Reflections on Innovate ELT

Here is a link to the article/summary I did for the ELTjam website, about the excellent Innovate ELT conference that was recently held in Barcelona. A thoroughly enjoyable and very different way to do a conference.


The Industry and the damage done

Taken from Google images -

Taken from Google images –

On Saturday morning, before attending the Innovate conference I tweeted this:

Would it be innovative to stop using the word ‘industry’ with ELT and start using the word ‘profession’?

While I’m well aware this is not particularly innovative, I still think it is a question worth investigation. In fact, it produced some interesting responses;

  1. as long as schools blindly respond to the demands of the market (tests) there is no better word than industry 😉

the fact many language schools are run by business people rather than educators doesn’t help either.

I’d never thought of the two being in opposition before.

Looking at how schools are run today, cuts in govt budgets & the discrepancies in policies, ‘industry’ sadly still suits it better

The word ‘industry‘ conjures up certain images in my mind. Workers churning out products to be sold to the masses, low paid workers and high paid owners, profit over working conditions and a top-down hierarchical structure. The connotation is a negative one and if you look carefully on the Macmillan dictionary website, one of the definitions states;

 an activity or business that has become very successful, especially one that you think makes an unfair profit or is not necessary (

While the ELT profession is necessary, the point of this post is not to call for a dismantling of the ‘industry‘ and the toppling of big name publishers in order to distribute the wealth. What I would simply advise is this; stop using the word ‘industry’ among ourselves. Stop using it in conversations, conferences, blog posts and books. Instead, replace it with the word, profession. Look at yourselves as professionals and as individuals who serve yourself and your students. If we want to be taken seriously, to be given the respect we deserve and be a part of more than just another ‘industry’, we must change how we are viewed. A change of mindset and vocabulary can do wonderful things.

a job that you need special skills and qualifications to do, especially one with high social status

 Definition of ‘Profession‘ taken from

There goes the fear

Like most people in the UK, and also those further afield, I have been watching the recent Scottish referendum vote with great interest. For me it encapsulated everything that is good and bad about politics. It was played out across social media and 24hr news channels, with every man or woman and his or her dog throwing in their two pennies worth. Yet the outcome was, for me at least, a huge disappointment. Not least because I think it was a huge opportunity to give politics and Westminster a huge kick up the backside but more depressingly because the result was never going to be anything but a ‘No’ vote. In my opinion, the media, the entire English political establishment and many others worked together to paint such a bleak picture of an independent Scotland that fear gripped those undecided voters and tipped the balance in favour of making sure everything remained exactly the way it was, because lets face it, nobody likes change. Russell Brand puts it much more eloquently than I do here – How Westminster Fear & Media Bias Shafted Scotland

Well, I want to change something! I want to be the metaphorical ‘Scotland of the ELT world’, as it were. My proposal is a change to the current pre-service courses that are presently on offer. Maybe even a radical overhaul, one that sees a three stage process for trainee teachers. The first stage being a period of study before attending the second practical stage(the CELTA/Trinity cert as we know it today) which would need to be extended in length and a final post qualification stage which would be a standardized, across the board, professional development course. Therefore we would be looking at a much longer course, which incorporates trainee reflection, more intensive and extensive language awareness, a more thorough assessment and more time in the classroom.

I know this is a big ask. I expect a lot of resistance from many different areas. I certainly don’t have all the answers yet. What I intend to propose will not be summed up in a few blog posts. This thing will take time, therefore patience is required. The push for Scottish independence took years of painstaking hard work to get together and while I don’t envisage such a long time frame for this project, I don’t expect it to come together any time soon.

I don’t think I need to explain why I want this change to come about. My previous posts have, I hope, expressed my feelings on the matter. Yet, I would like to draw your attention to a talk given at the 2014 IATEFL conference by James Pengelly, called Rethinking communicative language teaching. (click the link for the Brainshark video and talk) James talks about the need to rethink how teachers are trained and how we view the way we teach. Towards the end of the talk, James speaks about the assumptions of newly qualified teachers and delivers this damning view;

“If a CELTA trainee is taken out of the course and straight into the classroom, with the assumptions and beliefs about language teaching instilled in them from teacher training courses, then what we’re doing is selling a deficient product. We are putting a teacher in front of a classroom, who is not ready to teach.”


I strongly urge you to take the time to watch the talk. James can be found on twitter @hairychef and also check out his website

My final thought for this post is to quickly draw your attention to a simple survey I posted in August. It asked whether people would like to see the topic of Pre-service courses debated and discussed at IATEFL 2015. The response wasn’t amazing, but 15 people took the time to register their opinion and these were the results;

No 53.33%  (8 votes)    Yes 46.67%  (7 votes) 
Total Votes: 15
 Now look at the official results from the Scottish independence vote. (
Yes or no Votes Percentage
Yes check.svg Yes 1,617,989 44.7%
X mark.svg No 2,001,926 55.3%

Okay, okay, I’m perhaps grasping at straws and it takes a big leap of imagination but I hope the comparison highlights what I believe to be a huge fear factor in ELT towards change, similar to what we witnessed in Scotland. I envisage this to be the biggest obstacle I will face when taking on this project.

I will leave it there for now and as always I welcome any comments you may have. I will endeavour to reply as soon as possible.

Proficiency class idea (CPE exam revised for 2013)

I just wanted to quickly write about a class I did on Monday with my proficiency group.

We are currently in-between books, so I am trying to use authentic texts and other supplementary material before we crack on with the exam preparation.

In the previous lesson, I introduced my students to TED talks – and showed them one of my favourite talks –  Birth of a word by Deb Roy. A must for anyone who is interested in linguistics or general language learning/acquisition.

I went through the website and its functions and also pointed out the subtitle feature and generally praised it as a very useful learning tool.

I left them with a piece of homework. They had to explore the site, find a video of interest and then plan a 2 minute introduction and summary of the talk itself. This would work as good practice for part 3 of the CPE speaking exam. I asked the students to email the videos before the class so I could watch them and be prepared with any related materials and follow-up questions.

Of the three students present (class of four) one of them emailed me their chosen video. It was a short presentation on how You Tube works together with copyright holders to create a win win situation for all involved.

After watching the video I searched for some articles that were related to the same theme or in a similar vein. I got lucky and found an article in the Guardian newspaper that pretty much went hand in hand with what the video was talking about but further extended the example of music videos. –

I then went on to find another article in the Guardian related to Youtube, but this article went in an altogether different direction. It spoke about the dangers facing children who used Youtube and how they were just “3 clicks from explicit material.”

I went into the class with just the video, two articles and a vague idea of where I wanted the class to go. Luckily, one of the other students had found a TED talk he wanted to watch and by chance it was loosely related to the You Tube talk. It was entitled, Tracking the trackers.

I asked the student to introduce the video and we then spoke briefly about internet security and how one search on the internet can lead to a multitude of advertisements for related websites and offers popping up on your websites.

We watched the video and spoke about what was said, whether the programme was a good idea and the pros and cons of the internet as a whole. This built up some nice vocabulary and worked well as a warmer, getting the students focused on thinking about the internet and so on.

I asked the next student to introduce her video. She did this by practising part 3 of the CPE speaking exam. A two-minute talk to introduce and summarise what we were about to watch. I asked a few questions about YouTube, how often they use it, what do they normally watch and we spoke about how videos can go viral and I showed them the latest craze, the Harlem shake.

After the video, we discussed some of the language that came up and talked about the general theme of the video and who was affected by it. We then moved on to the first text.

Before the class, I took the first article and cut the paragraphs out and made a simple text jumble exercise. This simulated part 6 of the new Reading and Use of English exam for the CPE. If I had had time, I would have written an extra paragraph that didn´t fit into the text, but seeing as the text was quite long anyway, I focussed on getting the students to concentrate on the reference words and ordering the information.

This proved to be quite difficult but it got the students working and they were pointing out why each paragraph went where and giving reasons, and it proved to be a good workout for them. I gave them the original article and they checked their work and then I asked them to read the article, highlighting collocations and any language they wanted to ask about. At the end of the reading I asked them to discuss who they thought really benefitted from the copyright agreement.

After feedback we moved onto the next text. I had written the title of the text on the board and left out the last two words and asked the students to discuss what they thought the article might be referring to. Eventually they worked it out and we talked about the dangers of the internet and who was most at risk and how this could be prevented.

Before the class, I had gone through the text and tippexed out some of the phrasal verbs and important collocations (part 2 of the Reading and U of E exam) and asked the students to read through, complete the gaps and then discuss who was responsible for what children can and cannot see on the internet.

We now had two texts, which were kind of connected. I split the class into pairs and gave each pair one of the texts. I asked them to look for the main points of each article, no more than three, and then to summarise the article into one paragraph. The results are below;

With the arrival of the internet and websites such as YouTube, the music business has changed. Streaming accounts for a bigger slice of the cake than buying records through downloading . Therefore, labels and musicians need to rely on advertising. This is a new relationship between the music industry, advertising agencies and streaming providers. the ultimate aim is to generate revenue for all the stakeholders involved.

Children surfing on the internet are surprisingly close to explicit material. For instance, on YouTube a child can easily end up watching pornographic or violent content from the innocent act of watching a sesame street video due to the “suggested videos” feature. Even though these platforms have their own systems to prevent these baleful consequences they admit they´re defenceless against this situation.

However, the bright side of the story is that great strides have been taken during the last year in order to provide children with a safer internet experience.

We now had two summary paragraphs and all we needed was a question to tie them both together and complete the writing task and the students homework.

I asked them to look in a copy of the new course book and see how the authors had written out the part 3 speaking exam questions and then to work together to come up with their own question. After some debate as to what the focus of the question and corresponding exam response should be, they finally came up with this;

“Which is more important? Our children’s safety or the interests of the You Tube stakeholders?”

I was really happy with this lesson and the way that it developed, as well as the way the students responded to working without the course book. I made sure that they were aware we were still working towards the exam and continuously referred to the part of the exam that each task was testing or going to test.

If I had the chance, I think I would exploit both of the texts more and perhaps have a few more structured speaking activities to really milk the topic, but the lesson flowed well and it was very natural. The timing worked well too, as the 3hr class finished just after the exam question was put on the board.

Now I’m just waiting for the student’s responses and I will be interested to see if the fact that they themselves created the task will have any bearing on the quality of their writing and the answer they provide in their essay’s.

The beginning!


Welcome to Five against one: teaching against the odds.

After spending the last couple of months trawling through various other blogs about teaching, stealing their ideas and actually working out how wordpress works,  I’ve decided to start my own. I guess with two months free before I actually go back to teaching, it would be a good way to waste time,… err, I mean capture my thoughts on all the reading I am currently doing and to generally talk rubbish for anyone who cares to read this, i.e not a lot. Still perseverance is the key and maybe someone will take pity on this uneducated fool who thinks he can mix it with the big boys and girls. So if you have got this far, thanks! Please stick with it, I promise it will get better.