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

Posts tagged ‘tips’

Testing times

This is my penultimate post in this series of weekly reflections on the current goings-on, as I finish with my groups next week. This week my two lessons were both tests: the first was reading and listening, the second speaking. In this post, I’ll describe how we ran the tests and what I’ve learnt about Zoom this week.

Before I start, I’d like to stress that systems we’ve been using to test our students are the cumulative thought process and reflection on experience of the teachers and management team I work with at IH Bydgoszcz, and we’re refining it all the time! Thank you to my colleagues for all of their input and feedback!

Testing listening and reading

Before the lesson:

  • Create a Google Doc with your questions. Check that these are relatively easy to complete on a computer even if you have minimal technical skills, particularly for the listening.
  • Make one copy per student, with the student’s name in the file name, plus a demo document.
  • Create an extra document. In this document, make a list of all of your students’ names, with the edit link for the document under their name. Leave a space after each name/link pair. This makes things easier during the lesson!

During the lesson:

  • Have all of the students’ listening or reading tests open in a single set of tabs.
  • Remind them to put all phones, books etc, away from their device (unless they’re using a phone of course!)
  • For reading, tell them that you would like to check their reading, not Google’s, and therefore they shouldn’t copy and paste the text or any of the questions (this happened in a couple of my colleagues’ lessons!)
  • Show students the demo document, particularly any question types/exercise types which they might not immediately be able to work out how to complete. This includes how you want them to complete e.g. a True/False question. Should they underline it? Highlight it? Delete one? The last is probably the easiest by the way!
  • Put the list of links into the chat box. Students click on their link. If students aren’t logged in to Google (they don’t need to be), you should see a little coloured circle in the top right corner saying ‘anonymous wombat/ifrit/walrus’ etc appear when they’re in.
  • Ask students to type their name at the top of the document when they get in. This helps you to check that the right student is in the right document. Go through each test and check it matches the file name.
  • Ask everybody to mute their microphones. Mute yours too.
  • For listening, tell students that if they can’t hear or there’s a problem with the audio, they should say ‘Stop, help!’ as soon as possible. One or two colleagues had students who got to the end before saying they couldn’t hear anything!
  • Start the listening – make sure you’re sharing your computer audio! It’s best to have the file on your desktop, rather than streaming it, if possible.
  • While the students are completing the reading or listening, flick through the documents to see whether they’re filling it in correctly, as in completing the tasks in the way you want them to. Help students if they’re having problems. Create a manual breakout room to move a student to if you need to speak to them.

If you suspect cheating, you can look at previous versions of the document to see how the student completed it by checking how they edited it over time.

Testing speaking

We had some lessons where the teaching did the testing, and others where there was a guest examiner. In all cases, the students worked in pairs in breakout rooms on a revision activity throughout the lesson. Mostly this was them creating a game, and they then switched games with other students to play in the second half of the lesson. I saw various types of game:

  • Creating a Kahoot.
  • Creating virtual board games in Google Docs or using Tools for Educators. Thanks to Ruth Walpole for leading me to that website.
  • Completing a list of challenges which each have points values, with the aim of getting as many points as possible.

The teacher set up the main activity at the start of the lesson, then put students into breakout rooms. The speaking examiner dropped in to each breakout room to test the students, then moved onto the next room. If it was a guest examiner, they could put up their hand so that the teacher knew it was time to move them to the next room. This system seemed to work pretty well. 🙂

The personal stuff

Things seem to be returning to some level of normality here in Poland. You no longer have to wear masks outside, though I still generally do, apart from when I’ve been on my bike far away from other people. It’s almost like nothing happened in many ways, which seems quite strange!

Useful links

Edutopia has an article about how to reduce the likelihood of teacher burnout during the pandemic, as a lot of us seem to be working a lot more hours now (though luckily mine are pretty similar).

I’ve listened to three episodes of TEFL Commute Who’s Zooming Who? this week: Realia, Guests and PowerPoint, all full of useful ideas. Find the full back catalogue here.

Anka Zapart has great ideas for teaching YLs on her Funky Socks and Dragons blog. Here’s a whole list of ways to work with songs, both online and off.

Alex Case has materials for teaching language for checking and clarifying on Zoom, something we all need!

James Egerton has a range of tips and activities for teaching on Zoom in this blogpost.

David Petrie is blogging again 🙂 Here’s his reflection on blogging and teaching in the time of COVID-19.

Jacqueline Douglas talks about all the things she’s noticed about running CELTA online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

The end of normal teaching

normal: ordinary or usual; the same as would be expected

Definition from the Cambridge English Dictionary, 31st May 2020

My Zoom lessons

I chose the title of this week’s post because over the past ten weeks teaching on Zoom has become normal, something which is no longer worthy of comment when planning or teaching. My students understand how to use every feature of Zoom I use in the lessons, including screen sharing in rooms. They use Google Docs with ease, and ask for favourite activities again. When I don’t make instructions clear, they ask me: chat or notebooks? We’ve all settled in to this new way of teaching and studying. And this week was the end of that: I’ve got four lessons left with my groups, three of which are test lessons, followed by our final round-up lesson. So no more normal teaching with them any more!

Having said that, this week was also the one where I had the most number of connection and technology issues since we started on Zoom, so it wasn’t completely normal.

In group one, one student appeared six or seven times in the waiting room but couldn’t get in – in the second lesson she finally managed to connect by borrowing a different device. I started with 10 students and was left with only 7 as people lost their connections in the first lesson. In the second lesson I started with four students I could see and hear, one I could hear but not see, and one who we could only connect with through the chat box. Another student was an hour late due to connection problems. In the second class we had fewer connection issues, though two students dropped out multiple times and one dropped out fifteen minutes before the end of both lessons. Another student was fine in the main room, but his microphone wouldn’t work in breakout rooms. I’m lucky to have escaped for so long without all of these tech problems!

What shall we do today?

Our first lesson introduced some verb phrases which I thought my groups might already partially know, so we looked at them quickly at the start. Students had a few minutes to play with the vocab on Quizlet, then matched vocab and pictures in their books, then wrote what they could remember in the chat box.

We listened to two cousins discussing what to do and when and where to meet, with students guessing what they might do and listening to check their predictions the first time, completing a table to check understanding of specific information the second and third time, then filling in gaps in the conversation with target language phrases the fourth time.

What ____ we do today? Why don't we play _____? OK. Where shall we ____? Let's meet at the bus _____. etc.

I elicited the phrases for suggestions by writing gapped sentences onto my mini whiteboard and holding it up to the camera. These phrases had already appeared in last week’s story. I tried to show that “Shall we play tennis?” “Why don’t we play tennis?” and “Let’s play tennis.” all have the same idea of suggestions/the same meaning, but not sure how clear that was at first. To practise, students completed a transformation exercise in their workbooks where they saw a suggestion in one form and had to change it to the other two. With the first group, we ran out of time at that point because of all the technical problems. The second group had time to write their own version of the dialogue and perform it to the class.

What do you remember?

We had one full revision lesson before our tests start on Monday. This was particularly important for me to see what the students could remember as they’ve had lessons since September, but I’ve only taught them since February. There was a puzzle to start the lesson, which my students really got into once they’d figured out how it worked:

Read the clues to find the letters. Use the letters to find Martin’s birthday present. the fourth letter in Easter the third letter in the twelfth month The sixth letter in holiday The eighth letter in geography The twenty-third letter of the alphabet His present is a ____________

Jude created a quiz with a couple of short exercises for each unit of the book. This was on a master document. During the lesson, we copied a couple of exercises at a time into a running document. Students worked in teams in breakout rooms, with one student sharing the screen with the questions on it. They wrote their answers in their notebooks. They had about 7-10 minutes to complete each round, after which we returned to the main room, checked their answers and added up their scores. This worked really well with both groups: I managed three rounds with group one and four with group two, and it showed up really well that they still have trouble with irregular verbs and choosing direct and indirect pronouns, but are fine with everything else from the first half of the year.

Jude also included some brain break challenges, though my group didn’t do any of these. This was partially because I forgot about them, and partially because they were so into the quiz and there was enough variety in the format that they didn’t seem to need them. I think they’re great ideas though! Here are two of them:

Break round! Which team can make the healthiest meal? You’ve got 2 minutes to get 5 items of food from your kitchen. Ask first! Show your team your food. What can you cook together? ‘We’ve got some…” We’re going to cook

Break round! What’s the weather like? (It’s your idea!) Find clothes for that weather.

We now have plenty of revision material for our final few lessons, alongside the Quizlet sets we’ve been making all year to go with the book.

Zoom tips

This week I discovered two things you can do with videos: hide non-video participants (thanks Ruth!) and hide self-view. The first is useful if you are being observed and you want to forget the observer is there 🙂 It’s also useful if somebody has to connect on two different devices: one for video, one for sound – you can hide the non-video/sound-only box on your screen. Hide self-view is great for any time you don’t want or need to see yourself, especially while in gallery view! I found it useful for meetings and chats with my friends.

To use these functions, hover over your video. Click on the three dots which appear in the top-right corner to see a menu. This should display both options.

I wouldn’t use either of these during lessons as I find I have to consciously remind myself to include students who are sound only when I can’t see their faces, and I think it’s important to see what your students can see in your videos, especially if you’re trying to show them something.

The personal stuff

Tomorrow (Monday 1st June) Poland enters the fourth stage of our four-stage post-lockdown plan. That means that masks are necessary on public transport, but not in open spaces. When I went out on Friday and Saturday there were already a lot of people not wearing them, or not wearing them properly (covering their mouth and not their nose: what’s the point?!) Kujawsko-Pomerania, the region I live in, had it’s last new confirmed case on 25th May, so six days ago. We’ll see what kind of second wave there is, as many people don’t seem to be paying much attention to the rule that you should stay 2m away from others.

I’m still staying at home a lot, but I went out on three consecutive days this week: first to my flamenco class, then to physio followed by a meal at a restaurant, then to pick up some shopping which I can’t get online. The meal was nice because I didn’t have to do any washing up 🙂 but I realised again how much my cooking has come on over the past six years! Restaurants for me are about eating in different places, and perhaps trying different combinations of food, but I’m so much more adventurous in my cooking now anyway that that side of restaurant eating is much less important for me now.

Useful links

Anna Loseva describes her experiences of teaching on Zoom without any prior training. The post is full of useful tips for anyone new to Zoom. I especially like the idea of having a running document for students to type questions into during lessons. Her university in Vietnam has now returned to face-to-face classes.

10 minutes of listening to this episode of TEFL Commute, and you’ll have plenty of warmers for your upcoming lessons.

Katherine Martinkevich shares links connected to taking your students on a virtual field trip. This could be particularly useful for summer school courses. She also shares a link to/summary of a Q&A session with Sarah Mercer on wellbeing for teachers and managers.

Rachel Tsateri is linking classes together through Flipgrid, and is looking for volunteer teachers to join her.

Cristina Cabal shows how she’s used ClassroomQ in her classroom. It looks like a simpler version of Mentimeter in some ways, where you’re able to ask a question and see the order your students answer it in.

James Egerton has tips on how to consciously build your post-quarantine habits. Habits are something that I’ve worked on a lot over the last few years, and they’ve made my life a lot more positive through the small gains building up over a number of years.

Sue Swift talks about the value of task repetition/repeating activities, and shows how a little challenge can be added in future lessons. This applies equally both online and off.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

How do we teach when teaching online (guest post)

Laura Edwards talk on teaching online at the IATEFL Global Get-Together a couple of weeks ago was one of my highlights. If you’d like to watch the talk, it’s available to IATEFL members in the member’s area. Find out how to join IATEFL. She’s kindly agreed to share her ideas here.

This month I was part of the Global Get-Together, an online conference run by IATEFL. I was asked to present by telc language tests and I thought I’d talk about something connected to my work there in test development. But everything I came up with seemed irrelevant when most conversations with my teacher friends and colleagues revolved around coronavirus and their anxiety and frustration at having to suddenly teach online. I knew those feelings were completely valid. I have a Master’s in Education and Technology and ample experience with online teaching and I still felt overwhelmed. I also noticed that many articles and blog posts about teaching online explained the merits of various video conferencing tools, but few mentioned actual teaching. The implication seemed to be that once you get the hang of the tool, everything will fall into place, but that’s not the reality, which is why I decided to talk about how we teach when teaching online.

With schools suddenly shut, we find ourselves having to design materials suitable for online learning, change our assessment techniques and find new ways to manage student interactions, with very little preparation time. We’re also dealing with the stress of the situation, concern for our students’ well-being, and for self-employed or freelance teachers, there’s the potential loss of income to consider. 

Overwhelming really is the word for it! 

Adapting to the situation

I started my talk with a few inspirational quotes. This one from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. seemed particularly fitting.

Let perseverance be your engine and hope your fuel

As well as effort and perseverance, we need patience, hope, humour and plenty of self-compassion to help us face this challenge. 

It’s unfortunate that many teachers see teaching online as something to suffer through. Of course, it’s difficult to be positive about something that’s forced upon you. I can rave about how it creates great opportunities, frees us from geographical limitations, allowing us to learn whatever we want, wherever we are. But we’re human – we require time to grow accustomed to new ideas, technologies and teaching methods. The habits and biases we develop during our lives can cause us to reject alternative ways of thinking or acting. We face what’s known as the Adaptability Struggle. Change is difficult and some may question the appropriateness of a tool or initially dismiss something that doesn’t fit their perception of learning. Talking to students about their feelings and discussing the benefits of online learning definitely helps. If there’s a moment when your students aren’t reacting as you’d hoped or you’re feeling frustrated, remember it could be the Adaptability Struggle.

How learning happens

When it comes to actual teaching, the first step is to consider how learning happens in your classroom.

I teach large groups of mixed-ability adults, who are returning to education having worked for several years. To tap into their knowledge, deal with the differences in abilities, and make sure that in a group of 30 students everyone has a chance to speak, I incorporate a lot of pair and group work, projects, and peer feedback into my lessons. 

Make a list of the activities or approaches you use in your physical classroom and refer to it for guidance when planning your online lessons.

Exploiting the technology

Then think about the tech tools you have at your disposal. The SAMR Model helps us evaluate our use of a technology. SAMR stands for

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign.
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.  

The first two refer to the enhancement of learning, the second to transformation. 

One example of the SAMR model is …

  • Substitution: Instead of writing texts by hand, students type them out. 
  • Augmentation: Students type their texts using word processing software, with spell check and formatting tools.
  • Modification: Students use Google docs to share their texts with classmates and get feedback, perhaps even working simultaneously on the document.
  • Redefinition: Students use their texts to make video presentations which they share online.

The goal is to move beyond merely replacing traditional tools, tasks or resources with digital ones, to a situation where technology is facilitating new ways of learning. Of course, under present circumstances, we may not be ready to think about transforming our teaching just yet. We might be thinking at the enhancement level, which is fine.  

The SAMR model helps us reflect on how we can use the tools we have to help our learners best reach their goals. 

Exploiting video conferencing

Many of us are using a video communication tool now. How can we change our lesson design to take full advantage of the tool? Can the tool offer an improvement?

One idea is inviting a guest speaker to join the lesson (if allowed by your school). This is something you couldn’t do as easily without the video conferencing tool. As you and your students are online anyway, it’d be easy to add a friend, colleague or family member to your meeting to be interviewed by the students. Even 10 minutes would be sufficient for them to talk about their job or industry, answer questions about their daily life, or give people a quick tour of their house (ideal if you’re teaching things in the house). It can be informal, even fun, while involving multiple tasks for students:

  • Researching the speaker, for example using LinkedIn
  • Writing an email inviting them to join, explaining why you are interested in speaking to them 
  • Preparing questions 
  • Planning who asks what
  • Conducting the interview
  • Writing a thank you email, outlining what you enjoyed or found useful
  • Preparing a post-interview report

If the conversation was recorded (with the guest’s permission, of course), the video can be replayed for comprehension and vocab activities. So much learning from just a short video call! 

Recording your lessons or parts of your lesson is another example of using the tool to transform learning. Students can watch the videos as often as needed, the repetition helping them notice things they didn’t catch initially. This also helps them reflect on their own contributions. We’re often so focused on expressing meaning, we’re not as aware of our language. Students could transcribe short sections of their speech and reflect on their language. 

The SAMR model reminds us to be open to the opportunities that teaching online offers us, rather than seeing it merely as something to tolerate until we return to the classroom. 

The downsides

Moving to online teaching isn’t without its issues. In some cases, students’ verbal participation decreases, causing you to wonder if they’re paying attention at all. There are many reasons why this might happen. Students may be shy, uncomfortable with the technology, distracted or having tech issues. But they might also be unsure about when they should speak or trying to avoid the situation where everyone is speaking at the same time.

What can we do about this?

Start with Small Talk

Begin each lesson by greeting students individually and asking them how they are, giving each a chance to say something. Then ask students to write something in the chat box: what they had for lunch, what they did yesterday. This easy warm-up allows you to check that everyone’s equipment is functioning. It also allows students to try things out, get accustomed to the situation and connect with their classmates.

Create and discuss guidelines for communication

This is a must. Should students mute their mikes? Should they raise a hand (visually or using the function in the tool, if it exists) or type something in the chat box to indicate they want to speak, or can they speak at will? Do they have to turn their video on, or can they participate by voice only? Are they allowed to record the video call? (Consider privacy regulations.) These things should be communicated clearly in the first meeting or beforehand. It’s also helpful to explain why you set each rule.

If your expectations are unclear, you risk intensifying the adaptability struggle, resulting in some students initially rejecting the technology. We cannot expect students to participate the way we want them to if they don’t know what that is. This may sound logical, but we’re all guilty at times of assuming students understand our intentions and motives when, in fact, they don’t.

Try chatting

A lot of interaction in the classroom is spontaneous. The frowns indicating which students haven’t understood the task, the rolled eyes at your jokes, the groans when you announce an upcoming test, the witty comments. So much impromptu communication gets lost online if everyone’s on mute or has to wait their turn before speaking.

One way to facilitate this valuable communication is by encouraging written communication. The chat function in video conferencing tools is often used by teachers as a place to type corrections, but that shouldn’t be its only use.

Instead of asking questions to students individually, ask the group to respond in writing in the chat box. Give them enough time, then tell them to hit send. You can go through the answers to compare responses, ask follow-up questions and point out improvements.

You may consider moving some of your discussions to the chat box altogether. This takes a little getting used to but works essentially like a group chat on whatever messaging app you’d use on your phone. A written discussion gives everyone time to think up a response and prevents discussions being dominated by more confident or out-going students. This would also benefit the less confident speakers among our students who just prefer writing anyway.

It can be a bit chaotic but it’s worth it, as the use of this function not only helps increase participation but, going back to the SAMR model, we see it is transformative in that it allows for greater inclusion.

Using forms

Further ways of increasing interaction would be to use tools like Google or Microsoft Forms to share listening or reading comprehension questions with students. As the students complete the activity, you can assess in real-time how well each understands the material and quickly discover where misunderstandings lie. Questions can be multiple choice or open-ended, students can see which ones they get wrong or right, and you can display the results to the group for discussion. Gaps in knowledge are quickly identified, and you can deal with these questions without wasting time on the ones everyone got right.

Use the same tools to create feedback forms for your students to be used at the end of the session or week. Find out what students like most and least, and if there’s anything else they’d like to cover in the lessons. This gives students a voice, increases their engagement and aids your own development.

Many teachers find that once they move their class online, they suddenly become the centre point, through which all communication flows. They feel pressure to keep things moving and teacher talk time increases. The use of chat and survey forms can help prevent that.

Promoting engagement

What else can we do to ensure student engagement and interaction? Let’s return to the question of how learning happens in your classroom. If you were in the classroom, what would you be doing that you’re not doing online?

My big challenge teaching online is pair work and peer feedback. For me learning is a social activity and communication and collaboration with others are essential. Although some tools allow for break-out rooms, it’s not always practical. If your students can’t conduct pair work during your live session, how about moving that to outside the allotted class time? Give students a task to complete for the next session and assign them a partner. During the following lesson, the pair can report back to the group.

Peer feedback is another collaborative activity that increases students’ engagement and self-awareness as learners. The key to making it effective online is sharing the task rubrics with the students. Explaining to students what they have to do to complete the task successfully brings transparency to the evaluation process, and helps them effectively evaluate and help others. To really enhance the reflective process, students can create the rubrics or evaluation checklists with you. This further helps them develop a common language to use when giving each other feedback.

Students can also give feedback more informally. During speaking tasks, those listening could use pre-assigned emojis or a comments sheet with short sentences like ‘I agree’ or ‘Good vocabulary’. These could be quickly copied and pasted into the chat box, helping students give feedback faster while eliminating typing errors. The added advantage of this is that it builds community among learners, which is even more important when we are not all sitting in the same room together.

All of these things take practice, which I guess was the main message of my talk. We’re in a difficult situation, and it takes time to adapt to any change so we need to be kind to ourselves. I hope this post gives you a few ideas to help you along the way.

After university, Laura left Ireland to work as an English teacher. Now in Germany, she teaches adults and creates content for digital and print language tests. She has Master’s degrees in Education Leadership and Education Technology. She tweets as @edlaur. In her free time, she turns all devices off to read a good book.

4 tips for teaching teens online (guest post)

This is a short post I’ve written from Cambridge University Press summarising four things I think it’s key for online teachers to do (not just of teens!) The short version is:

  • Be their teacher first
  • Keep it simple
  • Include variety
  • Experiment and reflect

You can read the full version on the CUP blog.

Moving a school online: reflections from week one of using Zoom

Our school, IH Bydgoszcz, has successfully completed a week of teaching teen and adult groups using Zoom. We’ve made plans (largely facilitated by Ruth and Char – thank you!) to move our young learner classes online, with a staggered start – half from Monday 23rd, the rest from Monday 30th. Our teachers are still able to go into the school building, which has made it easier for us to support them with problems throughout the week, and to continue to share ideas.

This week has truly demonstrated the power of a supportive team, as we all simultaneously became beginners again in our move to online teaching. Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, have worked tirelessly to support teachers in their planning (often more so than me as I’ve often been coordinating other things). Grzegorz, our Director, and Mariola and Sandra, our office staff, have helped it all to come off smoothly. But of course, without the teachers’ willingness to try this, we couldn’t do anything – thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ve had generally good feedback from our students so far, and attendance has been pretty high. This is testament to everyone’s planning and hard work to make it all happen.

Reflections on my Zoom lessons


I’ve now taught three lessons on Zoom (you probably have more experience than me!), two with one group, and one with another. They were all with high beginner/low elementary (A2.1) teens, aged 11-13.

I really enjoyed them 🙂 It’s been a fantastic chance to get to know my students better. We’ve had visits from a rabbit, a dog, a cat, and a sister. 😉 One student spontaneously played her piano and violin during the break – I had no idea she was musical. We’ve also had a toy sword, spontaneous dancing, putting on make-up, and rather more eating than I would have liked!

Lesson 1 was an introduction to Zoom. We then played a guessing game. Students went to their kitchens for 3 items of food or drink (our most recent topic in class), which they had to keep secret. In breakout rooms they asked ‘Have you got a…?’ ‘Have you got any…?’ to guess what they others had. If they were right, the student had to show it on the camera. When they came back to the main room, they typed what they’d found out in the chat box. For example: ‘Sandy has got some oranges.’ ‘Sandy hasn’t got any cheese.’ This activity went down really well, lasted for about 15-20 minutes, and was a great opportunity to use their homes.

Most of the students adapted to Zoom pretty quickly, though two students still struggled to find functions at the end of lesson 2, and one student missed the Zoom tutorial in the first lesson. Another had huge connection problems in the first lesson, but this was much better in the second.

Lesson 2 was a continuation of our book (Project 2 from OUP), planned mostly by Jude (thanks!) After revision and a homework check, I screen shared a Quizlet set to introduce country vocab, with students calling out the words on their microphones, or writing them in the chat box. We stopped every few words for them to call out what they could remember. They matched the words in their books. To prepare for a short listening, I asked them to type what these measurements could be: 1000m, 6km, 10,000m etc e.g. a river, a bridge, a road. We listened to the audio – they filled in the correct number. We checked them one at a time using the chat box. I then introduced them to ‘high’, ‘wide’, ‘long’ and ‘deep’ from the listening by using gestures and asking them to draw different arrows next to the words in their books, e.g. an up arrow for ‘high’, a down arrow for ‘deep’. I set up the homework (the reading from the next page of their book) and did the first example with them. For the last couple of minutes they typed all of the new words from the lesson in the chat box.

If I taught the lesson again, I’d skip me introducing the vocab through Quizlet. Instead, I’d send them the code quizlet.com/491240605 and get them to play Quizlet match and learn modes – they’re used to doing this from classroom lessons. I’d then do a quiz, showing them three or four pictures at the same time and getting them to write all of the words. The listening and adjectives were fine, but there wasn’t much time left by this stage. I’d like to have something creative in every lesson, and I assumed we planned this but 5 days later can’t remember what it was! There certainly wasn’t time for it in the lesson.

Overall, I think my students have done more writing this week than in the entire proceeding month, and they’ve spoken to students in the breakout rooms that they wouldn’t dream of talking to in class, both without any complaints. Classroom management has been fine, because I can switch off microphones and videos if necessary – often the threat of this is enough to get students to concentrate again. If students consistently misbehave, you can put them into the waiting room for a minute or two to calm down, or speak to them individually in a breakout room (thanks for that idea Jude).

Let’s see how long the novelty of online learning lasts!

Zoom troubleshooting

  • Do a sound/video check at the start of each lesson. Get students to switch on their sound and video to make sure it’s working. If they’re having problems, put them in the waiting room (three dots in the top right corner of their video = move to waiting room) and let them come back in again. They may need to restart their computers/apps.
  • When one student is having lots of technical problems, give the others something to do while you help them out. You could put them in breakout rooms, with the ‘tech problem’ student in a room by themselves for you to help. Or give others something to do in their books. Make it clear to the other students that you’re helping the person with technical problems and how long this might take. If the technical problems are coming and going, make sure that student is in a 3, not a pair, when put into breakout rooms.
  • It’s better to have your computer plugged in or not at all through the lesson – it might not cope with the transition between two different battery settings. (Thanks Connor!)
  • If you’re having problems with the internet connection, switch off the video. If you’re at home, ask other people not to use internet-heavy apps at the same time as the lesson, like streaming.
  • If students are using Zoom on their phones, they need to be looking at the video (not the chat/participants list/screen share) when you put them into breakout rooms. That’s where the message pops up to invite them to the room. Alternatively, tick the option that says ‘Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically‘ and it doesn’t matter what they’re looking at!
  • If you’re kicked out of the meeting, one of the students will become the teacher with host privileges. Log back in, and (I think!) you’ll automatically become the host again.

Zoom tips

  • With small groups, prepare a piece of scrap paper with all of your students’ names before the lesson. Write C for computer/M for mobile/T for tablet – check what device they’re on as they come in. Don’t assume it’s the same as the previous lesson. That way, if they can’t find something, you know what instructions to give them to find it (the menus are different on different devices). I also used my list for noting which groups I’d put students in, tech problems they had, and how many K points (classroom management points) the group had got, plus reminders to myself about problems with Zoom/things to consider next time.
  • Recurring meetings: extend the date on your meetings for ages. If you let the last date pass, you’ll have to resend new links later. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • When you’re on mute, hold down space bar and speak – students will hear you only while the spacebar is depressed. (Thanks Emma!)
  • Make sure you remind students how to find functions – don’t just assume they remember.
  • In some browsers (Android phone?), the participant menu is a speech bubble with three dots in it. This is almost the same as the ‘more’ button, so students may be a little confused. (Thanks Ruth and Jude!)
  • Students can use the chat while in breakout rooms, but only they can see it. Nobody from another breakout room or the main room can see it. If you join the breakout room, you can’t see what’s come before, only what’s added after you join. A student without a working microphone can therefore still participate in the activity. (Thanks Connor!)
  • You can make the chatbox text bigger/smaller when you’re on a computer (not sure about a phone). Click into the chatbox. Press CTRL and + to make it bigger (CMD + for Mac), CTRL and – to make it smaller (CMD – for Mac), and CTRL and 0 to make it the default size (CMD 0 for Mac).

Google Docs tips

  • If you’re coupling Zoom with Google Docs, make the files directly on Google, rather than on Word then uploading them. If you have pre-existing Word documents to upload, make sure you save it as Google Docs if you want students to edit them. It’s not strictly necessary, but it makes things a little smoother.
  • If you’re using lots of Google files during a lesson, put them all into a single folder and send students the link to this before/at the start of the lesson. Then tell them which file you want them to open at the right point in the lesson. You can change from can view to can edit during the lesson if necessary. (Thanks Ash!)
  • Create designated sections of the document for students to write in. For example, we used red team/blue team/green team/purple team in the lesson I described above. (Thanks Jude!) Once students have accessed the document, ask them to write their name next to their team colour – this helps you to check instructions. (Thanks Connor!)

Lesson planning tips

  • Plan for a 60-minute lesson, not a 90-minute face-to-face one – everything takes longer! However, if you often spend a lot of time dealing with classroom management, you may find that your lessons are faster thanks to mute/stop video buttons. 😉
  • Keep the lessons simple. If you’re going to try something new, stick to a maximum of one new tech tool per lesson to avoid overwhelm.
  • Have a couple of zero-prep revision games to play at the end or discussion questions where they can go into breakout rooms, e.g. Pictionary, define the word and guess it (from anywhere in the book).
  • Put students into breakout rooms for the amount of time that you have groups. For example, if you have 3 breakout rooms, put them in there for a minimum of three minutes. If you have 5 breakout rooms, 5 minutes. 10 rooms = 10 minutes. That gives you time to check them all. It’s probably not really worth putting them in there for less than 3 minutes though as it’s a lot of faff and time, and sometimes the tech breaks!
  • Include breaks in the lesson. We normally have one 10-minute break in our 90-minute face-to-face lessons, but with my students I changed this to two 5-minute breaks. Even if you don’t normally have a break, it’s good to include stretching time and eye breaks to reduce muscle pain and eye strain. If you’re having problems with your neck or back because you don’t have an ideal position/posture, consider raising your computer. For example, put a couple of reams of paper under a laptop, or even put a chair on the desk and stand up during the lesson.
  • Include time when students don’t need to interact. For example, a drawing activity. They could switch off their video/audio while they’re doing this, then switch it on to signal that they’ve finished. You can switch off yours too.
  • You can ask students to do grammar controlled practice at home because they have grammar references, then use the lesson for problem solving, rather than trying to present the grammar from scratch.
  • For vocabulary, supplement with Quizlet sets – students can hear the pronunciation and practise the spelling.
  • Reading can be done for homework. You can check reading in class, or students can email you the answers to use it as an assessment. You can also do listening this way by emailing the audio to students (though be aware of copyright rules).
  • At the end of the lesson, consider sending an email summarising the content of the lesson, and including the homework, especially for teens e.g. Today we learnt some Zoom vocabulary from this Quizlet set quizlet.com/xxxxx. We practised how to use Zoom. The homework is WB p39 Ex 6. See you on Wednesday!

Activity ideas


Here are some activities that (might?) work via Zoom, some of which we’ve tried, some of which we haven’t. If you want more, take a look at Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

  • At the start of the lesson, display a puzzle, a Where’s Wally image, or an Every Picture Tells a Story ELTpic on the screen. Students write what they can see in the chat box – higher levels could imagine what’s happening, or what people are saying (reported speech revision?) This gives time for you to help people with connection problems. (Adapted from Lisa Wilson’s idea to display a wordsearch.)
  • Show an album from ELTpics that is connected to your lesson topic. Students brainstorm what they can see in the chatbox. Give them a sentence frame if you don’t want them to just write single words, e.g. There’s a… / There aren’t any…
  • To get students (of all ages!) moving, play run and touch. (Thanks Rosie!) e.g. run and touch something blue, green, red, new, old, wooden, metal, complicated, funny…
  • Ask students to make things out of the objects around them. For example, make a person, a house, etc. Other students have to guess what they’ve made. If planned with the responsible adult in advance, this could work particularly well with children – they could have a plate of e.g. pasta to make pictures out of (not rice – it’ll get stuck in the computer!)
  • With smaller groups, experiment with all of the students having their microphones on simultaneously at certain points in the lesson. For example, this worked really well with the homework check and drilling in my lessons. Students can also drill without their microphones on – they can practise repeating, then come on the microphone when they’re more confident.
  • Use Jazz Chants for drilling. Your students can make them too. They can say them with the microphone on or off.
  • Total cloze: before the lesson, write a sentence on a Word document. Set the text to white, but the underlining to black. Share the screen. Students guess what words are missing. If they guess correctly, you change the text colour to black for that word. (If you have a less fiddly way of doing this, please tell me!)
  • Organise for remote guests to visit the lesson. Students can prepare to interview them, or to listen to a short speech/presentation from the guest. There are lots of people looking for things to do right now!
  • Ask if you can observe other teachers remotely by joining their class as a student – this is much easier now. Make sure that schools and students are OK with you doing this if you’re the observed teacher before you invite anyone else in. (Please don’t ask me for the moment – I’m not quite ready!)
  • Fast finisher idea: students can build up a single picture using all of the vocab introduced during the lesson. For a few minutes at the end of the lesson, or as a warmer at the start of the next, they hold up their picture to the camera and describe what’s in the picture. You may need to demo this is a whole-class activity in a previous lesson.
  • Get students to write emails to their future selves using FutureMe. These are incredible times we’re living in right now, and it could really help them to consider that this is not how life will always be. (I hope!) 

Useful links

Here are a handful of the many, many resources that have been shared in the past couple of weeks. Feel free to add others in the comments:

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom

As has happened in much of Europe, Poland has now closed schools, universities and other places where people might gather in the hope of reducing the spread of coronavirus. Our school had its last normal lessons on Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday dedicated to training our teachers how to use Zoom. We start teaching on Monday 16th, so my total experience with Zoom so far has been in the training process. However, I wanted to share what we’ve done and some of the ideas we’ve had for our adapting our standard EFL face-to-face lessons, in the hope that others will be able to build on this.

Useful links

International House World arranged a live session run by Shaun Wilden on Tuesday 10th, in which he introduced us to Zoom. He has summarised tips for moving to online teaching in these two blogposts on the Oxford University Press blog:

I’d also recommend Ceri Jones’s posts on the Cambridge University Press blog:

Other useful posts:

On 20th March 2020, Lindsay Clandfield and Carol Rainbow will run a webinar for Teaching English British Council on using your coursebook online and ideas for breakout rooms (see below for a definition and our ideas).

There’s a very active hashtag on Twitter called #coronavirusteaching, which you can view without having a Twitter account. It’s full of ideas and experiences, and is a rich source of information.

I posted this tweet:

There are lots of great replies, with more being added – see this thread for access to all of them.

Technical arrangements

We’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to joining Zoom for our students (in English and Polish). Teachers will email meeting links and join IDs to each of their groups, with student emails in BCC so that we’re not sharing their contact information with each other. Students can email the teacher if they’re having technical difficulties during the lesson and can’t access Zoom.

We’ve signed all of our teachers up for individual Pro accounts so we don’t have to worry about the 40-minute limit on free Zoom accounts. If you have a school domain and teachers have school emails, Zoom have temporarily removed the 40-minute limit on the free account, but this doesn’t work for private emails such as Gmail or Yahoo.

We’ve also suggested that teachers using Google Docs to complement Zoom, so we’ve asked students who plan to use their mobiles to download the Docs app in advance.

The rest of this post is an adapted version of our guide for teachers, including lots of activity ideas which we came up with/found as we were writing it. Please feel free to share more! Thank you to Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, for helping me put it together, and to all of our teachers for being amazing at suggesting ideas and trying to work out the kinks in the system so that we’re ready for things to run as smoothly as possible on Monday.

Zoom functions

Managing participants

As the host of a class/meeting, you can manage participants such as renaming, muting, stopping video and other controls for participants. For more, visit this page. 

If somebody joins the room late, or has been kicked out (e.g. due to connectivity), a notification will pop up for you to allow people to join the group.

The participants list also has options for students to give you simple messages:

These appear next to their name in the list. You have a ‘clear all’ button to switch them all off.

Students also have raise hand/lower hand options. A hand will appear on their video.

Participant video

As students join the room, a box with their name will appear. Once students click to give Zoom permission to access the camera, this will change to a video. 

This shows you the range of possible video layout options on Zoom.

  • If you want lots of people to speak at the same time, ‘gallery view’ is much less chaotic. I’d recommend telling students to generally use this view.
  • We don’t think there is gallery view on mobiles.
  • If you’re using ‘active speaker view’, whoever is speaking will jump to the top of the column. This can get very distracting if lots of people are talking as it changes all the time. If you want students to show work they’ve produced on paper, ask all students to change to ‘active speaker view’, then ask the relevant student to unmute their microphone and start talking – their video will jump to the top.

As the host, you can switch all of the videos off if you want to. This reduces bandwidth (and is better for the environment!). 

Tip: Switching your own video off when students are doing individual work gives you a breather and allows you to check what’s happening next. It also means students aren’t looking at your funny faces while you figure out what’s next 🙂 It will also mean there is less to distract them!

Tip: In the first lesson, we recommend keeping the videos on so that students know this could happen, and so you can make your expectations clear about this online classroom environment.

Tip: Having all students with their videos off makes the room much more smoothly as it uses a lot less bandwidth.

Participant audio

When students join the room, their microphones will be on mute. (We recommend our teachers choose this setting when they set up their Zoom meetings.)

It’s best if you only unmute microphones for students who need to speak – otherwise it can get quite chaotic.

For drilling, you could unmute all microphones at the same time, but warn students before you do this!

Allow silence during your lessons – don’t be afraid of it, and don’t feel like you need to fill it. It’s a little strange initially when you feel like you’re not talking to anybody because you can’t hear them responding when students are on mute, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

Tip: Mute your audio when you’re typing/opening up the next bits of your lesson. 

Sharing your screen

Tip: make sure you have everything you want to share open and ready before you start the lesson.

You can use the screen share function to:

  • Show powerpoint
  • Show a picture
  • Show a document/gapfill
  • Show the coursebook software
  • Share computer sound (to play a listening, or background music before the lesson starts)
  • Share a video (see below)

You can share the full desktop, a particular window only, or a portion of the screen (i.e. part of a picture). Here’s how. To share a portion of the screen, click on ‘advanced’ in the ‘share screen’ menu.

Screen sharing a desktop DOES NOT share any Zoom windows that are open.

If you give them permission to, students can also share their screens. Teachers can take remote control of students’ screens. Teachers can annotate students screens as well. Once this feature is enabled, all students can annotate whoever’s screen is being shared. 

Playing audio

  • Put the audio on your computer.
  • Use the ‘share screen’ function. Tick the ‘share computer sound’ box. 
  • Press play on your computer and students should be able to hear it as normal.

Audio activities:

  • Normal comprehension questions. A gist could perhaps be done as a poll.
  • Listening dictation. 
  • Write the next word. 

Tip: switch off your audio when playing audio from the computer, otherwise the students will hear you and the listening.

Playing video

  • Click on ‘share screen’. 
  • Choose the window where the video is playing.
  • Tick the ‘share computer sound’ box. 
  • Tick the ‘optimise for full-screen video clip’ to make the video smoother on students’ computers.
  • Press play on your computer and students should be able to hear and see it as normal.

Tip: Streaming Youtube videos takes up less bandwidth than playing a downloaded video.

Video activities:

  • What’s my line: write three lines from a short video clip, two which are really there, one which isn’t. Students write the number of the line which isn’t there in the chat box.

Chat box

There is a chat box in every Zoom meeting. Participants can send public messages to everyone, or start private chats. Here’s how

In teen classes, change the settings in the chat so that students can only chat with everyone publicly or privately message the teacher. It’s better for them not to be able to chat privately as you can’t monitor their communication. See ‘Changing in-meeting chat settings’ on this link.

If you send students to breakout rooms (see below) they cannot see anything that is sent to the chat box. You can only send them written messages to the room.

Also, when students return from the breakout rooms their chat box may have been wiped clean (especially if they are on a mobile). However, the host can still see everything that was in the chat box. 

You can use the chat box to:

  • Chat!
  • Have students complete a statement you give them e.g. ‘I really like using Zoom because…’
  • Elicit answers to questions in feedback stages.
  • See what questions students have.
  • Play vocab revision activities like binomials (see number 5)
  • Spelling tests. Students can also go on the video to choose the word to spell or the sentence to complete.

Annotating a screen/whiteboard

This allows you or the students to annotate a blank screen (whiteboard) or whatever you’re sharing at that point. You can annotate in the following ways:   

  • Draw – insert lines, arrows and shapes
  • Text box – including copying and pasting text from elsewhere
  • Stamp – e.g a star or a tick
  • Arrow – click to make an arrow with your name on it stay in one place. Each time you click, the previous arrow will disappear and a new one will appear.

Here is a fuller description of annotation tools and here’s how to share a whiteboard.

You can use this function to:

  • Display a controlled practice activity using a text box.
  • Draw a timeline (if you want something more permanent than holding up one on paper to the camera)
  • Copy and paste a gapfill or similar from elsewhere for them to write into (though this is probably better as an activity on Google Docs or as a Powerpoint for them to handwrite the answers to).

You can download whiteboards and send them to students.

To stop students from being able to annotate the whiteboard, i.e. to make it so you are the only person who can write on it, there is a setting in the ‘more’ menu called ‘disable participant’s annotations’. (Thanks Shannon!)

Breakout rooms

A breakout room is a way to put your students into small groups or pairs. 

Watch this 2.5-minute video to see what a breakout room is, how to set it up, what it looks like for the teacher (host) and the students (participants). You can assign students manually or automatically, and you can move students around before you send them to the rooms.
If you want something more technical, here’s Zoom’s written guide to how breakout rooms work.

You can use this function to:

  • Do the homework check.
  • Create discussion groups.
  • Divide the class into two teams e.g. to make a decision/plan.

Tip: Students cannot see any of the materials from the main room while in a breakout, or do any type chatting, so ask them to take a photo of the task or write it down. 

Tip: Remind students of breakout room etiquette before you start those stages each time.

You can’t monitor all of the breakout rooms simultaneously. You can only join one room at a time. Students can request help from inside the breakout room and invite you to join them. This pops up on your screen with a direct link to the breakout room. Your video will join the students – it’s very obvious that you’re there!

From your master breakout room list, you can broadcast a written message to all of the rooms which appears as a banner for all of the students.

  • If breakout rooms aren’t visible on Zoom, you need to go to your main settings and switch them on. This video shows you how.
  • Students may have trouble having a conversation if there are connection issues.
  • It might be a challenge to have more than 3 students in a breakout room because of sound problems/noise, but it could work for a game if there is clear turn-taking.
  • If you set a timer for breakout rooms, the timer starts regardless of whether or not the participants are in the rooms. When you close the breakout rooms, you can choose how much of a countdown the students get. 

Hands up (and other non-verbal feedback)

Students can put their hands up to draw your attention to them. To do this, they:

  • Click on ‘participants list’.
  • Click ‘raise hand’.
  • When their question has been answered, they click ‘lower hand’.

As a host, you will see a ‘hands up’ icon appear on their video. If you’re using active speaker view, ‘hands up’ should push their video to the top of the list.

You can also see a summary of how many people have their hands up by looking at the complete participants list.

There are other options for non-verbal feedback, such as ‘clap’, ‘yes’, ‘no’ etc. Find out more or see the participants list section above.

You can use this function to:

  • Find out which students want to speak on audio/camera.
  • Check understanding of a particular term/concept/instruction.

Using Google Docs

Before the lesson:

  • Create your Doc.
  • Click on Share (a blue button in the top right or go to the ‘file’ menu).
  • Click ‘get shareable link’. Make sure that it says ‘anyone with the link can edit’ – not just view!

During the lesson:

  • Check that all students on mobile phones have downloaded the Google Docs app.
  • Paste the shareable link into the chat box.
  • Students click on the link and can edit the document simultaneously. This should be fairly smooth (we hope!) as we’ve asked them to download the app before the lesson.

Tip: if you want to have students work on different specific parts of the same document at the same time, put their names at the points you want them to write/specify ‘group 1’ ‘group 2’ etc in the document. Here’s a (view-only!) example.

You can use this to:

  • Get feedback after a discussion task – students can all write their answers in the Doc simultaneously.
  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Get students to complete a table when they have proved they can do something (like we did in the session)

Using Google Sheets

Students might not have the Google Sheets app. If you want to use it in your lesson, please ask students to download it when you send them the link to the lessons.

You can use this to:

  • Get students to complete a table when they have proved they can do something – for example, a list of can-do statements.
  • Do a ‘board race’ using a Google Sheet with columns that small groups need to add their ideas to.

Advice for planning your lessons

Start with activities you’re familiar with from the face-to-face classroom and consider how to adapt them. Look at the activities throughout this post for ideas of how you could do this. Be creative, and ask for help if you’ve spent more than 5 minutes trying to figure something out!

Best practice

Students recording lessons or taking screenshots (our advice to our teachers)

In the invitation email that we send for every lesson, students will be reminded that they may not record any part of the lesson without first asking the teacher’s permission, to keep in line with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, RODO in Polish) which is EU law. 

During the lesson, if any students ask to take a screenshot, you may NOT give them permission if any other students are on the screen. If only you are on the screen, it is your decision. If it is only the work (e.g. the whiteboard) then it is your decision. Unless the work is incomplete or there is a particular reason you do not want them to take a screenshot, then it is probably OK to say yes.

Other tips

Include a summary of the lesson right at the beginning – I think this is more important in online lessons so that students know what to expect.

Always plan an activity at the start of the lesson that isn’t crucial to the lesson as a whole – this activity can ‘buy’ the time needed to make sure everyone has connected and issues with audio etc. are ironed out. (quoted from Shaun Wilden)

Give time for activities, especially if they have to switch between apps and views. Everything will take longer, especially if things have to load. Aim for simplicity in the plan in general – fewer chances for things to go wrong! 

Include breaks for students: decide with the students what they want. You may decide to have a couple of shorter breaks, e.g. 5 minutes each after 30 minutes.

Look for as many student-to-student interaction opportunities as you can – not just student to teacher or lecture-style. It’s worth putting interaction patterns on your plan to be aware of this. Plan for every student to be on camera taking to the group at least once during the session. 

Include movement in the plan – chances for students to get up. Tell the students why you’re doing this (it is better for your brain to move regularly, and you’ll remember more English). This is also a change for you to move around and take a break from looking at the screen. Ideas include:

  • Stand up and mime the actions/ verbs.
  • 30-second stretch break. 
  • Brain gym
  • Simon Says…
  • Run and write: put books on the other side of the room. Look at a sentence, remember it, run and write it in the chat box/ on a Google doc. (A kind of individual running dictation) 
  • Run and write in pairs: as above, but with the runner dictating to the other student, who has their book hidden.
  • They’ve done an activity in their books. You say a sentence – they stand up if it’s right, sit down if it’s not. Or a little more complicated: stand up and jump, stand up turn around and sit down again.
  • After a breakout room: students stand up if they agreed / turn their back if they disagreed. Teacher can turn on their mike and they can say what they thought.
  • If all students are on phones, they can walk for 2-3 minutes from their seats, then switch videos on and comment on where they’ve ended up/describe where they are/display it on the front camera/write about it. Could also be used for modals of speculation: other students guess where they might be, then turn on the camera and find out whether the guess was correct.

Other considerations

  • On the mobile phone, students can only see a super tiny whiteboard and can’t do much except draw on it. If they need to type, it should be on a Google Doc as they can still hear Zoom but can’t see anything. 
  • Chat box activities should be focussed on only the chat box, not while doing something else (e.g. watching a video). Students on mobiles can’t look at two things at the same time with Zoom.
  • If you disconnect and reconnect, the chat refreshes and you lose all previous messages. If a student has lost the connection partway through a task that you’ve written in the chatbox, you need to copy it back into the box again.
  • Some students might not have their coursebooks in front of them. Make sure you have another way to show them the activity.

Other activities

  • Flashcard games
  • Draw pictures and hold them up to the screen
  • I can… statements on the whiteboard for students to annotate/add to the chat
  • Dictation: email half the group with something to dictate to their partners in breakout rooms, using a Google doc. 
  • Kim’s game: show a picture with various objects or various things happening. Take it away. Students list what was in the picture. Chatbots, docs, breakout rooms all work for this. 
  • Quizlet flashcards: share the screen, students write the words they see in the chatbox. With smaller groups, put the microphones on and use them for drilling. Also works with normal flashcards when you have them.
  • Students write a selection of words in the checkbox. You can take suggestions then choose one to display on the whiteboard. They then create sentences using the grammar structure. Then challenge them to add the context around the sentences: who says it/ where is it written, what comes before/ after it. 
  • Remove/ replace/add: give students a starter sentence. They have to change/add/ replace words to make new sentences. Students can also suggest the original sentences. 
  • A tour of my favourite website. Students would need to prepare this before, or have something and time in the lesson. You could also use it as a lead in to a topic, showing them around a website linked to the lesson theme. Aim for 2-3 minutes maximum four presentations like this. Alternatives: my favourite app, my favourite game, my favourite book, my favourite room where I am now. Note: this should be on a voluntary basis.
  • Research time: students have 15/20 minutes to find out about a topic and prepare a mini presentation, which they then report back to the group as a live listening. This could work really well in a breakout room.
  • Picture dictations: as a whole class, followed by students dictating to each other in breakout rooms.

Warmers

These activities are also good to maintain the group dynamic/connections between students, something which can very easily be lost if the primary communication is with the teacher.

  • What can you see: describe your room, the view from your window, a photo. Alternatives: what you can hear, what you can smell. 
  • First lines: open the first book you can find in your house and bring to the screen. Type the first line into the chat box/ Google Doc. Choose a favourite and write the next line/ continue the story/ say what happened before/ describe the character. 
  • Tell students three adjectives. They write a noun which connects them in the chart box. Ask students to come on camera to justify their choice. Alternative: three nouns, they say a verb. Three verbs, they say a noun or adverb. 
  • Odd one out: Write a list of six words on the board from a lexical set. Students have to decide which one is the odd one out. They must explain this. Once they have, then challenge them to nominate another one which could be the odd one out for different reasons. Great for lateral thinking. The variation is great too, where every time they argue one is the odd word out you cross it out and they repeat the activity with the words left until there are only two words.
  • My neighbour’s cat is… page 54 of 5-minute activities by Penny Ur. This activity is great for eliciting adjectives from A-Z. You write up all the letters of the alphabet on the board and then you begin by saying “My neighbour’s cat is awful”, and write awful next to the letter “a”. Give students a timed limit eg 5 minutes, for them to add more adjectives in any order. For online purposes, challenge your class to get from A to Z, either in the chat or on a Google doc, or in breakout rooms as a competition. Variations: My neighbour likes… with verbs (adding up) or nouns (apples)
  • Taboo: email a student a taboo card. They have to define the word, either on the video or typing in chat. Or they create their own. 
  • Display a picture, then take it away. Students write the dialogue, list what they can see, describe what happened before/afterwards… should work well in breakout rooms.
  • Students choose an object in the room with them. They share them in breakout rooms and say why they chose  that object/ the story behind it/ who they would sell or give it to. 
  • Messages to the world/ the group: questions can promote discussion. Breakout groups can discuss, then one iteration can report back in the chart or on the video to the group. What’s the best thing in the world? If you could change one thing about school, what would it be? I’d you could day one thing to the world, what would it be? Also works with Thunks
  • Mind reader (I’m sure there’s a way to adapt this!)

The online teaching activities index has loads more ideas, though not all for live classes.

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Observer guidelines: giving feedback

I just wrote these guidelines for post-observation feedback to supplement an MA assignment and feel like they’re worth sharing. What would you add/remove/change?

The aims of post-observation feedback are to:

  • boost teachers’ confidence.
  • develop teachers’ ability to reflect on their own teaching.
  • help them build on their strengths.
  • identify 2-3 key areas to focus on developing and come up with concrete ideas for how to do this.
  • deal with any questions or concerns the teacher may have.
  • explain, if necessary, any areas of methodology or terminology which may be useful for teachers in examining their future practice.

Effective observation feedback is

Timely / Prompt
The closer in time the feedback is to the observation, the better, as events will be fresher in both of your minds.

Factual and non-evaluative, describing behaviour without judgment
Feedback should clearly establish what, when, where, and how, and avoid commenting on why. It should address the actual lesson based on direct observation, rather than the assumptions and interpretations of the observer, or criticisms of the person (You’re not organized at all, are you?). It also avoids value judgments (The students were engaged in the activity. rather than That was a good activity.)

Specific
Feedback should address specific aspects of the lesson and provide clear examples of what was observed.

Balanced
Both positive and negative aspects of the lesson should be discussed, and always should always be reinforced by specific examples.

Something which can be acted upon
Action points should be based on things which the teacher can do something about, not things over which they have little or not control (e.g. Teachers can make sure late students come in quickly and quietly, but they can’t stop them from being late). Any suggestions for action points should be accompanied by discussion about how to work on these, with ideas preferably coming from the teacher rather than the observer.

A space for learning within a dialogue / Not over-directed
The observer should ask relevant questions to encourage teachers to come to their own conclusions as far as possible, rather than presenting them with the observer’s conclusions (How do you think the lesson went? Why do you think the students took a long time to complete that activity? rather than I thought that lesson was too difficult for the students. They didn’t understand the activity so couldn’t complete it.) If the teacher is talking more, they have the space to formulate and articulate ideas, process thoughts and form new understandings – they are less likely to do this if they are just listening. The more the feedback comes from teacher reflecting on their lesson, the more ownership they have over it, and the more likely they are to be able to act on it. Dialogue also reduces the danger of giving advice without fully identifying the problem.

Caring and respectful
The amount of feedback given should be limited to what the teacher can handle, rather than covering everything the observer would like to say. Equally, don’t be afraid to challenge the teacher to push their thinking. The teacher needs to know that we have their best interests at heart. Remember that the teacher’s nonverbal behaviour can be a clue as to how they feel about the lesson and the feedback, not just what they are saying.

Checked for clarity
You need to make sure that the teacher has understood the feedback you have given, and what they need to do to work on action points. Asking teachers to summarise the feedback at the end of the meeting is an opportunity for the teacher to tell you the positives from the observation as they understand them, plus what the teacher needs to do next, and for you to clarify any confusing points.

Part of a process
Emphasise that you don’t expect teachers to be able to resolve any issues you have noted instantly, and that it may take time to work on them. Request feedback on your feedback too, so that teachers see you as a learning observer and feedback giver and you demonstrate how to successfully receive feedback.

A positive experience, balancing feelings and rationality
For post-observation feedback to be successful, teachers need to trust the observer and feel comfortable receiving feedback from them. They also need to feel ready to receive feedback. If they are already feeling very stressed, anxious, angry, or in any other way negative about the situation, ask them if they would like to rearrange the feedback session for a later date. If you are not sure about how to give feedback in a particular situation, discuss it (confidentially) with somebody else first if you can. Teachers have the right to have an emotional reaction to observation feedback – their feelings should not be discounted. Equally, don’t be afraid to say how things in the lesson made you feel as an observer. Emphasise strengths and improvements made, and encourage confidence and positive thinking as much as possible. Make sure the feedback meeting ends on a positive note.

References

These guidelines are adapted from the following sources, with my own ideas added:

  • Diaz Maggioli, G. (2012) Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education (page 92)
  • Mann, S. and Walsh, S. (2017) Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching. London: Routledge. (page 165 and page 159-160 based on Waring 2013:104-105)
  • White, R. Hockley, A., van der Horst Jansen, J. and Laughner, M. S. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (page 65-66 based on Porter 1982)
  • Wallace, S. and Gravells, J. (2005) Mentoring, 2nd edition. Exeter: Learning Matters. (pages 55, 58, 69, 70, 74).

Work-life balance for new teachers (IH Journal Issue 47)

Issue 47 of the IH Journal has just come out, including articles by me on Work-life balance for new teachers. Amy Gowers has written about Taming Teens, which I’ll definitely be sharing with lots of my colleagues and taking note of myself! There’s even an article called How effectively are you using your PowerPoint, which I think a lot of teachers could do with reading Here is the full contents page:

IH Journal Issue 47 contents page

Making input processes explicit

Today on the NILE trainer development course we read an article by Briony Beaven about how to make trainees aware of all of the different methods of input that we use on a course, as well as the variety of interaction patterns and activity types we use. She suggested using a poster at the end of each session with a tick list that can build up over the course. Trainees are often not able to notice input processes because they are so focused on the content of sessions. The poster draws explicit attention to input processes and will hopefully help trainees to vary their own input, activities and interaction patterns in their lessons. The original article appeared in English Teaching professional issue 74, in May 2011 and includes examples of such a poster. We’ve started using one for our course too.

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 projectimplicit.net.

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 diversebookfinder.org 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!

Energy breaks for young learners

You’re teaching a group of young learners and they just won’t sit still, no matter how many times you tell them to. They can’t seem to concentrate on anything you want to do with them. What can you do about it?

Give them an energy break, of course!

Try some of these ideas to use up at least a bit of their energy.

  • Brain Breaks therapy – the first one in the video, ‘ear and nose’, is my go-to. Lots more on their blog.

  • Board races – great for revision too, though think about how to set it up if you have pre-literate students. Divide the students into two teams (more if the board is big enough) and have them run to the board. Loads of ways to vary these:
    • Say a definition, they write a word
    • Say a word, they draw a picture
    • Show a flashcard to the person at the back, they whisper to the next person in line and so on until the person at the front writes/draws it
    • Say a word in English to the person at the back, they say it in L1 to the next person, who says it in English, and so on to the front. Either L1 or English is written on the board, depending on what they finish on.
    • And many, many more (please add them to the comments!)

Energy breaks can mean encouraging calm too. Meditation and mindfulness exercises change the energy levels in the room.

  • This video is a 1-minute meditation.

As a side note, if this is a regular problem in your lessons, you might want to check that your plans are interspersing activities which stir and settle. Here’s and introduction to stirrers and settlers from Teaching English British Council, and some tips on planning tasks for young learner lessons from ELT Planning.

What would you add to this list?

Delta conversations: Jenni

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Jenni started teaching in Poland in 2014 following a CELTA from British Council Krakow. She moved back to the UK two years later as she found love during her Christmas holiday back home. She then spent time teaching in language schools and summer schools in the UK. In 2018, she completed her Delta and currently works as an online tutor and course developer. She enjoys an #eltwhiteboard and tweets @jennifoggteach.

Jenni Fogg

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did an ‘intensive’ Delta, where the course runs over 15 weeks and the modules are completed concurrently. At Leeds Beckett (formerly Leeds Metropolitan) University, you work towards completing an internal qualification – a Postgraduate Certificate in English Language Teaching and Professional Practice, which prepares you for your Delta and counts towards it (the internal LSAs are part of both qualifications).

You prepare for the Module 1 exam through a series of workshops and homework tasks as well as taking a full Delta-style exam in exam conditions. This counts towards your PG Cert. and acts as a Delta mock.

The module 2 preparation included weekly sessions with advice on writing LSAs and background essays. The work you submit becomes part of your portfolio for both Leeds Beckett and Cambridge.

In module 3, there were deadlines throughout the semester for each section, with the view that the whole piece of work is completed within 15 weeks. We then gave a 15-minute presentation on our specialism. This was interesting as we got to learn about other specialisms and could see how people approached them in different ways.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I really wanted to do a course quickly as I found that teaching positions in the UK were generally low-paid and there was little chance of promotion without a Delta. I was already living in Leeds, within walking distance of the university, and was teaching part-time in a local language school, which meant I could teach my own class for the LSAs. It made sense to take this route. I also found the PG Cert. attractive, as it meant I could put this on my CV while I was still waiting for the results of the Delta.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

I really enjoyed reading more about SLA [Second Language Acquisition] and feel I benefited from the further reading in general; this is something I couldn’t find time to do before the course. It also made me a more reflective teacher and I now take time to consider why I have planned and structured a lesson in a certain way. I also really enjoyed all the opportunities to observe my peers and teachers online. This was a great way to discover effective new ways to teach.

The intensive nature of the course meant that we bonded quickly as a class and I made several close friends. It also gave me confidence to become more present in the ELT community on Twitter.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It was absolutely exhausting. Doing the course in 15 weeks whilst teaching at the same time was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It meant very early starts and late nights with every waking minute focused on reading, writing or lesson planning. The deadlines across different modules often fell on the same day too. It required insane organisation!

Also, because I wasn’t working full-time, I didn’t earn a lot of money throughout the course. I had to manage my money carefully (but really didn’t have much opportunity to spend it!).

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

From starting the course to achieving all three module certificates took 11 months. The course took place from the end of September to the start of January. We sat the exam and submitted Module 3 in June and then had to wait for the results. As we received our PG Cert. soon after the start of the year, we could put this on our CV in the meantime, which meant I managed to get a Director of Studies job in time for the summer, despite not having my Delta results yet.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

If you choose to do the Delta this way, you will need to become an organisation master. I used Evernote for general to-do lists, storing my notes, saving useful websites and making sure each notepad was correctly-titled and saved in the right place. I also printed an A3 calendar where I wrote all my deadlines down and what work I needed to do each day. Deadlines tended to creep up on me so I needed an easy reference to see where I was up to.

I tried to use my weekends effectively, spending most of one day in the library, and spending the other day relaxing, cleaning, seeing family and doing some bulk cooking for the week. Thankfully, my lovely boyfriend cooked a lot during the course, which stopped me from getting scurvy.

I would also recommend doing as much work as possible before the course starts, both doing some preliminary reading from a Delta reading list (there are lots online) as well as reading about how other people approached it – this is a good place to start!

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

In this intensive course, it was a lot. I turned on my laptop to start working between 6-7am and finished around 10-11pm. We had lessons at the university from 12-5pm on Mondays and Fridays and I taught in the afternoons on the other three days of the week. I don’t want to work the number of hours out!

Can teaching teens be a boost for tired teachers? (guest post)

I’ve always preferred teaching adults to teens and young learners, though just occasionally being able to run a good teen/YL class can be a great boost to my confidence. Erica Napoli Rottstock’s post has some useful tips that could make a real difference next time I head into the teen classroom!

I am pretty sure that on seeing the heading to this article you will have immediately and unconsciously nodded your head and maybe added a decisive ‘no way’. As a matter of fact, teenagers are often seen as moody and undisciplined and their lack of motivation can be a ‘nightmare’ if we are teachers.

However, taking a break to teach teens can be a real boost for demotivated teachers, an unexpectedly refreshing experience that ripples through to the rest of your EFL praxis.

I think everyone has experienced times when things don’t go as we assume; maybe you have felt tired and demotivated. The first thing to do is to find the real reason why you have lost your enthusiasm. If you think you need more fun and you strongly believe that connecting with people can help you, in this case a change is as good as a rest. Taking time out to work outside of one’s comfort zone may bring new inspiration to routine, in this case take also some time to watch this inspiring TED talk. Based on my personal experience, one year teaching in a teen class could be your solution.

The first thing to consider is that the so-called moody, undisciplined teens’ behaviour is strongly influenced by how teens’ brains are wired, ruled by the limbic system, since the frontal lobe, specifically responsible for controlling emotions, takes significantly longer to develop. This may be the reason for their short attention span, their laziness or lack of interest, but on the other hand teens are ready to get involved very easily. A trustworthy teacher with an engaging topic will soon spot ways of driving and channelling such traits.

Secondly, allow for flexibility. We can be less like control freaks and thus much more likely to enjoy the lesson. Even if we have a syllabus to follow, we can still be flexible. Interestingly enough, by releasing control, we gain students’ trust and attention. Surprisingly, if you listen to them, you get their attention and you feel less tired! I would suggest you enter the class with a multiple-option lesson plan – say a plan where you let your students decide how to develop it. I have noticed that if you start your lesson with a sort of declaration of intent, teen students are happy to follow you and are extremely pro-active. This environment is stimulating for their learning and also a boost for ‘tired teachers’. Even classroom management can become less stressful if you can let students move freely in their class, choose their peers for their activities and decide when they need a break. By respecting their pace you can have less stress indeed.

The third thing to consider is that teens are very curious, so when you teach them you can make your lesson very personal and arouse their interest. Clearly, this doesn’t mean sharing one’s closest personal issues. You can simply offer up your point of view, your personal opinions, bringing an element of humanity and showing we are far from being superheroes. I can assure you that this is not only very conducive to learning but also very positive for your well-being.

Last but not least, the environment of your class will become more relaxed and you can simply work on emergent language without wasting any opportunity for learning. Besides, you will notice that students themselves will ask you to practise more if they become aware of their limits. Teaching teens becomes a real boost, if you consider a more autonomous learner approach. You can foster students’ autonomy by developing their awareness with self-assessment, you may guide students to be aware of their own weaknesses and strengths, with a reduction of your workload or at least less time-consuming ways to evaluate your students.

Also, I recommend stimulating learning beyond the class, so that you can build a deeper rapport with your students, as you can understand their needs and interests better. In my experience, WhatsApp was extremely useful, not only in terms of conducting on-going class service communication and light conversations outside the classroom, but also when it came to assigning/performing and giving feedback on written, oral and aural homework (short writing/speaking tasks performed via voice and video recordings and text messages). This particular means of communication provides the added value of reduced practitioner workload in terms of evaluating learner performance on a day-to-day basis. We ask parents’ permission to have WhatsApp groups with students when they join the school.

To sum up, if you want to feel regenerated, go for a teen class; they have an extremely positive attitude provided one is prepared to embrace flexibility and promote autonomy.

If this is still not enough to boost you, then perhaps a good long holiday is actually in order! 🙂

About the author

Erica Napoli

Erica is a DELTA-qualified teacher with an MA in foreign literature. She has been teaching English for more than 15 years, but she likes to be considered as a life-long learner herself. Previously DoS and founder of a little private language school in Milan, she then decided to become a full-time teacher at high school and she’s currently engaged teaching teens at Istituto Europeo Leopardi in Milan. This article is based on her talk from IATEFL Brighton in April 2018.

Delta conversations: Jo

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Jo Gillespie

Jo got her BA way back in 1994 in Christchurch, NZ, with a double major in Linguistics and Education, knowing that she wanted to teach English. After gaining the Trinity CertTESOL, she began teaching in Christchurch at various English schools. Although she changed careers a couple of times, she always knew that teaching ESL was what she wanted to do, so finally in 1999, she took courage and left for a year’s teaching in the Czech Republic. While travelling, she met her husband, who is Italian, so moved to Italy, where she has been living and teaching ever since. She began the Delta in 2010, and finally completed Module 3 in 2016. After six years as a primary school teacher in a small international school, she has just moved to a DoS role at a local English school (and has started a blog about it), while maintaining a part time role as primary coordinator at the primary school. She’s about to begin an MA in TESOL, Leadership and Management.

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? 

I did the Delta part time, and all three modules were done through International House Accademia Britannica in Rome. I did them in order and think that was very helpful, as it moved from the theory to the practical, and then putting it all together in Module 3.

Module 1 was blended online. There was also an online-only option, but I wanted to meet the people with whom I was studying. We were divided into study groups in a WikiSpaces classroom and met face-to-face on a Friday for input sessions about theory. We studied mock exam questions and prepared for the exam itself.

Module 2 was again part time and blended, with the face-to-face sessions on Fridays. We had input sessions in the morning, and then teaching in the afternoons. We worked in TP groups both online and at the centre.

A face-to-face course was also arranged for Module 3, which I attended, always part-time and always on a Friday. We looked at each part of the extended assignment, and began to draft our Extended Assignment (EA). However, after the course finished, it took me another 3 or 4 years to get my EA completed and submitted (oops).

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I had just completed the IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teens (IHCYLT) at the same school, and I really liked my colleagues and the tutors. As I knew that a couple of people from the YL course would be going on to do the Delta, I decided to join them. Rome is not very far from where I live (it took about an hour and a half each way), and my employer was flexible and happy to give me Fridays off to study, so it was a good fit all round. Doing it part-time also meant that it wasn’t such a financial burden, and I had enough time to dedicate to it, even though I was working almost full-time, and I had two small children. I probably put in about 2-3 hours of study each day during the week, then intensive study face-to-face. The M3 EA took a lot longer than it should have because I changed jobs between Modules 2 and 3.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Oh, so much! A much better grounding in the theory and practice of ELT. An understanding of the research that goes into the theories – and a desire to keep learning. The confidence to experiment in the classroom. The desire to conduct action research with, about, and for my students. My M3 EA was about CLIL [Content and Language Integrated Learning] with young learners – which has led to a key role in an Erasmus+ project about that very subject. The Delta has also opened doors and has led to a move into a Director of Studies position, and teacher training.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I really don’t think there were any. It was a great balance of tasks online, and face-to-face workshops. It was intense, but doable.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I was able to combine it with work. I met people who were doing it at the same time and developed lasting relationships with them. The extended timeframe meant that I could get all the reading done (mostly).

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Get your hands on a reading list as soon as you start thinking about enrolling and start working your way through it! Make notes and mind maps about everything. Use tools like Quizlet (where there are already many Delta M1 quizzes) to help you memorise the definitions of all the terminology. Start watching teaching videos online with a critical eye, in preparation for M2. And start thinking about your EA very early.

In retrospect…

I don’t think there is much I would do differently except: study a tiny bit harder for M1; choose anything BUT a listening lesson for my final TP (the one where Cambridge is watching) – or else, use commercial materials instead of trying to make my own (ugh – lucky I passed!) I was going to say “spend less time fretting over M3” – but I chose something relatively unexplored and with hindsight, I am glad it took me as long as it did, because the end result is something of which I am very proud. I am even thinking of squeezing in another M3 EA, this time with the ELTM specialism! That’s doable, right?

Delta conversations: Jim

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Jim Fuller began his TEFL career after taking his CertTESOL in London in 2014. From there he moved to Italy and taught for three years, in which time his interest in developing further in ELT was piqued and so he began his Delta. He now lives in Almeria, Spain and works at McGinty School of English as the Head Teacher Trainer. Always looking to develop further, Jim is also currently taking his Masters in TESOL and Applied Linguistics. Jim blogs at https://spongeelt.wordpress.com/.

Jim Fuller

How did you do your Delta?

My Delta began in 2016. I was working in Bologna, Italy, and had decided that I wanted to make a career out of ELT and Delta was, in my mind, the next logical step. I took Module 1 first, followed by Module 3 and then finishing with Module 2. For Module 1, I completed a preparation course as I really had no idea what to expect – thankfully I did! And Modules 3 and 2 were both done via distance.

How did you arrange the modules? Why did you choose to do it that way?

I completed Delta this way mainly due to course timings. The Module 1 course started about four months before the exam. Then, I wasn’t able to go straight onto Module 2 because I had planned to move to Spain, so I did Module 3. Once I arrived in Spain, I took Module 2, starting in September and finishing in June of the following year.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Whoa! Big question. I believe there are two ‘main’ gains from Delta (among many). Firstly, a much more refined awareness of my teaching and how it affects learning in the classroom. Prior to Delta, I can say that I was a good teacher, but I had no idea about why I was doing something and what the possible advantages and/or disadvantages might have been. Secondly, the philosophy of reflection. Delta, especially Module 2, requires that you be reflective, and, in my opinion, it is this reflection that brings about the most change! So, it’s not enough to just be reflective whilst doing Delta… you need to continue post-Delta (Delta gets you into a good rhythm of reflective practice).

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Well, I think that even though the modules can be taken in any order, there is a clear advantage to doing them in order. When I finished Module 2 and looked back at my extended assignment for Module 3, I noticed a lot of things that I would have changed had I done Module 2 previously. That being said, a lot of the research I did for Module 3 came in handy for Module 2!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Doing Delta via distance is somewhat daunting for some candidates because it is a long commitment. However, this time that you have enables you to trial techniques, methods, activities, etc. in class, and then reflect on them and how they could be used in either Delta or normal lessons. I would not have liked to do the intensive Delta simply because I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to experiment, research and then draw my own conclusions over an extended period of time. Each to their own, though!

What would you change if you did the Delta again?

Overall, I don’t think I would change any major points, but the one thing I would change is my knowledge of Word. You will be using Word a lot, so it’s best to make sure you know how to use it. You would be surprised by how much time you can save by learning how to have a table of contents created automatically, or how hyperlinks can make your document easier to read and navigate. Most of these I discovered at the end of my Delta – thinking about the amount of time I would have saved eats at my soul sometimes! [Sandy’s note: my preparing for the Delta page includes pages which help you to use Word more efficiently.]

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My main tips are:
  • Start reading early, but be selective with what you read. There is so much information and interesting stuff in the books you are likely to read, and it is very easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole. Just be cognizant of the time you are spending reading certain parts of certain books. I usually preferred to read the ‘conclusions’ or ‘final comments’ sections first as these usually contained summaries of the chapters, articles, etc.
  • Clear your schedule while you are studying. You will be studying for anywhere between 10 – 25 hours a week over the course of your Delta, so the fewer distractions or unnecessary commitments you have the better.
  • Listen to your tutors. These guys have mentored and tutored candidates time and time again and they are a wealth of knowledge.
  • Speak to other candidates, both past and present. Delta automatically creates a community of practice with lots of people looking for and/or willing to give advice. There are many places you can find (or give) help – Facebook, online forums, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. There is no one way to do Delta – this includes doing the LSAs [Module 2 assignments], etc. There is a phenomenal amount of choice allowed (sometimes the hardest thing is deciding what to do), so don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Have fun. Delta can be arduous and tiresome at times, but you need to make time for little celebrations to ensure that you stay (relatively) sane. So, finished that background assignment? Have a glass of wine! Finished reading that chapter about cleft sentences and you’ve finally understood what the author was talking about? Sit back and relax for a bit!

Tips for Dips (guest post)

My colleague Helen Rountree is in the process of completing her Trinity DipTESOL. In this guest post, she shares some of the tips she has been given while doing the course. Note: all links to books are my affiliate links to Amazon.

Language Awareness & The Exam

Tips:

  • Do some full, timed practise exams before the day – even it’s just to know what your hand feels like after scribbling non-stop for 3 hours!
  • Revision – with so many language points that could come up, know that you can’t revise everything but learn some general quotes from big names like Parrott, Scrivener, Harmer etc to drop in for different things.
  • If you’re currently teaching, make notes on language points as you teach them – the ones I remembered best in the exams were the ones I’d reflected on after presenting them in class. It also gives you clear examples of what your students found difficult and activities you used.
  • Look back at past exam papers and find the points that come up repeatedly (for example, the classification of conditionals)

Unit 2: Coursework Portfolio

I’ve not finished this unit yet so can’t really give any tips.

Unit 3: Phonology Interview

This is made up of:

  • 5 minute presentation
  • 5 minute discussion about presentation
  • 5 minute transcription
  • 15 minute chat about phonology in general

Tips:

  • The transcription is only 2 lines (max 20 words) but you must note the phonemic script, features of connected speech, intonation, word stress, and tonic symbols.
  • Learn phonemes; use apps like Macmillan’s Sounds and practise writing notes to colleagues/friends in phonemic script.
  • Practise transcribing and timing yourself. 5 minutes seems like plenty of time but under pressure it’s not long at all!
  • Remember you can ask the examiner to repeat the text as many times as you want within the 5 minutes.
  • I found it useful to practise taking random clips from Youtube, transcribe them and then check against a phonemic translator. http://lingorado.com/ipa/ is pretty accurate although it doesn’t have any additional prosodic features.
  • Choose to present on something you have experience with and which is specific to your learners (For ideas look at Swan’s Learner English)
  • When you’ve chosen something your learners have difficulty with, research the background to the problem with reference to their L1 and prepare to explain how you tackle it. This may be a specific activity, it might be a technique for error correction etc.
  • If possible test out your activity/approach with your current students
  • At Greenwich, where I did my interview, they ask for your topic in advance of the onsite practical component but in reality you were able to change your topic up until the week of the interview. They also hold a phonology session in the first week which answered a lot of my questions leading up to the interview. There was also time for us to practise our presentation with our tutor, something which proved invaluable for me.
  • Whatever you choose make sure you know it inside out- ready to field any questions during the discussion after the interview.
  • For the discussion familiarise yourself with the elements of connected speech and be sure to have examples of each one. They love examples!
  • They are likely to ask you questions about anything they think you were weak on/missed during your presentation so if you don’t want to be asked about something get it in your presentation where you are in control and you can rehearse first!
  • Don’t be afraid to “guide” the discussion at the end to something you feel confident speaking about. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation and if the examiner senses you want to talk about something they will respond to it. For example, if you’ve read about English as a Lingua Franca and feel strongly about the value of teaching connected speech it’s possible from the question “How do you help learners with the schwa?” to lead into a discussion about Jenkins et al. and the suggested lack of importance for intelligibility in accurately pronouncing the schwa sound.
  • Get a list of interview questions (in your course materials/ online) and make notes for each question using your own experience and knowledge from your reading.
  • Get a friend or family member to ask you the questions and respond without notes.
  • Read…

Unit 4: TP

Tips:

  • Teach students something they don’t know.
  • Plan for a 45-minute lesson, not a 60-minute one, and use any extra time to reflect, review and recycle.
  • Must pass criteria: x4…
    • Lesson Delivery 1: Teacher creates an environment conducive to learning and maintains levels of motivation and interest. (= rapport and an interesting topic!)
    • Lesson Delivery 2: Genuine and meaningful communication between learners takes place
    • Lesson Delivery 11: The teacher focuses on the use of language in context
    • Lesson Delivery 12: There is clear evidence of language / skills development taking place (= teach them something new)

Pre TP:

  • Familiarise yourself with B2-C1 textbooks and build up a bank of activities and lesson ideas for grammar points which are found at this level.
  • Make and test out some practise lesson plans.
  • Practise writing out your full lesson plan on the prescribed template so you are used to the detail required.
  • Make some model materials you could adapt for different levels/ grammar points.
  • Look into ways to differentiate tasks in class, as it’s something they are keen to see in lessons.
  • Talk to anyone you know who’s already completed the course – they’ll have invaluable advice and tips!

During:

  • Needs Analysis
    • Should be made before you start teaching (normally with your teaching group/partner) in the form of a questionnaire or something similar which can be given to your students before the first diagnostic lesson. It’s also a good idea to set a writing task for homework after the first lesson to get a clearer idea of the students’ interests, language needs and motivations to learn, all of which you can include in your class profile.
    • It’s a good idea to base your needs analysis questionnaire on the ‘class and lesson profile’ document they provide you with so that you can fill all the necessary sections.
    • In your needs analysis questionnaire ask direct questions and use tick boxes.
  • The diagnostic lesson on day 1
    • Teach exactly how you normally teach (bar the nerves of course) and the advice you get from your tutor will be most applicable. I’m not sure if it’s allowed but I also typed up a full Dip-style lesson plan and asked for advice on my lesson planning too, which my tutor gladly gave.
    • Ask lots of questions after this first lesson and pay attention to your tutor’s advice.
  • Deal with each day as it comes and try not to think too far ahead.
  • But stay ahead of your workload by at least 24 hours. Planning on the day of your observation is not advised for as it can lead to unhealthy stress levels (If you have an observation at 3pm on Thursday have your lesson plan and materials done by 3pm on Wednesday.)
  • Work collaboratively with your teaching group/partner.
  • During your lessons and when observing others, write down anything you notice about the students that you can add to your class profile later. They love details!
  • And as such assess the students’ learning every time – like the mirrors in your driving test overemphasise it in all areas of your TP to show you’ve done it thoroughly.
  • Less is more – I found that, for example, for a functional language lesson 6 lexical chunks and 3 lexical items was enough to allow me to also deal with emergent language, set up a full free-ish practice and reflect at the end.
  • Trust your instinct and teach lessons in your normal teaching style with content and language points you feel comfortable teaching. Observations are not the time to try out a funky new method or controversial topic you’ve been waiting to experiment with!
  • But also try not to teach the same lesson structure repeatedly or stay too within your comfort zone – they like to see you incorporate your own knowledge of different theories and styles in lessons.
  • Plan observed lessons where you can show off your teaching – for example don’t plan a 20-minute reading. That’s half your time with you being passive.
  • Take the time to get to know your students outside of class. You want them on your side!
  • Analyse your planning so you know at every stage what you’re doing and most importantly WHY. They will ask you this in the pre-obs and post-obs interviews. It’s even better if you can back that up with your knowledge of teaching/learning theory.
  • Listen carefully to what parts of your lesson they question in the pre-obs interview; it’s often a sign of the part you’ll have issues with/ you’ve not completely thought through. If you have time between your interview and teaching your lesson think about how you can remedy any issues they’ve flagged up. Departing from your plan is not a problem if you can explain afterwards why you felt it was beneficial to do so.

I hope these tips are helpful. Good luck!

Bio

Helen

Helen has been teaching for IH Bydgoszcz for several years and is the current ADOS. This is her 5th year as an ESL teacher and she’s about to complete her DipTESOL.

Delta conversations: Iza

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Iza has been an EFL teacher for 9 years. She has an MA in English Philology and did her CELTA in 2011 at IH Katowice where she worked as a senior teacher for 5 years. She has also been teaching EAP at the University of Birmingham. She completed her Delta between 2015 and 2017. Recently she has been juggling the jobs of a freelance teacher in Poland and a teacher trainer on Cert TESOL courses in Spain and Italy.

Iza Mania

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? (i.e. in what order and did you do them in different places?)

I did Module 1 first, then Module 3 the year after and then finally Module 2. I chose this order mainly because my friend motivated me to do Module 1 as she found it quite enjoyable. I guess I was also trying to put off the most difficult one as long as possible (don’t ask me if that’s the right way to do it). I did Module 1 and 3 on my own, i.e. with no course and no tutors. For Module 3, I had two supportive colleagues – one who is an expert on EAP, which I chose as my specialism and the other one who proofread my assignment checking for what Delta examiners expect. I was very lucky to work at IH Katowice at that time as they had quite a wide selection of methodology books. I did Module 2 online, which means all the assignments were discussed and submitted via Moodle, but I had a local tutor who observed my lessons.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I think starting with Module 1 is the best way to do it as you gain a lot of theoretical and practical knowledge that comes in useful when you complete the other two modules. Working on my own saved me both time (there was a weekend Module 1 course but it was a 3-hour drive from my home) and money. It was mainly due to my two friends (thanks Zuza and Kate) who said that with the right amount of determination and self-discipline, I could do it myself. And I did! Doing module 2 online was not my first choice but a necessity (lack of places on the course in Warsaw). However, it worked out all right in the end.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

The Delta has made me much more analytical and reflective when it comes to my own teaching practice. I choose and plan the stages of my lessons more carefully now and look at the learning process more from the learners’ than the teacher’s point of view. Obviously, you have to read a lot but that means that you get to know many different approaches to language learning. Having done that, I feel more confident as a teacher trainer and pay more attention to CPD. Finally, it also gave me an opportunity to work on such aspects of TEFL as testing, course design or materials writing (which you might not always have the chance to do if you work as a teacher but which might be necessary if you want to move on to a more senior position). I personally think it is quite a door opener – I really enjoy being a teacher trainer – a job I wouldn’t be able to do if I hadn’t done my Delta.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Doing Module 1 and 3 on my own required a lot of determination and good time management (well, I guess Delta always requires that, doesn’t it?) I had doubts and sometimes I thought it would have been nice to have someone who could help me deal with them. I also didn’t get to take a mock for Module 1 which I believe would have been very useful, especially in terms of time management in the actual exam. As to Module 2, I was worried that not having a face-to-face contact with my tutor, getting delayed responses to my questions and having very little support from peers would be frustrating. Luckily, the online mode turned out to be a really convenient way of studying (see below).

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I saved money and commuting time, that’s for sure. Being able to do things at my own pace from the comfort of my home made the experience a bit less stressful. For Module 3 I also started working in the summer for my December submission; that gave me extra time for reading, needs analysis, etc. My Module 2 tutors were very efficient when it came to online communication. Also I got to teach groups I already knew which made writing learner profiles and anticipating problems easier. In addition, this module was quite intensive as it was a 3-month course. Even though it might sound like a downside (especially if you work full-time), it actually means that you give up your life for 3 months only, get it done with and then forget about it!

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

For Module 1, do a lot of past papers. Clearly, you need to do your reading too but you also need to know exactly what the Delta examiners expect. Also pay attention to the new format – it’s not ‘write as much as you can’ anymore. There’s a certain degree of repetition in the answers you can give. Obviously, don’t copy them mindlessly but take advantage of that (e.g. you could make a list of all features of parts of speech you need to include in the language analysis task).

For Module 2, make your life easy and choose these areas of language you feel most confident about. I chose the easiest area for my first LSA, as passing this one took a lot of pressure off me. There’s not much point reading intensively before the course; focus on the specific areas you are going to cover in your LSAs. Also set yourself a realistic work plan and stick to it!

For Module 3, choose a specialism that you have already worked in and you know something about. In addition, make sure your tutor is actually an expert in this specialism. And stick to word limits (this applies to Module 2 as well) – it’s not worth losing points here.

For all of the modules, I would say be prepared for hard yet very rewarding work. Read the handbook carefully and get support from others (blogs, colleagues who have done it already, tutors, peers). Very soon, you’ll be done with it and you will be able to reflect on the whole experience and notice the benefits. And finally, do go out sometimes, assuming that you want to stay sane!

Delta conversations: Kirsten

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Kirsten Colquhoun qualified with a TEFL certificate in 2003. Since then she has taught in Thailand, China, Spain, England, Qatar and South Africa. She did her Delta while teaching in Cambridge in 2009. Now she is back at home in Cape Town, working as a TEFL trainer, writer, materials developer and blogger. She blogs on teaching at www.jellybeanqueen.wordpress.com and on parenting at www.birdandthebeard.com .

 Kirsten Colquhoun

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? (i.e. in what order and did you do them in different places?)

To be honest, I didn’t really know much about the Delta before I started it. When I finished my Master’s degree in English and Applied Linguistics I knew that I wanted to continue studying but something more directly related to my teaching. My Master’s was amazing and gave me a great background to language learning and languages in general, but I wanted to learn more about the practical side of teaching, which led me to the Delta.

So I did Module 2 first. I was living in the UK at the time and I realized that I could do Module 2 in Europe for cheaper than in the UK – and I’d be living in Europe! I’m South African, so that’s a big plus for me! I applied to International House Barcelona and was accepted after a horrendous interview (tip: be prepared. This is not for fun and games). That was 8 weeks full-time. I did Modules 1 and 3 independently afterwards but at the same time.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I was lucky enough to be able to afford Module 2 full-time and because the course was in Spain and my job was in Cambridge it was never really a question of doing both at the same time.

When I went back to Cambridge I had to go back to work which is why I decided to do the other 2 modules independently. I didn’t realise you could do online courses to get help but I managed ok without. If I remember correctly, I started both modules in August and they were both due in December, so I reckoned I had enough time to work and do both. I basically just wanted to get them over and done with.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

So much. It’s difficult to put it into words but my whole attitude to teaching changed. Something in my teaching shifted and suddenly things started to make sense to me. It was probably a combination of all the theory I had become aware of and the recognition and acknowledgement of my teaching ability – my knowledge had increased but so had my confidence.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Doing Modules 1 and 3 independently was probably harder than it needed to be. I passed both (Module 1 even with Merit) but I feel I could’ve done better if I had had more guidance. I really had no idea what I was doing!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Doing Module 2 full-time was the best decision I could’ve made. I had the best time living in Barcelona – I mean, who wouldn’t?! – but I had the freedom of time to really sink into the reading we needed to do, think about my lessons and connect with the other students on my course. Doing it full-time also meant that the whole experience was condensed which really helped me focus.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Do as much of the reading beforehand as you can so that you are as prepared as possible before you begin. Do one module at a time so you can focus on it without worrying about the others at the same time. Find a mentor to give you guidance. This can be someone you know who has done the Delta before or someone from a course provider – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel and it’s useful to know exactly what’s expected of you.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

Taken more time. I felt I needed to do all three modules as quickly as possible. Working full-time became a nightmare, so there were a few weeks when I cut my hours so I could put more time into my Delta.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

For Modules 1 and 3 I think I was doing maybe 3 to 5 hours a day, so say about 15 – 20 hours a week. It was really difficult with work because some days I would have more time than others so my weeks were never the same.

The Proficiency Plateau (guest post)

At the beginning of my career, I was lucky enough to work with a whole range of dedicated teachers at International House Brno. One of them was Lily-Anne Young, who at that point had been teaching the same proficiency-level group for a couple of years. She worked with the same group for many years, and is therefore always the person I go to when I need help with teaching very high-level students. She has now agreed to write some guest posts for me, which I hope you will find useful. Over to Lily-Anne:

What do you do with students who already have, or don’t need, CAE/CPE but want to keep working on their English? The non-native speaker teachers, translators, business & tech people and many others? The ones who have hit the proficiency plateau?

Having taught a C2 class for 10 consecutive years, with many returning students, this is an area I have dealt with, struggled with and love. It’s demanding, challenging and potentially soul destroying, yet I, and some other people, thrive on this.

Expectations are incredibly high. It’s up to us and the learners to meet those expectations. To do this, it has to be a mutual experience: negotiated content, constant communication, reciprocal feedback, respect and the teacher as a facilitator.

In this introductory post I’m going to share some of the observations I have made over time and consider the implications for both teachers and learners.  In future posts I will share some activities which have proved successful with my students, and make further salient observations.

Who are these amazing people?

O’Maley (Advanced Learners, OUP) [affiliate link] points out that learners at this level are usually:

  • Highly educated
  • Teachers, educators, translators, academics
  • Middle or senior management

Based on my own students, past and present, they:

  • may be suffering from the Proficiency Plateau;
  • are highly motivated;
  • but may be wondering just how they can, usefully, improve their skills;
  • cannot be pigeonholed (as if we would ever consider such a thing);
  • love to challenge the teacher and to show off a bit;
  • all have different areas of language expertise, obsessions and gaps.

The Proficiency Plateau

I am coining this phrase as my own (I hope nobody else has used it). Teachers often talk about the Intermediate Plateau, yet the same situation can be hit at all stages of learning a language and once learners have achieved C1/C2 level it can seem almost impossible to measure progress and achievement.

What does it mean?

It means that you are going to work with students who, as with most learners, have a wide range of interests, from the mundane to the bizarre, but who also have much of the language needed to express complex ideas. This gives us a much wider range of available topics and scope to play with language than we have with lower levels and coursebooks.

It means that they are going to ask you questions you may not know the answer to off the top off your head or can answer but can’t explain. Hence, you need to be able to think on your feet and be willing to admit that you are not an encyclopedia, dictionary or Google.

It means that you have to adapt coursebooks, resource books, find suitable authentic materials and create lessons from them which meet the diverse needs of the learner(s). Which takes us on to:

Materials

There is a dearth of ready-made materials for advanced learners who don’t want to do CAE/CPE/IELTS  (or have it). This is mainly due to a lack of market demand and I believe/hope, based on the fact that my C1 students are getting younger every year, that this may change. (Yes, I am older but the C1 students are still in secondary school – that’s a big change from 10 years ago when my students were 30+).

In the meantime there are published resources which you can use and adapt – after all, we teachers are very skilled at that – and the CAE/CPE books can give you an idea of which language areas you may wish to target in the development of your course.

However the main resource for us has to be authentic materials.  Everybody has their favourites and I have mine, which I will reveal at a later date 🙂

Going beyond language

Push the boat out; above and beyond; the call of duty; hit the nail on the head. These are all wonderful phrases to know but you have to encourage your learners  to use them in appropriate situations, not just parrot them to show off knowledge. Likewise we have to motivate the learners to use their language effectively.  

To do this I work with authentic materials, some of which are provided by them and some by me, then use those materials to create classroom situations in which they can practise both language and skills.

So here is a, not exhaustive, list of some of the skills my learners and I work on together:

  • Humour
  • Sarcasm & irony
  • Criticism & compliments
  • Swearing (be careful with this)
  • Different accents
  • Different Englishes
  • Poetry, nursery rhymes, literature
  • Reading between the lines
  • Presentation skills
  • Marketing/negotiation/persuasive skills
  • Making appropriate choices between synonyms depending on contexts

Thus, I prefer to take the emphasis away from measuring progress and focus on encouraging my students to explore not only language, but also how English has so many variations and to develop skills which they may or may not have when using their own language.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and I have whetted your appetite for more.

Lily-Anne Young

Lily-Anne is a DipTesol qualified teacher with over 15 years experience in teaching in various locations and covering the whole gamut of teaching situations. Working as a freelance teacher trainer and senior teacher, based in Brno, CZ, she has recently decided to try to share some of her knowledge with other professionals via conferences and other peoples’ blogs.

In particular she has an interest on how to work with and help very advanced learners as this is an area she has been working in for a long time and many people find daunting.

In her spare time she plays in an amateur badminton league and tries to understand her Czech speaking boyfriend.

Delta conversations: James E.

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

James studied French and Spanish at university before teaching in Spain for four years, during which time he completed the Delta. In 2016 he moved to Riga, Latvia to work at International House, where he is currently an ADOS. He blogs at  https://jamesegerton.wordpress.com/.

James Egerton

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? 

I hopped around a bit: 1-3-2.

I first heard about Delta when attending an informal meeting of teachers from several different academies in May 2014 in Albacete, Spain, with the aim of training each other for the Module 1 exam in Madrid that December. We dished out several books each to look at over summer and did a couple of seminars together that September, but once the full whirlwind of term came through again it was clear our regular meetings and study sessions just weren’t going to happen, and the group somewhat evaporated.

So down to just a colleague and me, we studied with a range of resources:

  • Delta Module 1 Quizlet deck for the terminology
  • Several excellent blogs – Sandy’s [thanks!] and Lizzie Pinard’s in particular.
  • Past papers and combing through the corresponding Examination Reports for improvements.

We took the Module 1 exam in December 2014. Following the exam, we sat down with the head of teacher training at IH Madrid to get more information on how to go about taking the remaining two Modules, and I completed the Module 3 essay between January and March 2015 as a distance learner with IH Madrid. This involved regular e-mail contact, including draft edits, and only one train trip up to the capital to borrow some books I needed and speak to my supervisor face-to-face. Finally, I did Module 2 at an intensive course at IH London in July and August 2015. It was a sustained attack on the brain for 6 weeks, but that’s how it had to be (see next question)!

Why did you choose to do it that way?

In a word, practicalities.

Albacete is a small city, with the nearest Delta centre a couple of hours away in Madrid, so physically attending a course regularly just wasn’t compatible with the work schedule I had. Nor did I want to stop working full time to take the qualification, although I had to extend my summer break a little to squeeze in 6 weeks for the intensive Module 2. It was also important for me to get it done as soon as possible, as once I’ve started something I prefer to ride the wave of momentum until finishing, and 1-3-2 was the quickest route available.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Without overstating it, it was truly a fork in the road for me. Overall, the Delta marked the point that I stopped looking at being in ELT as a short-time teaching job (year to year then see how I feel each summer) and started considering it more as a career with the possibility to develop.

There was a short talk at the end of the Module 2 course in London on how we continue our professional development with a Delta certificate tucked under one arm, and I went about several of the mentioned possibilities (not all necessarily require Delta, though!):

  1. Academic management – I went back to Albacete to work as a Director of Studies for our small two-centre academy in 2015-16, then started applying for jobs in the new year with the Delta sitting on my CV, which opens a lot more doors. I got a job as Senior Teacher at International House Riga, and am just starting my second year here, this time as Assistant Director of Studies. Working at IH has in turn opened many more doors, but that’s a story for another day.
  2. Reflecting on and starting my own blog on ELT (Sandy’s blog was actually the example given)
    Post-Delta M2 advice
  3. Teacher training – This started in-house, and thanks to the Delta I got fast-tracked and have recently qualified as a IHCYLT [IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers] course tutor. I’d eventually like to become a CELTA trainer when the opportunity arises.
  4. Joining IATEFL and connecting with colleagues from around the world.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It was hectic at times! Studying Module 1 alongside work was a relatively gentle introduction; doing Module 3 alongside work meant plenty of early mornings, late evenings and studying at weekends; Module 2 was the knockout punch just at a time of year when I needed a break.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

It was over in a total of 10 months. This meant that I didn’t have time to forget much, and the definitions and technicalities from Module 1 came in very handy for Modules 3 and 2. I was also able to earn and learn simultaneously (except for Module 2), so although my head took a pummelling, my bank account stayed in the black.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Research all the options. There are so many ways to do it, find the one that best fits you. [Delta conversations can help you by describing lots of different ways.]

Don’t expect it to be fun. It’s useful, challenging, interesting at times, but ‘fun’ isn’t an adjective I’d ever use.

Do it with others if possible. My colleague and I really helped each other out preparing for Module 1 – good to have someone to check things over with, do study sessions and provide a bit of healthy competition (she got a Merit, I just passed!)

Climb the mountain in sections. Plan ahead, sure, but focus on your next tasks. I saw many people get overwhelmed at the enormity of the task, which either resulted in meltdowns or worse, dropping out. ‘By the end of the day I will have…’ is more than enough, especially during any intensive courses.

Be organised. The previous point just won’t work if not.

Be resilient. The Module 1 exam might not go so well first time, your teaching techniques might be pulled apart in Module 2, your essay draft might need a complete reconstruction in Module 3. There are plenty of speed humps; the key is to keep going!

If you have any further questions, feel free to get in touch at james.egerton@tiscali.co.uk.

All the best!

Delta conversations: Yuliya

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Yuliya Speroff is originally from Russia and has lived in several countries including the UK, New Zealand and, most recently, Turkey, where she spent three years teaching English and coordinating the work of the Curriculum Design and Materials Development office at an Intensive English Program at a private university in Kayseri. Yuliya has been teaching English for over 10 years, including two years as Director of Studies at a language school. Yuliya attained her CELTA in New Zealand in 2012 and her DELTA in 2017. Currently, Yuliya is working as a freelance ESL and Russian teacher and lives in Franklin, Tennessee.  Yuliya’s research interests include developing effective materials and using technology in the classroom. She has a blog with ELT ideas, resources and tips (including for the Delta) at https://yuliyasperoffblog.wordpress.com/

Yuliya Speroff

How did you do your Delta?

I did Module 1 and Module 3 (in that order) online with ITI Istanbul and Module 2 was a blended course with AVO Bell in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I was working full-time teaching English at an intensive English program at a university and there were no Module 2 courses (or indeed, any DELTA courses other than online ones) where I was living at the time so I went with the online option for Module 1 and 3. In addition, I needed a course that I could fit around my schedule.

As far as the next step Module 2, the course that AVO Bell offered was a bit shorter than other courses out there. Due to the fact some coursework was done long-distance prior to the beginning of the face-to-face portion of the course (namely, EPA and LSA1), the course itself was only 5 weeks long. Since I was limited in how much time off work I could take, that decided it for me.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

SO MUCH!

The biggest thing for me is probably both the bigger picture and the detailed understanding of SLA (second language acquisition) I gained – that is, what it takes to learn a language and how we, as teachers, can help our students do that. I definitely feel I am better equipped to help my students choose the best strategies for learning and understand why things happen in a certain way. For example, when students ask me why it’s so hard to understand native speakers, rather than give a vague answer, I can now tell them about connected speech and how it affects pronunciation and what some strategies are for coping with that. Writing longer assignments and lesson plans for Module 2 and 3 definitely helped me improve my research and academic writing skills and, as a result, get better at writing conference proposals and presentations. Teaching all those observed lessons and writing post-lesson evaluations taught me about the value of reflection and self-evaluation and that regardless of how long you`ve been teaching there’s always room for improvement.

Is there a word limit for this? Because I have more!

DELTA gave me the confidence to teach Russian (my native language) as a foreign language. As native speakers of English can attest, teaching your own native language isn’t always easy, but I realized that everything I learned about methodology, designing courses and planning lessons in ELT can be readily applied to teaching another foreign language, namely Russian. In addition, most importantly, doing DELTA helped me get into teacher training and that is something I have been interested in for a long time.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

There weren’t really any downsides as such but doing Module 1 online was my first such experience and it took me a few weeks to get used to the layout and the features of the LMS (ITI uses Moodle). Even though there were lots of ‘what to do first’ sort of guidelines, in the beginning I still felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and that took some getting used to.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

After reading about DELTA I thought Module 1 would be the most logical place to start since preparing for the exam requires you to read up on so many areas in ELT and it did work out that way. I feel that all that background reading and answering exam questions, especially the ones about the purpose for textbook tasks and the assumptions underlying the design of the tasks set me up really well for designing my own course in Module 3 and writing detailed lesson plans in Module 2. Doing an online course helped me do things in my own time, although having deadlines also kept me on task. One great thing about the course that ITI Istanbul offers is that when the time comes to register for the exam, should you decide that you are not quite ready yet, you can enroll in the next online course free of charge – and that is exactly what I did when I realized I needed more time to prepare.

As for Module 2, I feel like doing some of the course work and background reading before the intensive part of the course really helped me feel like I was slightly ahead of the deadlines and removed some of the time pressure.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

I actually wrote a blog post on DELTA tips and on Module 1 specifically but here are a few tips:

  • Do your background reading BEFORE the course, regardless of whether you are doing Module 1, 2 or 3. There is a lot of recommended reading and I feel like it takes a few times of reading the same information in different sources before everything truly sinks in and the overall picture forms in your head. Also, the more you read, the easier it will be for you in the following modules to go back to the books you read to look for specific information.
  • Similarly, for Modules 2 and 3, start thinking of your specialty/LSA and EPA (experimental practice assignment) topics early on so that you can start gathering materials and ideas even before the course starts and start taking notes and making bookmarks!

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

I actually did get a do-over when I enrolled for the spring Module 1 course, realized I should have started reading about the exam and doing the background reading much much earlier so I started reading and re-enrolled in the course the following autumn.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

Online Module 1 and 3: Probably 5-6 hours. I did the majority of the more ‘productive’ work over the weekend – e.g. actually sitting down to write assignments or lesson plans or doing practice exams, and during the week I did some reading in the evenings or studied with index cards.

Blended Module 2: The online part was similar to the above, and the face-to-face part was non-stop studying. I did take some walks in the evenings and had a few outings with fellow DELTA-ers, but I didn’t get to see that much of Sofia, which I regret. A funny detail – during one of the nights out we found a Delta Blues Bar! DELTA blues! Naturally, we proceeded to take dozens of photos and tell everyone what a coincidence it was but, nobody but us was very impressed.

Delta Blues Bar

Delta conversations: Sarah

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Sarah May currently works in international education. She started her career when she trained as a secondary school teacher of Modern Foreign Languages in 2011. She moved into the field of English language teaching when she decided to teach English in Spain. Sarah has also taught Spanish in an international school, and since completing the Delta she is starting a new role teaching English (Middle Years and IB) in an international school near Barcelona.

Sarah May

 

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? (i.e. in what order and did you do them in different places?)

I did my Delta in order (Modules 1-2-3) and I did the whole diploma part-time from 2015 to 2017. I did Module 1 with Distance Delta, so online. The following September, I started Module 2 on a face-to-face course at Cambridge School in Granollers, Barcelona. Every Friday from September to May we attended sessions, did our LSAs and observed each other. After Module 2 I took a six-month break as I was starting a new role, and then did Module 3 with Distance Delta again.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I felt studying part-time would let me take in more information and assimilate everything better. This proved true – I was also able to try out different techniques as I was studying ‘on the job’. It was certainly a very busy time, as I had to fit the studying around my work schedule. However, I was still able to enjoy the course and earned merits in both Modules 1 and 2. It was also a really practical and economical option – I didn’t have to stop working and I didn’t have to travel around much as Modules 1 and 3 were completely online.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Too many things to count! Meeting other teachers on the face-to-face Module 2 course was a fantastic experience. Even though we all lived in the same province, we probably would not have met otherwise. We were a mix of native and non-native English speakers and we all had diverse experiences. Everyone was really talented and we learned loads from each other. The Delta is definitely a great way to network!

Although the Delta is a very academic, Masters level qualification, all the theory is geared towards your teaching practice. I really liked how all course content is directly relevant to lesson planning and teaching.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I had to study a lot on weekends, although I knew it was only temporary. However, managing this depends on the intensity of your job. By the time I got to Module 3, I had a new role helping set up a new MFL department. The added responsibility meant I could not spend as much time on Module 3 as I would have liked! I could not have foreseen this when I started the Delta, but if you study part-time it’s important to choose your timings wisely.

Also, studying certain modules online requires a lot of willpower. With the Distance Delta, the content wasn’t delivered in any type of lesson, you simply had to read, read, read! They have forums and other resources too, but it’s a lot of studying on your own. It suited me, but it isn’t for everyone!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Doing the modules in order really helped. Completing Module 1 puts you at an advantage when starting Module 2 – it teaches you the jargon and techniques you are expected to use in your LSA’s. There is also a particular style of writing expected at Delta (clear, report-like), which you can perfect on Module 2 before you start Module 3 (the extended assignment).

Studying Module 2 face-to-face was ideal. We were able to observe all the other course participants do their lessons (LSAs), and we all gave feedback. Everyone agreed that the post-LSA sessions were where the ‘real’ learning took place, as we compared our own views with the course tutors and with each other. We gained valuable insight as to how Delta lessons are graded (e.g. what a ‘merit’ lesson looks like compared to a ‘pass’) and this was really helpful for going forward.

Our tutors at Cambridge School were also a great mix of people, very encouraging and really experienced assessing Module 2. You hear stories about some centres who want to ‘de-construct’ and ‘put back together’ their Delta trainees, but here the course didn’t have that feel; it felt more like a learning journey which built on your experience.

As I said above, studying part-time allows you to process all the information at your own rate, in a way that is productive for your current teaching.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Don’t be afraid to consult your course tutor before you plan your LSAs. Course tutors are also there to advise you on your planning, as well as to give you feedback on the end result!
  • Get someone to proof-read your assignments – not necessarily a teacher. If they can’t find it easy to follow, then it probably isn’t clear enough. Ask them to highlight the bits they don’t understand. It’s easy to assume everyone knows where your essay is going, but even Delta assessors aren’t mind-readers!
  • Don’t compare yourself. Some people might seem to do everything perfectly, but just focus on your own goals. Just think – the more progress you make, the more you’ll get for your money! Everyone comes at the Delta from a different angle, and thank goodness – otherwise the course would be really boring!
If you have any further questions about how and where I trained, feel free to get in touch at sarita.ja.may@gmail.com.
Best of luck and enjoy the course!

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.

Skimming

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! 🙂

References

  • 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.

Emina

Categorising writing mistakes

I’ve just got access to a short video made for the Teaching English British Council facebook page at IATEFL Manchester 2015 which I’d completely forgotten about! In it, I describe a method you can use to encourage students to notice mistakes they make in writing and try to reduce them. Unfortunately I can’t embed the video here, but I can give you the link to watch it. I’m not sure if you need to be logged in to facebook to see it, and I don’t know how to get around it if you don’t have a facebook account – sorry!

You can see examples of how I used this kind of error categorisation in my own Russian learning in the ‘Writing’ section of the post How I’m learning Russian (part 2).

Russian journal

Russian journal

Have you tried anything similar?

Two teaching hacks to save you time preparing your materials

Yep, clickbait title I know. Sorry. But it’s true…these two little tips have probably saved me countless seconds since I discovered them…

Making sets of cards

Before you cut up a set of cards, mark them quickly with different coloured pens. You can do it on coloured paper too if you like, but that’s more expensive and a lot more faff!

Mark paper on the back to put it into coloured sets

Once you’ve cut them up, you can then divide them quickly into separate piles. If they get mixed up, or one falls out of a set, it’s easy to see where it belongs.

IMG_5659

Folding piles of worksheets

Once you’ve printed them all, fold the whole pile in one go.

Folding piles of worksheets 1

Separate them out into a messy pile.

Folding piles of worksheets 2

Sharpen the fold, a few at a time if necessary.

Folding piles of worksheets 3

Folding piles of worksheets 4

Repeat until you’re happy with the result 🙂

Folding piles of worksheets 5

What silly little things do you do to save yourself a few seconds of precious time?

Making the most of blogs (Innovate ELT 2016)

On 6th and 7th May 2016 I attended the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona, jointly organised by ELTjam and OxfordTEFL.

The conference started with three short plenary sessions, and in a change from the traditional conference format, anybody could apply to be a plenary speaker, in much the same way as you would for a workshop, rather than it being invited speakers only. Following on from Kat Robb and Jamie Keddie, my plenary was called Five things I’ve learnt from five years of blogging. Thanks to Laura Patsko for recording it via Periscope so that you can watch it here – the image quality is a little low, but the sound should be fine.

I followed up the plenary with a 30-minute workshop on Saturday called Making the most of blogs. You can watch a 60-minute webinar I did on the same topic last year, or read on to see the slides from this version, including some blog recommendations to start you off.

Making the most of blogs title slide

I chose this topic because blogs are a key part of my professional development, both through writing my own blog and reading those of other people. I have learnt so much from this process, and hope that I continue to do so for a long time. This presentation aims to share that love 🙂

Why do teachers blog

Teachers blog for many different reasons. Here are just a few.

Reflection
By blogging, it makes you consider your lessons, your teaching and your life in more depth. You think about what you’re going to write, and which aspects of your teaching/work/life you want to shed light on. The comments you receive help you to go further by finding out more about particular topics or reconsidering your ideas about why something did/didn’t work.

Sharing materials
You’ve produced great materials or your students really enjoyed a particular activity, but you have no idea when you can use them again. Share them with others, and inspire them 🙂 Materials, activites and ideas from my blog are all in one category.

Portfolio
When you apply for work, your blog can show prospective employers a lot about you and your interest in developing yourself professionally. If you’d like to move into materials writing, the things you’ve shared show what you’re able to produce and give editors an idea about your writing style and experience. It’s also a good way for you to keep track of what you’ve done over time. I do this through my writing, videos and presenting tabs.

Making connections
By reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, you start to build up a network of people who are interested in development. This comes in very useful when you are…

Asking for help
A blog is a great place to throw out questions and see what comes back. One example of that on my blog is when I wanted to know about what EFL teachers do when they retire, which prompted a very useful discussion in the comments and led to me setting up an ISA.

Catharsis
For me, the main reason I choose to write on my blog is to get things out of my head, whatever they may be. Sometimes I know that these posts are very personal, touching on stress, health, home, love and more, and there is no obligation for you to share anything you don’t want to – it’s your blog, and your decision. These are often the posts where the comments make me laugh and cry, and show just what an amazingly supportive bunch of people those of you who read this are. Thank you!

How do you find blogs?

OK, so blogs are useful. But how do you know where to start looking for them?

Many blogs have a blogroll, a list of the writer’s favourite blogs to read. You can find mine in the bar on the right of my blog.

The British Council Teaching English facebook page is an endless source of useful links, including many different blogs.

On Twitter, you can follow the #ELTchat hashtag, which is populated by English teachers sharing content. The ELTchat summaries page takes you to the blogs of many different contributors to the chats, and the summaries themselves are an incredibly useful source of information on a plethora of topics connected to English teaching. If you’d like to find out more about using Twitter for professional development, try this post from my blog. This post was also written a couple of days after an #ELTchat on using social media for professional development, as summarised by Lizzie Pinard.

If you’d like some more specific starting points, here are ten blogs I’d recommend. I chose these blogs when I put together this presentation as they’re ones I return to again and again, but ask me on a different day and I’d probably pick a different ten 🙂 (apologies if I’ve missed yours!)

Blog recommendations 1

ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections
Mike Griffin is based in South Korea. He teaches and trains in universities there. His posts often make me laugh and always make me think.

Living Learning
Anne Hendler was based in South Korea for a long time, and is currently in transition to new places (looking forward to finding out where!) Her posts are a prime example of reflection in action, and are full of ways that she has worked with her teen classes to become a better teacher.

The Other Things Matter
Kevin Stein may not write very often, but when he does, it’s always worth reading. He is based in Japan and works with teenage students, many of whom have had trouble at other schools. His blog also includes some short fiction designed for language learners, accessible via a tab along the top.

Blog recommendations 2

How I see it now
Hana Ticha teaches in a Czech state secondary school. I’ve learnt so much from her about the challenges of teaching in a context very different from that of my own in private language schools. She also writes about how she keeps her own English up. If you didn’t grow up using English and think that might mean that you can’t blog, Hana’s writing is a prime example of why that shouldn’t stop you. If your mother tongue is English, read it anyway 🙂

Lizzie Pinard
Lizzie has taught in a variety of different contexts, and is now working for a British university. Her blog contains lots of information about studying for Delta and MAs, as well as helping your students to become more autonomous. She also reflects on her own language learning.

Close Up
Ceri Jones is a materials writer, trainer and teacher based in southern Spain. She shares materials and activities (often under the tabs along the top) and reflects on her lessons. A recent series I’ve particularly enjoyed has been about teaching ‘barefoot with beginners‘, without using coursebooks. If you click on the link, start with the post at the bottom and work up to get the full story.

Blog recommendations 3

Muddles into Maxims
Matthew Noble is a CELTA tutor in the USA. Reflections on how to become a better trainer and on his own lessons make his blog a go-to for all teacher trainers. He’s also recently hosted a series of interviews with Anne Hendler about the process of doing the CELTA as a teacher with experience, starting here.

ELTeacherTrainer
John Hughes is a materials writer, trainer and teacher. His posts include advice on materials design, classroom observation and business English.

Blog recommendations 4

Tekhnologic
This is quite simply one of the most useful blogs out there. It’s full of incredibly professionally designed templates and materials, and loads of easy-to-understand tips on how to get the most out of Microsoft Office, particularly Excel and PowerPoint. Before I found this blog, I thought I knew quite a lot about Office, but T never fails to introduce something I’ve never seen before in their posts. I just wish I knew who is behind the blog (though I know they’re in Japan) 🙂

Teaching Games
Mike Astbury is currently based in Spain, and if all goes to plan he’ll be coming to work with us at IH Bydgoszcz next year 🙂 He posts lesson plans and activities based around games for a range of levels and ages. They are all available as templates for you to download and adapt to your classroom.

Fear of missing out - how to get a feed

Once you’ve found a blog you want to follow (read regularly), there are a couple of ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on new content. You can choose to subscribe by email, meaning you’ll get a message every time a new post is published.

Another option is to use an RSS feed. This is a link which you put into a reader (see below) in order to automatically collect new posts. On my blog, you can find links for both of these near the top of the right-hand column. Some RSS readers don’t require the specific feed, just the normal link to the website, i.e. https://sandymillin.wordpress.com for this blog.

RSS readers

A reader is a piece of software you can use to read all of the blogs you want to in one place, instead of going to each blog individually.

I use feedly, a free subscription service, where I can add a link to any blog I want to follow and it will automatically collect all new posts from that blog as they are published. The screenshot above gives you an example of the interface: posts I have read in that session are greyed out, and posts still to read are in black. They are organised in order of date, telling me how many days old they are. To keep posts for longer than 30 days, you need to pay for the pro package. On the left you can see (some of!) the list of blogs I follow, along with how many posts are waiting for me to read from each. I don’t think I could keep track of anywhere near as many blogs as I do without using a reader! I spend about 5-10 minutes a day looking at the oldest posts, often just skimming them and saving them for later using diigo, an online bookmarking service. You can access it via your browser or through the free app.

Alternatives to Feedly which I haven’t used are the WordPress Reader and BlogLovin’. There are also many apps available. Try out a few different things and see what works for you.

Join the conversation - add comments

One of the main reasons I enjoy blogging is the conversations which happen in the comments section. Even if you decide not to write your own blog, you can still join in by adding your thoughts. It helps the writer to know their efforts weren’t in vain 🙂 and may add layers to their thinking.

And please don’t worry about sounding stupid or feeling like you don’t have anything to add (both things I think we’ve all experienced):

xkcd.com cartoon: I try not to make fun of people for admitting they don't know things. Because for each thing 'everyone knows' by the time they're adults, every day there are, on average, 10,000 people in the US hearing about it for the first time. Fraction who have heard of it at birth = 0%; fraction who have heard of it by 30 = 100%, US birth rate = 4,000,000 per year; number hearing about it for the first time = 10,000/day. If I make fun of people, I train them not to tell me when they have these moments. And I miss out on the fun.

One of my all-time favourite cartoons 🙂 Thanks xkcd!

How to start your own blog

Now that I’ve whet your appetite and you want to get involved, here are three simple steps to starting your own blog:

  1. Choose your host.
    I like WordPress because I find it quite intuitive, but I know it might not suit everybody. WordPress.com is free. WordPress.org is paid and may require a bit more tinkering, but you can use your own domain name if you want to. A couple of alternatives are blogger and edublogs, but again, take a look around and see what works for you.
  2. Design your blog.
    For me, this was one of the most fun parts. I started with one theme, then changed my mind after a couple of months because I decided it didn’t really ‘fit’ me, and then moved on to the rainbow theme you see now. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up spending 3-4 hours doing this and head down a bit of a rabbit hole, but it’s worth it because it’s part of your professional branding.
  3. Write your first post!
    It doesn’t need to be long, and it might be as simple as telling people why you’ve decided to start your blog. Here’s my first post. Once you’ve written one post, it’s much easier to write more 😉

What to write about

But of course, you won’t always know what to write about! An important rule of thumb for me is that you should write about what interests you. Don’t feel like you must write about something in particular because that’s the way that ‘blogs are written’. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? 🙂

You can…

  • …share your materials or ideas
    Don’t worry if you think your idea is not earth-shattering or completely original. Remember that people will read your blog at different stages of their career: they might be new to teaching or in a completely different context and have never seen it before, or they might be experienced and these things have fallen out of their head (!)
    Having said that, if you are basing your idea on the work of others, please credit them and provide a link or a book reference if possible to avoid plagiarism. There’s nothing more annoying than something you’ve put a lot of work into appearing verbatim on somebody’s else’s blog with no acknowledgement. Thank you for not being that person. Here endeth the lecture.
  • …reflect on lessons or experiences.
    What worked? What didn’t work? The latter is often more fruitful and interesting – don’t be afraid to share failure, as it can result in tips from others that will help you improve. Here’s an example. Reflecting on experiences outside the classroom can also be interesting to readers, especially those who want to find out more about what it’s like to work in a particular type of school/culture/country.
  • …ask questions.
    As you build up your readers and promote your blog, you should get some interesting answers. Often just the act of posing the question yourself can help you to move closer to the answer.
  • …summarise a webinar, seminar, presentation or conference.
    This helps you to keep track of sessions you’ve attended, and brings them to the attention of other people who may have missed them or been unable to attend. It’s also interesting to see what each person’s take is on a particular session. For examples, why not explore the IATEFL Birmingham 2016 register bloggers?
  • …respond to other blogs.
    If you read something on another blog, you might like to write a longer response to it on your own. What are your thoughts on the same topic? Did you try out a particular activity? Naomi Epstein is particularly good at doing this on Visualising Ideas.

Tips - pictures, share buttons, about page

If you start writing a blog, there are three things you can do which will help your readers:

  • Include a picture with each post.
    People are more likely to engage with a link if it’s accompanied by a picture than if it’s just text. Don’t forget to acknowledge copyright by including the source of the image, and to ask for permission if necessary.
  • Add share buttons to your blog.
    On WordPress.com, this is an option in the ‘settings’ tab of the dashboard. If people can share at the click of a button without having to copy and paste links, your post should get a wider readership.
  • Create an ‘about‘ page.
    You’re putting in all the work, so tell people who you are! They’ll wonder who’s writing all this stuff. Don’t forget to update it periodically – mine was a year out of date when I put together this presentation. Oops!

Self-promotion

It can be a bit daunting to start promoting your blog, and it may feel immodest, but if you’re not going to tell people about it, why write it?

It doesn’t need to be much, but please do tell people about your writing: share a link on Twitter using the #eltchat hashtag, post it on facebook, email it to a few people who you think might be interested… Genevieve White has some great advice about self-promotion for wallflowers to help you. You can use the #shamelessselfpromotion hashtag if you want to 🙂

On the other hand, try to avoid spamming by sharing your post in twenty different places in an hour – I don’t know about other people, but I’m liable to ignore that content because it annoys me (!)

Do bear in mind that it can take a while to build up readers. I started my blog in 2010, I write quite a lot, and this is what my stats look like as of today:

sandymillin blog stats as of 21 May 2016

A lot of those views come from people returning to old content which they’ve found useful, and a new post often only gets 50-100 readers in the first couple of weeks, whatever it might look like from the number of subscribers it says I have at the top of the page 🙂 Remember, too, that stats aren’t the most important thing, although they can be pretty addictive!

Questions

I was asked two questions at the end of the presentation.

The first was ‘What do you do about negativity?’ When dealing with negative comments, of which thankfully there seem to be few, I moderate comments before posting, so they only appear if people have previously commented on my blog or I have approved them. I can then choose if I want to share a negative comment or not. Obviously I still read them, and you have to deal with it in the same way as you would negativity in any other area, for example student feedback. Consider it on balance with all of the positives, and try not to let this happen:

How negative comments echo in our heads

The other question was ‘Why blog?’, and I hope I’ve managed to answer that throughout this post. I’d love to hear your reasons for blogging (or not!) and for you to share a link if you decide to start your own blog.

Thanks for the opportunity to present, Innovate ELT!

Hopefully, you’ll also be able to read my summary of some of the other talks I attended soon.

Update

At the end of the conference Milada Krajewska from Lang LTC in Warsaw interviewed me about blogging for teachers. Apologies for the background noise as they packed up the conference!

Writing ELT materials for primary (guest post)

At this year’s IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event, Katherine Bilsborough offered us tips on writing materials for primary-age young learners. These were really useful, so I asked her to put together a blog post summarising them for you.

Writing ELT materials for primary can be great fun but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s somehow easier than writing materials for an older age group. It isn’t. It has just as many challenges but some might be less obvious at first. Following on from the talk I did at this year’s MaWSIG pre-conference event at IATEFL, here are five things to take into consideration for anyone thinking of writing for primary.

1 What does primary actually mean?

The term primary usually covers six years – a long period in the life of a child. Materials that are suitable for a year 1 or 2 pupil aren’t suitable for a year 5 or 6 pupil – for a number of reasons. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the age group for which you are writing. The best way, of course, is to teach this age group yourself, but this isn’t always possible. The next best thing would be to observe some classes being taught – but fortunately there are a few easier things you can do too.

When you know the age group for which you are writing, check out the kind of things they are doing at school by using the UK’s Key Stage classification. Once you know the key stage, you can go to sites such as BBC Bitesizeand look at what children are doing in terms of subject matter and activity types. Remember this is a site for British school children whose first language is usually English so the language used might be more complex that the language you need to use in an ELT context. A good place to go to get an idea of the kind of vocabulary and grammar your target users need for their age group is the Cambridge English Exams website**. The word lists are very similar to word lists in the syllabus of most course books, especially since more and more course books now include exam preparation materials.

2 Primary appropriateness

The most important starting point for anybody writing materials for primary children is appropriateness. There are lots of ways to interpret this but we all know what it means. Primary materials have all the usual no-no’s and then a few more. Publishers usually provide a list of things they wish to avoid. Many of them are common sense but others might surprise you. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with all of the potential restrictions to your creativity. It’s frustrating having to completely rewrite a story, for example, because you’ve included something that needs to be cut … and the story won’t work without it. This is why it’s also a good idea to run your ideas past your editor before embarking on a writing marathon. I haven’t given any specific examples here … that’s a whole blog post in itself!

3 Illustration

Illustration is important in primary materials and once again the importance of age appropriateness needs to be considered. Look at some storybooks for five-year-olds and then at some others for nine-year-olds. You’ll notice all kinds of differences. Not only obvious things like word count or language used but also themes, genres and art styles. I have heard that more and more photos of real-life people and objects are appearing in materials for ever-younger learners. This might reflect changes in their real worlds where they are watching an increasing number of youtube videos and have much more access to photos.

It’s worth investing in a scanner if you start writing primary materials. Editors, designers and illustrators appreciate getting a scanned sketch of your perception of a page. They also like to see more detailed drawings of story frames or pages where the illustration is key to the understanding of the text. It’s worth pointing out that one of the best things about seeing the final product is seeing the brilliant work of the artists in transforming your roughly sketched ideas into work of true beauty.

4 Instructions/rubrics

When it comes to writing materials for primary I think a good rule of thumb for an instruction is ‘the simpler, the better’. That’s probably the case for all kinds of materials, for all ages and levels, but with primary it’s especially important because in the case of the youngest learners, some might not be able to read yet. Have a look at the instructions in materials for this age group. Note how they change according to the age and how simple icons are used for year 1 pupils to support the learning.

5 Useful websites for a primary materials writer

All professionals have their favourite websites and primary materials writers are no different. Here are 6 of mine. If you have any others, let us know. It’s always great to discover a new one.

http://vocabkitchen.com
Paste a text and get an instant colour-coded version, showing at a glance where each word lies within the CEFR guidelines or the AWL (academic word list) guidelines. Perfect for adapting the level of reading and audio texts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/education
*BBC Bitesize archives for different UK curriculum key stages.

www.vocaroo.com
Easy-to-use, quick and simple recording site. Useful for sending your editor an audio of how you imagine a chant, song etc. sounding.

http://www.timeforkids.com
Age appropriate news stories from around the world (older primary).

http://www.puzzle-maker.com
Free online puzzle maker where you can create crossword grids and word searches quickly and easily. Other online puzzle makers make anagrams, jumble sentences and create other kinds of puzzles.

http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/young-learners-english/
** Downloadable pdf wordlists for each level (Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET and PET).

 

Whether you are writing primary materials for your own classes or to share with others, for a blog, a website or a publisher, don’t forget the most important thing – have fun!

About Katherine

Katherine has worked in ELT since 1986 as a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She has published coursebooks and materials for all ages and contexts. Her primary materials include Dream Box, Ace! Oxford Rooftops, a new course book for OUP and a new online course for BBC English. She develops print and digital materials for the British Council and the BBC and regularly contributes to the LearnEnglish and TeachingEnglish websites. When she isn’t writing, she is gardening. Not having a blog of her own, Katherine enjoys gatecrashing other people’s blogs and was recently named ‘the interloping blogger’ – a title she approves of.

Katherine Bilsborough

If you want to find out more about materials writing, why not get a copy of Katherine’s new e-book How to write primary materials, written for the ELT Teacher2Writer site. (If you decide to buy it through Smashwords with this link, I’ll get a few pennies!)

A few tips for mature entrants to the EFL profession (guest post)

At IATEFL 2015 Manchester I was disappointed to miss a workshop by Helen Dennis-Smith with tips for more mature CELTA trainees on how to enter the profession once they’d finished their course. I contacted her and she very kindly agreed to write this post for me. She’s now a teacher at Wimbledon School of English, London, UK. Helen Dennis-Smith headshotWimbledon School of English logo

My experience

I entered the EFL profession at the age of 56 in 2010, taking my CELTA in London and needing to sell myself into an overcrowded market place. My recommendation is to tailor the way you market yourself to carefully reflect the experience you have and the subsequent impact that this will have on your teaching.

My own experience looks like this:

Mind map showing Helen's experience, divided into previous experience: love of languages, Chinese primary school, business career, raising a family, primary and secondary schools, school governor; and impact on teaching: sympathetic to the difficulty of learning a new language, celebrate different types of education and value different expectation, not afraid to teach business of legal English etc, appreciate some of the difficulties of management and be supportive, not scared of failure, can attempt to understand what makes younger learners tick and empathise, appreciate the legal implications of health and safety, employment law, safeguarding etc

I recommend taking the time to complete this kind of exercise for yourself before applying for jobs. The market place is tough, and your application needs to make it as clear as possible that the school you want to work for is going to benefit hugely by employing a more mature teacher than a very young one.

The challenges and how we can rise to them

Having obtained my first job, my initial thinking was to work as many hours as possible in as short a space of time as I could. This was based on my research into the market place in London, where it had become clear that permanent jobs in good quality schools were given largely to DELTA qualified teachers rather than CELTA teachers. The result of that was that I was eligible to start my DELTA just two years after initially qualifying. This also potentially opens up pathways into management for anyone considering this.

It also seemed essential to consider the need to squash the lifecycle of a teacher into a much shorter time than most teachers.

I recommend watching a presentation given by Tessa Woodward, a former president of IATEFL, about the various phases of teaching: The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers.

In this video she suggests that we need to start tinkering with our teaching as soon as we have got through the initial survival phase. This implies that we will experiment with different teaching styles, approaches and activities and never be afraid to try something out. Younger teachers may take some years in the survival phase. We do not have such luxury!

By doing this, we also make ourselves more marketable, as we can talk from direct experience both in applications and at interview and indicate clearly that we are not going to get stuck in a conservative approach to methodology.

The final area I would like to highlight is technology. It seems to me very important to keep up-to-date with what is available in terms of technology wherever you are teaching, but it is also important not to attempt to be seen as “cool” by the students. For me, the best approach has been to let, to some extent, the students teach me! Enquire what they use and what they would like to be able to use in class and let them show you where to find it and then adapt it for teaching purposes. The students will love to be the teacher for a while.

Last of all, we need to remember why we started teaching English. We need to enjoy ourselves, so when you get that first, albeit seemingly elusive job, make sure you have fun!

If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me at hdennissmith@gmail.com or via the Wimbledon School of English website. You can also tweet me.

With thanks to Sandy Millin for allowing me to be a guest writer on her blog.

Update

I’m very pleased to announce that Helen has been awarded the Teaching English British Council Featured Blog of the Month award for September 2015 for this post. You can find links to all of the nominated blogs by clicking on the image below. Well done Helen!

Featured blog of th emonth

10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer

I was very happy to be asked to write a guest post on the ETpedia blog. John Hughes’ book has been very useful to me on CELTA courses recently, and I would highly recommend getting yourself a copy. If you use this link, I’ll get a few pennies too.

ETpedia cover

My guest post was 10 tips to help you become a teacher trainer. What tips would you add?

Rhythm of a CELTA

This post is aimed at new CELTA trainers, especially those about to start their training (thanks to Amy for inspiring it!) If that’s not you, the jargon probably won’t make sense and the post isn’t really relevant 🙂

One of the most challenging things I found as a new CELTA tutor was knowing how to manage my time on the courses, so I thought it might be useful to share the main things you have to think about each week. The questions below are based on my diary of to-do lists for the past year, something I’ve found incredibly useful to keep me sane! Of course, the rhythm may differ from centre to centre, but it could serve as a starting point. (This is also a reminder to me in case I have a gap between courses!)

Before the course

  • Do you have the trainee profiles?
  • Are you familiar with the templates for giving lesson feedback? Will you type or handwrite your feedback? (Tip if you’ll type them: create a template so you can’t accidentally save over anybody’s feedback!)
  • Do you know the timetable for the first week, particularly which input sessions you’ll be doing?
  • How long do you have to prepare feedback? When do trainees need to hand in their self-evaluations after lessons?
  • Have you familiarised yourself with the assignments, particularly any which will be set in week one?
  • What materials will you be using? Do you need to prepare TP points? In how much depth?
  • Do the trainees need specific observation tasks for TP? Or will they be encouraged to write whatever notes they choose? Or a combination of the two?
  • Will you be with the same group of students throughout the four weeks (e.g. always elementary) or will you change throughout the course (e.g. weeks 1/4 with one group, 2/3 with the other)?
  • When do the trainees change tutors?
  • How much of the course is paper-based? Does the centre use methods to share information/files, like Dropbox or Google Drive? Is this only between tutors, or do the trainees have access to it too?

If you’re freelancing, there are a few additional questions:

  • Do you know how to get to the school? How long will it take?
  • Is there a chance to go into the school before the course starts? This is a good opportunity to ask about things like photocopier codes, wifi, and printer access, as well as which rooms be used during the course and what resources are available for trainees.
  • Will your transport be paid for (both international and local)?
  • What is the accommodation like?
  • Where is the nearest supermarket? When will you have time to cook? (!)
  • Do you need travel/health insurance?
  • What about visas? Who’s responsible for them? How long do they take to get?

Week one

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Stage 1 tutorials: When do you need to write them by? Do you need to meet any of the trainees?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week one?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week two, especially if you’ve never done them before?
  • When do the trainees start handing in plans and language analyses (straight away, or do they wait for specific input sessions first)? What is the deadline for them each day? What time do you have to mark them by? Do you need to give any feedback on them to the trainees before they teach?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups? How does the handover work? (e.g. When is assisted lesson planning? How will you arrange this with your co-tutor(s)?)
  • Do you need to write TP points for week two? Does the level of depth change?

Week two

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Stage 2 tutorials: When do you need to write them by? What time do you have available to do this? Is there a specific format at your centre? When will you meet the trainees?
  • Does anybody need a warning letter? What’s the procedure at your centre for this?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week two?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week three?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups? How does the handover work?
  • Do you need to write TP points for week three? Does the level of depth change?

Week three

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Does anybody need a stage 3 tutorial?
  • Does anybody need a warning letter? What’s the procedure at your centre for this?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week three?
  • Which ones do you need to start thinking about for week four?
  • Are you changing levels/trainee groups?
  • Do you need to write TP points for week four? Does the level of depth change?
  • When is the assessor coming? Factor in time to meet them (you’re unlikely to have time for much else that day, e.g. writing assignments)
  • When do you need to complete the information about trainees for the assessor? What format does it need to be in? What time do you have available to do this in?

Week four

  • Are there any assignments to be set this week? Who will do it?
  • Are any assignments due this week? When do you need to mark them by? What time do you have available to mark them in? When are resubmissions due in?
  • Which input sessions do you need to prepare for week four?
  • Is the assessor coming this week? (see above!)
  • When do you need to write final reports by? What time do you have available to do this? What format does it need to be in? Who needs the reports (e.g. main tutor, receptionists etc)? (If you’re a freelancer, do you need to sign them? When?)
  • Is there anybody who needs the final page of their CELTA 5 completed (e.g. because they’ve had a warning letter earlier on the course)?
  • When and where is the post-CELTA party? Are you invited? Do you want to go? 😉
The places you can go with a CELTA (a woman and a man looking at a world map)

The places you can go with a CELTA (my photo)

Is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Postscript

I know people look on my blog for some tips about training as a CELTA tutor, and it’s something I’m planning to write about, but haven’t got round to yet. One day… In the meantime, you might also be interested in my diary of a course I did in February 2015: week oneweek two, week three, week four.

Delta conversations: Emma

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Emma Gore-Lloyd started teaching four years ago after doing her CELTA at IH Wroclaw in June 2011. She worked at IH Huelva in Spain, where she enjoyed presenting at the IH Andalucia and ACEIA conferences, and started the DELTA in 2014 before moving to work at the British Council in Madrid. She blogs at https://hiveofactivities.wordpress.com/

Emma Gore-Lloyd

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules? (i.e. in what order and did you do them in different places?)

I did an intensive Delta 3-2-1 course at IH Seville (CLIC). This intensive course starts with an introductory course for Module 3 [the extended assignment], which served to prepare us well for the other two modules and also, as it was the least demanding week, gave us a chance to settle in and get to know one another a bit.  Module 2 [the observed teaching] came next, and that lasted for 6 weeks. Last came Module 1, the exam preparation course. Because we had covered most of the input we were able to focus on exam practice in this time. Then in the new year when I started work in a new job, I got going on Module 3. IH Seville set us deadlines for each part and offered feedback on each part and a final draft before we submitted the final thing.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I chose to do as much as possible of the Delta face-to-face because I’m not a fan of online learning or of studying at the same time as working. My choice of intensive course was limited by the fact that I wanted to keep the summer free and start in September (most intensive courses seem to be in the summer), but luckily for me, IH Seville was close to where I’d been living, and I later heard that it has one of the best pass rates for the Delta.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

It was a great opportunity to fine tune my teaching skills and to read more of the literature – I feel much more knowledgeable about English language teaching now. This can also make you more critical and/or cynical, which could either be an advantage or a disadvantage! I really enjoyed doing the experimental practice as it was an opportunity to learn about something new and try it out in the classroom without the pressure of being observed. I’m definitely more confident about how to tailor a course to my students’ needs now. I made some good pals on the course too.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

Ha ha! All of it during Module 2! I would get up around 8 and try to do some yoga and then some reading over brekkie, before heading to school for the first input session at 10. The best part of the day was the breakfast break at 11.30. Then there was teaching practice, lunch, and often another input session. There may have been more input than that on some days or less – I can’t quite remember now! I’d get home around five and then work until about 11pm. Weekends were a bit more intense. It sounds awful, and perhaps it was a bit too much because I was ready for it to be over by the end of the fourth week – not great when the teaching practice that counts is in the sixth week! Module 1 was less full-on, which was great because we all had Delta fatigue by then. Module 3 was a bit different – I chose not to do much during the week when I was working and then spend the weekend focusing on it, but you could do it in other ways. I didn’t have much of a social life anyway, so it suited me to do it that way. If you’re organised and make a good headstart, it shouldn’t be too much of a headache.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Well, obviously I had to give up working while I did the intensive course (and I had to pay for it myself), but I was prepared for this and saved up. By the end of Module 2 I think we were all quite tired and it was hard to stay motivated during the module 1 prep course. At this point I was also concerned with finding work starting in January. If you find yourself in the same situation, don’t panic – job vacancies appear at the beginning of January too.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I got most of it over and done with quickly!  I was reminded that my choice was the right one when I was doing Module 3 at the same time as working. It dragged on forever! (It is possible to hand in Module 3 on the same day as the Module 1 exam in December, but that’s a bit full on and our tutors didn’t really recommend it). Doing Module 2 before Module 1 definitely made sense for me because we had already applied the knowledge we needed for the exam meaningfully and it was therefore more memorable. I imagine learning a list of terminology without having applied it would be a lot harder.

The face-to-face factor was definitely a benefit for me: studying with actual, physical tutors and peers (rather than virtual ones) can mean the difference between something seeming a bit dull and something being totally inspiring – for me, anyway. It can also be eye-opening to meet teachers who have worked in totally different environments, and it’s nice to be able to support each other as you go through the course.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Read Sandy’s and Lizzie’s posts on doing the Delta for excellent tips.
  • Start reading before the course and make notes on things that you think are interesting or that you disagree with.
  • Be organised! I found Evernote really helped me keep everything sorted.
  • Don’t expect to feel great when Module 2 finishes. It’s more of a weird anti-climax.
  • Take Sandy’s advice and have a holiday before and after Module 2 – you’ll need it.
  • Take the advice you give your students and plan your essays really well because there’s no room for waffle in those word counts.
  • Do as many past papers as you can for Module 1.
  • Keep to the deadlines your tutors give you for Module 3 so you can benefit from reading their comments.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

It’s hard to say, but because we had so much useful input in Modules 3 and 2, I might have been able to study by myself for the exam. However, the school gave us access to lots of past papers and examiners’ reports, and they are the best resource for learning what Cambridge want (providing an excellent test example to analyse for reliability) – and it was good to be with my study buddies.

Blogging for professional development (British Council webinar)

On Thursday 21st May 2015 I was honoured to present as part of the British Council webinar series. Since blogging is such a central part of my teaching and my life, I’m often asked about it. In this webinar, I tell you:

  • where to find blogs connected to teaching;
  • what to do with the posts you read;
  • how to keep up with the blogs;
  • how to start your own blog.

Sandy's blogging webinar

Here is a recording of the webinar, including a list of many of the blogs which were shared by myself and the participants during the talk. Here are my slides: All of the links in the presentation should be clickable. If any of them don’t work, please let me know. If you have a favourite blog to read, feel free to share it in the comments so that others can follow it too. And if you start a teaching blog, I’d love to hear about it. Good luck!

There’s a summary of the webinar on tekhnologic’s blog.

Delta conversations: Joanna

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Joanna Malefaki has been teaching English for approximately 18 years. In the mornings, she is an online Business English tutor and in the afternoons, she teaches mostly exam classes as a freelance teacher. She has been teaching pre-sessional EAP for five summers now, and will be working at Sheffield University this summer. She holds a M.Ed in TESOL and the Cambridge Delta. She blogs regularly at www.myeltrambles.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter: @joannacre

Joanna Malefaki

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

Well, I did the Delta slow and steady. I took lots of breaks. I did module one on my own. I didn’t do a course. I already had an M. Ed in TESOL, so when I looked at the reading list, I saw that a lot of the material overlapped. Also, some of my friends who had already done the Delta suggested I try to prepare for it by myself. That’s what I did. I read whatever I could get my hands on. I did lots of Module One past papers and read examiner reports very carefully. I then found a center willing to take me on as an external candidate (CELT Athens). I took the exam and passed. After that I took a little break. I then did a blended course at CELT Athens with Marisa Constantinides and George Vassilakis. I had weekend sessions (online) and I had to go to Athens for my observed lessons (I live on a Greek island, so I needed to travel quite a bit for Module 2). I passed Module 2 and then took another break. I then did Module 3 online with Bell. My tutor there was Chris Scriberras. I passed Module 3 last December.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I work full time. I did not take any time off in order to do the Delta. I was working about 40 hours a week and then there was also the extra-curricular teaching related stuff. That means I was really busy. I couldn’t commit to an intensive Delta nor go somewhere and do the course. This was the only option. The breaks were a way to help me avoid burnout. I don’t think that I would have finished if I had done the Delta full time and have a full-time job at the same time. I probably would have dropped out.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

I studied whenever I had time. I studied late at night and on Sundays. I cannot put it in numbers though. I feel I studied a lot, but not enough. I should have cut down on my working hours.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Where do I begin? On a personal level, I learnt that if you set your mind to something, you can probably do it! I learnt that I complain a lot when I feel overwhelmed and that I really like comfort food! ‘Have a break, have a Kit Kat’ was my motto those days!

I also met lots of lovely people who were doing the course with me. I met people from around the world and I now consider them my friends, my study buddies. I learnt that I love writing and particularly, blogging. I actually started blogging because of the Delta. My tutor, Marisa, said it will help me reflect. I wrote a post about what the Delta means to me for her Delta blog. After that, I started my own blog. Getting more connected and growing my PLN was another result of the Delta, and another recommendation of Marisa’s. I learnt so much while I was doing the course, and I am still learning as a result of the course.

On a professional level, I became more aware of some of my teaching ‘weaknesses’, moved away from bad habits and experimented a lot. I started paying more attention to the links between lessons and tasks. I looked more carefully at my students’ needs. I moved a bit further away from course books. I became better at lesson planning and learnt more about aims and objectives. I also tried out new tasks, approaches and techniques I had never tried before. I learnt a lot from the feedback I got regarding my teaching. I think I liked feedback sessions the most. They are really helpful and informative.

Finally, during the Delta I became once more, a learner. The assignment writing was an eye opener for me. You see, I had been teaching EAP, for a few months. I had been going on about academic writing, integrating sources, paraphrasing and plagiarism. I spoke to my learners a lot about supporting their arguments and so on. Only when I did the Delta, did I realise that all I had been preaching was actually very hard!! I walked in my learners’ shoes. Now, I know better. I also have more study tips to share with my students!

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Doing the Delta slowly is like a knife with two blades. You have time to breathe but you may lose the momentum. Getting in and out of Delta mode is quite hard.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I did not have to take time off work and I did the Delta at my own pace. Doing the Delta online allows you to be at home and save money and time.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

I would say that it’s a good idea to do the Delta when you have extra time. Don’t do it if you are too busy. The workload is very heavy and demanding, and if you really want to enjoy it, you need to have time. Take some time off. It is very hard to do the Delta if you are teaching 24/7.

I also think it is necessary to stay focused and be selective. When you are doing the Delta, you want to know/ learn everything. You have a plethora of information coming your way. This can be overwhelming, so you need to be able to identify what you need and what needs to go (information-wise). Trust me. If you do not ‘filter’ the information, you will end with loads of photocopies scattered around your study space.

Finally, allow yourself some time for everything to sink in, again because there is a lot of information. You teaching changes gradually and what you learn takes time to become part of your teaching.

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!

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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.

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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.

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Teaching receptive skills

Reading

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).

Listening

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.

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Teaching productive skills

Speaking

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.

Writing

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)

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Teaching language

General

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.

Grammar

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:

Vocabulary/Lexis

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:

Functions

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.

Pronunciation

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:

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Assignments

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.

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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!)

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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!

Delta conversations: Anthony

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Anthony Ash

Anthony Ash has been working in ELT for 4 years now. He did his CELTA at IH Wroclaw in August 2011 and has been working for International House ever since. He has taught in Poznan and Torun in Poland as well as in Newcastle and Oxford in the UK. After completing his MA in English Language and Linguistics in Poland he went on to do the Delta at IH Newcastle. Anthony works each summer at Newcastle University as an EAP tutor and he is currently the ADoS at IH Buenos Aires.

Anthony can be contacted on anthony.ash.teaching@gmail.com He tweets at @ashowski and regularly blogs at http://eltblog.net.

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did the “intensive Delta” i.e. I did all three modules in one go. This happened from September to December 2014 at IH Newcastle. The input and the teaching practice part of the course constituted an 8-week block, with an additional 4 weeks being dedicated to preparing for the exam and writing the extended assignment for Module 3.

However, I also did a Module 1 preparation course and the Certificate in Advanced Methodology with IH World online from September to June 2014. So, in a way I was already quite prepared for Module 1 before starting the intensive course and I had an idea of how Module 2 would look.

The intensive course started around 10am Monday to Friday. Mornings were dedicated to input sessions; afternoons to preparation and teaching practice; evenings and weekends to reading and writing assignments. We taught several times a week, regardless of whether it was an assessed teaching practice or not. This was good because it meant we got loads of practice and lots of feedback from tutors and fellow Deltees.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

Before going to IH Newcastle I was Senior Teacher at IH Torun in Poland. I had planned to do Module 2 over several months by travelling into Warsaw every other weekend. However, circumstances changed and I ended up back in the UK. I chose to do the Delta intensively purely because it meant I could focus 100% on that and have it over and done with in a shorter space of time – compared to a year-long distance course for example. Just about all of the positions I wanted to apply for required Delta anyway, so the quicker I got it, the sooner I could apply for those positions.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

People often cite “linguistic knowledge” as the big thing they got from doing the Delta; however, in my case I gained most of my knowledge of linguistics during my MA. What I think I walked away from the Delta with is a greater understanding of what makes good teaching and learning excellent – I now have a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of what happens to the learners while learning, so I can plan lessons around that. Furthermore, now I also know “why” I do what I do in lessons – there is sound pedagogy behind every stage and decision.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

The intensive Delta doesn’t leave much room for Module 3. In my case, I finished the first two modules during the 8-week block and then theoretically I had 4 weeks to write and finish the extended assignment. However, I had a conference to present at in Rome (TESOL Italy National Convention 2014) and I had to make a trip back to Poland as well. So, in the end I only had 2 weeks to read, research and write the assignment. Even if I had had the full four weeks, it seems to me this is still quite a short period of time, so I think I might have done Module 3 through an online distance programme instead.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I think the intensity of it all meant it became my full-time job for 3 months. This meant the Delta was the only thing I was focused on for three months straight. I feel this helped to remove any distractions and let me concentrate on my professional development.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

The three modules are supposed to be quite independent of one another. However, it is to my experience that you might struggle to be successful in Module 2 without the theoretical knowledge from Module 1, and you might not be able to really design a course well for Module 3 if you lack both the theoretical and practical knowledge from Modules 1 and 2. So, I would strongly recommend doing the modules in order as they come: 1, 2 and 3. However, if you decide not to do this, I recommend in any case preparing for Module 1 before Module 2, as the second module is very demanding and takes up a lot of time on its own.

Delta conversations: Angelos

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Angelos Bollos

Angelos Bollas is a Cambridge CELTA and Delta qualified TEFLer based in Greece and the UK. He is currently working towards an MA in ELT at Leeds Beckett University. He is an Academic Manager at an international educational organisation and is interested in online education, CPD, as well as teacher training and development. In his free time, he blogs (www.angelosbollastefl.com), participates in #ELTchat weekly discussions on twitter, and connects with language educators around the world. He is @angelos_bollas on Twitter.

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did my Delta at CELT Athens – same place I had done my CELTA – with Marisa Constantinides and George Vassilakis. I could either follow an online/blended course or an 8-week intensive one. I opted for the second, not because I have anything against online courses (quite the contrary), but because I wanted to be completely devoted to it.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

As I said, the course was an integrated one, which means that I did all three modules at the same time. Undoubtedly, this was the hardest period of my life, but the most fruitful one. Doing all three modules together helped me stay focused and interested throughout. From one perspective, it is much easier: I was reading an article for Module 1 and realized that I can use it for my Module 3 essay, for example. What I am trying to say is that there is a lot of overlapping and I benefitted from the fact that I was studying for all modules at once.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

First and foremost, I got the chance to reach my limits both emotionally and physically: spending three nights and days writing an assignment and, then, being told that I had to rewrite it all over again was something that I had always thought I couldn’t handle. Well, I did!

It also helped me hone my professional skills: organizing time, tasks, and people were closely linked to the course. Finally, it made me accept my role as agent of change, which may add to the responsibilities I have as teacher but, at the same time, it makes me want to constantly become better.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

That’s an easy one: lack of sleep (as a result of lack of time, of course). A typical day was as follows: 8am – 9am Travel to CELT Athens, 9am – 4pm Input Sessions/Teaching Practices, 4pm – 5pm Travel back home, 5pm – 6pm One-hour sleep, 6pm – 8pm Work for Module 1, 8pm – 12am Work for Module 2, 12am – 3am Work for Module 3. Also, note that I am not the most organized person on earth so, following this schedule was a constant battle for me!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Two months and I was done and dusted! This may not seem as an important benefit but I can assure you, it was a great motive. Other than that, there was no room for anything not related to Delta. As I mentioned before, this helped me a lot.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Since I have written on my blog some tips for people who are about to follow a Delta course, I shouldn’t repeat myself. People interested in reading my tips, can click here.

However, I would like to stress the importance of the following two:

a. When choosing a centre make sure that you have enough and varied support (other than trusting the tutors, that is). For example, at CELT Athens, we had physical access to a library that had as many titles as you can think of, full of rare and very well known books; we, also, had access to the Delta wiki – an online space where one can find anything related to ELT and linguistics; lastly, we were part of network of many alumni who were willing to help and support us.

b. It is of utmost importance that people on intensive courses are team players – if they don’t support each other, they make their lives much harder.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

There are times I wish I had done my training way before the time I did it (I had been teaching full time for 8 years when I did my Delta), but then…I wouldn’t know if things would have been better or not. So, to answer your question, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

As many as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have a better answer to that one. I spent 9 hours/day for researching, reading, brainstorming, organizing, drafting, planning, etc. As I said, though, I don’t regret any of these.

How to set up an information gap

Information gap set up reminder

What do you mean, you don’t understand? 😉 The face you’re pulling right now is the one which the students will show you if you attempt to set up a ‘complicated’ speaking activity and the instructions go wrong. Information gaps are activities which can work brilliantly if you set them up efficiently, and fall completely flat if you don’t.

Before we go any further, what exactly is an information gap?

An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps. It is often used in communicative language teaching and task-based language learning.

Wikipedia

They’re very common in coursebooks, and are often used to practise specific language points at the ‘freer practice’ stage of a lesson, but they can easily be used for fluency practice without a particular grammatical focus too. Boggle’s World ESL has some examples if you’re still a bit confused.

Here’s a simple guide to setting one up, including some potential problems so you can think about whether/how you’ll check instructions.

Step 1: Allocating roles

Tell your students what role they will take in the info gap.Don’t move the students yet! To make the rest of this explanation easier, I’ll say you’re doing one with two sets of information, so roles ‘A’ and ‘B’. A ‘C’ in brackets shows what you would do with an info gap with three sets of information.

Potential problems and possible solutions

The wrong number of students, e.g. an odd number when you need pairs.
Don’t work with the leftover student – you need to be free to monitor and help! Instead, have two As or Bs in one pair, and tell them how to share the work, e.g. take it in turns to ask/answer a question. Think carefully about who your two As/Bs should be to make sure you don’t end up with a strong student doing all the work or a less dominant student with no opportunity to speak because their partner won’t let them get a word in.

Students can’t remember which role you allocated.
Before you go any further, ask them to put up their hands to check they know who they are: “Who’s A? Who’s B?”

Step 2: Preparation time

Before your students speak, they need time to understand the task and work out what they’re going to say. Group As together and Bs together: AAA BBB (CCC) to prepare. For example, for a question and answer task they could work out the questions. For a ‘describe your picture’ type task, they could describe the picture they have to each other. This will give them a chance to rehearse and to ask you for any language they need.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students start trying to do the actual information gap.
Make it clear that this is preparation time and that e.g. they should only write the questions, not answer them – their partner will do that later.

Step 3: Information gap

Your students should now be ready to do the task. Regroup them AB(C) AB(C) AB(C). When they’re sitting in the right places, tell them exactly what they need to do. Something like this:

A, you ask your questions. B, you answer them. Then B, you ask, and A, you answer.

or

A, tell B one thing in your picture. B, tell A if it’s the same or different to your picture. If it’s different, circle it. Then B, tell A one thing in your picture. Find 8 differences between your pictures. Don’t look at the other picture.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students speak their own language.
This is natural if the task is too difficult for them. They may not have had enough preparation time, so you could give them more. Encourage them to speak English, and tell them you realise that English might be slower, but they need practice to help them get faster!

They look at each other’s paper/sheet/picture etc.
When giving your instructions, check carefully that students know they’re not allowed to look. You can also seat them back to back:

Back to back

or in two rows facing each other with a large gap between. Bear in mind that this may create noise issues, although that can encourage quieter students to speak more loudly to make themselves heard, and helps students to get practice with phrases like “Can you say that again please?”

Students forget to write the answers/circle the differences etc.
Check that they know what to do, and monitor during the activity so that you can remind them if you need to.

Step 4: Checking the answers

If students should now have all of the same information on their paper, they can compare their sheets side by side to spot differences/mistakes/missing information etc.

Otherwise, it’s good to return students to their original AAA BBB (CCC) groups to share the things they found out.

Step 5: Feedback

Don’t forget this stage! You need two parts:

  • Feedback on content: This can be as simple as ‘Did you find all of the differences?’ or ‘Did you both get all of the information right?’, followed by further checking of the problem areas.
  • Feedback on language: While you were monitoring, you were (hopefully!) taking notes of some of the language students were using successfully and any problems they may have had. Choose a few of these to focus on, and make sure you praise the good language too.

If I’ve done my job right, the image at the top should now make perfect sense 🙂 I made it off the cuff during a CELTA input session when the trainees asked me how to do this, and I thought it might be useful for others too. I hope it works!

One way to approach lesson planning for CELTA

I often see trainees who spend hours and hours producing beautiful materials, then have so little detail in their plan that they end up teaching a pretty poor lesson, sometimes even below standard. Another problem with organising planning time is failing to complete the language analysis sheet, normally a required part of planning from TP3 (teaching practice) onwards.

One trainee on my current course was having particular trouble with approaching their planning, so today we came up with this step-by-step approach to prioritising when doing lesson planning for CELTA:

  1. Write your main and secondary/subsidiary aims.
    If you don’t know this, the rest of the lesson is very hard to put together!
  2. Complete the (relevant) language analysis sheet.
    For many trainees, this is left to the end, and becomes a big scary thing that is just there to be put off and/or rushed at the end. By getting it out of the way right at the start, you know what you’re dealing with. The LA is designed to help you feel more confident in the lesson, and be able to deal with whatever the students throw at you related to those particular language points. It’s also the grounding for the language focus in your lesson, as it helps you to find out what you need to cover. Do include any CCQs you plan to use, because there’s nothing worse than writing ‘ask CCQs’ on your language analysis, then in the lesson wondering how on earth to phrase them! This is the best time to think about them, not in the middle of TP!

    Procrastination cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

    Sometimes the language analysis can be a bit like this. (Cartoon by Dave Walker, found via We Blog Cartoons.)

  3. Based on the aims of your lesson, decide what kind of lesson it is, and check what the main stages of that type of lesson should be.
    For example, if you’re teaching vocabulary, will it be text-based? Situational? Test-teach-test? Does the lesson include speaking skills? What are the stages of a speaking lesson? etc Don’t write procedure at this point, just the stage names.
  4. Decide which of the stages is the most important, and should therefore account for the longest activity(ies) in your lesson.
    In a writing lesson, this would be the writing stage, for example.
  5. Allocate the remaining time you have available to the rest of the stages you listed at step 3.
    If you’re teaching elementary and you need help, see here. You might still find some useful tips there if you’re teaching other levels.
  6. Now you know how long you have for each stage, it’s time to add the procedural detail.
    Exactly what will you do at each stage? How will you set up the activities? How will you give feedback? Do you need a peer check? And will you realistically be able to do all of this in the time you allocated to that stage during step 5? Can you make it more efficient? If you’ve allocated too much time, do you need to rethink step 5? And do you really, really have time to do that amazing activity you’ve just read about and really want to have a go at, even though it doesn’t really help you achieve your aims? Is there anything else you need to remind yourself to do?
    As a tutor, I’ve noticed that until it’s second nature, if it’s not in the plan, it’s not in the lesson, so if you want to do it, write it down. It’s not a 100% guarantee, but you’re more likely to manage it if it’s in the plan!
  7. Fill in the rest of the planning document, e.g. assumptions, anticipated problems/solutions, materials etc.
    By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what to write for all of these, since you’ve had plenty of time to think the lesson through.
  8. Finally, the fun bit! Prepare your materials.
    Now that you’ve completed all of the important paperwork you need to do, you know how long you have left to be able to dedicate to creating/adapting/cutting up those all important materials. Go nuts!

If you’re anything like me, your mind goes blank when you look at a computer screen (oddly enough, not when blogging, but I digress!) and you think much better with paper. I’d therefore recommended plotting out steps 1-5 roughly on paper before you go anywhere near the computer, and possibly 6 too if it helps.

The following four steps are optional extras, to be added if you have time to do them, or a particular problem with these areas:

  • Script your instructions.
    A great tip I got from my main course tutor in Sevastopol was to aim for instructions of three sentences of three words each. While this can sometimes be impossible, it helps you to avoid long embedded sentences of the “What I’d like you to do now is I’d like you to…” variety. Use imperatives. Something like: “Read this. Answer the questions. Work alone.” accompanied by pointing at the handout is good. It might sound harsh because there are no politeness markers in there, but it’s efficient and to the point.
  • Script ICQs.
    Seeing ‘Ask ICQs’ in a lesson plan without them being followed by said ICQs is one of my personal bugbears. As with CCQs in the language analysis, if you’re going to use them, script them. Make sure they only deal with potential problem areas, as otherwise they may well confuse the students more than if you hadn’t asked them. And remember that doing a clear example/demonstration can often negate the need for ICQs, and sometimes instructions too!
  • Create a skeleton plan of your lesson.
    If you get overwhelmed by looking at your complete plan during TP, this can be a useful way to give yourself a reminder without having to spend hours working out where you’re up to while the students are staring at you. A skeleton plan is a brief outline of the stages of the lesson, perhaps with one or two useful reminders.
  • Rehearse the lesson.
    If confidence is a problem, going through your plan one more time before the lesson, either alone or with someone else, can really help you to feel more confident, and more sure about what’s coming next.

This was a system I came up with off the top of my head today, so I’d be interested to hear whether it works for you. And trainers, do you use anything similar?

Timing your classes*

*or…

Tips I give my CELTA trainees, which kind of work, sometimes.

I’m now on my fourth CELTA course since September, and on all of them I’ve worked with the elementary students only (that will change next Monday when I’ll finally be with intermediate). Trainees are constantly asking me how to work out the timing on their lesson plans, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try to calculate some formulae to give them at least approximate guidance. Since I was always pretty rubbish at timing my lessons before I became a tutor, and haven’t had chance to see if I’ve improved yet, these notes are to help me in the future too!

A cartoon from XKCD about estimating the timing of a project: Aaaa! I'm so bad at estimating how long projects will take. - Don't panic. There's a simple trick for that. Take your most realistic estimate, then double it. - Okay, but... - Now double it again. Add five minutes. Double it a third time. - Okay. -30 seconds have gone by and you've done nothing but double imaginary numbers! You're making no progress and will never finish! -Aaaaaa! - Paaaaniiic! -Aaaaaa!

How we all feel 🙂

(July 2018 update: This was originally written with elementary students in mind, but actually I think the formulae work at most levels having now used them much more extensively!)

This is what I’ve come up with so far:

Starting the lesson

Make a note of the time you start, and calculate what time you should finish. Do this during the first activity before you forget. If it helps, write it vertically at the side of the board as a reminder. You’re less likely to erase it if it’s vertical than horizontal. To make doubly sure, draw a box around it. Enlist your TP groups’ help with timing, and ask somebody to give you a 5-minute warning if you think it’ll help.

Hampton Court Palace clock (24 hours on one face)

Hopefully the clock you use won’t be quite this complicated (my image)

Lead in

This shouldn’t be longer than 10 minutes in a 45-minute lesson, preferably closer to 5. Allocate a couple of minutes for greeting the students and setting the initial task, a couple of minutes for them to speak in pairs or small groups, then one minute for quick feedback. You should be setting the context/getting students into the topic here, not having a full-blown discussion.

Instructions

Always allocate 1-2 minutes for giving instructions and activity set-up, especially if you need to move the students/furniture.

Speaking

Students generally need about 1 minute per question, possibly each if they’re working in pairs/groups. Remember that at elementary they are probably translating the question into their language, coming up with the answer, then translating it back into English, no matter how much you might want them to operate in English only. That takes time!

For speaking tasks which required extended production, not just one or two sentences, you needed to allocate preparation (‘ideas’) time too, say 5 minutes give or take, depending on the task and the amount of support they get in the way you set it up.

Students also need practice time before performing in front of the whole class (‘language time’), when they can ask you for help. Again, depending on the way you set it up, this is going to be about five minutes.

Writing

As with speaking, students need both ‘ideas time’ and ‘language time’, though here the language time is when they’re actually producing their writing. Whether they’re working alone or in pairs, 10 minutes is probably about right in a 45-minute lesson, although again, this depends on the length of the text you want them to produce, and how much input you’ve given them before they write. Another way to work it out is to time yourself doing the piece of writing, then multiply that time by three or four.

Before students write, you need to allocate time to focussing on useful language from the text which the students can steal for their own writing. Set aside 5 minutes for this, maybe longer depending on how many things you want to highlight.

Reading

Reading for gist should be quick. That’s why it’s for gist – it’s to get an idea of the general topic and structure of the text, to prepare you for more detailed reading later. Set a time limit, probably 1 or 2 minutes depending on the length of the text, and stick to it. Don’t let the students keep reading after this – if necessary, get them to turn over their paper/close their books. Remember that you still need a peer check after this, which again should only be about 30 seconds, because if your gist task is appropriate it will only be a couple of relatively easy questions which don’t require long answers.

On the other hand, more detailed reading takes time, especially if students aren’t confident. I’d recommend 3-4 minutes for your average detail/specific information task, depending on how much the students need to reread/write. Again, don’t forget to allocate time for the peer check!

Listening

You don’t have so much control over time in a listening lesson, because the length of the audio determines it to some extent. That mean’s that when you’re preparing, you need to check how long the recording is! Work out how many times you’re going to play it, including the initial/gist activity, and (probably) one more repetitions than you expect, so that you can focus on any problem areas that come up during the lesson. You may also need to consider the time it’ll take to set up the tech, although hopefully you’ve done this before the class starts.

As always, don’t forget to factor in peer checks, perhaps between listenings as well as at the end of each stage, as this particularly helps weaker learners.

Presenting language

This is the major time sink in most lessons I’ve observed, especially if the teacher decides on a board-centred presentation. It’s hard not to keep talking when everyone is looking at you, and verbal diarrhoea eats time!

Two tips:

  1. Avoid long board-centred presentations if at all possible. How can you hand it over to the students?
  2. If you do have to do one, allocate about 15 minutes. They never seem to take less time than that! And in a 45-minute lesson, remember that’s a third of your time.Remember to allocate time for meaning AND form AND pronunciation. Again, do you have to be the centre of attention, or can you break it up somehow?

That’s not to say that T-centred presentations are a complete no-no, but make sure you’ve planned them thoroughly, and you know when to stop talking!

If you’ve managed to make it SS-centred, follow the tips in ‘language practice’ below.

Drilling

This depends on how quickly your students pick up new forms, how big the class is, how many pieces of language there are and how long each item you’re trying to teach them is, but it should be at least five minutes. Shorter than that and there probably isn’t enough repetition in there. Consider breaking it up a bit by getting students to repeat things to each other in pairs or small groups after the whole class stage and monitoring for problems. This takes the focus off you for a few seconds, and adds a bit of variety.

Language practice

Again, this depends on the type of activity students are doing and on how good your teaching was. If they still don’t really get the language, then this will all take longer. These are tips for controlled practice activities, based on the most common ones I see. For freer practice, see ‘speaking’/’writing’ above.

  • Matching: about 15 seconds per item.
  • Gapfill with words there: about 15-30 seconds per item, depending on the number of words.
  • Gapfill with no words (open cloze – students have to think of the words themselves): about 30-45 seconds per item.
  • Writing/rewriting sentences: about one minute per item.

Feedback

Reminder number one: feedback shouldn’t take longer than the activity you’re feeding back on, unless there are major problems for some reason.

Reminder number two: writing things on the board takes time. If you’re doing it, make sure you have a good reason why, and that it’s not just for the sake of having something to do. If the students are doing it, is everyone involved? What are the other students doing? Are they just watching? (It can be a good way of keeping fast finishers occupied, as long as they don’t end up doing it all the time.)

I’m not sure there’s a particular rule on the length of feedback, but it should make students feel like it wasn’t a waste of their time doing the activity, and it should round off the activity enough that students are ready to move on. Here are some approximate amounts:

  • Speaking/Writing: Allocate time for both ‘feedback on content’ and ‘feedback on language’, probably about 3-5 minutes for each, depending on how you set it up.
  • Reading/Listening/Controlled practice activities: 2-3 minutes, including dealing with any problems, unless students need to see the written form of the answers (especially for full sentences) in which case you may want to get them to write things on the board, which will take longer. To make it shorter, have the answers ready to show/give them.

Peer checks should be factored in before open-/whole-class feedback, probably 1-3 minutes depending on the length of the task and the difficulty students have had with it. Monitor carefully during peer checks so that you can make your feedback more efficient (read, faster).

In general

I’ve found that planning in nice round 5-minute units is generally the way to go. They normally balance out across the lesson. If I try to do odd 3/6/8-minute times, they always end up being 5/10-minute ones anyway! That means that in a 45-minute lesson, you have nine 5-minute units to play with. Use them wisely. 🙂

Planning your lessons

Remember that tasks fill the time allotted to them. A good night’s sleep is more important than a perfect lesson! If you don’t believe me, here’s a CELTA candidate’s (short!) take on it.

If you’d like some more tips about timing, Jonny Ingham might be able to help.

I hope these tips work for you, and if anyone has any others, please do share them. I know trainees will appreciate them!

Arabic students and spelling (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

At IATEFL Harrogate I watched a presentation which went a long way towards answering a question I posed on this blog a while back: How can we help Arabic learners with their huge problems with spelling in English? It was given by Emina Tuzovic, and she kindly agreed to write a guest post sharing her tips for my blog. What with one thing and another, it’s been a while in coming (she finished it for me 6 months ago!) but I hope it was worth the wait!

Emina

Emina

A couple of tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic learners

Any TEFL teacher who has experience teaching Arabic learners is acquainted with the difficulties they face when it comes to spelling. I would like to share some spelling tips which helped my Arabic students improve this skill.

First of all, I would pre-teach what vowels, consonants and syllables are as well as highlight the difference between sounds and letters. This is important for Arabic learners as when they learn English, they need to deal with the following:

  • a new script;
  • numerous spelling patterns;
  • a complex and very often unpredictable system of mapping sounds onto letters (Arabic has a regular 1-1 sound-letter conversion);
  • a different reading direction (Arabic is written from right to left).

Therefore using the appropriate ‘labels’ will make your explanations much clearer. Also don’t forget that a phonemic chart looks like another script for this group of learners. Therefore I tend to avoid it if I can, especially transcriptions of whole words. Instead of writing a phonemic on the board, I prefer writing another, high-frequency word with the same pronunciation of a sound in question, e.g. moon; rude (/u:/).

Vowels

As you have probably noticed it is the spelling of vowels that creates most difficulties for Arabic students. One of the most effective tasks for this group is simply gapping the vowels:   e.g. _xc_pt (except)   vs   _cc_pt (accept).

‘Problematic vowels’ are down to L1 interference. Firstly, in Arabic short vowels are in most cases not written down but only indicated by diacritics. For that reason, they are frequently glossed over by the students when they read in English (which consequently results in the poor spelling of vowels). Secondly, Arabic only has three long and three short vowels in comparison to English (5 vowel letters and 20 sounds!).

Therefore when I board new vocabulary (especially multi-syllable words), I mark vowels with a colour pen and break the words down into syllables which I subsequently drill in isolation. This is very important as many Arabic students will otherwise either guess the vowel or simply omit it when trying to read a new word.

Vowels

Breaking down words into CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) patterns is also important as it helps students visually memorise lexical items. I try to encourage my students to practise words by writing them down, not typing them up on the computer. This will help them consolidate the visual form of the words which is absolutely vital if you want to be a good speller! (e.g. they need to see how differently words such as play and blue look like). I also try to get the students not to only copy the word but use the Look, remember, cover, write, check method. I get them to look at a word for about 20 seconds and try to memorise it before covering and then trying to recall it. In this way you know the students have used their processing skills to retain the item instead of just copying it.

Noticing patterns

As teachers, when we teach spelling, we tend to focus too much on spelling and pronunciation irregularities (e.g. plough, cough, etc.) rather than teaching spelling patterns. If you need to check these and the rules associated with them, I suggest using the guide on the Oxford Dictionaries website. In relation to this, I try to get my students to notice the most common letter strings (e.g. sh, ch, spr, ure, etc.) and encourage ‘active reading’ where they look for letter strings and spelling patterns. When they record vocabulary, encourage the use of spelling logs as a separate section of students’ vocabulary books (based on a spelling pattern, e.g. ie vs ei, rather than just randomly recorded vocabulary).

When revising new lexis, I sometimes use magnetic letter strings (rather than only letters) which I simply ordered off Amazon! Here is the link if you’d like to buy your own magnetic letters [affiliate link, so Sandy gets a few pennies if you order here!]

Magnetic letter strings

To get a closer insight into spelling games based on spelling patters, I would recommend Shemesh & Waller’s Teaching English Spelling [affiliate link].

[Note from Sandy: another good spelling book is Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners by Johanna Stirling]

Building up confidence

I have noticed that my Arabic learners are well aware of their poor spelling. In order to build up their confidence, they need to be shown that they have made progress.

I usually set up a routine: for the first or last 5 minutes of the class we revise vocabulary from the previous day (e.g. spelling bee) or I might give them a spelling test either every day or every other day. In this way they will soon get the sense of achievement.

I also try to praise my students for using a correct pattern (e.g. *reech, *shef, etc.) even though the word might not be spelled correctly.

Morphology

When it comes to spelling, morphology plays a very important role, too. Highlight the root, suffixes and prefixes of a word and encourage students to create word families. Based on their L1, Arabic learners will be familiar/will be able to relate to this concept/aspect of learning the new vocabulary.

Morphology

Avoid the following…

One of the common spelling activities you find in various coursebook is unjumbling letters (e.g. *fnsniuoco-confusion). However I would not advise these exercises for Arabic learners. Individual letters shuffled around might only confuse them as these exercises do not contribute to consolidating the visual form of a word.

Another exercise which particularly lower-level Arabic learners might not find useful is crosswords for the same reason as listed above (words are often presented vertically and in divided block form).

Spelling games on the computer

Students can check the following useful websites if they want to practise spelling in their own time:

This task is particularly of interest for Arabic learners as there are a lot of vowel changes between the three verb forms (e.g. drink-drank-drunk).

The first two tasks in the next group are very useful for consolidating the visual form of the word:

If students enjoy playing spelling bees, spellbee.org is an option. However, you need to register.

In terms of spelling software (which has to be downloaded on your computer), there is a lot to choose from. However, the vast majority is designed for native English speaking children and is therefore not the best tool for ESL learners. After having done some research into those, I’d recommend ‘Speak n Spell’. Although there are some issues with the audio, it’s still worth having a look.

Other useful websites

This is an excellent website by Johanna Stirling which gives tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic as well as Chinese speakers.

THRASS chart (phonics chart): Although this chart is not free (from £2), it’s a very useful tool to memorise phonics and consequently spelling patterns.

Thrass chart

To my knowledge not much has been published to solely cater to Arabic learners’ difficulties in spelling. In the classroom I frequently use Harrison, R. (1990; 1992) Keep Writing 1 and Keep Writing 2, published by Longman [affiliate links]. These books are specifically aimed at helping Arabic learners with their writing. At the end of each chapter you can find spelling exercises.

By incorporating the things mentioned above in my lessons, my Arabic students managed to considerably improve their spelling in a fairly short period of time. I hope you find these tips useful too! You can write to me on emina.tuzovic@londonschool.com.

References

About Emina

I’m currently teaching at the London School of English

I’m Delta-trained and doing my PhD in visual word recognition and recall in Arabic ESL learners at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Delta conversations: Sheona

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Sheona Smith is a teacher and teacher trainer based in Majorca, Spain. She loves her job and discovering ways to continue her Professional Development.  Her special interests at the moment are using ICT in language teaching and CLIL. Her next project is to do an MA in ICT and EFL at some time in the not too distant future. She tweets from @eltsheona.

She was on the same Distance Delta orientation course as me, with James doing the same online course, if you’d like to compare notes.

Sheona

 

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I’d been reading a lot of methodology books for ages and decided that I should try to put what I was studying to some use and have clearer objectives, so I opted to do the Distance Delta Module 1 [the exam] first in March 2011. I finished the module in June 2011 with a merit. As I am based in Majorca I knew it would be difficult to find a local tutor so I did Module 3 (merit) [extended assignment] next and then Module 2 [observed teaching practice] in October 2012 when I finally found a Local Tutor [someone to observe the lessons]. I got a Distinction for this module which was a big surprise even thought I put a lot of work in, and I was lucky to have a very understanding local tutor who gave me excellent feedback and advice!

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I’m a working mum, with 3 kids and it really was the only option I could do. I was unsure for a while if I’d ever be able to actually do Module 2 with the two-week orientation course, but after doing the other two modules I was determined to finish.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Well, there’s so much to say really. I really feel I gained a lot.

  • Confidence in myself as a teacher.
  • The confirmation that teaching is learning all the time.
  • Discovering a ‘Sense of Agency’, something that I learned about in an excellent book that I’d recommend all teachers read: Psychology for Language Teachers by Williams and Burden [affiliate link]. This refers to giving students a sense of empowerment in their learning, showing them or facilitating an atmosphere of taking control of their own learning. For me that wasn’t just about helping students but a life lesson.
  • An inkling of what doing an MA might be like in terms of amount of work and commitment (that’s my next challenge when I find the money)

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

The way the Distance Delta is set up you can do any module first and individually. This means that the course materials for each module overlap, so if you’ve done Module 1 you’ll get most of same material for the other modules.  I feel this could be improved in some way.

As some people have mentioned, the course organisers could make better use of technologies available to update some aspects of the course. Much as I loved the orientation course and my stay in London, it was very expensive and logistically complicated for my family for me to be in London for 2 weeks. I felt despite being primarily an online course there was a human element which could be better enhanced through more use of digital tools like Skype, webinars etc.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

The best thing for me about doing the Delta course at a distance was that I could carry on with ‘normal life’: that is, be at home for my kids and, of course, continue working. There is no way I could have done the intensive course.  I also learned a lot about online learning and the benefits of Blended Learning, something that I’ve become really interested in.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Tips I’d give are:

  1. Only do the Delta if you feel it’s the right time for you to do it. This might seem a bit obvious, but it is a very difficult course in terms of workload and emotional highs and lows and if you’re not determined to finish and give it everything you’ve got, I would have a rethink and wait till the time is right.
  2. Read the Delta Teacher Handbook, (you can download this free). That is the best place to see what examiners are really looking for in candidates. Mine was tattered and torn by the end of the 3 modules.
  3. Don’t over-read. Some of the background reading books are amazing and I found myself getting lost in them, which I didn’t really have time to do. Don’t feel bad if you just read the chapter you need for your assignment. If it’s a worthwhile book you’ll come back to it after the course when you can really absorb and enjoy reading it.
  4. Resign yourself to the fact that for the duration of the modules/course you will be totally absorbed by the coursework. You might as well just make the most of it. I took my course books to the beach with me and read in the car between classes. But I did block off time specifically for my family and gave myself extra free time if I managed to get an assignment ready before the deadline. I always set my deadline a day before assignments were due so that I could leave my work alone for 24 hours, relax and then come back to it with a fresh perspective before handing it in. You’d be amazed at the things you find  when reading with a fresh pair of eyes.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

I would probably have done the modules in the correct order: that is, 1,2, and then the third. They quite clearly follow on from each other which can only be beneficial when doing the third. I also  left a bit of a gap (10 months) between M3 and M2 and I had this niggling doubt about how much I’d remember. I felt I’d kind of lost the momentum.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

As regards the amount of time I spent, it was definitely well above what the website suggested. But then I’ve been told I can be a bit of a perfectionist. Definitely over 10 hours a week for Module 2. What can I say, writing up the background essay and the lesson plan felt endless at times. When I look back now I don’t actually know how I managed to do it!

Delta conversations: James

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

James Pengelley is a teacher at the British Council in Hong Kong. He tweets @hairychef, swims in the pool and bakes at home in his kitchen. He was on the same Distance Delta course as me, if you’d like to compare notes.

James Pengelley

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I completed the Distance Delta programme (Integrated).  This basically entails attending a 2-week face-to-face orientation at your nearest centre (usually a British Council), and then completing modules 1, 2 and 3 at the same time over about 9 months.  The first two LSA’s [observed lessons – Module 2] are very close together, and then the last two are a bit more spaced out, with the written exam [Module 1] coming at the end before submission of your module 3 thesis [the extended assignment in which you put together a course proposal].

Why did you choose to do it that way?

Where I was working, the only choice I had was the Distance programme.  I had been thinking about doing the Delta for a few years, and realised I was at the low-end of teaching experience I thought would be needed to succeed (5 years ± was my estimate after speaking to lots of people and trainers, even though Cambridge recommend 2 years minimum), but given I was working as a Senior Teacher and thought it would both a) be good timing and b) improve my chances of getting a job that would provide financial support to fly me back home to Australia 🙂 I decided to go for it.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Aside from a nagging sense of paranoia whenever I walk into an observation…?  No, I’m only joking… Actually I have just completed a TYLEC [Trinity Young Learners Extension course, currently being piloted by British Council] and to be honest, I am almost certain no observation, assessed or otherwise will EVER phase me again since the Delta.

Above all, I feel significantly more confident in the decisions I make as a teacher.  I feel I am also better able to guide and support colleagues who have questions and I have really been able to pursue my own interests in classroom research.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

There were many:

  • The Distance Integrated Programme does not offer any standardised face-to-face instruction throughout the course.  All input is either self-directed (independent reading) or via disappointingly sub-par PDF documents that are made available for each section of the course.  These are often insufficient on their own, contain errors, or are poorly formatted.
  • The tutors were, on the whole, extremely helpful.  I did feel, however, there was a significant need to standardise the way tutors were giving feedback. The way the DD programme is structured, it is normal for candidates to submit a draft of an LSA, for example, and then receive feedback from one tutor. When candidates receive feedback, they continue working (or in some cases, totally re-working) what they have done, and then submit the final draft, which is marked by a different online tutor. I found, from discussing experiences with several DD candidates who were in the same city and course as I was, that the second round of feedback (and the final mark) was often in stark contrast to what was suggested by the first tutor in the first draft. In one case, this actually involved a candidate having to totally rework their final LSA (which, if you don’t know, is the LSA that candidates are required to work on independently, with minimal tutor input and determines a huge part of your overall mark for module 2) with only 5 days notice, having worked on a draft for 4 weeks.
  • There was a lack on resources allocated to the course.  Candidates were not given access to journals (there were a limited number of articles made available on the website, but these were not enough to complete the course to any appropriate standard), and I felt quite strongly about this. A large theme that runs through the Delta is “tailoring your classes to the needs and contexts you teach in”. However, there was no attempt made to provide instruction via contemporary digital technologies (think of the possibilities: virtual classrooms, chatrooms, etc) other than a limited selection of videoed lessons and the chat forum for each group. The issue of lack of journal access was raised with the Course Co-Ordinator and as of the end of the course, the DD response was that they had financial approval to grant journal access to future candidates. However, there is a copyright issue in granting access to so many people online. This issue may take some time to resolve, though its resolution is currently in the works
  • I feel, above all, the main let-down of the course is the lack of face-to-face training.  From speaking to other colleagues who did their Deltas in a face-to-face setting, they often use words like “inspirational” or “extremely motivating” to describe their experiences.  I think with some fine-tuning, and provision of more appropriately interactive online learning platforms, or at the very least significant provision of quality model lessons (with discussion/focus questions to follow up), the course would be greatly improved.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the DD programme has huge potential, but in its present conception, it is an outdated and wilted product. It has, no doubt, facilitated the up-skilling of thousands of teachers in areas where face-to-face training is not an option, like me.

For those candidates who were motivated, the extended time frame of the DD programme allows you to fully explore and investigate areas of interest in your own teaching and assimilate concepts effectively. To be honest, I have no idea how people survive the 2-month intensive courses!

We were also able to work full time and study, and did not have to sacrifice our income stream in order to study, which was a bonus.

How much time did you spend per week on the course?

I was lucky in that my working hours were quite flexible during the course.  I estimate that on average I spent about 20 hours a week minimum. At peak times it was possibly in the region of 5-6 hours a day (in the lead up to LSA deadlines and pre-exam).  However, I know many many people who passed the course doing less than this.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My top tips would be:

  • Think very carefully about your preferred method of delivery.  Do you need constant pressure and face-to-face guidance to stay on task?  Do you have the time to complete the course over a longer period of time?  Do you have access to resources to do sufficient reading and investigation? Do you have access to peers and colleagues who are interested in and able to support you and act as sounding boards for your ideas? [If you need help deciding, you can read more of the Delta conversations to find out what options are available.]
  • If there are only 3 books you buy…
    Methodology in Language Teaching (Richards & Renandya)
    Beyond the Sentence (Thornbury)
    The Language Teaching Matrix (Richards)
    [affiliate links – Sandy will get a little bit of money if you buy after clicking here]
  • However you do the course, think long-term: try to think about how you will use your knowledge and ALL the work you’ve done once the course is finished.  For example, I turned one of my LSA assignments into an article for the IH Journal, part of my module 2 classroom research into a successful scholarship application for IATEFL 2014, and I have delivered a number of INSETT and training sessions based on my Delta assignments. I found some of the most rewarding results from doing the course happened after I got my certificates!

In retrospect…

I’m not sure I would do anything differently. I dearly wish I had had the freedom to attend a face-to-face course, though these are not offered widely outside Europe.  In a perfect world, I’d have take some time off and gone to the UK, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. I am especially glad I did my Delta and didn’t opt to pursue an MA, because of the huge emphasis on practical classroom application of theory in the Delta. I wouldn’t, however, recommend the Distance programme (if that isn’t painfully obvious from what I have said above) until the major issues in delivery of content have been addressed.

Delta conversations: Matthew

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Matthew Ellman is a teacher and materials writer working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He passed the Delta with double distinction in 2013, and is currently doing an MA in Applied Linguistics to fill the gaping void it left in his life. He blogs at teachertolearner.com and tweets from @mattellman.

Matt Ellman

How did you do your Delta?

I did my Delta on a face-to-face course over 8 months at International House Madrid.  I had already done quite a bit of reading when I started though  ̶  I used the course as a pretext for staying at home and sponging off my parents all summer, so it was unavoidable!  All told, then, I suppose you could say I did it over about a year.

How did you arrange the modules?

I didn’t really arrange the modules so much as blindly submit to the schedule that was given to me by my tutors. It’s a good thing I did though, because in hindsight I can’t see any better way of organising things.  We did modules 2 and 3 side-by-side, and the classes we had in preparation for our module 2 assignments doubled up as exam preparation classes, particularly as the exam drew near.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I was working for IH at the time, so it made sense to do it there. They were able to fit it around my teaching timetable and helped ensure I had suitable classes for observations. I didn’t get a staff discount though, which still keeps me awake at night…

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

In the classroom, it made me more aware of the rationale behind things: things I had learnt from the CELTA without truly understanding, and things that I was using in published materials. That, in turn, made me more confident about the decisions I was making during planning and in class.

As I’ve moved into materials writing, I’ve come to appreciate the benefit of module 3, the extended assignment.  It gave me an understanding of things like assessment and course design that I hadn’t touched on before, so it was probably the module that has opened the most doors for me since I finished the course.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I’m not sure there was a downside, apart from having to pay for it myself! Had I been in a situation to do the Delta as part of an MA course, I might have chosen to do that, but it wasn’t an option.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Face-to-face instruction has enormous benefits that tend to be overlooked when it’s compared to distance or blended learning. Informal discussions in class between tasks, or in breaks, and tutors’ offhand comments about this theory or that book – all of that feeds into your understanding of the material, but you don’t get that from an online course.

Timing was another benefit.  Nine months proved to be a good balance between getting the course done on the one hand, and having the time to absorb the new information and apply it to my teaching on the other.  I marvel at how anyone can get through a full-time Delta in 8 weeks.

I was fortunate to have the help of two excellent tutors – Kate Leigh and Steven McGuire – and their advice and encouragement were crucial factors in my success. I don’t think that anything improves your teaching more than being observed by experienced tutors who can see in detail what your strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve since spoken to other Delta trainees, particularly doing the Distance Delta, that haven’t had the same level of support or insight from their tutors, and that’s a great shame. The purpose of the course is to improve your teaching, and unfortunately it seems that there are some tutors who see the whole thing as one horribly rigorous extended assessment in which their role is simply to pass judgement.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Be organised – the course is perfectly manageable if you set aside time for studying and keep on top of all the work.

Do your reading – Tricia Hedge’s Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom is an excellent place to start for just about any topic the Delta covers.

Practise your assessed lessons – if you can, try out your lesson plan on a class of guinea pigs beforehand.* Doing so reveals weaknesses that you just can’t spot by looking at it on paper.

Use your tutors – for better or worse there is an element of box-ticking when it comes to CELTA and Delta, and knowing what Cambridge expect is part of the difficulty with each assignment. Don’t be afraid to ask your tutors about anything that’s unclear; it’s their job to clarify that type of thing.


 

*Not real guinea pigs, obviously – they are terrible language learners. I mean “a class of normal students that don’t mind being test subjects”, but that’s not as catchy.

How I got a distinction in the Delta Module 1 exam*

[Everything below is for the old version of the exam, though a lot of it is still relevant. Emma Johnston has tips for the post-2015 version of the exam.]

*I generally try to avoid bragging, but hopefully that title will get a few more hits from search engines, and will help future Delta Module 1 candidates to find this post!

There is no one way to prepare for the Delta Module 1 exam, and everybody will do it differently. This is how I did it.

I studied with Distance Delta for all three modules, although I ended up taking Module 1 six months after the end of the course, meaning that I had time to prepare for it again. The feedback I got from my tutors during the preparation was very valuable, and although it is possible to prepare for the exam yourself, I think having support from a tutor makes it easier.

I also strongly believe that you should not do Module 3 (the extended assignment) at the same time as Module 1 (the exam), as they are normally both due at the same time, and you will end up dividing your attention instead of focussing on them each as much as they deserve. They’re both pretty full-time in terms of headspace, even if you don’t have to spend as much time doing written work for Module 1.

I have a list of useful links for Delta, which includes all of the sources I used to help me prepare for the exam, so I won’t repeat them here.

During my Distance Delta, I created three sets of index cards.

  • Paper 1 reminder cards, summarising the mark scheme, the main things to remember when doing that paper, and any useful language I could steal from sample answers;

Exam paper 1 index cards

  • The same for Paper 2;
  • Exam paper 2 index cardsKey terms cards, with the term on one side and a definition (D), example (E) and further information (F) on the back. [Some people recommend DFE, but I liked alphabetical order!]

Key terms index cards Exam paper 1 index cards

I had a break between the end of Distance Delta in June, and the start of my Module 1 prep in October. Two months before the exam I started looking at my key terms cards again. I used Quizlet to fill in some gaps in areas like phonology and teaching methods which I’d missed the first time round. I started taking sets of cards on the bus with me, about ten at a time, to test myself on during my commute. I  spent time playing the games on Quizlet for general revision. I also took my paper 1 and 2 index cards on the bus to remind myself of the format of the exam and to start memorising some of the useful phrases.

About a month before the exam I started doing past papers. There aren’t many and I’d already done two during Distance Delta, so I needed to eke them out! I did one past exam each weekend for the three weekends before exam day. The first two times I did paper 1 on Saturday and paper 2 on Sunday, always with the 90-minute time limit, to get used to the time restrictions, and check whether I could meet them. The final time I did a full back-to-back mock with only a 30-minute break in the middle, as I would have to do on the real exam day. After I’d finished each time, I went through the guideline answers (in the exam report for each year), available on the Cambridge website, and marked the papers. I also wrote in big red letters anything which I’d missed out, particularly if it was connected to the structure of the exam or silly mistakes. Before doing the next paper, I looked at the red pen from the previous one again, and I didn’t normally repeat those mistakes!

During this process, I got a very useful tip from Lizzie Pinard:

Start every answer on a new page.

This may seem simple, but it made a huge difference to how clearly my answers were laid out. This resulted in me coming up with a system for each question based on the task requirements and guideline answers. This meant I didn’t have to keep reminding myself how many points I needed to make, or to check backwards and forwards to make sure I’d included all of the required information.

Below are examples of what I did for each question. I haven’t explained the structure of the exam at all, as you can find that out in many other places. Don’t forget to write the task number/part clearly at the top of each page in your answer booklet. Do anything you can to make the examiner’s life easier!

Paper 1 Task 1

The simplest task. Just do it quickly and don’t spend ages on a term you don’t know!

Paper 1 Task 1

Paper 1 Task 2

Do this as you go along, and remember, define NO MORE THAN 4 terms! Use D, E, F (or D, F, E) to make each section of your answer clear. Make it clear what ‘D’ and ‘F’ mean at the top.

Paper 1 Task 2

Paper 1 Task 3

Write the numbers 1-5 and the ‘eg’s as soon as you start task 3, before you even read the question! I always wrote ‘style/discourse’ at the top, because I originally forgot to include those features in my analysis, having focussed just on grammar and lexis. I also wrote the level of the student at the top of my paper so I remembered to refer my answers clearly to this level.

Paper 1 Task 3

Paper 1 Task 4a

Again, write the numbers before you look at the question to remind you of how many points to include. Leave a bit of space at the bottom so you can add an extra point if you have time at the end.

Paper 1 Task 4a

Paper 1 Tasks 4b, c, d

The exact layout of these questions depends on exactly what language and areas (e.g. form, meaning, usage, features of connected speech) you are asked to analyse.

Start a new page for each task (b, c, d) and use clear headings for each piece of language and each area. I found it easiest to divide my answers according to the piece of language, then to subdivide it by the areas I had to analyse. Put the headings in as you go along, but leave yourself a lot of space to add extra points if you think of them later. I generally had about half a page for each piece of language. There’s plenty of space in the exam booklet!

Here are some examples.

Paper 1 Task 4b

Paper 1 Task 4c

Paper 1 Task 4d

Paper 1 Task 5a

This is another one to write out before you start answering the question. By using a table and including ‘eg’ in each box, you remember to include three strengths and three weaknesses, and not get too carried away with adding extras. Don’t forget to clearly state the area you are writing about for each strength/weakness (e.g. grammar, task achievement) and to make sure you only write about areas requested in the question!

Paper 1 Task 5a

Paper 1 Task 5b

The use of the two headings ‘area to prioritise’ and ‘because’ save you a lot of words!

Paper 1 Task 5b

Paper 2 Task 1

Here you should have two pages on the go at the same time, one for ‘positive’ and one for ‘negative’. This means you can jump backwards and forwards between the two and you have plenty of space.

Paper 2 Task 1

Paper 2 Task 1

Paper 2 Task 2a

This was another task where you need plenty of space to go backwards and forwards. Write a clear title for each exercise you need to analyse from the materials, then use bullet points under each. Start each bullet point with ‘To + infinitive’ to make sure you’re focussing on the purpose of the exercises and not what the students have to do to complete them.

Paper 2 Task 2a

Paper 2 Task 2b

Using ‘A’ for Assumptions and ‘R1’/’R2’ for reasons helped me to remember to include all three parts. Write them as you go along.

Paper 2 Task 2b

Paper 2 Task 3

This one is very simple. You just have to make sure you include enough bullet points!

Paper 2 Task 3

Paper 2 Task 4

This task is complete pot-luck, as you have no idea what you’ll be asked about. As a general rule, use a different page for each section of the question. For example, if you’re asked ‘Why is homework a good thing?’ and ‘Why is homework a bad thing?’, put the answer to each part on a different page. [Totally made-up question!] I numbered the points as I wrote them on each list, to make sure I got a total of 20 points (2 marks per answer, 1-10 on each list for example).

Final tips

A lot of the preparation for Delta Module 1 is nothing to do with teaching at all (I won’t mention here how much that frustrates me, since it’s supposed to be a mark of your ability as a teacher, not as an exam-taker…). By using a clear layout and knowing the requirements of the exam inside out, you’ll help yourself a lot.

Collect key terms, test yourself on them, and include them in your answers, but only where appropriate. Don’t try to include them just for the sake of it (especially in the questions on testing!).

Use bullet points, not full sentences. The examiners are looking for content, not linguistic ability.

Use the guideline answers in the exam reports to see what the examiners do and don’t like. Don’t try and be original – just tick the boxes!

If you have time (I didn’t), try out some of the exam-style tasks on your own materials and the work you get from your students. In theory, the requirements of the exam are supposed to help you in your analysis of materials/student work in your day-to-day work as a teacher by making this kind of analysis more efficient.

Finally, good luck! Get a good night’s sleep before, and you’ll get through it!

Delta conversations: Natalia

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Natalia Gonzalez Brandi (Nati) started teaching in 2007. She was Director of Studies at IHMontevideo for two years and in 2013 she moved to IH Buenos Aires, where she currently works as teacher and YL Coordinator. She loves teaching and sharing ideas with colleagues. In 2013 she attended and presented at IATEFL’s annual conference. She tweets @natibrandi.

Nati

My DELTA experience, when I finally learned with a little help from my mistakes and peers.

How did you do your DELTA?

I signed up for a Distance DELTA Module 1 course in 2011. I did my background reading but didn’t have time to do enough exam practice, and reading Cambridge sample answers didn’t seem as interesting as my ELT books, so I failed. Despite this, I did the intensive DELTA Module 2 Course at IH Buenos Aires in 2012, and the experience wasn’t as bad. Although I struggled with the assignments, I did pass the course and managed to never fail a lesson. Of course, I wouldn’t have finished this course if it weren’t for the help and support of my tutors and peers, most importantly Hannah Pinkham and Eduardo Santos. We would read each other’s work and observe each other’s lessons. Hannah even proofread some of my assignments, so I cannot thank them enough. On December 2012 I retook DELTA Module 1. This time, my classmate Tom Campbell and I spent a whole week doing exam practice and analyzing Cambridge sample answers in great detail, with a kind of product approach to DELTA 1, and the result wasn’t at all bad: MERIT. DELTA 3? I honestly couldn’t think of ticking more Cambridge boxes in 2013, so I took a year off, and will definitely submit my assignment in June this year.

What did you gain from this course?

  • I had a chance to observe and read my peers’ work. We were all keen teachers sharing the same group of students. We could observe other people teach, and analyse students’ reactions, and thereby reflect on what was conducive to learning and what wasn’t. I saw people do dictogloss, TBL, Dogme, grammar translation, genre and even humanistic approaches, and in a way, I incorporated aspects of each of those lessons into my own teaching practice.
  • I enjoyed writing the lesson commentary and post lesson evaluation.
    The lesson commentary linked my background essay with my lesson, and feeling that my lesson made sense and that I could justify each part of it was wonderful, because I finally felt I was doing my job the way it should be done. It didn’t feel like potpourri; it was more principled teaching? Eclecticism? Good teaching? You name it! Next time someone tells me that teaching is to stand in front of a class and follow a couple of coursebook activities, I’d say: write a background essay, a lesson plan and a lesson commentary and call me, maybe!
    The post lesson evaluation was also empowering because I had a chance to reflect on what worked and what needed to be worked on. To finally share this with a tutor who would give me detailed feedback was very useful, and I remember reading the feedback I got three times at the very least. It encouraged me to reflect on my lessons, in a way I hadn’t done before.
  • Module 1 was also helpful. It helped me to analyse language in great detail and I also learned a lot about discourse analysis, testing, guided discovery and many other topics. It’s really useful, especially if your job involves observing other people. You learn so much about standard coursebook practice as well as language and genre analysis, that then it’s easier to plan your own lessons and help other colleagues do the same.

What wasn’t so good?

  • I didn’t get much sleep.
  • The criteria is really long, and I sometimes felt I just couldn’t tick all those Cambridge little boxes. It’s not easy to meet standards.
  • I only realised how much I learned months after the course was over. It’s too intense to keep track of how much you are learning.
  • Like Sandy, I didn’t get a holiday neither before nor after the course, so my 2012 wasn’t great.

What tips would you give to candidates?

  • Make sure you narrow down the topics you are studying. Don’t be too ambitious and study everything at the same time. This is true for all modules, and it especially helps if you know what the topic of your Module 2 LSAs will be.
  • Before you start reading, write down all your ideas. It’s like a classroom brainstorming, and it did help me. I remember my classmate Meghan Finn suggested this, and she was right! We know more than we think. We are there in the classroom, we are experienced teachers and brainstorming before reading help us read more efficiently. If you are doing the intensive DELTA, time is always a problem, so you’ve got to read efficiently and be good at taking notes.
  • We normally tell our Cambridge exam students ‘read questions carefully’. Well, I’d say read the Cambridge criteria carefully, make sure you know what you are expected to do, because otherwise you cannot possibly pass. There are too many boxes to tick, and sometimes you just need to state the obvious.
  • Ask for help! Read other people’s assignments, look at your peers’ lesson plans: you cannot learn on your own. Some candidates do not like helping others and they prefer to work on their own; it’s okay. Now, if you don’t like learning like that, get help! Twitter, blogs, even people who’ve already passed DELTA, and I’d be happy to share my lessons and assignments with anyone who asks for it.

What would you have done differently?

Holidays after the course! The rest was a learning experience: you fail, keep going, learn from your mistakes, work really hard and then pass.

Delta conversations: Roya

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Roya Caviglia is currently setting up her own business to offer in-company courses in the Randstad area, South Holland: EnglishVoice. She blogs at LanguageLego and tweets at @RoyaCaviglia

Roya Caviglia

How did you do your Delta?
How did you arrange the modules?
Why did you choose to do it that way?

I did the Delta over a year or so, tackling one module at a time and moving house from Geneva to Hamburg in the middle. I started with module 3 because you need a class to use as a case study (I anticipated some time out of work after the move). Then I sat the module 1 exam shortly arriving in Hamburg. I studied with the Distance Delta for these two modules. Finally, I went to London for 6 weeks to do module 2 at International House.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

If you had asked me that question immediately after completing the course I would have found it hard to answer. My head was so full of teaching approaches that for a while I was in a quandary every time I sat down to plan a lesson! Things get clearer with time, your brain needs some space to digest it all.

A year and a half down the line I think my answer is confidence.

I know that I have worked hard, have gained a lot of experience and that I have a grip on the theory that backs everything up. I know how to study by myself and I still try to do a little research before starting each new course. I want to make sure that I am utilising the methodology that will best help each particular student.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

If you are looking at the Distance Delta, be aware that you will probably need a lot more time than they estimate on their website. I found I needed almost double their suggestion. This was a common observation on the participant forum!

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

Studying at home is not always easy. I remember having all my books spread out on the kitchen table and glancing nervously at the clock as it got closer to dinner time, knowing I would have to pack up and clear out the way! Of course there is also the issue of motivation.

Module 2 in London was difficult as I was away from my family for several weeks. And one should never, never underestimate how intensive it is! There were tears. I’m convinced that is the case on every full time Module 2 course (and the intensive Celta for that matter!).

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I was able to combine Module 3 with work. And Modules 1 and 2 fit in nicely and kept me busy while I was establishing myself in a new country and did not have much in the way of work.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Do your research, there are so many different ways to take the course, find out which route is really the best for you.
  • Be aware that it will be intense and sometimes painful – always keep in mind why you are doing it!
  • Revel in the chance to take time out and examine our profession, it is a rare opportunity.
  • Consciously step back and watch your teaching improve!

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 http://flickr.com/eltpics by @senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

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.

Finally…

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!

Delta conversations: Sandy

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Sandy Millin is me 🙂 Find out more here.

What's cooking? Me (on the right) with one of my classes

What’s cooking? Me (on the right) with one of my classes

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I followed the Distance Delta Integrated Programme from September 2012 to June 2013. This consisted of a two-week orientation course at IH London (you could do this at many different centres around the world), followed by a nine-month online course. During the course I decided to postpone my Module One exam, so I have only completed Modules Two and Three, although I did all of the preparation except for the mock exam for Module One. I’m hopefully going to do Module One in December 2013.

Update: I did the Module One exam at IH Sevastopol in December 2013 and got a distinction – postponing it gave me time to really focus on it! I got a pass in Module Two and a Merit in Module Three. I don’t think the Merit would have been possible if I’d been trying to prepare for the exam at the same time.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I wanted to study the Delta part-time as I had done CELTA this way, and I thought it would give me more time to absorb what I was learning. I like my sleep, and I (still!) don’t understand how people can survive an intensive full-time course and stay sane. There was no local part-time option, like Mike’s, so I had to do it through Distance Delta.

How was your Module Two taught?

During the orientation course we did a diagnostic lesson, which included practising how to write an essay and lesson plan to the standard required for the Delta course. We then completed each LSA (observed lesson + essay) over about 6 weeks, with some gaps in between to give us time for other parts of the course. LSA1 was due in November, LSA2 in December, LSA3 in March and LSA4 in May. This may seem very spaced out, but with Modules One and Three as well, there was a deadline to hit almost every weekend, apart from a two-week break at Christmas.

For each LSA, we chose our topic, posted it in the forum so that the tutor could approve it, then were able to submit a draft essay and lesson plan for the tutor to comment on. I normally had a fairly complete essay and an outline of my lesson aims and procedure ready for the draft deadline. We could then use the feedback to edit our essay/lesson plan. There was a two-week window in which to arrange the lesson, which was observed by our local tutor (LSA 1, 2, 3) or an external person (LSA 4). The local tutor then sent a complete report about the lesson to the Distance Delta. Our course tutor used the report to give us our grade, and they also graded our essays.

The Professional Development Assignment was also started during the orientation course. We completed our Experimental Practice lesson in October, then submitted the other three sections throughout the rest of the course.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

At least 10 hours, and often more like 20. I regularly spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday working on the course (at least 9am-6pm). I did try and have some weekends off to keep sane, and I was ill for most of December due to exhaustion, so it wasn’t quite like that all year, but it felt like it. I was also teaching full-time. At the start of the course I did a bit of work in the evenings, but had given that up by Christmas (possibly before?). I also stopped reading for pleasure and only read Delta-related books until May.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

I wouldn’t have done Module Two distance. I think Modules One and Three can be done that way, and I feel like the support I got for Module Three was a lot better than it has been for other people I know who have done a face-to-face course, but I felt very isolated doing Module Two that way, and I don’t feel like I got enough support from my local tutor.

I would also have done all of the modules separately, spacing them out rather than overlapping them. When I decided to postpone the Module One exam, I had nearly finished Module Two. The month I had to focus purely on Module Three was when I was happiest during the course.

Finally, I would have had a proper holiday before the course started to make sure I was refreshed and ready to go. Instead I went straight from the Paralympics to the course (pretty sure nobody else has been that stupid!) 😉

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

The DELTA has made me start reading methodology books and start to incorporate what I read. It has also given me lots of material for blog posts, many of which are still in my head. It gave me the push I needed to film myself teaching and encouraged me to question what I’m doing in the classroom in a more methodical way.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

I felt very isolated and didn’t feel like I had much support from my local tutor. I didn’t think about checking up on how much support we were supposed to receive until I spoke to a coursemate and realised that she was having the same problems as me, by which time it was too late. There were times when I thought about giving up on the course because I wasn’t enjoying it at all, and I got quite depressed. I normally love studying, and the fact that I wasn’t enjoying the course at all was a vicious circle. I don’t know how I could have finished it without the support of my PLN via Twitter and facebook.

All of us on the course seemed to spend quite a lot of time trying to work out what was required of us for each assignment, and the asynchronous nature of the course (with everyone logging on at different times) meant it was often at least a day, and sometimes longer, before you got an answer to your questions. This could be very frustrating at times, and while I expected this to some extent from the forums, it would have been good to have some faster ways of getting help, as well as clearer guidelines for each of the assignments. Lizzie Pinard has now written a Delta tips series, which I wish had existed before I started! The conversations I had with her during the course really helped too. [I’ve also put together a list of Delta-related posts on my blog, and Useful links for Delta]

I also felt like the way the course was delivered was out-of-date, and didn’t take advantage of a lot of the new technology that it is available for those organising online courses. The course was forum-based, with no opportunities for synchronous meetings, such as using online classrooms, incorporated into the programme. All of the input was via pdf documents, which I stopped reading in February because I couldn’t find the time and didn’t seem to be getting much from them. There didn’t seem to be any recognition of different learning styles, for example by providing a range of input through videos, online meetings or even just using colours in the pdfs. I really feel like the Distance Delta needs to be updated before I would recommend it to anyone.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Studying part-time meant that I could incorporate new ideas into my teaching as I went along, although I didn’t do this anywhere near as much as I expected to because most of the time I was just too tired.

I worked with a range of tutors and peers from all over the world, and the input that I got from them was very helpful.

The support I got for Module Three was much greater than that received by others I know who have done Delta in different ways. We could submit two drafts (one in February, another in May) and the comments that I got on those were incredibly useful – they really helped me to work out what I was doing.

I realised how amazing my PLN are. Every time I had a question about anything, I would post it on facebook, and I would normally have a reply within the hour. It was considerably faster than the forums, and normally more useful.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

My main tip for potential DELTA candidates is to build up a network of useful people. Start with Twitter and add facebook too (try the ‘International House World Organisation’ and ‘Teaching English British Council’ pages to start you off).

Make sure you have some time off during the course, especially if you are doing it distance. Having holidays to look forward to made a massive difference to my mental state. Have a holiday before the course starts too to make sure you are refreshed.

Read my post on things you should do before starting the Delta, and do them! Also read Lizzie Pinard’s Delta tips. You could also check out my page of Delta-related blogposts, which I add to all the time.

If you have a question, ask. You will not be the first person with that problem, whether it’s about methodology, your classroom, or the course itself. We all feel stupid at some point during the course – if you can get over that feeling, you’ll be fine!

Really think about the best way to do your course. There a lots of options, which is why I’ve been publishing the Delta conversations – I didn’t know there were so many ways to do it.

Good luck and remember, it will all be over at some point!

Ways to practise your languages

One from the archives, from my first year of post-Celta teaching. I’ve just found this file on my computer, last opened on 1st April 2008. I’m still pretty happy with it, although I’d probably make it a lot longer now! What do you think?

(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.)

Delta conversations: Christina

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter@sandymillin.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus is currently teaching in Grenoble, France. She blogs at iLoveTEFL and tweets @rebuffetbroadus.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

How did you do your DELTA?

Module 1 was distance—through a wikispaces wiki, with skype “classes” about once a month with our tutors on selected topics.

Module 2 was done through 3 separate week-long on-site sessions, with autonomous work time in between to work on the LSAs.

I haven’t done module 3 yet, but am planning to.

How did you arrange the modules?

Module 1 began in April or May 2011 (I think…) and ran until Dec. 2011

Module 2 ran from August 2011 to May 2012

Why did you choose to do it that way?

I did Module 1 as a distance program because I couldn’t take off a long time from work to do the program and because there were no DELTA centers in my area (Grenoble, France). The nearest was Strasbourg, which had just started offering DELTA. We were the first ones to go through their program. Also, I figured that I was disciplined enough to work mostly autonomously for this module, where you basically learn the material, take practice tests, and check your results with the examiner’s reports/answer key. We got feedback from our tutors through email and could discuss specific issues on the skype sessions, so it seemed do-able.

I did Module 2 as a longer program for the same reasons. I liked that we had the one-week on-site sessions because we could be with our tutors and classmates. Since they were spaced out, we went home after each session and had 4-5 months to do 2 LSAs and the ongoing PDA assignment. It was a nice combination of face-to-face time and autonomous work. Plus, it was easier to take off 3 separate, spread-out weeks than a whole chunk of time.

How was your Module 2 taught?

Like I said above, 3 separate week-long sessions, with 4-5 months of autonomous work time in between. When we were together in Strasbourg, the sessions were a mix of traditional lessons with the tutors teaching us things, quiet time for lesson planning and working individually with the tutors and other candidates, and some observation sessions.

ESOL Strasbourg organized to have us observe some EFL classes at the Strasbourg training center, taught by the center’s English teachers. They also organized to have these teachers “lend” us their classes so that we could teach them our LSA lesson plans. There were only 4 DELTA candidates in my class, so we paired off and observed each other teaching our LSA lessons and then gave peer feedback. Of course, our tutor also observed these lessons and gave us individual feedback afterwards, both written and oral.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the DELTA in the format you chose?

I’d say be prepared to spend 2 hours per day on weekdays and maybe a bit more on weekends. It can take over your life, so you have to be ready for this.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

I wouldn’t have overlapped Module 1 and Module 2. Module 1 ran from spring to December and Module 2 started at the end of August, so there were about 3.5 months where I was doing both modules. I don’t recommend that to anyone! It’s a lot of work and your time and energy are divided between the modules.

What do you think you gained from doing the DELTA?

As I told Jane Ryder, who runs ESOL Strasbourg, there’s a pre-DELTA me and a post-DELTA me (even though technically I still have module 3 to go). Of course, I learned so much linguistics terminology and LSA theory, as well as how to step back and reflect on what I do in the classroom and why.

But I think the real gain is in how the DELTA can open the path to further exploration. It’s like a boost in your involvement in the world of TEFL. I began blogging, began going to conferences, did my first conference presentation, began tweeting and facebooking with other teachers, and have even begun writing a book with Jennie Wright, whom I met on Module 2. All of this energy is indirectly related to the way the DELTA spurred me on to really invest in myself professionally.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

If you’re not disciplined and don’t set up a fixed study schedule (that you stick to), the distance part will kill you. Just as proof, there were 5 of us who signed up originally for the distance Module 1 and only 2 of us took the exam. The others weren’t able to manage their schedules efficiently, for various reasons. I’m not saying they couldn’t handle it of course, but you do have to cut back on time with friends and family to do the work. It’s easy to get home after a long day at work and say “I’ll do the reading tomorrow or this weekend” but you really have to discipline yourself and just go do it.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

It was a pretty long, drawn-out schedule I think, which was advantageous. It meant that I could spend maybe an hour or two a day and still feel like I was on top of things. That meant if I just got up a bit earlier in the morning and then did another hour in the evening, I could keep to my schedule.

Also, I liked the way Module 2 was organized. It was a good combination of tutor-led work and autonomous work, with enough time between sessions. I don’t understand how some programs have people do Module 2 on really tight schedules!

What tips would you give other people doing the DELTA?

A few things, I suppose:

  1. Be prepared to invest in books if you’re not always at a center that has a library. I bought a ton of books and now have a pretty impressive library! Budget accordingly. Just like the fees for the DELTA, this is part of the investment.
  2. Plan study time. Write it in your schedule as if it were a class. You wouldn’t just not go to a class because you didn’t feel like it! Treat study time the same way and be sure to tell friends and family about your commitment so they’ll understand.
  3. Read a book or two BEFORE even starting. I read Lightbrown & Spada’s How Languages Are Learned*, which helped because some of the things encountered on Module 1 then weren’t 100% new. Also, get Scott Thornbury’s About Language, which is sort of a language workbook for language teachers. It’s great because you actually “do” things with it.
  4. Spend time learning the format of the exam, especially Module 1. The examiner’s reports are indispensable for this because they show you how to lay out your answers correctly and efficiently. If you try to write out everything like an essay test, you’ll never be able to finish within the time limits.

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

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