ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

By - Martin Sketchley

N is for Nine years on

8b4d9-teachingunplugged
Reading “Teaching Unplugged”

After reading Scott Thornbury’s blog post about his forty years in the ELT profession, I thought, rather than post a large reply to his post, I would write a personal blog post about my journey in the ELT profession.  It was incredibly interesting to learn more about Scott Thornbury’s decision to teach as a way to travel as well as being taught the International House method of teaching the grammar of English in ‘contrived’ ways.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be a wonderful chance to share my own journey of becoming an English language teacher as well as the changes that I have noticed in the English teaching industry.

When I first started teaching, it was back in December 2005, after completing a degree in International Business.  I travelled to South Korea with my family fresh off the plane with a rejuvenated sense of teaching Korean young learners.  All that was required when I arrived to become a professional English teacher was to have the following:

  • A university degree
  • Be a native English teacher

Fortunately, I met these requirements and at the time I didn’t even need a certificate, such as the CELTA, to teach English.  I was so happy and keen to jump into the classroom.

I suppose this was the first thing that I noticed in the English language teaching profession was this ownership of the teaching of English, and the backwash was that institutes would only be allowed to recruit teachers from countries which were from either America, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa – which is the inner circle of language native speakers of English.  This had the unfortunate drawback that non-native speakers did not have the opportunity to teach in South Korea – but this is another blog post.  These days, from my personal observation with the South Korean English education system, they are more adaptable with regards to non-native speakers of English – especially for those teachers who are Korean themselves.  However, there still remains some issues of recruitment with non-native speakers of English from those countries which were not mentioned above.

Where do i goAfter a year, I joined a four week intensive CELTA course at the British Council in Seoul.  I had to go to their centre and go for an interview before being accepted on to the course but it was highly competitive and I was the only Brit on the course.  It was a joint interview with a fellow non-native English teacher and it was so nice to see the British Council accommodate non-native speakers of English on the course.  It didn’t seem such an exclusive course for just native speakers of English and we were able to share ideas of teaching English to adult language learners.  We were introduced to the British Council/CELTA method of teaching English – much like Scott Thornbury’s IH method – where we taught small elements of language items and grammar through a context.  I was very keen to put this into practice with my learners at our small school in a rural town of Korea but quickly realised that this was not so transferable towards young learners and I wanted to teach at an adult institute and I moved on to Wall Street English in Seoul.

I was so enthusiastic and keen to teach English via this newly discovered communicative method that I was quite popular among the learners.  My basic stages in all my lessons were:

  • Introduce the topic and elicit possible vocabulary
  • Introduce vocabulary for main activity
  • Undertake the main activity (reading, listening, etc)
  • Provide feedback and end lesson

I perfected this method so well and gave space for Korean language learners to communicate, that my lessons were rather popular.  I noticed an improvement in their fluency and keenness to speak with each other in English – a marked improvement from Korean young learners but a different kettle of fish.  After a few years, I returned to the UK.

My initial impressions of English language teaching in the UK was different to my views from South Korea.  I felt like I had just started out again as a teacher.  I was used to monolingual classes with students who were intrinsically motivated rather than groups of students where I had to try to encourage less motivated learners in class.  I was a bit wet behind the ears and jumped in with both feet.  It was the first time that I had taught alongside non-native English teachers.  This was one development that I saw in English language teaching from two different perspectives.

Soon after completing a few years experience in the UK, I decided to take a post-graduate course at the University of Sussex in English Language Teaching.  I decided to do the one year full-time course with a dissertation at the end of the academic year.  The first academic term was incredibly challenging but I pushed my knowledge and understanding of second language acquisition for language learners.  It was here that I was introduced to the concept of World Englishes and the ownership of English – which is still a hotly contentious issue.  At the end of the academic year, after completing a Diploma level course as part of my MA course, I decided to research teacher and learner uptake of Dogme ELT.  It was under-researched at that point in time and I found a new passion in language teaching.  I had only discovered the book “Teaching Unplugged” after receiving a copy to review on my blog just a month or so before I had to start my research.  I met with many teachers, posted a lot on Twitter and was keen to practice much of the lessons in the book as much as possible.  I completed my dissertation with a mark of 80% and was so happy.  I also volunteered at the IATEFL in Brighton that year and met up with the likes of Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings.  It was so nice to feel part of a group of language teaching professionals who were keen to strip back to basics with English teaching and it was then that I noticed a change in the air where teachers were becoming more experimental in their teaching practice.

After completing the MA course, I gave a talk at IATEFL Glasgow a year later on Dogme ELT to highlight the results of my research and, still at this time, it was a popular discussion in the ELT world.  However, since then, the discussion of Dogme ELT has quietened down a little bit more but there are the occasional posts from other bloggers but it has focused now more on culture in the classroom and translation has had some kind of resurgence – with a recent book by Philip Kerr “Translation and Own-language Activities“.

Finally, last year, the assessment of English, particularly those that are involved in certain professions, has stoked some interest by some academics and I was asked to attend a round-table discussion on the testing of English and the replacement of the Common European Framework (CEF).  In the classroom though, the CEF is rather popular and many coursebooks now align towards the CEF with “can do” statements.  It is an interesting development for teachers and something which kind of constricts learner freedom in language education where students are expected to acquire certain nuggets of knowledge and not beforehand.  However, there is the understanding that language learning is an unexpected and emergent phenomena which is completely unpredictable.

A talk about Dogme ELT at IATEFL Glasgow
A talk about Dogme ELT at IATEFL Glasgow

So, where have I seen language teaching develop?  Well, we had a resurgence in the communicative method when I started out – but this could have been going on for years before I started teaching.  There was also some interest and enthusiasm for more experimental and eclectic forms of teaching – Dogme ELT – but translation and own language use in the classroom is becoming more accepted in the classroom.  As a side note, I once asked in the CELTA where we stand in relation to translation and all I got was a lot of stares from the other trainees and trainers on the course.  I never felt that comfortable with translation in the classroom again.  There is finally some focus on standardising English teaching through the CEF and it is becoming less flexible.  However, there is some interest in teaching cultural aspects of language rather than grammatical items and I hope that in the future language teaching develops on to more cultural specific areas and the sharing of cultures through a common language.

I hope this answers your question Scott: “What’s changed since you started teaching?”

By - Martin Sketchley

University of Oxford Video Tour: Lesson Plan and Material

Lesson plan

It seems fitting that I continue past blogging performance with another lesson based post, but rather than post another authentic listening lesson, I would prefer to focus on authentic video.  The authentic video is related to a tour – which is rather educational itself – of the University of Oxford.  There are various gist and more detailed activities which revolve around the video itself with a final memorisation game.  A lovely supplementary lesson idea, as mentioned by a wonderful colleague, Peter Clements (ELT Planning) – who I might add is rather new to blogging but has some wonderful lesson ideas and I would highly recommend you reading his blog – suggested a tour of our school, whereby students prepare their own video tours of the school – which could be replicated by any other institution and their very own school.

Anyhow, I do hope you enjoy this lesson idea and you are able to incorporate it into your very own teaching.  All materials are available as part of a PDF download and the video of the tour of the University is embedded below.  As ever, it would be wonderful to hear how you got on with this lesson.

University of Oxford Lesson Plan and Material (Downloadable PDF)

By - Martin Sketchley

“I Have Never Seen Star Wars”: Radio 4 Listening

In my last post, I decided to create a lesson plan on an authentic news clip from Radio 2.  It has worked remarkably well and in light of this, I have now decided to create another listening lesson but based on the Radio 4 show “I Have Never Seen Star Wars”.  The main focus of the radio show is to get participants to do things that they have never done before such as wallpapering, cooking a meal or doing the ironing.  It is a really engaging and comical show which is available on their website and I would recommend anyone to have a listen.  The presenter is Marcus Brigstocke and he really does get listeners engaged in the show.  Anyhow, back to the lesson plan.


Aim: By the end of the lesson, students will listen to someone talk about a life experience that they have never done.  They will also listen to an authentic radio program.

Level: Upper Intermediate +

Grammar Focus: Present Perfect

Time: 60 – 90 minutes

Speakers: Marcus Brigstocke, Reece Shearsmith and a Driving Instructor

1. Draw up a picture of a car on the whiteboard and ask students whether they can name any parts of a car.  Label any parts that they can name and include the following:

Mirrors Brake Seat belt Engine
Clutch Accelerator Indicator Gear lever
Seat belt Hand brake Neutral

2. Ask students if they know any verbs or phrasal verbs related to driving a car.  Write down any language that they mention but also pre-teach the following vocabulary as well:

To pull away To pull in Brake
To signal/indicate Mounting the curb To give it some gas

Other vocabulary that would be good to pre-teach would include:

Curb (n) Pavement (n) Blind spot (n)
Death traps (n) My heart was pounding (expr.) Nice and steady (expr.)
No harm done (expr.)

3. Speak to students and tell them an experience that you have never done: rode a motorbike, done bungee jumping, etc.  Ask the students to see if they have not done anything during their life up to now.  As language emerges, make a note of this on the board and provide feedback at the end of the conversation.  Ask any students if they have or will take driving lessons in the future: Have you taken a driving lesson before?  Will you take a driving lesson in the future?  What was it like? What do you think it will be like?

4. Tell students that they are going to listen to a story about someone but show the pictures up on the board and elicit from them what they think the story is about.  Board up elicited stories on the whiteboard and help out with some vocabulary.  Pictures include the following:

Car crash Robin Reliant Driving Lesson Dukes of Hazard

Radio 4 listening

The story is that a person never took a driving lesson as his grandfather was involved in an accident with his Robin Reliant, which he also experienced.  He describes the accident like a scene out of “Dukes of Hazzard”.

5. Tell students that they are going to listen to someone talk about their experiences of their grandfather driving his Reliant Robin and have a driving lesson. Whilst they listen, ask students to choose whether the following sentences from the listening are true or false.

  • You have to be 18 when you learn to drive. (False – you have to be 17)
  • His granddad crashed his Robin Reliant by hitting the side of the road. (True)
  • The person had his driving lesson on an airfield. (False – he thought it would be on an airfield, it was actually in London)
  • He doesn’t know where his blindspot is located. (True)
  • During his driving lesson he got into second gear. (True)
  • His instructor’s name is called Jason. (False – he is called John)
  • He marked himself 8 out of 10 for his first ever driving lesson. (False – he marked himself 9 out of ten)

Get students to compare in small groups before eliciting the answers from the students.

6. The next part of the listening is to get students to put the following excerpts into order that they are mentioned. Play the recording a couple of times and get the learners to work individually before checking their answers in pairs or small groups.  Here are the following excerpts in order:

  • “You told me, and I was surprised actually, you told me you’d never driven a car or had a driving lesson”
  • “We hit the side of the road, in the Robin Reliant, and it literally – Dukes of Hazzard – went upside down rolling”
  • “I now feel really bad sending you on a driving lesson.”
  • “You thought you’d be taken off to a special track?”
  • “Umm … is it accelerator, brake and that’s for this, the clutch”
  • “When you go to pull away, where is your blindspot?”
  • “Now check your mirrors and gently, nice and gently, away we go.”
  • “Have a go at pulling away, getting in to second gear, pulling in.”
  • “Nice and steady now. Wait until we get round a bend before we hit second gear.”
  • “On your first lesson, you got up to second gear.”
  • “Not all of it on a London street, some of it on a London pavement!”
  • “I thought I would be more panicked than I was.”
  • “Do you think you’ll do it again?”
  • “Excellent! Sounds like you are both back safely.”

As an extra to getting students to re-order the text, you could get students to listen to the audio again and decide who said what.  For example, “You told me, and I was …” was mentioned by the Presenter, Marcus Brigstocke, so students could put (P) next to the quote, (DI) for the Driving Instructor, and (I) for Interviewee, Reece Shearsmith.

As a final activity, and practice, get students to speak to each other using the Present Perfect and Past Simple form.  Use the board game, available in the download, to prompt students to talk to each other.  Monitor the speaking practice and provide feedback and scaffold language, where necessary, at the end of the lesson.


Well that is all from the lesson plan but all necessary material is available as a download and the audio is accessible from SoundCloud below.  Again, I hope this lesson is useful in getting more authentic listening inside the classroom and getting your learners used to a natural speed of spoken English.  Have you adapted any authentic listening for the classroom?  Do you think it empowers students to listen to more natural English or do you think that any adaptation of authentic listening reduces its authenticity?

I have never – Upper Intermediate: PDF material and lesson plan download