful to my students? Unlikely to have time to do justice to both function and telling a story so pick one to really work with in depth. Ask students which one in previous lesson? At elementary = aim should be building confidence, rather than rushing through and ‘finishing’ everything. Repetition, practice, chances to use the language.

So I choose apologies (I think my students will be able to use this every lesson – they’re always having problems! And useful when they travel/meet new people) Stories are great too, but I’ve got to pick one – not enough time to do justice to both.

Where could you start? How can you engage them in the topic?

The image in 3A might not generate much conversation, though the story is good. Set up situation – clear context. Going into work. You had this problem from image (either cartoon or p93 pictures). What did you say to your boss? Mini roleplay – test what they already know. Start from communication rather than language (TBL) + help students to notice the gap. Tells you how much you need to teach them later.

Could also start with images from p93 – what are the problems? Who apologies? Why? Start with finding out what students already know.

Or the excuses vocab from 2A/2B if they’re a lower level and really need the help, or this could follow looking at the images if it turns out they don’t know the language – they’re producing ‘lost keys’ ‘didn’t wake up’.

> Materials needed = images scanned/photoed from your phone (with copyright information!) rather than spending time Googling other images, or the book software if you have access to it, or a quick cartoon you can draw on the board of one of the situations from the book, or you need 3A/3B from book/board. If in book, ask students to cover ex 4 onwards.

Various options for next stage: if you’re confident, you can work with student-generated language and build up dialogue with them on board, adding in phrases from 4A/4B/4C as needed – could be engaging if you can keep everyone involved, could also be very teacher-centred! Less teacher-centred = they write out their roleplay in pairs/groups and you go round feeding in language. If less confident, work through 4A/4B/4C as is. = meaning, form. Language bank gives some extra practice if needed.

BUT what’s missing? What about pron, drilling, memorisation, student confidence? Will they be able to use these phrases accurately and fluently later? This is where your time will probably go in an elementary functions lesson! What could you do that’s minimal prep here? Key word drill, deletion drill, first letter drill, remember/test/write – all useful. Decide how much needed in the lesson.

> Materials needed: book, board, choice of key words (but students can help you decide those in the lesson – better if from them!)

Lots of practice of phrases, now back to context and communication.

Show them the framework from 5A (in book/photo on board with copyright/key words written on board – up to you, but minimal prep!) – pairs think of conversations between teacher and student, practice for a couple of minutes, ask if anyone wants to perform.

Could use 5B to show who apologises to who, or could elicit from students on board – probably more engaging and creative

They come up with more conversations, perhaps in a mingle – they haven’t moved yet in the lesson! Or use 5C as is – they listen and guess = engaging, reason to listen. Feed back on what they’ve done / Language upgrades / Ask if they’ve improved their confidence.

Intermediate grammar lesson

I ran out of time to discuss this in my presentation – I wanted to show how you could use the questions generated by the elementary spread to plan with another coursebook/level. I’m imagining planning a lesson for a group of 12 students, aged 16-45, about half and half teens and adults, with a 90-minute lesson of which the first 20 minutes are revision/HW check.

Here are my answers to the seven planning questions:

  1. What do my students need the most?
    Aim is to get them using relative clauses (which I know my intermediate students don’t use from observing them in previous lessons), not learning about Che; communication key – lots of speaking.
  2. What do they already know? (in this case, at the planning stage what do I think they already know?)
    Have seen defining clauses before, but probably don’t use. Maybe first time with non-defining within our school, but teens are likely to have seen it at school fairly recently and will probably be faster.
  3. How much time do they need to bridge the gap? (in this case, what’s my prediction when I’m planning?)
    Time spent on seeing what they already know about relative clauses, and giving them plenty of time to produce their own = start planning with the end of the lesson? Adults will need more time than teens.
  4. How can I maximise engagement? (when answering this, I ended up writing out a whole plan!)
    Teen students unlikely to know about him, and I’m not sure the adults will be that interested in him either. So raising interest important (could find another person to describe, but that creates loads of work and we want minimal prep!) Right from start, get them talking about films about famous people & they could return to this at end of the lesson producing their own description of person/film for example. Should be more accessible for all ages (could be real film or one they wish existed) – so a twist on the topic.
    To segue to the reading, do a KWL chart. Or they could write 5 questions they want a film about Che to answer, rather than testing their knowledge (which I suspect most of them don’t have!) – student-generated = more interesting. Or use the photos but not the quiz? Lots of options!
    When they were talking about their own people/films, did they use relative clauses? Probably not – so point this out to them before 1d to give them a reason to pay attention. 1g is OK as text follow-up, but won’t use that many relative clauses. But you could use it as another test of whether they’re producing relative clauses, since they’ve seen examples of them now – retelling a text is a great way to see what language they already use.
    Bridge the gap by working with sentences you collected while monitoring when they were talking about their films, or predicted they’d get wrong before the lesson (this is a good approach if you’re less confident/find it difficult to hear what students say) – with relative clauses, the biggest problems are normally the form (word order, which relative pronoun to use, producing sentences like GGB is the actor who he played Che where the word the pronoun replaced isn’t removed) and the intonation difference between defining and non-defining clauses (Can they ‘hear the commas’?), so these are the things you should plan to help them with. Do memorisation work with Ex 1d to keep it in context – get students to reproduce sentences without looking (probably with some form of key word prompt), or read-remember-cover-write-check, or translate the sentence into their mother tongue then back into English with their books closed. In all cases, compare the differences between what they wrote and the original – they’ll notice the problems and you can point them out if they don’t! None of these ideas require extra prep! Keep the grammar bank in reserve if they really need extra form help, but you’ll lose the context of Che/famous people here.
    For pron work, they read all of the sentences in 1d in pairs as quickly as possible, though without worrying about the pron of words like Che, Bernal and Rosario! You can get them to write he or it above the sentences to make it easier. Do an open class drill of any sentences that cause problems, including pointing out the commas and the difference that makes to intonation if they had trouble with it.
    Another possible activity for practice: students write out a sentences from 1d, but separated (The photo is probably one of the best known photos in the world. It was taken in 1960.) on scrap paper, then test each other by mingling with one piece of paper each and asking their partner to recombine them verbally. You don’t need to prep this – it’s a challenge to work out how to separate the sentences and students will learn from this, also chance to mingle and move around. This activity can take quite a long time though, so decide in the lesson whether it’s needed and have your scrap paper ready. No point spending ages prepping it yourself if you’re not going to end up using it! Could be reused as revision in future lessons too if you collect the scrap paper.
    Then they do the writing/speaking about their film again at the end but with a new partner, and you can praise them on how many (more) relative clauses they’re using and/or how accurately they’re using them now compared to before!
  5. What can the book support the students in?
    See point 4.
  6. What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
    See point 4.
  7. How much variety is needed? How can I add it?
    They’ve moved, changed groupings, worked with heads up and heads down, and produced something creative (talking about their films). There’s speaking, listening (to their partners), writing (if you do the scrap paper activity), reading, grammar, pronunciation, and probably a bit of vocab from the reading or fed in during the speaking activities.

In conclusion

The lessons as described above:

  • are relatively flexible
  • leave the students space to show what they know
  • allow you to respond to their needs by filling gaps in their knowledge instead of trying to cover everything because it’s in the book (and are therefore more focussed and engaging)
  • require no extra materials, or some quick-to-prepare materials if you want to do this, using what’s in the coursebook as a jumping-off point
  • include time for memorisation and confidence-building
  • prioritise communication
  • upgrade language
  • have a range of activity types, not just completing exercises from the book
  • give students the chance to notice their progress
  • require minimal preparation beyond thinking about the answers to the questions! No cutting up 🙂

ELT Playbook 1 cover

If you want to have a go at this kind of brainstorming yourself, there’s a task called ‘One activity, multiple tasks’ in ELT Playbook 1. Find out how to get your copy via the ELT Playbook blog and share your ideas on social media or in the comments below.

If you want more minimal preparation ideas for exploiting a coursebook, here are 101 of them (approximately!)

TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice (guest post)

Amy Blanchard guest posts on my blog again… 🙂

On 11th January 2019 I gave a 30 minute presentation at the International House Academic Managers and Trainers conference called TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice. I wanted to share my recent experiments with intervening in TP, clarifying what I mean by intervention; how I’ve been doing it and why. I also discussed potential problems and solutions, and gave my tips on things to consider before trying it yourself. Here’s a summary of what I said.


When I started asking other trainers about intervening in TP the first thing that came up was correcting trainees’ language, or information about language. That is not the focus of this talk, though it certainly is my policy that I don’t let trainees teach incorrect language; it’s not fair on students and it can have a negative impact on the following trainees.

I’ve always worked on courses where I was able to check the language analysis first to anticipate misunderstandings of the target language, so usually any inaccuracies in TP are related to incidental language that comes up. Generally, I will indicate to the trainee that something is wrong, and help them to clarify.

However, what I began experimenting with last year was intervening for different reasons, looking more at classroom management issues like positioning, instructions, pace, speed of speech, board work and even concept checking.



Gestures can be a discreet way of signalling to the trainee that they need to monitor; that an activity could be done in pairs; that they should add a word to the board; reduce speed of speech; pace etc.

Stop and Intervene

Some of the others are difficult to correct with gestures alone, and this was where I started intervening a bit more, actually stopping the class and giving instructions, or asking the trainee questions. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding them to follow their lesson plan and let students check in pairs, or encouraging them to use a CCQ [concept checking question] they’d prepared.

Here’s a clearer example from TP 2. I was observing a nervous trainee with no teaching experience. She muttered some vague instructions (to ‘have a look at the handout’) to one student at the side of the room and started to distribute handouts. I could see the students looking at each other, confused, and knew this would have a detrimental effect on the rest of the lesson. I asked her to stop, take back the handout, stand in the centre where all students could see her, show the handout and clearly indicate which activity to look at, and tell the class what to do.


I haven’t found that much written about the tutor’s role in TP. The debate about whether to intervene or not gets a couple of lines in Thornbury’s CELTA course trainers’ manual [affiliate link]. He says “it can be argued that learning any new skill is best achieved by collaboration with a more experienced other”.

Something I feel strongly about is that CELTA is a training course and we need to be training, not just testing.

If we want to help our trainees do more, they need support. Could intervention and coaching from the side-lines be the scaffolding trainees need to achieve more?

I’m wondering if giving feedback to trainees can be equated with the feedback we give our students; consider on the spot vs delayed feedback. Could a combination be best practice?

Perhaps intervening in TP makes it more memorable – certainly the look on my trainee’s face when I told her to stop what she was doing showed that it wasn’t an experience she’d forget in a hurry. Importantly, it allows us to give information at the moment the trainee needs it, rather than after an hour or two hours, or even later on some courses. How useful is it to say to someone “two hours ago you stood slightly in the wrong place; try to avoid that next time”.

It’s the difference between show and tell – trainees can clearly see what you mean, and they can see impact on lesson, rather than everything being hypothetical.

It makes the ideas you’ve been talking about in input or feedback sessions more concrete, and you can demonstrate to trainees what you really mean, in their context. Importantly, it offers opportunities for improvement within the lesson.

Correcting my trainee on her instructions near the start of lesson led to better instructions for her next activity. She clearly remembered what I said, went back to the middle of the room, showed the handout and gave clear instructions, addressing the whole class.

But – what did she think of it? In preparation for my talk, I emailed a few trainees from the summer courses and asked for some feedback: Do you remember me intervening in your TP? Please comment on how it made you feel, and why it was/wasn’t effective.

I found your interventions positive and effective as I was very green and did need reminding of certain things.

It made me feel more confident after because I know those adjustments in teaching were helping students learn in a more effective way. Getting in-class feedback and recommendations was very helpful to me especially because it was in the moment as opposed to post-lesson.

Potential problems (and solutions)

Ambiguous gestures can be confusing and distracting; and my advice here would be agree the signals beforehand. Be aware of how much information you are trying to give, and how overloaded trainees already are. Keep it simple and make sure you reinforce it again in feedback/input etc.

Is it too prescriptive? This is a general worry of mine on the CELTA; I don’t want to impose my teaching style on new teachers. Stick to the basics, focus on classroom management and allow them to follow your instructions in their own style (within reason!)

Trainees may react badly. This is always a danger with giving any type of feedback. A large part of a trainer’s job is being intuitive to the way people react to feedback – if they are not going to react well to this approach, don’t try it.

Things to consider

Manage expectations: (of trainees and students)

If you interrupt with no warning, of course this will freak trainees out. But if they know that it’s a possibility – or even a policy – and they are prepared for it and understand the intention behind it, it will be much less alarming. As for the TP students, there may be some concern that the trainer’s intervention will cause a loss of face in front of the students, so again, it’s important that the students know the situation: that they are trainee teachers on a training course. In my experience, TP students are usually grateful for the intervention!

Personality types: Be sensitive / Ask

As with all feedback, some people take it better than others. I always say a large part of my job is managing people’s egos and giving feedback in the way that’s most acceptable to them and that they’re most receptive to. On the spot feedback is obviously no different. Use your intuition: if they’re clearly having a bad day, it might be better not to. The other option is one we use with our students: ask them how they feel about on the spot correction; if they want it or not.


Again, as with our students, you need to strike the right balance – you obviously don’t want to “correct” everything as it would be demotivating and stop the flow of the lesson.

Discuss interventions in group feedback

It’s vital that all trainees understand why you intervened – this is something that can be elicited in feedback, as well as its impact on the lesson/learners etc.

Written feedback reflects action points

If you intervene to improve a trainees positioning/monitoring/instructions etc. that should still go down as an action point in your written feedback. They need to prove they can do it successfully without intervention in later TPs.

Withdraw support as the course progresses

I intervene less and less (hopefully you find you won’t need to!) – perhaps a little again at the changeover of groups but really nothing by TP5 unless they are trying out a new technique etc.

Questions to discuss

I asked the trainers that came to my talk at the IH AMT conference to discuss two questions, and I’d encourage the same discussion here too:

  1. What’s your experience with intervention in TP?
  2. Do you agree with it or feel it should be avoided? Why?

I hope these discussions do continue and I’d love to hear from anyone who has experimented with this approach in TP or who has any questions about it. We’ve discussed this and similar topics on #CELTAchat which happens on Twitter on the first Monday of every month at 7pm UK time. You can find summaries of our chats on the CELTAchat blog.

Amy Blanchard

Amy Blanchard was an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme in Japan and completed a voyage with Peace Boat before moving to Spain to work for International House. She has just taken a new job leading the CELTA programme and teaching English for Academic Purposes at a British university. She is particularly fond of whiteboard work.

Setting up video observations

Over the last 18 months, we have accidentally made video observations a ‘thing’ at our school. There was no grand plan – it just kind of happened, and I’m very glad it did!

As far as I remember, it started with the senior staff recording some of their lessons and making them available to the teachers to watch in a video bank on the school server. If we think particular teachers need help with something specific, we might recommend they watch a specific video or clip.

Then we had some teachers in satellite schools who needed to be observed, but we were not able to send an observer out for the 45 minutes they needed. Video was logistically much easier to set up, and had the added bonus that the teacher could see themselves too. Some teachers have also chosen to record themselves to look for specific things in their lessons, without having it formally observed.

Another technique is when a senior teacher and an inexperienced teacher would film themselves teaching the same lesson plan (we plan collaboratively) with their respective groups, then watch both videos and compare how the lesson plan manifested itself with two different groups. This is particularly useful for demonstrating differences in pace and in running feedback.

The final way in which we use videos is to back up in-person observations, with the observer recording clips of the lesson to show the teacher during feedback.


Although it is now possible to easily record lessons on a smartphone, most of the teachers use my Canon IXUS camera and GorillaPod tripod.

Blue Canon IXUS camera

Mine looks a bit more beaten up than this one!

Gorillapod tripod

It’s magic! You can attach it to all kinds of things 🙂

They can set it up anywhere in the room and it will record non-stop for 60 minutes (if I’ve remembered to charge the battery and empty the memory card!) I then put the video into their individual space on the server for them to watch when they are ready.

If it’s for a more formal observation, we do it in two different ways. Sometimes the observer watches the video first, then does the post-observation feedback in the same way as they would for a standard observation, but showing any relevant clips from the observation. Alternatively, the observer and teacher watch it together at the same time, having already decided what they’re looking for. They pause and discuss the video at relevant points, and decide together what the action points are coming out of the observation, and what positive things were spotted.


On joining the school, all students sign a list of terms and conditions. One of the items is that they are happy to be filmed or audio recorded. Teachers also sign permission slips in our induction week professional development sessions. Videos are for internal use only, and they are entirely within the control of the teacher. It is up to the teacher who sees them and whether they choose to put it into the school video bank for other teachers to see.


Video observations are a shortcut in a lot of ways. They enable teachers to see and hear:

  • the reactions of students to what they are doing, including who is not paying attention (and why?)
  • their activity set-up and how effective it is
  • how well students work with each other
  • pacing
  • which activities do and don’t work with a particular group
  • how other teachers do things, particularly managing young learner and teen groups (it’s not always possible for us to organise peer observations)
  • and much, much more.

Overall, video observations have enabled us to provide richer professional development to our teachers, enabling them to see into a variety of classrooms, including their own. If you haven’t tried it with your own teaching yet, I would highly recommend it. If you want to introduce it at your school, start with your own teaching – if you lead by example, it’s easier for other teachers to want to join in as it can feel less threatening. Good luck!

2018 Self-reflection challenge

Happy New Year!

I like a bit of reflection to end one year and start the next. This year’s is brought to you courtesy of the This is Evil blog, via Emma Johnston who did it first. Here are the questions:

As I only spend a few hours a week in the classroom I’ll change some of them to other areas of my teaching-related career.

Day 1: your favourite activity from 2018

Teaching people how to use Quizlet Live. It’s quick and easy to set up, and students and teachers get really engaged.

I taught a group of elementary men from Yemen in the summer – normally at the end of the lesson they were out of the room like a shot. On the day when I showed them Quizlet Live ten minutes before the end of the lesson, they were still there ten minutes after the lesson finished and hadn’t noticed it was time to go because they were so engaged in the game.

Day 2: most memorable story from 2018

Lots of great memories, but this one was particularly fun…

Presenting at the IATEFL online conference for early career teachers, working with Ruth to talk about how to approach lesson planning. We spent 10 minutes describing our own lesson planning, then 50 answering questions from all over the world. It was an adrenaline rush and I loved it – we could have continued for much longer, except I had to teach and my students were knocking on the door! 🙂 If you’re an IATEFL member, you can watch the recording in the webinars section of the members’ area. If you’re not, why not join?

Sandy and Ruth IATEFL web conference screenshot

Day 3: the best piece of advice you were given in 2018

When you self-publish, create a paperback as well as an ebook. Thanks Dorothy Zemach!

Day 4: the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a trainer

When two teachers who I’d worked with on a technology course at York Associates in the summer took what they’d learnt from me and turned it into their own presentation for their colleagues in Serbia.

Day 5: your favourite memory as a student

Performing in our flamenco concert in June. It was third time lucky, as I missed the first year due to having a sprained ankle, and the second year due to illness on the day. It was so much fun and I’m really hoping I make it to this year’s one!

Day 6: the funniest story from 2018

Erm…not sure.

Day 7: your favourite coursebook in 2018

I don’t really use coursebooks that much, but I really like how useful the Outcomes teacher’s books are, especially if the teacher who’s using them doesn’t have much training.

Day 8: a new idea you implemented in 2018

We introduced mentoring at our school this year. Every teacher has been assigned a mentor who they meet for 30 minutes a week. The system was worked out with the help of the senior team at my school, and we have some second year teachers who are also volunteering as mentors. I’m really pleased with how it’s going so far and we’ve had some great feedback. We’ve also got quite a few ideas for how to improve it next year.

Day 9: your favourite teaching aid in 2018

Quizlet – games, printable flashcards, self-study at home, Quizlet Live…

Day 10: the best joke you’ve heard in 2018

Not a joke, but something else that makes me laugh. I love the ‘Role call’ videos featuring on James Corden’s show. Here’s a recent one of him doing musicals with Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Day 11: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

When Emma got the results she wanted in her Delta 🙂

Day 12: your favourite teaching website in 2018

Probably Hana Ticha’s blog – so many ideas and things to think about!

Day 13: the person who inspired you in 2018

Phil Longwell. Read his blog to find out why. Inspired by Phil, and other educators who are talking about mental health, we have started to make changes to how we provide support at our school, and we are already seeing the results. Some examples include the mentoring mentioned above, a specific session focussed on wellbeing in our induction week, and a generally open atmosphere where we make it clear that mental health is just as important as physical health.

Day 14: the moment in 2018 you realised WHY you’re doing your job

Seeing teachers from our school feeling confident enough to share what they’ve learnt with the wider teaching community, through online conferences (IH  – Emma, Ruth; IATEFL – Ruth and me), the IH Journal (Helen, Amy), and their own blogs (Emma, Ruth).

Day 15: your greatest challenge in 2018

My health, as always.

Day 16: your strongest point as a teacher

Networking. Drawing on the knowledge of the amazing teaching community that I’m part of, both online and off.

Day 17: most motivational idea/quotation/picture in 2018

I curated the IATEFL blog until August 2018. Reading all of the stories of how IATEFL has helped teachers from around the world is truly motivational.

Day 18: 3 reasons why you became a teacher

  • To help other people.
  • To explore.
  • To learn.

Day 19: your favourite teaching application in 2018

The new ‘word’ function on the BYU corpus pages.

BYU corpus word feature screenshot

Day 20: a piece of advice you would give to a rookie teacher

Ask for help!

(and buy my book) 🙂

Day 21: the best CPD book you read in 2018

I’m re-reading The English Verb by Michael Lewis [affiliate link – but it’s super expensive 😦 ], which is probably the book that has most influenced the way I think about English. I’m trying to work out how to convey the way he describes language to students and teachers in a succinct and accessible way (watch this space).

Day 22: your greatest frustration in 2018

That people don’t read adverts properly when they apply for jobs, or do and ignore the requirements stated. You’re wasting your time and mine.

Day 23: one thing you want non-teachers to understand

Just because you grow up speaking a language, doesn’t mean you can automatically teach it. You still need to learn how to be a teacher, work hard at it, and continually develop. Pay for good quality, trained, professional teachers, not just the cheapest person who happens to have the ‘right’ passport – all of us will benefit, and you’ll get your money’s worth.

Day 24: your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

Teaching Polish to our teachers. Although I started with a few lessons in 2017, 2018 is when I’ve realised that I can do it, even as an intermediate learner myself. It’s so much fun, and I can sneak in some teacher training by modelling activities too 🙂

Day 25: your personal success in 2018

Launching ELT Playbook 1, my self-published ebook aimed at helping new teachers. I’m really pleased with the reception it’s got, and am looking forward to finishing the next one in the series.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

Day 26: one thing you plan to change in 2019

An ongoing project: my ability to completely switch off – much improved, but not there yet.

Day 27: your greatest discovery in 2018

That I should stop saying ‘I don’t have time’ and instead say ‘I have prioritised my time differently.’ We probably have time to do everything we might want to, but we don’t always make time for it. Life is about choices, and sometimes we choose (not) to do something at a particular time – how we prioritise the things we do is our responsibility, not some abstract thing from outside us.

Also, how much better I feel when I have proper time off, prioritising it over other things. I did know this before, but had forgotten. By the way, thanks to Neil for making sure the CELTA course I did in the summer had lots of space in it for time off and reflection, and for reminding me how much I enjoy riding a bike!

Day 28: which superpower would make you a Super-DoS

Staying calm all the time in all situations. I’m better at it than I used to be, but it still needs work!

Day 29: one area to improve in your teaching in 2019

Reusing language that has come up in class, not just recording it. The recording part has improved massively over the last couple of years, but I need to follow through better.

Day 30: how do you plan to start your first lesson in 2019

By teaching our teachers vocabulary to name places in a town in Polish. And the second lesson will be introducing a Proficiency group to the joys of pantomimes.

Day 31: the most important thing you want to remember tomorrow

To go to my physio appointment at the right time – changes in routine are confusing!

Time travelling

Here are different challenges I’ve completed in previous years if you fancy writing something similar but this one doesn’t appeal:

  • 2013 – WordPress automatic stats
  • 2014 – the ups and downs of the year
  • 2015 – 30 questions to ask yourself
  • 2016 – things I’ve enjoyed this year
  • 2017 – 17 things I’ve learnt in 2017

It’s been fascinating reading back through them and remembering the bad times and the good.

Here’s to a peaceful and prosperous 2019!

Learner-centred observations of teachers (Guest Post)

Christian Tiplady asked me if he could share his ideas for shifting the focus of official observations with the readers of this blog. I think you’ll agree that they are minor tweaks that could make a big difference.

Why do we focus on the behaviour of teachers during ‘official’ classroom observations? Is there an alternative way that is more in line with current thinking on learner-centred approaches?

So many institutions, including ones where I have worked, still cling to the idea that teachers need to be evaluated for quality assurance and that the best way to do this is with a formal observation, often compartmentalised and homogenised, taking the form of an hour-long observation by a senior member of staff. The observer uses a standardised feedback form with variables by which the teacher’s lesson is graded, and then leads feedback analysing what went well or badly. Oftentimes this observation takes place only infrequently, perhaps once a year, and there is often no follow-up to assess observation outcomes.

This style of evaluative observation is not only outdated but also ill-conceived. It assumes that the activity of ‘teaching’ can be rated, and that this can be done with the kind of standardised grading to which we have grown accustomed. In order to have much value at all any assessment of teaching needs to be thought through carefully. It needs to be done over a longer period with more frequent observations to avoid a ‘snapshot’ view and therefore the danger of misguided evaluation. Feedback needs to be cyclical and iterative in nature and co-constructed with the teacher as part of a reflective process to ensure that the teacher is on board with continuing development.

But there is a much more important point to be made here, which is that to focus on what the teacher is or isn’t doing in a classroom (and to rate that) is surely at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous if this is without explicit reference to the world of the learner. My contention is that we still do this way out of pure habit, and that at least in part, this undoubtedly comes from vestiges of ingrained beliefs that still linger, even if as teachers we know these things to be untrue.

Firstly, the status quo derives from the mistaken belief that teaching equals learning. However in reality we know that the teaching is only part of the equation and that learners will learn in their own way and at their own rate. As Freeman reminds us “teachers are influential in classroom learning but that does not mean they cause it to happen.” (Freeman, 2006; 254). Indeed we can teach what we might consider to be the best lesson, only to note that in terms of the learning it did not have the impact that was desired. Or conversely we can teach a lesson which at first sight did not go to plan or very ‘well’ in practice, but where there was nonetheless significant learning.

Secondly it comes from the implicit assumption that teaching behaviours can be classified and evaluated and that ‘more’ or ‘less’ of that thing is better. For example, typically ‘student talking time’ is inevitably valued within today’s language teaching, where a premium is placed on communication, and ‘teacher talking time’ should be reduced at all costs. In reality, purposeful teacher talk can be very useful as part of the learning process and in some lessons it may be vital.

Another example is the use of the English in the classroom versus the use of the student’s L1. The former has conventionally been highly valued (probably to encourage an element of immersion), whilst the latter i.e. the use of L1, has been relegated to the fringes with infrequent activities such as ‘translate these sentences into your own language’ given for homework, but with little real acknowledgement that use of L1 in the learning process can be extremely useful.

Although such thinking has increasingly been challenged over recent years, it still tends to be pervasive in the realm of teacher observations. We continue to focus on what the teacher should and should not do in the classroom (theories on this will likely come and go), and judge things by our own semi-conscious ideas of what is right and wrong. More importantly, by taking our eyes off the ball, we often miss the real action i.e. we neglect the impact (or lack of it) of the lesson on the learner. A typical example might be the types of praise given for a communicative speaking activity, which a teacher organised well and the learners dutifully performed with high levels of talking time, but which had little intrinsic value in terms of developing the learners or engaging them in meaningful expression.

By focusing on the behaviours of teachers in the classroom, we are also reinforcing a model that is teacher-centred and are thus potentially affecting teachers’ beliefs and behaviour. If we (learners, teachers, teacher trainers, managers etc.) desire lessons to be learner-centred then surely we need to promote that in everything we do, including the observations of teachers. Evidently, the main thing that is useful to focus on is learning and the learning process for the learner. In short, we need to rethink our observations of teachers to refocus on how teachers may best facilitate this learning.

So how do we do this? Assuming we still have to follow an institutionalised system of official observations, (which I still think can be reclaimed for the good), these can be redesigned with an onus on the learners with surprisingly minor structural adjustments, but with a fairly radical shift in our philosophy.

First of all, the usual observation template can be changed to make all criteria more learner-centred. Criteria such as ‘relevant learner outcomes established in conjunction with the learners’ and ‘lesson managed in a way that promoted achievement of lesson outcomes’ can be included to promote learner-centredness. The emphasis of wording is all-important; thus a criterion such as ‘use of English in the classroom’ can be amended to ‘English/L1 used appropriately for learner needs’ and ‘teacher talking time’ can be amended to ‘learner talking time suitable for learner needs’. These changes may seem somewhat pedantic, but in my experience such small adjustments can promote a major shift in the thinking of both the observer and the observed teacher alike. For instance, the phrasing of the latter criterion on learner talking time intrinsically leads both parties to ask themselves questions such as: ‘What was witnessed in terms of learner talking time?’ ‘Was the learner talking time appropriate in amount, form and quality at various stages of the lesson, as well as overall in the lesson? If not, why not?’ ‘Did the amount, form and quality of learner talking time mean the aims of the lesson were achieved for the learner? If not, why not?Clearly this change of emphasis might necessitate some ongoing training for both teachers and observers of lessons, but is nonetheless quite possible.

Secondly, the observer needs to truly focus on the learner – on their reactions, behaviour and likely learning – during the observed lesson. Often the observer sits at the back of the classroom to watch the teacher but cannot see the students’ faces or reactions. What the teacher does in terms of facilitation is important, but how the learner responds and whether they demonstrate that they are learning is of ultimate importance. Therefore the observer should try to ‘climb into the learners’ skin’ and see it from their perspective. The simplest act of the observer positioning their chair to the side of the classroom, to see the learners’ faces, how they react, and what they are doing, can make a huge difference to the observer’s understanding of the effects of the lesson on the learners and their learning.

Thirdly, the information gathered by the observer should ideally be backed up with further evidence to reduce subjectivity, preferably in the form of a video recording. Silvana Richardson (2014) has done some interesting work in this area, which she calls ‘evidence-based observation’. Software is also available which allows the observer to annotate the recorded video with questions and comments for the teacher, thereby facilitating a feedback process focusing on the learner, though it’s not always particularly easy to access.

Finally, however much the observer and the observed teacher try to adopt the mindset of the learner, and back it up with evidence, they can never claim to know the thoughts of the learner. The learners’ voice therefore needs to be included within observation feedback for any lesson or series of lessons. Thus the observation process should seek to include feedback from the learners, for example, their assessment of how engaging the lesson has been and how successful they think the lesson has been in terms of their learning. This can be factored into evaluative feedback as long as the process is handled sensitively.

Any additional comments learners have on the lesson(s) are also vitally important to inform the feedback process and can change the evaluation of a lesson significantly if they happen to disagree with what the observer and/or the teacher believe. When experimenting with this approach, I observed a lesson where I thought the learner might have been overloaded with the amount of topics that she was asked to speak about. However, in her feedback the learner maintained that that the amount of topics was at about the optimum level for her. This first-hand vantage point significantly changed my perception of the lesson.

In most institutions, how often does the observer of a lesson really solicit the opinions of the learners as part of the observation process? I would suggest very seldom. By contrast, including the learners’ voice in the observation feedback implicitly encourages the teacher to engage with learner feedback in the same way. Reframing the observation in terms of the learners not only allows a more relevant learner-centred perspective but also models good practice for the teacher as part of wider classroom culture.

Can this focus on the learner be equally beneficial as a basis for peer observations? Absolutely, yes! In fact gathering information on the learners provides an excellent focus and helps to avoid any evaluative critique of teaching, which many teachers may have come to habitually expect as the ‘default model’. So whilst evaluative observations look set to stay, let’s at least focus on what matters, namely the learners.


Freeman, D. Teaching and Learning in Gieve S. and Miller, I. (2006) ‘The Age of Reformin Understanding the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Pelgrave-Macmillan.

Richardson, S. (2014). Evidence-based observation – tips and tools. British Council webinar:

About the author

Christian Tiplady

Christian Tiplady
BSc (Hons), Trinity Cert. TESOL, PGDip TESOL, MA TESOL

Christian is a freelance teacher trainer based in the UK. He has worked in both EFL and Modern Foreign Languages (MFLs) sectors for over 25 years, teaching, teacher training and managing in private language schools, NGOs and government organisations. Most recently he served as Pedagogy Manager at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office organising CPD for tutors who teach MFLs to diplomatic staff. He has set up TrinityTESOL and Cambridge CELTA courses and is currently a CELTA tutor and assessor. He specialises in the creation of CPD programmes, developmental observations and feedback. Christian currently produces the teachers’ podcast Developod for the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG).

Contact Christian at:

Change or die trying: Introducing differentiation on initial teacher training courses (guest post)

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend Karin Krummenacher’s IATEFL 2018 presentation on providing differentiation on initial teacher training courses like the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this kind of course, they generally last four weeks full-time, including workshop-style input sessions, observation of experienced teachers and peers, and (crucially) six or more hours of observed teaching and feedback from tutors. There are as many kinds of four week course as there are tutors, and no two are exactly the same as long as they meet the criteria of Cambridge or Trinity, but one thing that is extremely rare is differentiation for the trainees. Karin has kindly agreed to write up her presentation as a guest post, so we can all find out more about how this might be possible.

To differentiate and challenge our students based on their prior knowledge and current abilities is something we teach our trainees in pre- and in-service teacher training courses. At diploma level it becomes a key criterion and there is tons of literature about it. And then many of us trainers go on and make trainees with outstanding language awareness sit through over half a dozen basic grammar input sessions throughout a 4-week TEFL course in which they will learn close to nothing, most likely receive no differentiated tasks and might be asked not to reply to the next question because we already know they know. I would not be particularly impressed with a trainee handling a strong student in a lesson like this and I get more and more annoyed by us trainers doing it.

And while the reasons are obvious to a degree (that’s the course they signed up for), I don’t think they are good enough to keep doing what we’re doing the way we are doing it. Once upon a time, when the CELTA still had a different name, the groups of trainees were homogenous and what the course taught them was, in a way, revolutionary and useful. Nowadays, trainees identifying as non-native English speakers outnumber trainees that identify as native English speakers on the majority of courses. Our one “strong student” has become half the class by now and we still tell them to only answer when prompted instead of questioning our approach.

Jason Anderson has investigated at length how experienced teachers with MAs in pedagogy take 4-week initial training courses because Trinity Cert TESOL and CELTA have become a global seal of quality. The course is no longer what it used to be and the fact that very often it is still taught the way it was taught in the 1990s makes me picture John Haycraft, who first designed CELTA, rotating in his grave.

“CELTA has to change or die” said Hugh Dellar when I talked to him last year. He’s far from being the only one who’s unimpressed. Since the courses started they have been criticised (see, for example Anderson, Hobbs, Fergusson and Donno [behind ELT Journal paywall] and Borg [behind paywall]) and the voices have become louder and louder. I agree with all the criticism by experts and practitioners when it comes to short initial teacher training courses (ITTCs), but letting them die is not an option for me. It may be because I myself entered the profession that I now consider my career and vocation through an ITTC that I come from a place of great love and admiration for these courses and the educators who train people on them. I believe in the concept, I believe it works and I do not want it to vanish because I think we would miss out on some excellent teachers. Most experts suggest making the courses longer. However, as much as we would all like that, from an economic point of view, this makes little sense to course providers and is not the appeal it has to customers either.

I set out to find a way of differentiating on ITTCs. My colleagues laughed at me.

It’s too difficult, too much admin, too complex.

You’re already working 12 hour days. Do you really want to add to that?

If it could be done, it would have been done.

It may be a late effect of being the only female in a male clique when I was a teenager (strikingly similar to my work environment nowadays, by the way) but dare me and I’ll do it.

At least 13,000 candidates per year take the CELTA or Cert TESOL (based on numbers from Green 2004 and information requested from Trinity). That’s not even considering all the TEFL schools accredited by less rigorous organisations. And all Cambridge Assessment and Trinity College London tell us about these people is whether they identify as native or non-native English speakers. If you are a trainer, you will know that there is so much more to our trainees than that. One of the reasons why I, and many of my colleagues, love the job is that there is no group like any other, no trainee the same as the next. You can divide them by nationality or place of birth but there will be disappointingly few conclusions you can draw from this. In a single group of trainees, you can find so many different people with different motivations to take the course, different backgrounds and different aims. Some people take an ITTC because they want to change their lives, start a new career and plan on doing the diploma two years later. They’re in it for the long run. Others simply need to prove to their parents that the Eurotrip they paid for is not just drinking with people you met in a hostel. Many want to fund their travels before they return to their “real job” back home. Some want to lose their fear of public speaking. The ones that usually end up most disappointed are the English literature majors who want to spark the love for the English language in their students. It’s tough to love a language and make it your job to hear people butcher it 10 hours a day. Trainees have told me they wanted to build up their confidence or are just in it because their boyfriend wanted to do the course. Some see it as a challenge and aren’t planning on teaching a day in their life after the course. More than you would think are experienced teachers that want to go international.

A mixed group of Karin's trainees

So again, why don’t we do with our trainees what we do with our students? That is, a thorough needs analysis. The idea is to do this in two parts:

Part 1: A diagnostic test. Applicants take an online test and you feed their results into Excel. I’ve come up with a formula that will assign sessions based on performance and spit out a tailor made timetable for each trainee. Meaning the ones who answer questions on verb tenses wrong, will be assigned sessions on verb tenses. The ones who answer them right will not. All trainees will still have the same number of input sessions, just not the same ones or necessarily at the same time. Multilingual candidates will be assigned sessions on using L1 in the classroom, so they can do so deliberately and without feeling it is the wrong thing to do. Trainees that aren’t quite confident about their own proficiency will get an English for specific purposes course that really polishes their teacher language and makes them feel more confident while monolingual trainees learn a little bit of a foreign language, so they can empathise with their students. This all means we offer trainees a schedule based on their background and abilities. This is something I’m still trialling, but the diagnostic test may contain tasks such as:

  • Identify the verb tenses in the following sentences
  • Identify the parts of speech (based on a given list) in the following paragraph
  • Match the words with the correct phonemes
  • Mark the word stress in the following words
  • Match the sentences with the grammatical structure (e.g. conditionals, modals for obligation vs. speculation)

Diffentiation graphic - needs analysis on left, timetable icons in the middle (different colours), mid- and end-of-course reflection on right

Part 2: Setting aims. The teaching practice tutor will agree on personal aims with their group of trainees. This means that feedback on teaching practice will be as focused and personalised as possible. The trainer and trainee assess progress in the middle and at the end of the course.

The diagnostic test can be redone as a summative test at the end of the course. Together with the achievements of their personal aims, this will then be the starting point for professional development. This is something really important that in my experience is not done at the moment or not done enough. Partially, this is down to the way ITTCs are sold. The marketing says that you are a teacher and ready to go out in the world after 4 weeks. And people take that at face value. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change and stands in contrast to the fact that these courses were never meant to provide a standalone solution to teacher training. But what we can do is equip our trainees better and make them more reflective beginner practitioners. They will benefit tremendously from having a better understanding of where they stand and what their strengths and weaknesses are. And to get our marketing teams on board, it is a unique opportunity to advertise our programmes beyond teacher training, like workshops, online courses, diplomas or in-service training.

Finding out what our trainees need is the first step. The obvious question is, how can we give it to them? Not every centre has the capacity to entirely revamp their course and I’m not saying that’s necessary, but I believe we could get a little more creative and offer more differentiated input sessions. That would mean though, that we wave goodbye to input sessions being mainly delivered face-to-face. I have thought of different ideas on how to deliver input and have come up with different puzzle pieces that can be combined as needed.

Jigsaw pieces with these things written on them: Action research, observation tasks, peer teaching, boot camps, flipped inputs, Q and As, online/face2face, specific pre-course tasks

Whether trainees get tailored pre-course tasks, attend very intensive sessions on linguistic systems, such as grammar, in so called boot camps, benefit from Q and A sessions with tutors or teach each other in designated peer teaching slots, whatever works best in your context will be the right thing to start differentiating. This can be a slow addition to the course over several months and does not have to be all at once. Maybe some sessions can be added to the regular timetable, others delivered through online learning. Common needs could be addressed through video summaries. It will depend on the groups’ needs and the resources, tutors and space available. For most centres, a mix will be the right way to go.

In this way, timetables for trainees could become more varied and trainees would get more personalised content that better prepares them for the challenges they will face. It would free up timetables for more interesting content. Instead of teaching basic phonemes, these would be learned independently, and class time can be spent on how to teach phonology to students, the really interesting stuff.

Obviously, there would be some flexibility required from accreditation bodies. The Unknown Foreign Language in its current form could no longer be part of the assessment on Trinity Cert TESOL courses. And while CELTA has a very flexible syllabus, centres would benefit from being encouraged to make more use of it. At the same time, this could be an exclusive opportunity to promote more professionalism in initial teacher training and remind customers that these are in fact level 5 qualifications on the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework and therefore have an academic aspiration.

Overall, the idea is to take our trainees’ backgrounds and goals into consideration more. No matter how small we start, these initial courses need to change or die trying.

About the author

Karin Krummenacher

Karin Krummenacher is a freelance teacher trainer on Trinity Cert and Dip TESOL courses, researcher and international conference speaker. She holds Cambridge Delta and is currently working towards an M.Ed. TESOL, researching the role of ITTCs and their implications for professionalism in the industry. This article is based on her IATEFL talk from April 2018 for which Jason Anderson, Hugh Dellar and Ben Beaumont were invaluable sounding boards. She has recently started blogging at Give Karin a shout at or on Twitter @thekarincluster.

Working with new teachers (three things for IH)

Regular followers of this blog may have noticed I’ve been writing and talking a lot about working with new teachers, particularly over the last year. In the last month, International House have shared three of the things I have produced on this theme.

The first is ‘From survival to thriving: how to help new teachers‘, a 30-minute talk as part of the 10th International House Teachers Online Conference on 18th May 2018:

In the talk I suggested a range of different ways that managers and trainers can support teachers as they take their first steps in their careers. I based it roughly around an extended version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’m not going to share the slides separately, as I don’t think they’ll tell you much by themselves, so you’ll just have to watch the presentation! 🙂 You can watch all of the other sessions from the day here and there was also a parallel Modern Language Conference, with sessions on teaching Arabic, Italian, Russian, French and Spanish.

The second is part of my series for the IH Journal, published in Issue 44, entitled ‘Working with new teachers: the things they say’. It’s the first of two parts (the next one will be in the autumn edition) where I list some of the typical comments I hear from new teachers at our school, and the things that I normally say in response. It’s written for both new teachers themselves and the people who work with them. Again, I’d recommend reading the whole journal, as it really showcases the diversity of knowledge within International House.

The final thing is another video, recording at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers Conference in January this year, and published this week.

This one is aimed directly at new teachers, and gives 3 minutes’ worth of tips to help them out.

If you’re a new teacher, I hope you enjoy your time in this amazing career. If you’re working with new teachers, I hope there are some useful reminders here for you. 🙂

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