It’s been a ridiculously long time since I wrote anything on here. In order to blow off the blogging cobwebs I am going to try something different for the month of October. The idea is very simple. At the end of each of my lessons I am going to record my immediate thoughts, feelings and reflections on each lesson and upload the audio. To accompany each audio file I will hopefully have a photo of my board work, in order to provide a little more insight into the lesson. I am hoping to keep the audio short, although I will apologise now if I ramble. Let me know what you think and leave a comment below. The link for the first lesson is below.

Lesson 1 – This will take you to

Board work - Lesson 1 Own photo

Board work – Lesson 1
Own photo

Lesson 2 – Link will send you to

own photo

own photo

Lesson 3  – Link will send you to

Lesson 4 – Link will send you to

Lesson 5 – Link will send you to

own photo

own photo


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.

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.

Aint no mountain high enough

This is my response to Brad Patterson’s latest blog challenge, which can be found here –

Teaching is like climbing a mountain. Preparation is key. Like a class of learners the mountain and its environment can be unpredictable. Always take the correct equipment (materials), check the weather report (post lesson reflection+lesson planning) and tell someone where you’re going (observation). Don’t over pack, this will mean you have too much to carry and tire yourself out (think about your materials, are they necessary?)  Keep your equipment in good condition, maintain it and upgrade when necessary. (Personal and professional development through courses like DELTA, in-house training, blogging, Twitter, further reading, action research)

All packed and ready to climb Mt Huayna Potosi. 6,088m

Respect the mountain and its surroundings. (Respect your students and make their surroundings the materials you need, they have lives and a lot to say. Give them the chance to say it.) Pace yourself when climbing the mountain, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Why rush to the top and back down again? Enjoy the journey and wonder at the beauty of it all. (It takes time to become a good teacher. Take the rough with the smooth, learn from your mistakes and turn those experiences into learning points.)

When you reach the top, take time to enjoy the view and take lots of pictures. It will be a one-off and every peak will have a different view, as will the journey to get there. ( Document your teaching experiences, be it with a blog, a personal diary or just continuous feedback with your peers. This will keep it fresh, provide other avenues through which to receive feedback and allow other people to feel as though they were there with you.)

On top of Mt Illimani, Bolivia. 6438m

Don’t be complacent on the way down. 80% of all accidents that occur on Mt Everest happen on the way down. ( Maintain classroom management, keep your standards high and this will reflect upon your students, maintain motivation for yourself and your students by pushing yourself that little bit extra to make sure concentration is sustained.)

When you get to the bottom and your legs, back and shoulders ache, take pride in what you have achieved. Not everyone has the courage, determination and willingness to accomplish what you have just done. (Teachers are awesome)

The second challenge was to talk about something that wasn’t teacher related but has brought something to the classroom more than anything else.

For me, it isn’t just one event in my life that has sculpted the way I am in class. It has been a lifetime of experiences, ups and downs, good times, bad times and luck that allows me to bring something personal and unique to the classroom.

Life is for living.

ELTchat summary – Guided Discovery

So out of guilt, seeing as it was my proposal to talk about Guided Discovery, I volunteered to do the summary for the ELTchat that took place on April 4th. The full title was ‘How effective is Guided Discovery in the ELT classroom? Can it help promote learner autonomy?’
Why Guided Discovery, I hear you ask. Well, it all started after Jim Scrivener’s talk at IATEFL about High demand teaching in ELT and the subsequent ELTchat that followed a week later. See summary here by Lizzie Pinard –

I began thinking about how I could implement this in my own classroom and what would really make my students work harder in class and feel as though they have learnt something, rather than simply enjoying the lesson and walking away with relatively little learning actually happening.
Guided Discovery was something I was introduced to on my Trinity Cert course and actually found it rather difficult to get my head around. On a course with so little time and so much to take in I just wanted them to give me the information so I could take it home and study it. I forgot about it and it wasn’t until I read Scott Thornbury’s post on guided discovery that I actually thought about it again.

I was hoping that the chat might lead to some interesting links, resources and lesson plan/ideas. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

We talked about what Guided Discovery was;

@wellmichelle Guided Discovery: students uncovering the rules and structures to the language themselves, but with teacher support #ELTchat

We then discovered that a lot of people use guided discovery, particularly for teaching grammar;

@hartle #eltchat I often use it with a text and the grammar related guided discovery questions refer learners back to context meaning and form
@Marisa_C RT @Shaunwilden: @Marisa_C Well i used it a lot as part of inductive grammar approach #eltchat > so no rule giving but rule discovery
 @reasons4 RT @esolcourses RT @bealer81: So who uses guided discovery? #eltchat  I use it. supplemented with help > isn’t the help the guided but

Then the next question, which for me was the most important, the one where I would be inundated with links and the chance to actual see how a Guided Discovery lesson worked and have, perhaps, a couple of good examples to go away and practise with.

@ShellTerrell What specific lessons have you done in your classrooms that are examples of guided discovery? #ELTChat

And I waited, and continued to wait, and then we went off on a random tangent about Dogme and GD and the chat was over. I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. This was by no means a fault of the ELTchat format or of the great teachers that took part. The impression I get, and this also includes my findings from searching through various books and scouring the internet, is that there just isn’t that much lesson material or research for Guided Discovery done in ELT.  I have managed to find these articles, which provide a good description of what Guided Discovery is and Perhaps the best breakdown of guided discovery, with examples, can be found here (Vicky Samuell) But, my point remains. There are very few examples being shared and talked about. Which seems such a shame, as Guided Discovery appears to be a very effective way of demanding more of our students and giving them a sense of achievement, leading to greater learner autonomy.

ELTchat may not have answered my question or provided me with the plethora of examples I was hoping for, but it certainly highlighted the need for some further hands on research and investigation. Now, I may be looking in the wrong places or typing the wrong words into my search engine. So please tell me if you know of any great resources. I know that there must be research papers out there, but for teachers what we really need is examples and people writing or talking about their experiences with it. So if you do use Guided Discovery and have some ideas get them out there, blog them or put it out on twitter. If you don’t I may have to do another action research project. Oh wait, that sounds like a good idea!

Here is the complete transcript for the ELTchat –

Move, Eat and Learn

So I had ticked off listening from my to do list and the students want list. Now, it was time to move onto the video clips. Luckily for me, I already had something tucked away from a previously trialed lesson, late last year. So, it was just a matter of dusting off the old note pad and seeing what happened.

I asked the students to discuss this question:

If you could move anywhere in the world where would you go?

I wrote it on the board and asked if they recognised the structure. With some eliciting they got it and they began to discuss it with their partners. I listened in and noticed that the majority of the students had immediately reverted to using the word ‘go’ instead of ‘move’. I let it run and then we did pair feedback as a whole class. Error correction and some on the spot pronunciation. I then went to the board and pointed to the word ‘move’ and asked what the difference was between moving somewhere and going somewhere. There were lots of ‘aahs’ and nodding of heads, so I asked if this would change where they said they wanted to go.Instead of changing their answers they justified them by using some interesting bits of language;

“If I moved there I could find a job that links to my degree”

“I would move there because it has a better quality of life”

Now it was time for the video. I explained that they would see a man moving from country to country and I dictated two questions for them to answer while watch.

How does the man scare the pigeons?

What does the man jump over in the middle of the road? 

They checked the questions in pairs and we watched the video.

We watched twice and checked the answers. It was surprising that most of the students didn’t know the word ‘clap’. We talked about the video and the places that they saw in the video. At the bottom of the video is some information about why the video was made and what it involved. I asked if anyone in the class would like to do the same and there was a resounding, yes.

Next questions:

When was the last time you learnt anything and what was it? 

If you had the chance to learn anything, what would it be?

These questions produced some really interesting answers. A lot of the students are at University, so they simply said what ever they had learnt in class that day. One student said that he learnt the word clap and another said he had learnt to change the oil in his car. I pointed out that the majority of things they had learnt was information and that only one person had actually learnt a skill, something that required them to use their hands. This led into a small discussion about whether or not what we learnt was really useful or not and led nicely into the second question.

Second video. Again two dictated questions, pair check and watch the video.

Again, we talked about the video. The students picked out the things they would like to learn and we discussed them. We then moved onto the third and last question.

When was the last time you tried something new to eat?

Unfortunately, due to time running out we didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to discuss this part. Two more questions, pair check and the final video.

It was safe to say that everybody left the lesson hungry, but more importantly everyone seemed to enjoy the lesson. Talking, listening and video, exactly what they wanted. I think it would be great to re watch the last video in the next lesson and launch into a food based lesson. It would be great to know what other people think of these videos and what you would do with them in class. Enjoy.

Been listening

So, two weeks into the new trimester and all is well.

On the last proper teaching day of the project, before the Christmas madness kicked in, I carried out a feedback lesson with the students. A few useful and entertaining activities to gauge how much they think they have improved since the start of the course and what they would like to work on in the new year. I also managed to video all of the class talking about how they think the course is going and their feelings on the unplugged approach to teaching. All positive stuff.

The three main things to come out of the feedback session were these;

  • More listening
  • More grammar (explicit focus on grammar)
  • More videos

No surprise with the grammar or the video one. Although, I was a little surprised with the listening one. A lot of the students had mentioned how they disliked listening activities and that they really liked listening to the teacher (me) as it was natural and I spoke slowly and clearly for them. Anyway, this was what they wanted, so this is what they got.

After a very quiet and poorly attended first lesson, which focused mostly on what had happened during the holidays, we had a near full house for the second lesson. The lesson was based around some old videos I had made while travelling in New Zealand. I started the lesson by bringing in some of my hiking equipment and getting the students to ask me questions about them and what they were used for. Then I briefly mentioned why I loved hiking and because of this I travelled to New Zealand to hike as much as possible. Cue the videos. I had prepared some listening for detail questions, which when I looked back on them straight after the lesson, were simply too hard..

The students were trying really hard during the exercises but I could see that it was just too difficult. What I should have really concentrated on was things such as connected speech and probably more general questions such as how I was feeling or how they thought I would be feeling at that particular time and so on. Lesson learnt. The lesson went well, but I think that the listening had perhaps taught all of us that it’s an area that needs a lot of work and specifically for me, careful consideration of material selection.

Below are the videos I used. I’ve never really shown anyone these, so please don’t laugh. I would be really interested to hear how you would use these particular videos and what exercises you think might be worth trying out with them.

To follow-up the above lesson I decided to do another listening. This time I used my Dictaphone to record the staff in the school talking about the thing they enjoy doing the most. The only rule was, they couldn’t actually mention what it was they were talking about.

After reviewing the last lesson and getting some feedback about the listening exercise, I introduced the Dictaphone and announced we would be doing another listening. I was expecting some moans and groans, but I was surprised when what I actually got was some enthusiastic nodding and people drawing their chairs closer to the Dictaphone itself. The exercise was simple. The students would listen to each extract and have to work out what that person was talking about. They were free to write down anything they heard. During the first listening everyone was listening with great determination and not writing anything down. Some good guesses, but still struggling. Next I asked them to work with their partner and to make sure they write something down as it will help them when discussing it, after listening. I asked them to concentrate on the content words only. During the second listening there was a lot more writing. They discussed in pairs. We reviewed the vocabulary they had written down in open class feedback. I pointed out that if we put these key words together we might be able to find a common topic to help us work out the answer. Words like chords, playing, practising song and strings came up. Suddenly the answer came. “Guitar! They like playing the guitar.” We continued doing the same for the next three recordings. Working on picking out the key words and working out the answer from these. It worked well and we managed to get the rest of the answers and the students seemed a lot happier after this listening than the previous one.

So that’s the listening practice they wanted. There will be more where that came from. Now onto finding some interesting videos to build lessons around and ways of feeding in the grammar they so eagerly want to learn.