The thing about a $hit observation


I had my first ever on-the-job teaching observation after I’d been in my first job for a while: long enough to garner a bit of confidence; to love my class; to feel that they at least liked me a lot; and long enough to be out of my probationary period. On-the-job observations of non-probationary teachers are meant to be ‘developmental’. In practice, teachers often seem terrified of observations, unable or not helped to see any underlying developmental purpose, and generally harbouring a quiet suspicion that their job may be on the line.

And so it was with me in my first teaching observation. I spent hours preparing every day, but I prepared this even harder. It was a grammar lesson on the past continuous vs. past simple, and it was my best CELTA rendition – I presented, I controlled practised, I freer practised and I was terribly winning throughout. I came out…

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13 things that happened in class, excuses provided

Ann Loseva's Space

With a headache piercing savagely and incessantly through my brain, I’m commuting home. It’s stuffy and stinky in this metro car. I wish I could just close my eyes and enjoy the blank space of an empty mind, but images, scenes and conversations that took place today keep flashing by. The 5 ninety-minute classes I’ve given today provide enough food for thought, as any teaching day would.  This particular long teaching day has come to its end with the following thoughts:

1) I held a whole class in Russian. I gave instructions in Russian, gave comments in Russian, allowed conversations in Russian.

Excuse: the level of the group is very low, much lower than the material that has to be taught expects them to be. The majority of students struggle (and I mean it, struggle) with recognizing spoken English, even the easiest English of instructions. The conversations that I mentioned above…

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60 second idea to change the world.

Here is a lesson idea I recently tried out with several advanced level classes (C1 and up)

The original idea and resources were suggested by Emma Gore-Lloyd on her WordPress website, A hive of activities.

I simply want to share what I did with my classes and how I used the same resources.

The lesson revolves around some great authentic listening texts which you can find here, on the BBC future website. The concept is simple:

A global thinker from the world of philosophy, science or the arts is given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea – no matter how improbable – that they believe will change the world. (BBC future website)

These fantastic recordings are all archived on the link above. They actually last longer than 60 seconds, as the idea is then discussed and debated further by the speaker and a panel of guests.

For my lesson, I focused on three recordings and only on the actual 60 second idea itself, although the conversations following the ideas would be very useful for Proficiency or strong advanced level groups.

1) Why we should have three-lane pavements for pedestrians.

This was the first recording I used. The audio-script can be found on the same page and simply needs to be copy and pasted across to a word document.

  • On the board I wrote – “What would be the use/point of a three-lane pavement?” (I must add here that both of my groups struggled with the word ‘pavement’ and it might be worth checking meaning before starting the discussion)
  • I asked the students to simply discuss the question in groups/pairs and then got feedback from each group, to compare ideas.
  • I then told the class that they would hear someone talking about the idea of a three-lane pavement and as they were listening they should listen for whether their ideas match that of the speaker.
  • For stronger groups you can simply  get confirmation of the idea and then ask them to discuss; 1) Is it a good idea?   2) Would it work in your country?
  • For weaker groups, give them time after the first listening to discuss what they heard in the group and piece together a general summary of what they heard. Elicit and get confirmation from the class and then proceed with the above questions.
  • After discussing the questions, hand out the audio-script. Give the students time to read and highlight any vocabulary they want to discuss.
  • Before I do any feedback, I get the students to discuss the vocab or expressions in their pairs/groups, encouraging them to guess from context.
  • After feedback, I give the class the choice as to whether they want to listen again and read along. If they decide to do so, I ask them to highlight any particularly difficult parts and then we go back to listen again and clear up any doubts.

The process is then repeated for the next two recordings. This obviously depends on how much time you have, but my classes lasted for about 1hr 30 mins and this was just about enough time.

2) Should horn honkers be punished

  • Initial discussion question – How often do you hear horns being honked where you live? How do you feel about it?
  • Discussion questions for after first listening – 1) Is it a good idea? 2) Would it work in your country?

3) Plan for a University of life

  • Initial discussion question – If universities were to offer a course on ‘Life’, what would be taught on this course?
  • Discussion questions for after first listening – 1) Does this happen in your country? 2) Does it need to happen in your country? 

After the listening tasks, the students should be well aware of the concept and now is the time to tell them it is their turn to think of a 60 second idea to change the world.

Give your students time to plan their idea. Spend the time monitoring and helping to edit the students work. When they have finished get them to practise with their partner or group. Eventually get them to share their idea with the whole class.

After the initial attempts, I point out to the students, through the audio-script, the techniques that the three speakers used.

Listening 1 – Asking a question and then providing the answer.

Listening 2 – Providing a historical anecdote

Listening 3 – Providing a contrast. Highlighting what we are good and bad at, and then providing an idea to improve the bad part.

I allowed my students to re-draft and add these elements in and give them another chance to share their idea again. Obviously, this is time dependent.

I hope you find the lesson useful and would appreciate any feedback.

Don’t blame us: the real problem with ELT

The Steve Brown Blog

There’s been a little flurry of blog posts about Demand High ELT over the past week. I think it was Geoff Jordan that started it with two posts in quick succession, prompting me to write one of my own, but there have been some other interesting posts like this one from Luiz Otavio Barros and this one from Mike Harrison. There seem to be quite a lot of people with criticisms or reservations about Demand High – what exactly is it, is it anything new, do we actually need it anyway, that sort of thing. In this post I’m going to try not to write too much about Demand High itself, and more about the interesting questions that it is raising. Presumably one of the reasons some teachers are reacting negatively to Demand High is that it is based on the premise that there is a problem with…

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A Demand High experiment

Wandering ELT

Today I would like to start a series of posts on some “experiments” I started to do in the classroom after my CELTA experience. I got inspiration to try out these more experimental practices reading books, blogs and watching videos I have come across on the web in the past few months — where appropriate I will link to the source, of course.

Today I would like to start with some Demand High ideas I tried to put into practice during all my adult classes since I started reading Underhill and Scrivener’s blog. I don’t have the presumption of saying that I actually taught any Demand-high lessons in a strict sense; what I did is get inspiration from the ideas and thoughts I read around the web, and changed my teaching practice accordingly, to “gain real learning value” out of generally overlooked or standardised classroom activities like…

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