August 19

The Role of a Staffroom

We had a session on one-to-one teaching yesterday afternoon and during a chat about the advantages and disadvantages for the teacher, one of the trainees mentioned the lack of a staffroom.  I think it was interesting as obviously during the course the trainees spend a lot of time with each other, bouncing around ideas in preparation for teaching and providing constructive feedback on each others’ lessons.

A couple of years ago, we ‘lost’ our staffroom due to expansion, though I’m hoping we’ll get it back one day!  There are certainly a number of problems with a communal staffroom: it can easily become messy, with nobody willing to take responsibility for tidying away books which have been left out or half-drunk bottles of water which go unclaimed; what’s more, depending on the size it may cause frustration if there is too little space to work in…to be honest, I’m struggling to think of further problems.

So, let’s think about the many benefits of having a communal space:

  • the opportunity to bounce around ideas
  • a place to stick up important information for staff
  • a place to share useful worksheets or links
  • a physical space to put bags, so as not to clutter up your classroom
  • a space to relax in between classes (some teachers at our school work split shifts)
  • somewhere for the photocopier and other resources to be stored

A number of these could arguably be solved with an online staffroom (which gets us into a whole other debate), but I still think I’m all in favour of a physical staffroom.

June 25

“genuine and meaningful communication”

Genuine and meaningful communication between learners takes place

This is one of the criteria in the DipTESOL assessed teaching unit – what does this mean and how can we ensure it occurs in our lessons?

Perhaps we should first look at the two adjectives used in the criterion: genuine and meaningful.  By genuine, I understand natural, honest and authentic communication; by meaningful, I understand that there is a purpose for communication.

The question is whether the communication which takes place in our classes is genuine and meaningful.  It could be argued that communication which takes place in the EFL classroom is meaningful as we are practising TL, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the language being produced is genuine.

The key is to find ways of personalising the TL and context of our lessons.  Here are some ideas:

  • In grammar activities, such as Las Vegas Grammar, use the learners’ names in the sentences – this increases their engagement in the activity and you can extend the task by guessing whether the sentences are correct or not after correcting them.
  • Provide identifiable contexts for language – a group of Spanish teenagers may not be interested in what Japanese teenagers like listening to in their free time, so either change the context or allow the learners space and time to give their opinions or contrast the context to their own.
  • Make all TL personal – this is easier than you may think.  Whatever the TL, you can generally ask one of the following questions: “Do you have…?”, “Do you like…?” or “What do you think about…?”

A second aspect of the DipTESOL criterion worth mentioning is the word between – depending on the age of your learners, there may be more or less interaction between them and I do know people who have chosen YL groups for their DipTESOL assessed lessons.  It would be interesting to know whether classroom language qualifies as “genuine and meaningful communication between learners” as there may be more natural communication in this respect than in practising the TL of the lesson.  This also leads on from my previous post on making the class less teacher-centred as by encouraging communication between learners we can give them more of a voice and more responsibility for their learning.

Here are a couple of other blogposts worth reading on the topic of personalisation:

A Matter of Confidence – Personalising

P is for Personalization

March 6

Dealing with difficult classes

Most of us have had a difficult class at some point in our careers.  And by class, I really do mean class, rather than a tough learner within a class.  I’ve had a couple of difficult classes over the past few years, most of which were comprised of wonderful individuals who just didn’t work well when in the room together at the same time.

Last year, I took on a group which had been difficult the previous year and had actually reduced one of their teachers to tears.  This year, they’re with a teacher who is new to our academy and it made me think about how we decide who teaches those difficult groups.

At the same time, I’ve recently discovered a new brainstorming site, which allows you to collaborate in an online brainstorm.  So, feel free to add your ideas below…

September 23

Teacher Training Skills

We did some professional development in the area of Teacher Training at the end of last year as our school runs the Trinity CertTESOL and Diploma courses.  These were some of the things which we identified as being necessary for a teacher trainer:

  • organisation
  • tact
  • patience
  • clarity
  • an awareness of detail and the bigger picture
  • note-taking skills
  • legible handwriting
  • approachability
  • flexibility
  • empathy
  • personality management
  • time management


September 21

Make no Mistake

I watched an OUP webinar by Robin Walker a while ago on errors and as I’ve been sorting through last year’s bits and bobs I came across my notes.

He divided the talk into three sections – Cause, Class and Classroom.


He identified six main causes of error: carelessness, L1 interference, teaching materials or method, overgeneralization, general order of difficulty and risk-taking and creativity.  Interestingly, during this section he also suggested that items which are similar and easily confused (such as past simple and present perfect) should be taught separately with a significant space between them and then compared at a later date.


One of the key points I picked up from this section was classifying the errors as local or global: a local error is confined to an individual word or is an error which doesn’t impede understanding, whereas a global error makes the meaning unclear.  There’s quite a good flowchart on prioritising errors on the presentation which accompanied the talk.


In the final section, Robin suggested some easy activities which we can use in class to work on errors – a couple of my favourites are the 4-colour dictation and flavour of the month.

In the 4-colour dictation, they do the dictation first in one colour, then are allowed to check their work (using dictionaries or other resources) in a second colour.  Then their partner checks their work in a third colour and finally the teacher corects in a fourth colour.

In Flavour of the Month, you choose a specific error which you want everyone to pay special attention to that month.