ELT Experiences

Experiences of an English Language Teacher


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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

Example

  • 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.

Example:

  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?


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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.

Instructions:

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?


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“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: TEACHING LANGUAGE USING MOVING IMAGES”: BOOK REVIEW

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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10 Tips for Lesson Observations

My previous post, 10 recommended books for the CELTA course, was somewhat well received and I have been thinking about a suitable follow-up for this post. Anyhow, after observing teachers during the week, I thought I would write up another post to support those teachers that have been successful for the CELTA course or those that have inspections or lesson observations due. In this post, I will recommend ten things to remember for any formal lesson observation.

1. What are your lesson aims?

You have planned your lesson, have a great idea for starting the lesson and also have cut-up all your material and you are ready to teach. However, look at your lesson plan and think very carefully what your aims and objectives are. I would really encourage any teacher to write their lesson plan by starting with this sentence: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to …”. It is important to know what your students will achieve by the end of the lesson. Ask yourself “Why am I teaching this? How will I know that I have achieved my lesson aims?”.

Get some practice by writing up a list of quick lesson aims on the whiteboard for students to know what they are going to do during the lesson. If you are using a coursebook with your learners, it will help your lesson aims as most coursebooks, these days, have language aims and “Can Do” statements adjusted from the Common European Framework. Unsuitable aims or objectives in lesson plans could include the following:

  • My students will learn vocabulary about …
  • Students will have some speaking practice about …
  • By the end of the lesson, students will have completed listening.

2. What’s in a name?

It really does show if teachers don’t remember the names of their students during observations. You cannot just wave your finger like a magic wand and say “You there! What is the answer to …?”. Not only does this illustrate that you do not know your learners’ names, it also suggests that you have not really thought about your learners when preparing a lesson. It is important to remember the names of your students and there are a few things you could do to help you out with this:

  • Keep a floor-plan of those students and where they are sitting. Refer to this when you are stuck and test yourself when you have a chance.
  • Get students to make a name card which can be made in the first lesson or with new students joining the class. Ask students to move around and then test yourself with students to remember their names.

If you can remember the names of your students, you are half-way there to generating rapport with students and learning more about them as individuals. Students will know if you don’t know their name. They will not be very happy if you cannot remember their name. How would you feel if you were in class and the teacher couldn’t even remember your name? You wouldn’t be happy.

3. Have a walkabout

When you are teaching a class, it is important to walk around a bit from time-to-time to monitor students. It doesn’t help if you are stationary during the lesson at the front of the class. It is important to walk around the classroom during lesson activities. Follow this basic advice and you will not go far wrong:

  • Whole class instructions should be given at the front of the class
  • Students are completing pair or small group activities and the teacher should try to walk around each small group or pair of students
  • Students are doing a presentation and the teacher could sit in the corner of the class or among other students at the back of the classroom

If you are constantly present at the front of the classroom, it may appear top heavy with the teacher controlling the lesson and the students’ contribution. It is better to merge within the classroom and this will reflect well in your lesson observations.

4. The computer says “No!”

If you are using interactive whiteboard (IWB) or a computer as part of your lesson, make sure it works. It really is soul destroying to see all your hard work fall flat if the technology decides not to work and you are left rushing around to try to find a solution. It inevitably ends up getting the IT person involved to help with the situation. What is more annoying is if you boot up your computer with five minutes to spare and then it decides to update and you are left with a PC that is just sitting in the corner and you cannot do what you planned to do as the computer is now out of action. There are a few things to consider when preparing your lesson observation, if it includes any form of technology.

  • Check that all equipment is working on the day and that you have a quick run through
  • Make sure that the PC you are using has been booted up and it has updated itself
  • Have a backup plan, should the unexpected happen, with a ten or fifteen minute activity to keep students occupied while you remedy any technological alarm

If you organise yourself well in advance and have a backup plan, you will be fully prepared for any situation or emergency. Teachers that are well organised are those that think about the unexpected happening.

5. Keep it short and sweet

You have nailed your lesson plan, you remember the names of all your students and, so far, the computer is not playing up. However, you have a task for students to do and you are about to give some instructions. You have not planned what to say but you know what the students have to do and so you commence this rather long commentary.

Okay everyone. We are going to do a speaking activity now so I want everyone to sit down. I am going to hand out this piece of paper. On this paper there is one word such as ‘Detective’ or ‘Nurse’ and you have to act out that particular character. Now, when you receive your piece of paper you must try and not show anyone else in the classroom but you must try to act like that person. The other person you are talking to must try to guess your job and write it down on this other piece of paper here. OK? Any questions?

When looking at the instructions above, it can seem rather daunting to begin with and how to improve instructions but with a bit of preparation and awareness of the activity, it is rather easy. Think how to say a sentence between 4-10 words in length and you will improve your instructions and students will not be fazed any longer. If you have a chance, demonstrate the activity if it is quite complicated. For example:

This paper has a job title. You must act like that job. What is my job? [You act like a bus driver and students guess the job]. Good! You write the job on this [show another piece of paper]. All students have a different job. Keep it secret [place the paper to your chest].

With some preparation, your instructions will improve and observers will recognise the effort you went through to ensure the setting up of an activity.

6. Heads or tails?

You are handing out the first worksheet but you have not even given instructions to the students just yet so you decide to give instructions once you have finished the act of handing out worksheets. You then decide to tell all students what to do just to ensure that they know what they are doing. However, when you talk to all the students on what they are about to do, all you see is the top of their heads. They are not listening to you but are staring at the newly received worksheet. This is an example of how not to stage a lesson for worksheets until learners have received some instructions. Here is some advice for you to consider the next time you are about to provide a worksheet:

  • Tell students briefly what they are about to receive, what they are to do and a time limit.
  • Ask students some instruction concept questions (ICQs) to ensure understanding.
  • Hand out the worksheet to students and monitor.

If you follow the staging above with any worksheet, you will not have any problems with instructions, worksheets or student attentiveness.

7. Photocopy the day before

It is important to prepare as much as possible the day before your observation and this includes any photocopying you may have to do. Should you arrive in the staffroom the day of your observation with a plan to photocopy your worksheets and activities, you are bound to come across problems. Paper may be in short supply, it could be located in a different part of the building or there is a huge queue to the photocopier. No matter how tired you may feel, it is important to get all your photocopying and preparation done the day before. It will save any last minute issues and if there is an inspection, it will really stress staff if there is a battle to the photocopier.

8. Death by worksheets

All teachers, at some point in their career, have printed out worksheets to keep their students busy but this should not be considered a possibility during any observation. Worksheets are fine to consolidate and practice a language focus but you should not take a whole lesson with any form of worksheet. If you want to exploit a worksheet or a page from a vocabulary or grammar book, try to bring it off the page and personalise it for your students. Some ideas for exploiting material could include getting students to finish different parts and practising in context or creating their own worksheets for use in a future class. It is important to teach the learners rather than teach the material, as this will not go down well during any formal or informal observation. For example, if you want to teach a grammar lesson, refer to a grammar book, consider how you could present it, how the students could use the language in context and how it could be reinforced with language consolidation. Should you wish to teach a lesson using the Present Simple, you could do the following:

  • Present the grammar point by showing daily routine: I wake up at …, I get up at …, etc.
  • Show a time line and ask students to put the daily activities in order on a time line
  • Ask students to now write about their own routine but using their own personal time line
  • Get students to share their time line but to also think of questions as well as answers that could be considered about daily routine
  • Review the grammar focus by consolidating the lesson with the use of some grammar exercises (gap fill, sentence prompts, etc.)

It is not difficult but you just need to think about trying to get the students using the language in context and reviewing the language focus as a class. Stick to this, and you will not go far wrong.

9. The whiteboard

The whiteboard is sometimes one of those pieces of equipment which is often overlooked while planning a lesson. It is always used during the lesson and something to write up vocabulary, functional language, etc. When being observed, it is important to use the whiteboard effectively during these lessons and show that you are a ‘whiteboard wizard’. There are some simple tricks to keep you on top of any whiteboard issue:

  • I probably do not have to say it, but keep the whiteboard clean and free from smudges during observations.
  • Use margins on the whiteboard to split up between lesson aims and objectives, vocabulary and the main area for brainstorming language/ideas.
  • Try to use colours which are easily readable during the lesson. One pet hate is when teachers use a red pen on the board and then expect students to read it at a distance. Use black for main text and colours to highlight pronunciation, intonation or other lexical collocations.
  • Get students to copy down language and things from the whiteboard before erasing everything. It seems simple but the number of times that I have seen a teacher erase the whiteboard while students have not been given a chance to copy from the whiteboard or half-way through their copying is more common than thought. Do not be a whiteboard demon, get students to copy things from the whiteboard.
  • Write neatly and at a correct size for all to read. It seems such a basic idea but there are still teachers who write things on the board and both the observer and the students are unable to decode what has been written. If it is too small or too messy, both parties will have difficulty reading your board-work. It is best to write in non-cursive writing which is more reader friendly for language learners.

10. Relax and be yourself

Formal, as well as less formal, lesson observations can be a rather stressful time for teachers. With all the paperwork to prepare before the lesson observation, there is the prospect of a colleague, line manager or external observer coming into the lesson to see how things are going inside of the classroom. To make all our lives bearable, it is best to keep any negative comments to yourself and not to criticise those that are coming in to observe you. It is important to be as professional as possible and also relax a little. Take a deep breath and then just jump in with both feet. Essentially, lesson observations should not be a witch-hunt but they are not easy for everyone.

If the observation is part of professional development, then the feedback session will be a point of reflection for both the teacher and the observer. If you are observed, it is important not to defend every single thing that is pointed out in the reflection process but it is merely used to prompt a discussion to better understand why and how things were decided and staged during the lesson process. If the organisation is supporting those teachers that need assistance, there will be clear and attainable goals highlighted to consider and it is very important to follow these up and share your development with the person who observed you. Consider asking whether it would be possible to undertake peer-to-peer observations as these will be more beneficial and they will give you some more practical ideas which you could incorporate into future lessons.

Relax and be professional, as observations are there to help you.


There are some final tips for lesson observations and things which should be mentioned:

  • Don’t be late and try to arrive 5-10 minutes early in your classroom so that you are able to arrange the class for your lesson.
  • Don’t forget to print off your lesson plan the night before. It will not be a good idea to print the lesson plan on the day.
  • Don’t stress your students about the lesson observation. They are still your students and keep things as natural as possible.
  • Don’t change your entire lesson 5 minutes before you are due to be observed. It is a recipe for disaster.

Best of luck with your observations and I hope you enjoy them.


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‘Sounding out ELT hiring policies in South Korea’ by Martin Sketchley

Martin Sketchley:

Thank you to Marek for letting me share more about my experiences of teaching and recruitment in South Korea.

Originally posted on teflequityadvocates:

South Korea: Gyeongbokgung Palace. Under Creative Commons: https://flic.kr/p/qrEbT South Korea: Gyeongbokgung Palace. Under Creative Commons: https://flic.kr/p/qrEbT

I started my English language teaching career soon after completing my undergraduate degree in 2005. South Korea appeared to be a wonderful opportunity, as all you needed to qualify as an English language teacher was to be a Native English Speaker (NS), hold a degree in any subject from an English-speaking country and be willing to travel half-way across the world. I decided to jump at the chance once I secured a full-time teaching contract and was very happy, yet incredibly nervous at the same time. I spent a total of three years in this wonderful country with some interesting experiences and stories to share, particularly with regards to the teaching of English and institutions keen to recruit teachers based upon their accent.

In my first year in Korea, I was working for a private language school teaching young learners between the…

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10 Recommended Books for the CELTA Course

It has been a number years since I took the CELTA Course, at least seven years since I actually completed the course at the British Council Seoul. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other Native English Speaker Teachers (NESTS) and Non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTS) resident in Korea wishing to develop professionally as teachers. We all shared our commitment to the profession and wanted to improve our skills as teachers. I enjoyed the course so much that I created a CELTA Group on Facebook to keep in touch with the other trainees. Anyhow, I have been thinking about books that were recommended before starting the course, as well as books that I have come across after the CELTA course, and I thought a blog post suggesting potential books to aid the CELTA trainee would suffice.

1. “Learning Teaching” by Jim Scrivener

Learning TeachingThe first book, Learning Teaching, that was recommended for trainees as part of pre-reading and preparation before as well as during the CELTA course. It is an incredible book which looks at teaching various skills (reading, writing, speaking, etc.) and proposed approaches for the classroom, which when learning to teach English to language learners, is invaluable. Also, there are sections within the book which assist teachers, both experienced and less experienced, which cover classroom management, various styles of teaching, methods and approaches to language teaching as well as professional development opportunities to consider. I remember the CELTA trainers advising that this book should be our bible during the course and we should attempt to read the various sections when required. Not only is it a useful book for before and during the CELTA course, but it has always been a book that I have constantly returned to, when getting ideas on developing a curriculum or planning courses and lessons.

2. “Advanced English Grammar in Use” by Raymond Murphy

AGIUAnother book which I had discovered invaluable as part of lesson planning, language awareness and teaching practice was Advanced English Grammar in Use. It was incredibly helpful when I wanted to look at particular grammar points in context and in more detail. For example, Raymond Murphy offers additional focus the use of the Present Simple in context with daily routines or habits. You could look at some of these suggestions and personalise it for your teaching practice. As well as the demonstrating of isolated grammar points, Advanced English Grammar in Use offers some thoughts on written grammar practice and this again could either be recreated and personalised in your teaching practice. If you are new to the teaching of grammar, you could purchase the lower levels of English Grammar in Use to better understand the premise behind certain grammar structures.

3. “Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan

PEUThis was another book which was on my recommended reading list for the CELTA course and I ordered it specially from the UK and it was delivered a week later in Korea. It is incredibly informative and will help trainees with preparing lessons focused solely on key vocabulary and grammar. This book is very well organised alphabetically from ‘abbreviated styles‘ to ‘yes and no‘. I have used this book to prepare lessons on vocabulary for higher learners such as newspaper headlines as well as focus on grammar. When you combine this book with other recommended books in this post, it is really really useful and I would urge any potential CELTA trainee or experienced teacher to go and buy this book. It is most likely in most English teacher’s staffroom but it is one of those books that you will return to and those teachers that have completed the CELTA, who had not bought this book, should really purchase Practical English Usage.

4. “Teaching English Grammar” by Jim Scrivener

TEGThis is the second book by Scrivener that I am recommending but this is not to suggest that I swayed by his books. Although Teaching English Grammar had not been published when I took the CELTA course in 2008, I was introduced to it when it was first published. Had this been available in my course, it would have helped immensely during the lesson planning stage. Scrivener aids the reader through various things to consider when teaching areas of grammar with suggested context building activities, language practice ideas, suggested concept checking questions  (CCQs) as well as possible learner errors occurring for each grammar item. It is incredibly useful and despite not having this book during my CELTA days, it has been great to get some ideas for teaching.

5. “Grammar for English Language Teachers” by Martin Parrott

GFELTThis is a wonderfully organised book which breaks down grammar into easy-to-understand chapters. As with some of the previous books which I have recommended, Grammar for English Language Teachers was recommended for the CELTA course as it could be referred to during the written assignments. As with previous reference books, this grammar book offers the reader the chance to consider some key aspects, provides the key forms of the referred grammar, typical difficulties for language learners, as well as some consolidation exercises to practice what has been learnt and improve your skills as a language teacher. When I speak to other teachers, they always tell me this is a good place to start when preparing lessons for teaching grammar.

6. “The Book of Pronunciation” by Jonathan Marks and Tim Bowen

TBOPThere are a few books that focus solely on pronunciation and after my CELTA course, I purchased Sound Foundations, by Adrian Underhill. I just found this book a little too theoretical yet with a bit more reading and focus, there were some suggested practical ideas and they were great. I do in fact recommend Sound Foundations for those that are interested in pronunciation as an area. However, with The Book of Pronunciation, the authors have created some fantastic ideas for isolated lessons on a range of pronunciation areas such as homophones, stress, intonation, as well as many other areas. This book offers some interesting areas which CELTA trainees could incorporate as part of their lesson and had I acquired this book before my training, I would have been able to experiment during teaching practice.

7. “An A-Z of ELT” by Scott Thornbury

AAZOEWhen you start your CELTA course, there is a lot of acronyms you need to get your head around; TTT, STT, CCQs, ICQs, PPP, etc. It can all be a bit overwhelming to be honest and you have a lot of other things to think about such as your lesson planning, assignments and input sessions that you need to attend. Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT offers a quick reference for all those hard-to-learn acronyms and abbreviations, and as everything is in alphabetical order you can find terms quite quickly.  As well as this, the book provides the trainee some background reading into some of the theories and ideas behind language acquisition and learning. Once you have finished the CELTA, Thornbury’s book can be referred to as you develop as a teacher and is also recommended for the DELTA, should you decide a few years later to do this.

8. “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener

CMTApologies but this is going to be the third and final book that I recommend which is written by Scrivener, but to be honest his books are great for those individuals undertaking or wishing to undertake the CELTA. Nevertheless, one key element which is focused on the CELTA course is the area of classroom management which is heavily focused upon during the observed teaching practice. I remember the trainers telling me to improve my instructions and reducing teacher talking time (TTT). Of course it is useful to receive such feedback about classroom management but there was minimal reading with relation to this. However, with Scrivener’s latest publication, Classroom Management Techniques, he hopes to fill this void. The book is easy to read with some great illustrations, and it great for any teacher training sessions which I focus on with experienced teachers. There are many areas that Scrivener focuses on which include; the classroom, the teacher, the learner, lessons, etc. As with previous recommendations, this book is invaluable for the day-to-day running of a course and it offers some wonderful ideas to think about should you have trouble with a class or selected learners. At the end of each chapter, there are some questions for reflection on particular areas of classroom management. Unfortunately, this book had not been published when I took the CELTA course but it was one of those books that I purchased immediately as soon as it was available.

9. “ABC of Common Grammatical Errors” by Nigel Turton

ABOCGEThis book, by Nigel Turton, seems to be in short supply but if you can get your hands on ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, it would be highly recommended. The book is organised alphabetically with particular words and grammar forms. Nigel illustrates some common errors – these could unsuitable words, word order or grammatical errors – as well as their corrections in a systematic and organised way. This book can be easily referred to during the CELTA course to assist in anticipated errors for students and this could be written into lesson plans.  It would also assist in the developing awareness while teaching English and the potential pitfalls that language learners may encounter. With this book, you will be armed to to write your lesson plans in the best way possible. Get this book and you will not regret it. However, what this book lacks in possible errors that particular nationalities may encounter is recommended by the final book in this post.

10. “Learner English” by Michael Swan

LEThis is the final book for this list and also the second recommended in this post which is written by Michael Swan. Learner English, much like ABC of Common Grammatical Errors, is a highly informative book which prepares trainees in teaching and possible errors and first language interference possible language learners may encounter while acquiring English. Swan’s book focuses on potential phonological and grammatical errors based upon particular language speakers and this is invaluable for trainee teachers or those teachers new to particular speakers of a language. Each focus on language speaker, such as Arabic, has a general breakdown of phonological areas which are common in their first language and those phonological sounds which are not transferred to English. As well as this, the book also covers grammar and sentence construction with a literal and more reader-friendly translation to aid readers in judging how particular nationalities create sentences in their own language and better anticipate potential first language interference. As with other books, this book will help teachers develop their awareness of teaching various learners as well as monolingual groups of students. It is really useful and I would always recommend this book to trainee and experienced teachers.


So this is my top ten list of recommended books for the CELTA but what books would you recommend? Do you have any favourite books that you like to refer to on a daily or weekly basis? What books do you always read? As always, leave your comments below.


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“Translation and Own-language Activities”: Book Review

Last year, I wrote a book review for Philip Kerr’s book on “Translation and Own-language Activities” for IATEFL Voices. Today, I was participating in an ELT Chat discussion about own-language use in the classroom and I was looking for this book review for a while.  I suddenly realised that I hadn’t included it on my blog.  Apologies for the delay but please find the book review for “Translation and Own-language Activities” below.

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