What does it mean to be a teacher of English?

Great summary of J Richard´s plenary at #IATEFL2016, what does it mean to be a teacher of English?

Clare's ELT Compendium

This is a summary of a talk held by Jack C. Richards at IATEFL 2016 on Friday 15th April 2016. I’m afraid I’m not as hot-off-the-press as people who seem to the spend the entire conference tweeting and typing… but for those who couldn’t attend, here are the main tenet’s of the talk. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below!

So what does it take to be a teacher of English?

1. Expert language proficiency

Language competence needs to be strong, the must have the ability to produce accurate English spontaneously and improvise in the classroom. The teacher also needs to have a command of the specialised vocabulary of teaching, as well as being able to modify their language production for teaching purposes.

2. Content knowledge

This essential knowledge falls into two categories – disciplinary core knowledge, for example in linguistics, second language acquisition, etc., and also pedagogical knowledge to support teaching and learning…

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Thoughts on “Beyond loop input”at #IATEFL

ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

I had the great pleasure of meeting Gabriel Diaz Maggioli at The KOTESOL International Conference in 2013 and I thoroughly enjoyed his session on “Teacher education at the crossroads: The role of theory and practice. At the  KOTESOL IC in 2014 I unfortunately did not have a chance to see him present because we were presenting at (around) the same time in different strands/rooms at the pre-conference workshops. So when I was deciding which session(s) from IATEFL 2016 to blog about my choice was clear. His talk, “Beyond loop input: teacher training and development outside the box” jumped out at me. You can see the whole talk here. It was an interesting and enjoyable talk and I recommend it. I will not do it justice but I will intersperse some of my own ideas.

I think one reason (aside from the presenter) I was interested in this talk is because of…

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Robert O’Neill’s critique of the Communicative Approach

A well-thought of criticism of CLT

DELTA Course Blog

I found this article written by Robert O’Neill on a website maintained by Ted Powers and have long shared it with Delta trainees. Recently, I realised that Ted Powers’ excellent website is down. In anticipation of a new, perhaps, website, I am reposting it here and would be happy to link the first few lines back the Mr Powers’ new website if he has any issue with it being here.  

I hope it is of use to those who are studying the different approaches and methods and are beginning to doubt the value of adopting any one approach wholesale. It is a fully thought through argument well worth reading – am looking for the original publication as we speak. 

 Please follow this link to learn more about Robert O’Neill’s life and work. The OUP website has paid him a fitting tribute. 

Just some of the covers of his books Just some of the covers of Robert O’Neill’s  books

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Teaching tools to help sts with SEN in the English classroom

teaching-english-to-childrenLanguage teachers at all levels nowadays need to be equipped with flexible tools to suit the needs of learners of different profiles. Fortunately, sts with Special educational needs (SEN) are being included in regular mainstream classes and not separated from the rest of the peers. This implies that teachers need to make some adjustments to truly include these learners in the class. In the presentation I made yesterday at  Dickens Institute´s summer teacher conference, we discussed a series of tools in the areas of vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing. You can find the slides and the handout in the links below. I hope you find them useful!

Presentation slides



Great simple and practical games to practise different language areas!



Ammon Shea, a 37-year-old former furniture remover in New York, spent 12 months conquering what he describes as the Everest of dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), by ploughing through 20 volumes, 21,730 pages and 59 million words (read more here). We can only guess how much of what he read has stayed between his ears, which is, at times, quite a challenge for our students. Luckily for the latter, though, their word lists are much shorter.

We can use some magic formulae for helping words stick in the head trying to come up with clever associations, getting students to use definitions, determining a rate at which words should be learnt without falling out of their heads, creating some “brain surprises” (see more here), or resort to some oldies but goldies – word games.

These are some pen and paper games that require next to no time to prepare and might…

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Metalinguistic feedback: Grammar competence in writing


There is no doubt the teaching of grammar is of inherent value for language learners. Broadly speaking, grammar is an integral part of the language so flexible grammar knowledge will assist communication in all forms. As Batstone (1994: IIX) said “effective communication in a language would be seriously impaired without an ability to put grammar to use in a variety of situations.”

Grammar is at the service of communicating intended meaning. Lexis and grammar have an indivisible bond. It is a feature of discourse. If we intend to prepare successful candidates, we need as teachers to focus on these key aspects when it comes to developing the necessary grammatical competence.

I would like to analyse one of the tools I use in order to help students develop grammatical competence in writing as described above: Corrective feedback. After marking written work, I select the most recurrent mistakes made by students and prepare a hand-out with them along with guiding questions to help students spot the mistakes and correct them. The mistakes selected vary according to the type of task, time of the year and recurrence of that type of mistakes.

Generally speaking, I try to choose the ones that represent each of the aspects mentioned above, that is mistakes in common collocations, wrong word choice, word order, register and style appropriacy. Using the questions as guide, students are to spot the mistakes and formulate the sentence appropriately.

This type of corrective feedback is usually referred to as metalinguistic feedback. Lyster and Ranta (1997: 47) defined it as a task that “contains either comments, information or questions related to the well-formedness of the student’s utterance, without explicitly providing the correct form”.  It aims at pointing out “the nature of the error but attempt to elicit the information from the student” (ibid: 47). Lyster and Ranta found in their study of students of French in immersion courses that this type of feedback led to learner uptake in 86% of the cases studied and this along with elicitation and clarification of requests led to student-generated repair (Lyster and Ranta, 1997).

Personally, I was very much impressed by Truscott’s criticism of the effectiveness of corrective feedback, especially of written corrective feedback as the one I am describing here. He claimed that there is no hard evidence to support the case for corrective feedback being a useful tool to promote acquisition. Not only did he state this, but he went further by saying it has harmful effects on acquisition (Truscott, 1996).

It was my experience as a learner that systematic written corrective feedback helped me to focus on specific aspects of the language and provided me with tools to edit and self-correct my work. In other words, it helped me develop my internal monitor. Therefore as a teacher I used this tool to assist my learners in this aspect. It is my understanding that by engaging in such metalinguistic task, students need to draw on their pre-existing language knowledge (given-to-new principle) and compare that with the sentence given and, by activating their internal monitor, find discrepancies and be able to adjust the form to match the intended meaning. The guiding questions aim at drawing students’ attention to the aspect that needs correction without giving it away. This type of activity tries to reflect on what Batstone and Ellis (2009) define as the awareness principle.

This type of corrective feedback seems to be particularly helpful to two distinctive groups of students. On the one hand, students who score top grades seem to be able to derive uptake from it, developing repair strategies and are then able to then self-correct while performing follow-up tasks. Their scores in writing in terms of grammar increase systematically. On the other hand, students who are considered weaker language learners due to language difficulties or other reason also seem to benefit from this type of systematic work. Their scores also improve but at a slower rate.

In contrast, there is a group of more average students that seem to be stuck in their grammar acquisition process; this is clearly proved by the persistent number of errors in their written production. When prompted to self-correct they are rarely able to do so and keep on making the same type of mistakes.

Ellis et al (2008: 356) state that this kind of feedback aids the process of language acquisition by “the increase in control of a linguistic form that has already been partially internalised”. Evidently, this tool alone is not solely responsible for students´ grammatical development but as I mentioned above, metalinguistic feedback has been proved to be a highly effective way to promote uptake.

This is just one of the tools I use to achieve one of my main pedagogic purposes that is the development of autonomy in my learners. Autonomy, I believe, is the necessary condition we need to develop in our learners since I hold the conviction that my job is to prepare learners for a life-long process of learning. As Brown (2007: 70) puts it “successful mastery of a foreign language will depend to a great extent on learners´ autonomous ability both to take the initiative in the classroom and to continue their journey to success beyond the classroom and the teacher”.



Batstone, R. (1994) Grammar. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press

Batstone, R. and Ellis, R. (2009) Principled grammar teaching in System 37. Pp.194-204

Brown, D. (2007) Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. New York, USA: Pearson Education

Ellis, R. et al (2008) The effects of focused and unfocused written corrective feedback in an English as a foreign language context in System 36. Pp 353-371

Lightbown, P. & Spada, N. (1990) Focus-on-form and corrective feedback in the communicative classroom in Studies in Second Language Acquisition 12. Pp 37-66

Lyster, R. & Ranta, L. (1997) Corrective feedback and learner uptake in Studies in Second Language Acquisition 20. Pp. 429-448

Truscott, J. (1996) The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes in Language Learning 46:2. Pp 327-369

IATEFL 2015 – Opening Plenary – Donald Freeman

Excellent summary of Freeman’s opening plenary: Are we frozen in our ideas?

Lizzie Pinard

Frozen in thought? How we think about what we do in ELT

How we use ideas to explain and justify, make sense out of what we do as teachers.

Reasoning has two sides to it. We can reason about something – reason as a verb – and we can give reasons for something – reason as a noun. To reason about something focuses internally, you making sense of something, whereas giving reasons addresses other people. So reasoning has both internal and external dimensions.

Reasons can be seen as ‘myths’ –  they connect us and help us justify what we do. The ‘myths’ we use are anchored in experience. They aren’t right or wrong. They have a grain of truth in them, there are elements of usefulness but also those that are misleading.

In this talk, Donald will look at a set of myths that organise our work.

  • The myth of…

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Helping Intermediate Learners Better Understand Cohesion

DELTA Course Blog

Helping Intermediate Learners Better Understand Cohesion

caroline                            Caroline teaching one of her previous LSA’s

by Caroline Leaming 2012


Cohesion is regarded by Halliday as ‘the crucial criterion to distinguish text from ‘non-text’ (Y. Liu & K.L. O’Halloran, 2009, p.368). Along with coherence, cohesion plays an important role of creating texture in a text (Halliday and Hasan 2003, p.17). However, based on my experience of teaching Japanese and Saudi students, cohesion appears to cause trouble to learners of all levels of English. These observations were also noted in studies concerning the use of cohesion with EFL students. Crane (2000, p.142) remarks that while Japanese students have a firm grasp on the theoretical structure of the English language, they ‘seem to lack the ability to coordinate functional usage of this knowledge with semantic patterning.’ Research also reveals that even…

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How to learn a new language: 7 secrets from TED Translators

Interesting take on language learning from TED

TED Blog

Learning_a_languageBy Krystian Aparta

They say that children learn languages the best. But that doesn’t mean that adults should give up. We asked some of the polyglots in TED’s Open Translation Project to share their secrets to mastering a foreign language. Their best strategies distill into seven basic principles:

  1. Get real. Decide on a simple, attainable goal to start with so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. German translator Judith Matz suggests: “Pick up 50 words of a language and start using them on people — and then slowly start picking up grammar.”
  2. Make language-learning a lifestyle change. Elisabeth Buffard, who in her 27 years of teaching English has always seen consistency as what separates the most successful students from the rest. Find a language habit that you can follow even when you’re tired, sick or madly in love.
  3. Play house with the language. The more you invite…

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One little thing… (A guest post by Ceri Jones!)

Lizzie Pinard

A little over a month ago, I issued a challenge to all who read this blog. The challenge was to reflect on and write about a little thing that has made a big difference to your teaching during the last year. All was quiet and then sometime later, there was a flurry of discussion on Twitter 

Little things...Little things…

little things...Little things…

as a result of Sandy sharing my link on Twitter and Facebook. (Thank you, Sandy!) And this is where Ceri Jones comes in. Not only is this the first blog post written in response to my challenge, but Ceri also has the dubious honour of being the first person to write a guest post on my blog! I’m delighted to host her post here and hope she will be the first of many guests. Ceri is a teacher, materials writer (you may have seen her name on one…

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