ELT Experiences

Experiences of an English Language Teacher


5 Fantastic Ways to Pair Students


You know what it’s like, the students are sitting down in their predictable places and you say “Right! We are going to move you around. Listen to your number!”. You give a number to each student and you pair them up with their corresponding number. In essence, you just move the students – which is meant to be their new – partner but the same person that they are with for the remainder of their course. Why not pair up students or groups of learners in a different way? Mix it up a bit and add some variety to the class layout where students are expected to sit! In this post, we look at five exciting and innovative ways to pair up students together.

1. Reaching New Heights


A simple and useful way to match learners together in pairs or small groups is to get them lined up and then ask them to go in order of height (from smallest to tallest – a good way to review superlatives). You can then put them together with the student next to them or reorganise them into small groups. It is quick, simple and affective. In fact, this was something which I was introduced to when I first enlisted in the Royal Air Force and they had all new recruits standing in a line from shortest to tallest. We were then divided into three with our flight being placed either at the front (shortest), middle (mid-height) or  the rear (the tallest). It is nothing new when you do this in your classroom and want to make the pairing up of students unpredictable and spontaneous.

2. Binomial Pairs


This is possibly my favourite activity for pairing up learners together. I am unsure where I learnt this from but I think it may be from the wonderful time when I worked with Peter Clements (ELT Planning). He has some great ideas and highly recommend his blog. It is quite an easy activity to prepare. All you do is write down one half of binomials on a slip of paper and the corresponding half of the other binomial on another slip of paper. If you have ten students, you will be using five binomials split in half, such as:

  • Safe and Sound
  • Sausage and Mash
  • Sick and Tired
  • Give and Take
  • Peace and Quiet

You could demonstrate the activity first by writing up examples of binomials with half of them at random on one side of the board and their corresponding halves randomly on the other side of the board. Ask students to match each halves before handing out the binomial slips of paper. You will then hand out ten words and ask students to find their partner with the corresponding word. For example, if a student has the words “Safe and” then they must find their partner “Sound“. It is a great activity to pair up students and you could change it slightly if you want to use collocations or other related words.

3. Vocabulary Pairing

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This is another take from the activity above. Instead of using binomial pairs to match students up with another student, you could change it slightly by preparing vocabulary written on one slip of paper and their definitions written on another piece of paper. Essentially, students holding key vocabulary in their hand have to find a partner who is holding a corresponding definition. To make it slightly more complicated, you could get students to keep their vocabulary or definitions secret and those with the key vocabulary must describe it in their own words or the person with the definition must guess the vocabulary and say it. Once students find their partner, then they can sit with them and continue with the lesson. It is a great matching exercise for learners and a wonderful way to review language which had emerged from previous lessons.

4. Sentence Halves

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As with the previous activity, what better way to review grammar structures than using this as a way to pair up students together. For example, if your previous lesson focused on conditionals, you could prepare a number of sentences split in half (i.e. on the second clause) and get students to guess what would start or finish the sentence that they are holding in their hand. Get students to move around and find their partner. You could use some of the conditionals below to help you get started:

  • I will take an umbrella if it rains later today.
  • I am not going to work tomorrow if I don’t feel well.
  • I’ll arrive on Sunday if I can get a flight.
  • You’ll be cold if you don’t wear a coat.
  • He’ll be hungry later if he doesn’t eat now.

If a student is holding a piece of paper with “I will take an umbrella …” then that person must find a student who has a corresponding sentence to match with it such as “… if it rains later today.“.

5. Random Names


For the last experimental way to make random pairs or small groups of learners, you could use a very simple way which requires a lighter approach to preparation is by getting students to write their names on a piece of paper which you give them. You place all the names in a bag or box and mix them all up. Make sure you don’t look at the pieces of paper and you pull out each slip of paper with a name and then tell students to be matched with another name. It is a simple and quick activity to pair learners up together but it ensures that you have no way to engineer the pairing up of students. This will leave learners with the reassurance that whoever they are placed with, they will not blame the teacher as it is much to do with luck than anything.

If you have the name of the learners to hand on a register, you could type the names out and laminate them for future use as well. You could also use the laminated names placed at particular desks so students have to sit at this location.

These are five ideas that I have used from time-to-time to pair up learners together but have you got any favourite activities for pairing learners up together? Do you simply count across the classroom and then get corresponding numbers matched together? I hope you try out some of these ideas and experiment in the classroom a bit more – your students will love it!

Further reading:


5 Ways To Spice Up Reading

reading stuff

Reading can be such a passive and monotonous activity in the classroom: you walk in the classroom, tell students that they are going to read about a particular topic, brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic to activate their schema and then go ahead with the reading. They complete some comprehension questions, get them to check in small groups before eliciting answers and correcting where necessary. If you follow this basic format for reading activities, students will find it quite disheartening and you will start losing the will to live. Are there any different ways to spice up the activity of reading in the classroom? Well do not worry, I offer 10 different ideas.

1. What’s the Question?

You could follow the initial format of generating interest in the reading by getting students to discuss some questions related to the topic and then introducing some vocabulary but why give students the questions to the reading? A lovely activity that I enjoy doing, particularly for examination classes or any other for that matter, is to get small groups of students to write the questions for another group. You will notice students reading the text in greater detail and then liaising with others in their group to come up with suitable yet challenging questions. I usually allow students around 20-30 minutes to read the text and allow them to develop their questions and then another period of time to answer another group’s questions. It develops learners’ awareness of what they are reading and prompts learners to continuously question what they are reading and provides prediction skills particularly for examination classes.

2. The Hot Seat

If you use coursebook or other related reading material, you will notice that the reading is on the same page of the questions. One thing that I like to do is crop the reading and just copy this for learners and then remove the questions from the page. So learners only have the reading at their disposal. What they don’t have are any questions. You tell students that they are going to have a quiz in a certain amount of time and during this time, they must memorise the reading as much as possible: all facts and information. You monitor and help learners with any vocabulary they have issues they may encounter. After the time is up, put students into two groups and nominate a learner from one group to come to the front of the classroom and to sit in a chair facing the other students. You need to create at least 10 questions to check comprehension of the reading but students will not have access to this reading at this point during the lesson. Once you have the student in the ‘hot seat’, you then ask all questions to him or her. The student is likely not to remember everything and then you choose another student from the other group, then repeat the questions. The student/group who can answer all questions is the winner.

3. Reading Relay

One slightly fun activity to get students up and walking around is to stick up the reading around the walls in the classroom or even better stick it up in the corridor outside the classroom. Students are placed into to pairs and they you give them a list of questions about the reading but they must not take any pens, smartphone or the questions to the reading. One person from the group memorises a question, walks to the reading and then scans for the answer, memorises the answer, returns to their partner and then dictates the answer. Their partner then memorises a question and repeats the activity. The first group to complete this task correctly is the winner. After students have finished you could then check questions as a whole-class activity and getting students to nominate themselves to answer questions when checking with the class.

4. Jigsaw Reading

 This activity requires some additional preparation but the learners will really enjoy it. If you have a text which you are preparing to use in a lesson, you could split it up between two groups – one group will have some key information missing while the other group has other key information missing. The whole process of this reading is to get each group to write questions to find out the missing information which the other group will have in their reading. For example, it could be about a famous person (musician, actor/actress or politician) and within the reading. I usually board the following to provide an example:

Student A: Michael Parkinson is an English ________ (1) who was born on 28 March 1935.

Student B: Michael Parkinson is an English broadcaster who was born on ________ (2).

I then ask students what the question could be for each missing piece of information and then elicit and write up the question up on the whiteboard. The good thing about this type of reading is that it prepares learners to critically question their reading and think of suitable question forms for any missing information. This type of reading best works best for famous people or places.

5. Shuffled Reading

Your students receive a block of text, read it and then have to answer questions about it. Seems a bit boring to be honest, so why not spice it up by breaking down that reading into nuggets of information which could be reorganised? All you need to do is type up your text but then after each sentence or so add in a couple of line breaks. In the end you will have your text spread over a couple of pages with space between each sentence or two which could then be cut-up and then shuffled up. What do students have to do? Well simple really! They have to reorganise the reading into order. You may ask what students will benefit from this. They will be looking for cohesive devices or linkers between the previous sentence and the next one. You could demonstrate this task by handing out the shuffled and cut-up text to each and asking them to look for the first sentence. Once you have elicited the correct first sentence, you could tell students – as I usually tell them – “I have had a really bad day and cut up all your reading today. Could you please help me and put it back in order?” Once students have agreed on the order, you could reorganise the groups so one person goes to another group and then compares their text to their own. A final activity could be the standard reading comprehension questions but by this time, the students will have focused heavily on the reading that the questions are pretty much redundant.

What are your favourite reading activities? Do you have any special ideas to spice up the reading and make it a bit more interesting for language learners?


Popular Posts of 2015

It has been an incredibly busy year at work and home. Unfortunately, the biggest problem this has created is the lack of opportunity to blog more consistently. The flip side is that what I have written – which I aimed to be more practical and supportive for English language practitioners – was practical with some ideas for readers to incorporate in their own class. I have decided to review five of the most popular posts from this year.

1. 10 Recommended Books for the CELTA

This was initially written to answer some of the questions which my Facebook Group is constantly faced with: “What books do I purchase for the CELTA?“. It seemed rather popular with over 7,000 visitors checking this post out and commenting on it as well. Many thanks for finding this a useful post.

2. Preparing for the CELTA in Nine Easy Steps

Another popular post was, again, CELTA-related dedicated for those wishing to undertake a CELTA (or equivalent initial teacher training) course. It followed the most popular format on my blog by offering small nuggets of information which the reader could digest and use.

3. Ten Ways to Introduce Target Language

This post was more practical and aimed for current teachers of English. When I wrote this, I was always looking for a different way to introduce target language and wanted to be as creative as possible. In the end, I thought it would be worthwhile to put some of my ideas down and share with my readers.

4. Ten Tips for Lesson Observations

At our school, we were going through a process of observing teachers and during this time, I thought about some of the lessons that I had observed with teachers with years of experience but was still left scratching my head with questions such as “Why did you do that?” or “What did the students get out of the lesson?”. I decided to get some things straight by sharing some things to consider when you, I or anyone else has a lesson observation. Read the post for more information.

5. 10 Ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom

In our school, we had some in-house teacher training sessions and one was the idea of using QR Codes as part of lessons. After the training session, I decided to get back to the drawing board and by writing up some lesson ideas to accompany the session and share with my teachers in our school. It seemed so worthwhile and, as has experienced, some of the teachers needed a helping hand on how to create the QR Codes and what to do with them. Thus, after I created a handout to share, I decided it was worthy of a blog post and decided to share with my readers. I hope you found it worthy.

So these were the most popular posts for 2015. What was your most popular post on your blog? Nevertheless, apologies for my lack of writing this year. It is one of my aims for 2016 is to write more often and to engage more with you, the readers.

What would you like to see next year? Are there any areas of teaching you would like to me to cover? Thank you for deciding to visit my blog over the year and I do hope you found it useful.

May I wish you all the very best for 2016.


Ten Ways to Introduce Target Language

It has been a while since my last post, about two months actually. Apologies it has taken so long for this post but it has been a very busy period for us at LTC Eastbourne with a lot of young learners coming through for the summer school. Nevertheless, this blog post is all about the different ways us teachers could introduce or elicit target language during lessons. The benefit of getting students aware of target language is to activate schemata/schema which essentially means getting students tuned into the language and preparing them for the lesson. For example, if you say to students let’s talk about food, they can predict that the conversation will obviously focus on vocabulary related to food and nothing related to jobs. Anyhow, let’s get started!

1. Antonym Matching

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.31.02The usual way to introduce key language is to just write them up on the whiteboard and provide the definition. This, in itself, is rather mundane and predictable. So, to liven things up a little more is to write up the words on pieces of paper all cut up and then write the opposite meanings on different pieces of paper. Get students to match words with their opposite meaning. Not only does it give the learners a chance to think about the target language but it also gets them thinking about corresponding words which have an opposite meaning. An additional idea is to just type up all the target language on one side of paper and their corresponding antonyms on the other side – all mixed up – and then learners have to match it that way.

2. Definition Matching

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.47.41A similar activity to above is to write out the target language on one side of a worksheet and the corresponding definition on the other side and get students to match the word with the suitable definition. It is a good activity for learners and it is best to have some learner dictionaries to hand in case students want to check definitions if they are unsure. This activity is also a useful exercise at the end of the lesson for students to review the target language they have acquired during the lesson. An optional activity is to split up the class into two groups, give one half the class the target language to find and write out the definitions from a dictionary on a separate piece of paper and give the other half the class the remaining half of the target language to find in a dictionary. Once they have finished, collect the words and definitions from each group, redistribute the words and definitions and then the groups try to match words and definitions. It is a useful exercise and it would provide an opportunity for students to review language at the end of the class.

3. Unjumble the Words

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.32.04A simple and effective way for students to work out the target language is to jumble up all the letters from target language. It is such a popular activity for teachers and it takes little time to prepare for this activity. I just find it easier to write out the target language on a piece of paper and then write out the letters in any order just underneath it. When I go to class, I can refer to this when writing up the jumbled words on the whiteboard. Very simple and then you could then use one of the other ideas in this post to introduce the language to your learners.

4. Missing Vowels

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.33.16This is another quick and easy task for learners to focus on and is especially invaluable for Arabic learners of English, due to their weakness of reading and writing in English. It is very easy to do in MS Word and all you need to do is type out a few underscores where the vowels are. It is simple to do, type the word in MS Word and then highlight the vowel by pressing “Shift” and using the arrow keys. Then type the underscore where the vowel is located. Handout the worksheet to learners and give them a time limit to complete. Once learners have finished, you could nominate students to come up to the whiteboard and write out the words, without their worksheet, from memory. Again it places students to focus on the spelling when reviewing the language and you could then use some of the other activities in this post to exploit target language fully.

5. Flashcard Drills

This is one of my most popular activities for introducing target language and one that students also enjoy. You first show a picture or a word and then read it out in a clear voice and then get students to repeat. All students could repeat or you could nominate particular students to repeat. Another activity is to sit in a circle, select a flashcard, speak the word or phrase, pass the card to another and then that student repeats the word or phrase. The flashcard is then passed around the circle of students until it arrives back to you. This activity could be sped up by passing the flashcards to students on your left and on your right, with learners trying to keep up with saying the target language and all the flashcards being passed around.

6. Stress Patterns

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 14.32.08An alternative activity is to write out the target language that you would like to introduce and then determine where the stress is placed within the word. You then create a table with the different stress patterns and ask students to complete the table by placing the words under the corresponding stress pattern. It is a useful activity which could then lead on nicely to a pronunciation focus with target language.

7. Phonemic Words

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.39.37Another activity to focus on pronunciation is to write out the phonemic script for target language to get learners to become more aware how words are pronounced. It is also a great idea to get students thinking about how they would spell these words and they will start to see patterns with vowel sounds and the spelling of these. The teacher could first introduce the words one-by-one with the use of flashcards – and using idea 5 above – or the teacher could place all words on the whiteboard and nominate students to pronounce selected words. It is a quick and easy activity and it does not take a lot of preparation for this activity.

8. Lost in Translation

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.41.11I like this activity and used it a long time ago when I first started teaching elementary learners. I first translated target language into Korean and then asked students to try to find a suitable translation in English – this is called back translation and quite effective. Learners could use their mobile devices and electronic dictionaries to translate the target language. You may find that learners will discover synonyms of target language. A different activity which involves translation could include translating the target language in the learners’ first language and also having the language in English, on separate pieces of paper, and getting learners to match the translated words with the corresponding Korean words. Translation goes a long way and can be useful for students wondering what the language is in their first language or the other way round.

9. Disappearing Words

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 14.44.37A previous colleague of mine, Pete Clements, from LTC Eastbourne demonstrated this activity to me a few years ago and I was quick to use this in class afterwards. Essentially, what you do is write up all the words around the whiteboard, drill the language, explain the definition of the key language. You then tell students to close their books – if they were making any notes of the target language and their definitions – and tell them that they have one minute to remember as many words as possible. You then draw a circle around all words or phrases, point to it and students say the word. You slowly erase the words, keeping the circles that you drew around the word and then point to it. Students have to recall the word from memory and you then start to remove more and more words, so in the end all you have is a blank whiteboard with circles around missing words or phrases. It is up to the students to remember as many key words or phrases that they can remember and it is an engaging activity for all learners no matter their age.

10. Wordsearch

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 13.41.51This is a wonderful activity that I like to do either as a vocabulary review or an introduction, particularly for young learners. It is easy to create a wordsearch, all you have to do is search for the term ‘Wordsearch Maker’ in Google and you will be directed to various different websites dedicated to the creation of word search puzzles. However, I would recommend the Teachers Direct website as a tool to create puzzles for language learners. It is wonderfully simple to create and all you have to do is to type out the target language in the website. This activity lends itself well to non-romanic language learners such as those that are Arabic or Asian speakers as they must get used to the spelling of the English language.

There you have it, all 10 ideas for introducing target language in the classroom. What are your favourite ways to introduce language in the classroom? Do you have any additional ideas? Why not share your 10 ideas? Thanks for reading and I hope you get some of these ideas into the classroom in the future.


Preparing for the CELTA in Nine Easy Steps

A previous blog post looked at 10 books recommended for the CELTA course but I also received a number of questions on Twitter, Facebook and this blog from readers wondering about how to prepare for the CELTA or where to take the course. In this post, I will be referring to the four week intensive CELTA (or equivalent), with some additional information transferable towards the 12 week part-time or online CELTA course, and how best to prepare for such a course. The majority of certificate courses are usually held over four weeks and incorporate various teacher training sessions as well as observed teaching practice. Nevertheless, I have provided 9 tips and pieces of advice for those that want to do the CELTA with answers to some of the most common questions asked.

1. Where can I take the CELTA?

CELTA CentreThis is the first question you need to ask yourself is whether the course is available near to where you reside. You can find this out by going to the Cambridge English website and clicking on “Find a Teaching Qualifications centre near you“. You will then be directed to another page where you can find CELTA centres based on country and region within this country. What I do recommend is that you choose a centre which is in close proximity to where you reside otherwise you will be commuting to and from the centre as well as preparing for lessons in the evening. For example, I had to commute one and a half hours to the centre into Seoul and then back home again (a total of three hours each day) with me having to arrive at least by 8:30am. Thus, I had to be up by 5am to get the train to Seoul at 6am and especially not for the faint hearted. So try to choose a centre which is around 30 minutes away from where you will be residing during the next four weeks. I have heard that some people decide to do a CELTA abroad and find temporary accommodation during the period of their CELTA course.

2. Pre-Interview Task

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After applying for the CELTA, you will be asked to complete a pre-interview task. The pre-interview task is your chance to show your awareness of the English language, the differences between similar words, the sounds of the English language as well as completing an essay related to teaching or what constitutes a successful lesson. With regards to the language awareness, you will be provided with several learner errors and asked to correct the mistakes by writing a grammatically correct sentence. Below are examples of the pre-interview tasks which have been sourced and are freely available from the University of Texas.

Error Correction:

Each of the exchanges below contains a mistake. In each case:

  1. write the corrected version in the space provided
  2. clarify your correction in simple English to explain the mistake


  • Mr. Smith:  “Do you have much experience in the restaurant business?”
  • Giorgio:      “Yes, I’ve been working as a chef since 10 years.” 
  1. I’ve been working as a chef for ten years.
  2. We use ‘since’ before a point in time – for example, since Tuesday, since 1992, since 5 o’clock. We use for before a period of time – for example, for two weeks, for six years, for ten minutes. In this case ‘10 years’ is a period of time, so we need ‘for’.
Differences in meaning:

Comment on the difference in meaning between the following pairs of sentences, and outline how you might teach these differences in meaning.


  1. Claire is working late again; she’s so passionate about her work!
  2. Jane is working late again; she’s so obsessed with her work!

In the first sentence, the word ‘passionate’ suggests that Claire’s reason for working late is that she is driven by a love for her job and a healthy desire to succeed. In the second sentence, the word ‘obsessed’ suggests that Claire’s reason for working late is that she lacks a healthy balance in her life. She is so fixated on her work that perhaps she doesn’t do anything else, or perhaps other areas of her life are negatively affected.

To teach it, I would draw two pictures (or bring in two photographs). The first would be of a person working at her desk in an office. I would show the time with a clock on the wall (showing 9:30 pm). She would have a smile on her face to show that she was happy (and passionate about her work!)

For the second sentence, I would have a picture of Jane at her desk in her office, but she would look tired (and a little stressed). The time would still be 9:30pm on the clock. I hope these two examples would show the positive/negative aspects of the two sentences.

Word stress and stress patterns:

Word stress, which focuses on the stress within particular syllables, such as ‘banana’ and the stress being bolded and underlined: baNAna. You will receive a possible grid of particular stress patterns (oOo, Ooo, ooO, etc.) and you must try to place words under their corresponding stress item. The activity below will help you better understand what is expected.

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The final activity, related to the corresponding sounds of English, is attempting for you to connect same sounds with different words.  If you are able to complete the following activity, it will help you learn about the sounds of isolated units from words. You may receive an activity to connect words with the same vowel sound (lead & sheep). There may also be an activity whereby you have to connect consonants or focus on the endings and beginnings from different words. It is not a tough task but you do need to spend a bit more time on this activity. An example activity is available below and, again, you will be download this task from the University of Texas website.

Match the underlined sound of the words in column A to a word in column B with a corresponding sound. Note: the sound can correspond to any sound in the words in Column B. For example: advice goes with sip. Beware! The spelling of the sound may be different!

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All example tasks above are credited from the University of Texas ESL department.

3. Interview Questions

Prepare for the interview, Wikimedia © 2015

When you first decide to do the CELTA (or equivalent), it is best to prepare for your interview. You do not exactly go to a particular centre and expect the red carpet to be rolled out for you. You need to show that you are enthusiastic about teaching and keen to undertake a gruelling training course. One way for trainees and the centre to gauge your suitability for such a course is to interview you. When I went to the British Council in South Korea, I was interviewed with another possible trainee and we both had to work together on a particular task. We were then taken out of the room and interviewed individually. As well as being interviewed in person, we also had to write about a teacher that we admired when were students. So be prepared to write something in a short space of time – I think we had around 20 minutes. There are some questions that you should prepare in advance for the interview, as with any important interview. Some of the following questions you should consider answering for the CELTA interview could include:

  • Why do you want to do the CELTA course?
  • What do you know about the CELTA course already?
  • What is the most important thing to do in first lessons?
  • How do you see yourself in a team?
  • How do you react to feedback and criticism?

The interview is essentially to see if you are able to undertake such a demanding course as well as have the personality to that will aid you when working with other trainees.

4. Other Trainees

Get on with all other trainees on your CELTA course, Bloomsbury News Blog © 2015

When you are on the CELTA course with other trainees, it is important that you get on well with them and you should not be on a witch-hunt when observing other trainee’s teaching practice. The first day is important as you will meet the other trainees as well as the trainers. It is vital that you get on well with all people on the course and with your trainers as they will be providing and offering feedback on your very own teaching practice. If you end up giving a lot of negative feedback which is not so constructive and rather personal about your peers’ teaching practice or not listening to your own feedback from the trainers, you will find the course very tough indeed. Trainers will want you to incorporate a lot of what they mention into the teaching practice and you will be expected to offer constructive feedback on your peers’ teaching practice. I remember have heard trainees being shown the door if they are unable to take on board the feedback from input sessions or teaching practice or have difficulty adjusting to what is expected. Treat your other trainees with respect no matter how heavy the pressures are with the course. All trainees are in the same boat and you will be expected to work together as a team and helping each other (when needed) to assist in the preparation of your teaching. The biggest thing is not to lose your cool and not to start any personal vendettas against your fellow trainees.

5. Social Calendar

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 15.00.26When you are doing the CELTA course, you will find that you will have very little time to socialise during the week and at the weekend, you will feel like having a rest from the course.  It is a very tough and intense course, with very little opportunity to relax so best to cancel all those evenings out with your friends, forget birthday parties as well as your partner. They will see very little of you during the next four weeks. I remember having no social life during the four weeks. The Director of the school came into the session and compared the CELTA Course to a ‘boot camp‘ for English language teachers. It was a simple analogy but it is in fact very true. Once I finished the course, all trainees went out with the trainers to celebrate completion of the course and we had a lovely meal all together. During weekends, I was too tired to do anything and would wake up late on Saturday, spend time with family before returning to lesson preparation on Sunday for the Monday. It was a tough and arduous four weeks but you will feel a great sense of achievement. However, you should ask yourself if you have the support and understanding of family and friends while you are focusing on the CELTA Course for four weeks and have very little time to devote to them.

6. Lesson Planning

Harry Potter LessonPlanning your lessons is not meant to be easy and it will take a while for you to get used to the expectation from the CELTA trainers. Your trainers will probably give you an input session on the first day on how to write lesson plans and what they expect from their trainees. It is likely you will receive an electronic lesson plan template which you could use for all your lesson planning needs. Prepare to spend as much time on the lesson planning as much as preparing all the material for your lessons. There are some areas you need to consider when writing your lesson plan and you may have a coursebook to refer to when preparing your lessons. If you have a coursebook which you could refer to during the course, then read the Teacher’s Book. It will have a lot of information about the relevant pages from the coursebook as well as suggested staging of the lesson. You will be expected to supplement the coursebook as much as possible and incorporate some of the teaching ideas and activities suggested during teacher input sessions by the trainers.

When writing your lesson aims, it is best to focus on the following: “By the end of the lesson, students will have …”. This attempts you to reflect on your lesson and what your students will have achieved by the end of the lesson. If you look in the Teacher’s Book of the coursebook, you will see some aims and this will guide you completing this section of the lesson plan. When you look at subsidiary aims – those aims which are not as vital as those primary aims but do play a role in the classroom – you do need to access what skills and systems are being practised during the lesson. For example, if you are focusing on a role-play at a Post Office, then main aims are likely to be functional language and subsidiary aims could be question and answer formation, listening and speaking skills. As well as aims, there are other vitally important areas in the lesson plan, such as the class profile.

While writing the class profile, ask yourself the following:

  • What are their names?
  • What are their linguistic strengths and weaknesses?
  • How long have they been studying English?
  • Why are they studying English?
  • Are there any particular pronunciation issues?

It is important to ask students this in the first lesson and to keep a record of your learners as this will help you within this area of the lesson plan. Write your class profile and update if you learn something new and share this information with the other trainees. Finally, when writing the staging of the lesson, try to focus on the methods suggested by the trainers or those demonstrated during the input sessions. While thinking of the stages, think about the activities that you want to cover, the mini-stages as well as how to achieve your primary aims from the lesson plan. The first question asked by the trainers is, “Did you achieve your aims?” followed by “How do you think the lesson went?”. Keep the staging logical and try to refer to it as much as possible. The more practice you have with lesson planning during the course, the better you will get at anticipating how long activities may take.

7. Lesson Observations & Feedback

As mentioned previously, the feedback focus on your teaching practice will look at whether the aims and objectives were achieved but trainers will always ask leading questions to ascertain whether you think your lessons was satisfactory. Lesson feedback is not meant to criticise your teaching but is enabled to support you as a trainee and feedback, as was part of my course, was conducted in front of all other trainees. The other trainees are prompted to provide feedback so do not feel surprised by the trainers asking for opinions from other trainees. During the observation tasks, trainees will be requested to focus on particular areas related to the teaching practice. A memorable activity from my CELTA course which I was asked to conduct was to look at particular tasks or areas of teaching that I would like to incorporate in my classes and some suggestions for things to recommend for the trainee to incorporate into future lessons. It is very important to provide balanced feedback on a lesson that you have observed and to move away from pure criticism. The trainers and your peers, as mentioned previously, would not thank you for your negative contribution.

While teaching, try to take on board some of the feedback that you have received from your fellow trainees as well as from the trainers. If you demonstrate that you are incorporating their suggestions and taking on board their feedback, you will have minimal problems. Your trainers will praise you for doing what they recommended. It is easy to think that you know better than your trainers or fellow trainees but keep your opinions to yourself, there are only four weeks and you can return to what you think works better for your afterward the CELTA course.

8. Primary Reading

A previous post which I wrote related to the top ten CELTA books is incredibly useful but there might be additional reading that your centre will recommend. I would recommend reading as many books as possible related to teaching English as a foreign language whether they made my list of the top ten CELTA books or are recommended by your CELTA centre. You will receive a list of recommended books to purchase prior to starting the CELTA course and the majority of the books that I recommend are very useful. They can be referred to during the course and will help you while preparing your lesson plans as well as the written tasks which are provided later in the course.

The four books you should really consider purchasing for your course are:

  • “Grammar for English Language Teachers” by Martin Parrott
  • “Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan
  • “Learning Teaching” by Jim Scrivener
  • “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener

9. Enjoy the Course

The biggest tip that I can give trainees doing the CELTA course would be to enjoy their time and experience. The four weeks ends very quickly and you will find yourself missing the other trainees and trainers when you have finished. The course was fantastic and I learnt so much in such a short space of time. It is difficult to enjoy your time while doing the CELTA but if you relax, learn from all feedback as well as the input sessions and get on well with all other trainees, the course will a lot more manageable and you will receive a great deal more support from others. If you isolate yourself, you will be counting down the days until you finish. If you have enjoyed the course and the other trainees, you will make a lot of new friends and will end up keeping in touch with other teacher trainees. The trainers will also be able to offer some career advice regarding English language teaching and if you make a good impression, it may be possible that you secure some employment with the centre afterwards.

I hope all the advice above is useful and you take this on board. What did you take away from the CELTA course? Would you have any words of wisdom for our readers?


10 Ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom

ELT Experiences QR CodeIt has been a while since I have posted any practical ideas for the classroom, and for this I am sorry. However, yesterday I found inspiration, yet again, while preparing for a workshop for my teachers at our school. This coming Friday’s workshop is about mobile learning and I have an opportunity to provide some input on the use of QR Codes in the classroom to motivate young learners. I have never used QR Codes before in the classroom but it would be something that I would definitely use in the future to engage learners with reading and conversation skills. Before we start with the 10 practical ideas with using QR Codes in class, here is a quick tutorial for those new to creating your own codes.

How to create your own QR Codes

Application: www.qr-code-generator.com; lets you make QR codes which could then be used in a variety of ways during lessons.

Similar application: http://goqr.me/; identical to the website mentioned above.

Focus: Creating QR codes for lessons which could include text or links to websites. These could be exploited in various ways.

Level: All levels.

Time: 20-45 minutes.

ICT skills: Browsing, typing, copy and pasting, and lesson planning.

Equipment: A single computer with internet access which is connected to the internet.

QR scanner: A smart phone or tablet will be needed to scan the QR Codes and a free application will be required to download – just search for QR Scanner/Reader on your app store and download it. I recommend “QR Reader” and it is available for both Android and iOS.


QR Code (URL)

QR Code (Text)

  1. Visit the website www.qr-code-generator.com and click on “Link” and paste (Ctrl V) in the link from the website that you would like to use as a QR code or click on “Text” and insert the text that you would like.
  2. Once you have the link pasted into the URL or inserted text in to the box, click “Create QR Code”.
  3. A QR image, which is black and white, will be displayed on the right-hand side of the website and you can download this. I recommend downloading the image as JPG.
  4. Once you have downloaded the QR Code, look in your “Download” folder for the image.
  5. Search for the JPG image that you have just downloaded and once you have found it you could either move it to the desktop. The QR Code will have be downloaded as a ZIP file, just double click on it and you will see the image.
  6. Once you have the image, right click with the mouse and click “Copy”. Open Microsoft Word or Pages and when the software is ready right click with the mouse again and click “Paste” or press “Ctrl V” together and it will paste in.
  7. You will be able to print out the QR Code.

Now you have learnt how to create your very own QR Codes and are able to print these out but how would you use them in the classroom? Well do not worry, as I offer 10 practical ideas whereby teachers could use QR Codes, with text embedded within it, in the classroom. So what are you waiting for? Get those QR Codes created!

1. What’s the word?

You stick QR Codes to each learner’s back or on their head and each code has text embedded within it. The student with the QR Code stuck to themselves cannot scan their own code and other students must help the learner guess their word by scanning the code and describing the word. This activity will get learners walking around the classroom and interacting with each other.

2. What’s the question?

Each student is given a QR Code which contains a question. As with the previous idea, a student cannot scan their own individual code. A student scans the code and then replies with a suitable answer. Each student should attempt to guess their own question embedded within their own QR Code from the prompted replies by other learners. As with the previous activity, students could have their codes stuck on their backs or on their forehead.

3. What’s the reading?

To make a reading task more engaging you could remove the reading comprehension questions from the coursebook and embed them within a QR Code, which are then printed out and stuck up around the classroom. Students could walk around scanning the questions, running back, writing out the questions and then searching for the answers. You could make this a bit more competitive by adding a time limit and putting students into small groups and turn it into a running question dictation exercise.

4. What’s the Quiz?

In many grammar, vocabulary or culture books, there are a range of quizzes, grammar auctions and so forth which could be replicated with QR Codes. You could create a quiz or grammar auction using QR Codes, spread them around the classroom and then, as with previous suggestions, get groups scanning the codes and dictating the questions and possible answers. It will test a range of skills if dictation is involved: reading, writing, speaking as well as listening. Once all questions have been dictated, students could work together and then decide on the correct answer, grammar form and so forth.

5. What’s the story, poem or nursery rhyme?

This is an idea which I have used before but with only word clouds, whereby you have a poem or a nursery rhyme with all the text and the students have to recreate the poem or nursery rhyme. With QR codes, you could use 3-4 within class with one code containing all the nouns, the other adjectives, another with some verbs and possibly one more with adverbs. Students have to work in small groups to recreate the story, poem or nursery rhyme with all the words from each code. It develops writing skills, focuses more on sentence structure as well as offers learners an opportunity to be more creative within certain boundaries. Once groups of students have completed the writing activity, you could pair groups up together and then they could compare their writing before checking as a whole class. You could finally give all the students the original story, poem or nursery rhyme.

6. What’s the connection?

This lesson idea focuses on functional language with questions and answers. You could incorporate this idea into any lesson which has a role-play or similar activity. The main idea is to create a QR Code for each individual question and response, so if you had 6 questions, you would have 6 QR Codes, and if you had 6 responses/answers, you would have 6 additional QR Codes – a total of 12. Imagine you are focusing on functional language in a Post Office, you could have these a question embedded in the QR Code such as “How much is a first class stamp?”, and students scan the code, write the question down and then have to search for suitable answer. It is essentially a matching activity for functional language with predicted answers from questions. Once students have all the questions and answers matched together correctly, you could then pair learners up and then get them to create a dialogue ensuring that they use selected questions and answers that they have scanned.

7. What’s the dialogue?

As with the previous lesson idea, you could create a QR Code for each individual line of dialogue so if you had 12 lines of dialogue between two people, you would have to create 12 QR Codes and place these codes around the classroom. Students then proceed to scan each line of dialogue, write it down and then have to reorder it in pairs or small groups – choosing who said what and how each person responded. It develops awareness of how conversations could evolve with responses by listeners. You could exploit this lesson activity with any functional language or as an activity after a listening focus. It would be a nice lead-in activity and you could ask students – once they have completed the aforementioned task – who the people are, where they are, what they are doing, etc.

8. What’s the speaking topic?

A nice speaking activity that I have used is to place learners into small groups around the classroom and giving each group a topic that they have to speak about before getting them to move around to another area and then chatting about a different topic. Well, this is essentially a spin off from this activity, with the topics that learners have to speak about, embedded within the QR Code. You could place a QR Code on a table or on a wall and learners have to scan the code and then chat about the subject. For example, you could have a general topic embedded in the code such as “Jobs” (learners speak about jobs that they want to do in the future, jobs that they had, etc.) or you could have a question or sentence to prompt discussion such as “Cigarettes should be banned”. It is easy and effective, which will engage learners very quickly.

9. What’s the idiom?

Another matching activity could be done with idiomatic phrases in lessons. If you have a strong group of learners and you would like to review more colloquial phrases, then this activity is for you. You have for example 6 idiomatic phrases and 6 corresponding definitions and each idiom as well as each definition is then embedded within each QR Code – a total of 12 QR Codes. For example, one QR Code could have, “My car cost an arm and a leg”, and the corresponding code could have, “My car was really expensive”. Students then have to look for the idiomatic expressions and then connect it with the more general definitions. It will generate learner awareness of more colloquial expressions in English and is more related to a guided discovery activity. One possible, which could be considered, after the idiom matching activity is that learners then have to create a dialogue between two people in their pairs or small groups.

10. What’s the missing word?

A popular reading activity in any English language classroom is the gap-fill exercise. It was the very first activity which I used in lessons and seems to be many other teachers’ favourite reading activity. You could always exploit a gap-fill exercise by adding all the missing words into a various QR Codes, so if you have 15 words gapped from a text then there will be 15 codes stuck up around the classroom. As with a reading gap-fill exercise, students have to look for the best word to put in the gap but this time the words are embedded in the QR Code. Students scan the code and then decide where this word is placed. It is a useful exercise and is slightly different to a timeless classic activity.

Well I hope the 10 ideas above are useful and you are able to incorporate it into your class. However, have you ever used QR Codes? Do you have any interesting ways to use QR Codes in class? Are QR Codes a useful tool or are they a technological gimmick?


“Film in Action: Teaching language using moving images”: Book Review

The book review was originally published in EFL Magazine on 12 June 2015.


Film in Action book coverTeachers around the world attempt to engage their learners using various methods, one of which is the use of video in the classroom. When reflecting on video, I remember, within my first year of teaching, attempting to get all the young learners motivated by watching a cartoon or child-friendly movie. However, I was fresh out of ideas on how to exploit it in an educational manner. What I tended to do was just wheel out the TV and DVD player into the classroom and hit the play button. We would all just sit there and watch the DVD, totally immersed within the video with very little educational benefit. Now with the development and popularity of online video distribution websites, as well as smart mobile filming devices, teachers are now in the position to motivate and engage their learners with the language of English via the medium of video.

It now seems fitting that the latest publication from the DELTA Teacher Development Series attempts to illustrate the educational benefit by which teachers, and their learners, could use video to supplement the teaching of English. “Film in Action” (2015), written by Kieran Donaghy, is a wonderful resource for teachers seeking further ideas on how to exploit video inside and outside the classroom with their learners. As with previous publications from the DELTA Teacher Development Series, you can expect three parts to this book: Part A, Part B and, if you hazard a guess, Part C. Within Part A, Kieran attempts to answer six key questions related to:

  • The role of film within society;
  • Film within education;
  • The relationship between film and literacy in the twenty-first century;
  • The importance of the young analysing and creating their own personal films;
  • The educational benefits of creating moving images; as well as
  • Strategies to using films inside and outside of the classroom.

Each focus is clearly written, with reference to further reading in the bibliography, which guides the reader towards the relationship between education, film and teaching. The final focus of Part A – using film in the classroom – offers some invaluable and reflective tips for using feature films or short films in creative and educationally rewarding ways. Part A offers the reader websites related to short films, general film resources as well as additional lesson plans and projects.

Part B, which offers a wealth of lesson ideas, is split into two chapters: Chapter One focuses on learners actively watching film with the aim of improving their language skills as well as developing their visual literacy, while Chapter Two offers concepts of lessons designed to encourage learners to actively produce their own film with a focus on English. Chapter One, which contain in total 68 lesson ideas, in the predictable lesson structure which is clear, methodical and well organised. This simple and effective process, as with all of the DELTA Teacher Development Series, offer readers inspired lessons to incorporate films within the classroom. All the lesson ideas in this section are further split into 8 other categories related to actively watching film: exploring film (7 lesson ideas), exploiting moving images (12 lesson ideas), exploiting still images (7 lesson ideas), exploiting sound (12 lesson ideas), exploiting music (4 lesson ideas), analysing characters (8 lesson ideas), analysing scripts (8 lesson ideas) as well as exploring new film genres (10 lesson ideas).

Chapter Two, within Part B, focuses on learners producing and creating their own films in an educational manner. It is, again, clearly organized using the DELTA Publishing formula. The focus of learners actively producing their own films, of which there are 43 lessons, is split into three main areas: creating narrative (15 lesson ideas), creating images and sounds (9 lesson ideas) and creating moving images (19 lesson ideas). One of my favourite lesson ideas, within Chapter Two, Part B, is getting learners to create a ‘how to’ video. Kieran has written a wonderful lesson plan which naturally develops towards students creating their very own ‘how to’ video. The lesson itself is incredibly powerful as students are no longer restricted by the topic. They can work together to create a video, which can then be played back to the rest of the class.

There is a natural development towards Part C, which considers the adoption of a ‘three C’ approach to film: Cultural access, Critical understanding and Creative activity. Kieran considers exploiting the three Cs approach, within Part C, by considering four projects which readers could incorporate within their classroom: the film club, film circles, film chronicles, and the film course. With these four considerations, which any language institution could incorporate to supplement language courses, the author highlights very important aspects to consider. For example, with a film club the reader is reminded to consider equipment required, the environment, legal implications as well as selecting appropriate films. Additional resources and lesson ideas are offered for readers in the final Part, with readers feeling motivated to attempt film projects with their educational institution.

The book itself covers a variety of areas with film in the classroom in a well-defined and logical fashion that naturally guides the reader towards different aspects to consider when incorporating film in the classroom. Readers will gain confidence and inspiration when incorporating ideas suggested by Kieran Donaghy. There is such a wealth of recommended websites and links that it can initially seem daunting for any reader. Yet, with enough perseverance and determination, these websites can support and complement the lesson ideas. “Film in Action” is a vital book for those teachers wishing to incorporate film in the classroom with some stimulating and rewarding ideas for lessons. It would have saved me countless times when I incorporated film in the classroom.


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