September 28

Teacher development – why wouldn’t you?

I feel very fortunate to be working in an environment where teacher development is encouraged and supported, although I can appreciate that not all teachers are as wildly excited by PD as myself.  If you’re reading this, it probably means that you are also quite keen on PD, perhaps because of or in spite of the environment you teach in. Fortunately, for those working in schools where opportunities for professional development are limited, the World Wide Web can offer incredible resources from every corner of the globe (hence the capitalization and separation of worldwide!).  But, let’s think about some of the reasons why schools wouldn’t organise or promote teacher development, especially given the current climate of concern over preliminary teaching qualifications, namely the CertTESOL and CELTA.  (To read more about that, check out this article on Teacher Training Unplugged, which links to Hugh Dellar’s original piece.)


This could perhaps be one of the main factors affecting management’s decision to provide PD.  Many teachers are currently working a significant number of extra-curricular/non-contact hours to plan lessons, prepare materials, write reports, mark exams, and so on. Also, in-house sessions require somebody to prepare them and whilst asking teachers to share their knowledge and experience by running a session is another fantastic opportunity for PD, it puts pressure on an already busy workload.


This links to a certain extent with the idea of Time – are teachers paid to attend in-house sessions?  On the one hand, school owners could argue that it’s for their own benefit that they’re providing development sessions; however, it’s worth remembering that teachers are likely to be the main contact point for students and anything which can help them to become better teachers will have a knock-on effect on the school.  Continuing the idea of in-house development, observations are another source of development, but these involve financial questions as well.  If you’re fortunate and have a dedicated Director of Studies who has the time to observe, it’s less of an issue.  But what about peer observations?  Often these are a far more rewarding and much less daunting experience for teachers – but does the school have the resources to cover teachers whilst they are observing another group?  And, thinking further afield – are teachers supported financially to attend sessions which may be held locally?


Ah, the old argument of a teacher who has 20 years’ experience (or was that 20 times one years’ experience?).  Personally, I would be concerned about teachers who were in no way interested in their professional development.  Yes, we can all be invested to varying degrees, but no matter how long you’ve been teaching, professional development is vital –  to make you more aware of changes in education, to encourage an old dog to try new tricks, or, equally as importantly, to validate what you’ve been doing all along.  PD gives you the right to defend your point of view – if you’re open to a new concept, but decide it’s not for you, at least you took the initial step of finding out more rather than dismissing it without a second glance.


A key to the solution is ensuring that PD is meaningful – is it relevant to the current teaching environment? If it’s not immediately relevant, can teachers be given a clear rationale for why it’s important? Is there a good balance of theory and practice?  For schools where there are financial constraints or limited opportunities for local professional development, it’s worth devoting some time to raising teachers’ awareness of the wealth of resources available to them at the click of a mouse (or touch of a screen) – but teachers will benefit from guidance in this area too as there is SO much on offer that it can be tricky to know where to start.  It’s also vital that PD is approached positively – management should assume that teachers are doing their jobs well and PD should not be seen as corrective; reactive and proactive, yes – but not corrective.  Another way of approaching PD is to move away from an “all or nothing” approach – development is not only professional but also personal and offering options and variety can make PD more enticing as teachers feel they are attending sessions which interest them.

September 24

A materials-free PET lesson

Eeeep, I’ll admit it – I’ve still not got my routine sorted in terms of when lessons get planned and so on Thursday, I had focussed far more on my YLs and twenty minutes before an afternoon of classes suddenly thought, “Aaah – what am I doing with my PET group?!” Unfortunately, teaching two groups of little people and another YLs class during the afternoon, I didn’t have much time to plan whilst lessons were going on and five minutes before the class was due to start, still didn’t have it quite clear in my head. So, here’s a materials-light (possibly even -free) lesson for learners preparing for the Cambridge PET exam.

Start with StarWord – an easy game which activates schemata.
Draw a star on the board. Explain that you’re thinking of a word related to the topic of (At the beach). Give them a minute to brainstorm in pairs.
Nominate a learner to say a word (then, as was the case on Thursday, have a moment of panic when they get your word – towel – in the first guess and you realise you can’t think of anything else at the beach. Congratulate them on being so clever, writing their word below the star to show they got it correct, then recover with ‘bikini’ in mind and start again!).
The star on the board represents where your word lies alphabetically, so as learners guess, add their words to the board in the correct position (before/after, closer/further away).

**If I was doing this class with a group of teenage learners I was more familiar with, I’d do this stage next. As it was only our second lesson, I decided to do this guided visualisation after the speaking exam practice stage.**

Tell the group to close their eyes and do a guided visualisation of being on the beach. Here are some questions to put to them…
Are you on a beach you’ve been to before, or are you imagining a new beach?
Are you alone? Are you with friends or family?
What can you see around you? Are there children playing? Is the beach busy or empty?
What can you hear? Think about the sound of the sea – are the waves crashing on the shore or is it calm?
Can you smell anything?
Think about where you are – are you standing on the beach with the sand between your toes? Are you in the sea – is the water warm or refreshing? What’s the weather like – can you feel the sun on your skin?

In pairs, learners tell their partner about their beach – remind them to think about what they could see, hear, smell and feel. Then, as whole group feedback, ask each learner to tell you three things about their beach. This is a good moment for error collection/correction – a typical issue here in Spain being, “I was in the beach.”

Next, elicit three or four beaches which your learners may go to and ask them to work in pairs to think of an advantage and disadvantage of each. It can help to say that they can’t repeat the same information more than once and, if you wanted to add an extra level of challenge, you could say that they can’t use opposites to talk about different beaches, e.g. “An advantage of beach A is that it’s clean. A disadvantage of beach B is that it’s really dirty.”

Nominate learners and board their ideas – don’t limit yourself in feedback to just one advantage/disadvantage for each as it’s likely that pairs will have come up with different points for different beaches.

Then, as a bit of an aside, check their knowledge of the PET speaking exam and elicit timing, interactions and the different phases of the exam.

For the next stage, it may help to have some typical language for part 2 (the interactive phase) prepared on cards – phrases for making suggestions and agreeing/disagreeing, such as, “Why don’t we…?” or “I don’t think that’s a good idea, because…” If you have them prepared, hand out a set to each pair and ask them to divide them out; if you don’t have the cards ready, you can elicit this language from the group and board it.

Set the scene for part 2 of the speaking exam:
“You’ve decided to go to the beach this weekend. Talk together about the different beaches you could visit and decide which would be best. I’ll say that again…”
In pairs, learners discuss the topic, using the cards in their hand. This is another good opportunity to monitor and collect/correct errors.

**I now did the guided visualisation.**

Finally, set up a homework task to write a letter to a friend who is coming to visit your city/region and has sent a letter to ask your advice on which beach to visit.  Elicit the layout for writing a letter and word count.

Here are some other topics which could work with this plan:

*Being in the countryside. They could think of activities to do such as horse-riding or rock-climbing for the interactive and letter tasks

city*Going shopping. They could think about different shopping areas in the town (for example locally for us there is a small shopping centre, an enormous shopping centre out of town, a department store or the high street).  For the letter task, they could respond to a friend about their shopping habits

*Learning languages.  For the interactive tasks they could think of advantages and disadvantages of the different ways people can learn languages (online, going to class, reading, audio classes, etc) and then for the letter task, give a friend advice on learning a new language

*The future. For the guided visualisation, you could talk them through their future job; then for the interactive task they could talk about possible summer jobs and in the letter task, either write a letter imagining a job they had in the previous summer or talk about their plans for their future career

September 21

Fortnightly Focus #2 – preparation for the new course

Just in case you’re not interested in my reflection on the previous Fortnightly Focus, here’s the topic for the next two weeks:

We often think about routines when planning for our YL and VYL classes.  What routines can we establish with higher levels and older learners?

My previous Fortnightly Focus was a proactive engagement with the course before it started and the focus was, “What am I doing in preparation for the new term?”

One of my personal PD goals for this year is to work on establishing a stronger home-school connection with my VYLs as I’ll be teaching four groups this year and I want to look at how they can share the lesson’s resources with their families, as well as developing the role of English outside the classroom.  I’ve created a website and bought some finger puppets who will be the class mascots.  My plan is that to start with, I’ll build the learners’ relationships with the puppets (e.g. in yesterday’s first lesson they each drew a picture of themselves with their class mascot) and by engaging them in the puppets’ lives (by taking photos of the puppets in familiar places), so that in the near future, they’ll take the puppets home and create their own adventures with them in English which we’ll then share in class.  Obviously it’s early days yet and it’s not something I’ve ever tried to do before, so I’ll update my thoughts on the process and outcomes here!

And, on a techy front, I’ve gone Triptico crazy with my classes!  I’ve got Random Name Generators (Text Spinners) for each class; I’ve created a variety of activities with Word Magnets for the PET and FCE groups (such as matching dependent prepositions); and I’ve also created Text Spinner activities for the Movers group to practise frequent language, such as clothes, prepositions of place and the weather.

And talking of Movers, I also downloaded the Cambridge Picture Books for both Movers and Starters – you can project them and use them for team games, e.g. using fly swatters to identify parts of the picture or teams can take it in turns to make a sentence about the picture without repeating a previous statement.

And finally, as always, I’ve had a good sort through of last year’s material to see what I might use again this year and what I can put back on the shelf for the future!





September 7

Fortnightly Focus #1 – an introduction

A couple of years ago, following a round of observations at Active Language, the coordinators set up a Question of the Week which involved a weekly question based on something we had picked up on during the observations.  It was posted in each of our centres in an obvious spot with the idea being that people reflect on that particular aspect of their teaching.  There was no need to share reflections with a peer, but rather it was just to remind us about things such as TTT/TTQ, seating arrangements or how we introduce a new linguistic point, and they were purposefully general, rather than specifically focussed on a certain age group or course.

Inspired this year by Mike Harrison’s notelts, I’ve decided to set myself a similar challenge of a Fortnightly Focus.  Every other Wednesday, I’ll post myself an area to reflect on and then share my thoughts on here.  If anyone would like to join me, you’re more than welcome to.

So, this Fortnightly Focus is on the following topic:

What am I doing in preparation for the new term?

I’m fortunate in that I have a rough idea of some of the groups I’ll be getting this year, but I’m still hoping to prepare a number of resources which will work with different levels.  I’ll let you know my progress in two weeks’ time!


September 7

Ten years later #2

Today’s piece of paper becoming a blogpost is all about materials:

M is for motivating and method

A is for appropriate, adaptable and appearance

T is for timing and teacher-friendliness

E is for educational and enthusiasm

R is for relevant, recyclable and realistic goals

I is for interesting and imaginative

A is for affordable and authenticity

L is for level and learning outcomes

S is for suitability and skills