Alternatives to lesson plans

1. Don’t use the internet. Go back to paper and pen.
2. Use mind maps to generate ideas
3. Use filing cards rather than sheets of paper
4. Find a model / template that works for you. PPP/TTT/ESA
5. Use powerpoint slides and print them out
6. Sketchnote your plan (images and points)
7. Use set of bullet points
8. Start with the end of your plan (final activity) and work back
9. Record yourself talking through your plan and use dictation app to take notes.
10. Draw board plans and use them.
11. Have confidence in your ability to use a simple plan and actually respond to what happens in the class. Teach the students not the plan.





How to find the right English teacher for you

You need to hire an English teacher. But, you want to find the right one.

Most English teachers teach General English or prepare you to pass an official exam, like the FCE or IELTS.

You’re not looking for that type of class.

You have specific learning needs. You need to improve your English to do your job more effectively.

As you have specific learning needs, you need a teacher with specific teaching qualities. Here are 5 steps you should take to make sure you get the right teacher.

Step 1: Identify your needs

Write down why you need to improve your English. You will probably have several needs.

For example:

  • I need to speak more fluently in order to negotiate more confidently.
  • I need to develop my public speaking skills in English in order to give more effective presentations.
  • I need to improve my listening skills in order to understand what is discussed at meetings.
  • I need to improve my grammar in English in order to write clearer emails.
  • I need to learn specific vocabulary in order to understand reports and business articles.

Step 2: Identify how a teacher could help you meet these needs

Think about how a teacher could help you meet your needs.

For example:

A teacher could teach me useful expressions and phrases used in negotiations. Then, we could practise negotiation training activities to help me become more comfortable and fluent in negotiations.


A teacher could provide me with models and writing activities to help me learn how to write clearer and accurate emails.

Step 3: Identify what knowledge and skills your teacher needs

Think about what knowledge and skills a teacher would need to help you develop those skills.

  • You’ll probably want somebody who is experienced at teaching adults.
  • You’ll probably want somebody with a specific teaching qualification so they are able to teach you aspects of the English language.
  • You might want somebody who has specific knowledge of your industry.

Step 4: Identify other qualities you look for in a teacher and question them

Think about other qualities you look for in a teacher and ask yourself why they are important. We often have outdated opinions or illogical preferences which prevent us making good choices.

For example:

I want a teacher with a British English accent because I believe that is correct English.

Why is this important?

Mmm…maybe it isn’t. I need to speak English to people from all around the world. Americans, Germans, Russians, Chinese. I guess a British English accent isn’t that important.

I want a teacher who is older than me.

Why is this important?

Well, in my culture, we believe teachers should be older than us. But, I’m 52 years old. Why do I need a teacher who’s older than me?

I want a male teacher.

Why is this important?

The last English teacher was a woman and I didn’t like her at all. But, that doesn’t mean that all female teachers are like her. I’m sure there are good and bad female English teachers just like there are good and bad male teachers.

I want a teacher who can come to my office. I don’t want an online teacher.

Why is this important?

My colleague had an online teacher a few years ago and he didn’t like the lessons because there were problems with Skype.That was a few years ago and video conferencing technology has improved considerably since that time. An online teacher could be very convenient actually because I could even take classes from home or in the morning before I leave for work. Maybe I should reconsider.

Step 5: Create a teaching ‘job description’

A professional English teacher does two things before they start teaching you:

  • They assess your level of English
  • They identify your specific needs and goals.

Many English learners meet a teacher for the first time and don’t really know what they want from their lessons. This means that the teacher has to guess what they think the learner needs. What often happens is that learners don’t feel satisfied because the content and style of the lessons are not really what they want or need. The teachers feel frustrated because they realise that the learners are not satisfied but don’t really know what to do to make the lessons more relevant and effective.

Which is why you should tell your teacher what you want, what you need, and what you are interested in doing in your Business English classes before you start learning with them.

You don’t need to write a detailed proposal but you should identify your main needs and your learning goals.

Think of it like interviewing a candidate for a position in your company. You would write a job description before the interview to make sure that the successful candidate is capable of performing the required duties.

This is really useful for your teacher because they will be able to decide if they can really help you or not.

Remember that if your learning needs are specific, you might require a specialist. Specialists are not cheap so you will have to decide if you are able and prepared to employ such a teacher.

How would you promote your English academy in Spain?

Imagine you had your own English language academy in Spain. What would you do to promote it and make it stand out from your competition?

Wandering around Vigo last year, I passed an English academy with an eye-catching image on its window. I walked straight past it, did a double-take, and started to laugh:


Promotion english

Promoting English academies in Spain

I looked through the window and saw kids in one of the classrooms. Like many English academies in Spain, young learners and adults studied English there.

Did the parents who dropped their kids off at the academy understand the meaning of the catchy slogan used by the school?

ENGLISH MOTHER F****ER! DO YOU SPEAK IT (at the risk of being a punctuation Nazi, there’s a missing question mark).

Once I stopped laughing, I started to think about how English academies in Spain promote their services.

Here in the province of Granada, there are hundreds of English academies – yes hundreds! – and many of them don’t survive for very long. There are a few which have been around for decades, which indicates they are doing something right – providing great teaching – or have established a brand loyalty which means they can perhaps afford to rest on their laurels.

So, how do English academies in Spain promote their services? What strategies do they use to attract students? Why do some academies thrive while others fail to get off the ground?

When promoting any product or service, you have a choice of focusing on benefits or features. It seems to me that many English academies in Spain promote their features.


The (dubious) appeal of native English speakers

As a teacher and teacher trainer, I find it difficult to step into the shoes of an academy owner, but I do know that most of them (but not all) prefer to hire native English speakers. Like it or not – and I don’t – there are a number of reasons why English academies prefer to employ them.

  • Many parents and other stakeholders believe that native English speakers are more effective teachers for their children than local Spanish teachers.
  • Many Spanish people believe that only native English speakers can teach ‘correct’ pronunciation.
  • Many older Spanish people who failed to acquire a good level of English at school with local teachers assume that they can only find success with native English speakers.
  • Non-Spanish teachers may only stay at the academy for 9 months, so the academy does not have to offer them a long-term contract and may decide to pay them (in part) cash in hand. Non-Spanish teachers, especially the archetypal gap-year student, are more likely to work for lower wages and can be easily dismissed if necessary.

How important are qualifications and experience?

A common complaint among EFL teachers in Spain and many other countries is the lack of promotion opportunities. Many academies hire native English speakers without official teaching qualifications – would this happen in any other industry?

Other academies require a teaching certificate but don’t distinguish between online TEFL certificates, weekend TEFL certificates, unaccredited courses, and accredited 120hr courses such as the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity Cert TESOL.

More professional academies make a virtue of their teachers’ qualifications. They actively seek to hire teachers with advanced teaching qualifications (such as the Diploma DELTA) and have salaries grades based on qualifications and experience.

The problem is that the industry struggles to demonstrate the difference between TEFL I and TEFL – Q teachers. Many advertisements for teachers ask for a TEFL, CELTA, TESOL, or DELTA.

For info about continuous professional development in ELT, read this guide from the British Council.

TEFL – i = Teachers with an initial teaching qualification such as the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL. Accredited courses are graded as Level 5 qualifications in the UK (equivalent to the second year of a university degree).

TEFLQ = Teachers with an advanced teaching qualification such as the Diploma DELTA  and Dip TESOL and considerable teaching experience. These courses are graded as Level 7 in the UK (equivalent to a Master’s degree).

TEFLQ teachers are considered to be capable of undertaking teacher training, academic management, and syllabus design duties. Their wider range of skills should be reflected in terms of their salary and their position at academies. How often is this the case?

For an insightful read on native English speaker teachers, click here.

Facilities and Resources

Another option for academies is to promote the quality of their facilities, in particular, their adoption of the latest teaching technologies. When I started teaching, computer labs were all the rage but where are they now? At the moment, the ‘must have’ technology for English academies is the interactive or digital whiteboard.

I’ve have worked in several institutions (language schools, teacher-training centres, universities) and suspect that they are ‘white elephants’ in many English academies, mainly because relatively few academies have somebody available to train teachers in how to use them. Read here for some pros and cons of digital whiteboards.

Just last week, I walked past an English academy with a large street-level window, which meant that anybody passing could watch the class. The teacher had uploaded a document with complex grammatical explanations to the interactive whiteboard and seemed to be reading out the rules to the learners, who were trying to stay awake.

There was very little that was interactive about what was presented on the interactive whiteboard!

The main issue with promoting the facilities of your English academy is that most Spanish learners use smartphones. There is a trend away from interactive whiteboards in some countries and towards a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) approach. The use of technology in English classes has provoked much debate, but smaller academies might be wise to invest in training their teachers to deliver effective classes rather than expensive technology.

In fact, is there a strong case for cutting back on technology in the English language classroom?

Teaching Methods

If you spend any channel hopping in Spain, you’ll come across Vaughan TV. Richard Vaughan, probably the most famous English teacher in Spain, has his own language-learning method – called the Vaughan method, strangely enough!

No matter what you think of his method (oral-based with lots of instant translation into Spanish), you cannot deny its success. As well as TV and radio channels, there are Vaughan academies and bookshops are full of exercise and reference books promising to teach you the English you never learn in school.

One way to promote your English academy is to offer a unique teaching method or approach. Lots of academies highlight their uniqueness but read a few websites and you’ll notice that many of them offer the same ‘innovate, modern, dynamic, and interactive’ classes.

I wonder if these words have any impact nowadays. Increasingly, English academies in Spain are using content marketing (blogs, podcasts, videos) to promote their services.

Here are some interesting methods or approaches I’ve seen:


Most marketing experts advise companies to identify a niche and conquer it.

Have you ever watched Gordan Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares? The premise of the show is simple; renowned chef tries to turn around a failing restaurant. He usually starts by ripping up their inflated menus with tons of dishes and tells them to specialise in several they can cook really well.

I wish English academies in Spain would do the same. Many of them offer every type of class under the sun and proudly state that their teachers are experts at all of them.

I’ve been teaching for over two decades and I know that I’m not particularly good and not very experienced at teaching kids. Ask me to teach a TOEFL class and I’ll politely decline (taught in very badly years ago). Getting to know an exam or a type of class requires time, effort, training, and feedback.

Many of the more successful academies invest in training for their teachers. They become experts at teaching specific exams or types of classes.

Other academies become self-professed experts at teaching exams. Walk around your city or town and look at how many academies claim to have 90% – 100% exam success rate – effective marketing strategy, isn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask these academies to prove the veracity of these claims?

As well as exam courses, here are some other types of specialist courses:


It’s clear that the English language teaching industry in Spain is led by market forces. Most parents want their kids to learn English to prepare them for the world of work. Adults take classes to increase their chances of finding work or improving their current situation. Which means that a majority of learners take English in order to pass an exam which will demonstrate their English ability.

The impact of online teaching

The rise of online language learning is starting to impact the industry in Spain. Online teachers offer classes at very low prices (sometimes as little as five euros).

Academies obviously have to evolve and consider the competition. The world of language teaching is changing rapidly, as is the wider world of education. Many universities now offer free courses (MOOCs – Massive open online courses) so students can learn for free.

What is going to happen to English language academies here in Spain? Are prices going to continue to fall? Should academies offer incentives to ensure they don’t lose the price war?

What extras or incentives can these academies offer?

  • No enrolment fee
  • Free conversation classes
  • Online materials and resources
  • Online courses for free or at a reduced cost
  • Sliding scale fees (reduced prices for certain groups: children, pensioners, unemployed, students).
  • Loyalty schemes
  • Refer a friend schemes
  • Discounts for long-term students
  • Outcome offers: If you fail your exam, we’ll return your fees.
  • Social events
  • Free trial classes.


Opening an English language academy in Spain is a risky proposition. Although there are more academies than ever before, many of them close within the first couple of years. Also, as the level of English in Spain increases, learners are likely to become more discerning – which is a good thing surely for decent academies.

Are most academies just riding the wave of the demand for English classes? When will the bubble burst?

How would you market and promote your English academy in Spain?










Do you need business experience to teach Business English?

Have you thought about teaching Business English?

Don’t you need business experience to teach Business English?

Is it possible to be an effective BE teacher without having a business background?

Do you think your teaching skills and experience can prepare you for teaching Business English?

In this post, I’m going to look at whether teachers without a business background can teach business English?

What is Business English?

Broadly speaking, Business English is the field of English language teaching related to helping learners use English effectively for their work.

As you may have noticed, that is a rather general definition. If your learner is an accountant, will they need the same lessons as an entrepreneur running a small marketing company? What about doctors running their own private practice?

This has always been one of the problems with selling Business English classes. Professionals interested in improving their English at work have varied and specific learning needs.

Examples of learners who ask for Business English classes:

Pedro has a B1 level of English and wants to set up his own travel agency.

Maria works for the Human Resources (HR) department of a company with many English-speaking employees.

Juan is a lawyer looking to find clients in his town (home to many English-speaking inhabitants).

Carmen has just graduated from university with a degree in Marketing. She wants to move to the UK.

Pablo is the CEO of a firm with many international clients. He needs to give presentations and chair meetings in English.

Paloma has just passed her C1 exam and is interested in working for a multinational.

Guillermo teaches Economics at a university. From next year, he will be asked to give his lectures in English.

Pre-service vs In-service Business English classes

When I worked in London, it was common for higher-level learners to enrol in Business English classes. These learners were often typical EFL students in London, being young adults with little or no professional experience outside of working in service jobs (waiting staff, cleaners, shop assistants) in London.

They were pre-service (or pre-experience) Business English learners.

Teaching Pre-service learners

Pre-service Business English learners have very little experience of actually doing business in English. That means they need to learn:

  • Business-related vocabulary (stocks and shares, appraisal, VAT etc.)
  • Business concepts (marketing, human resources, projections, project management)
  • Business texts (reports, memos, minutes, articles, contracts etc.)
  • Business events (meeting, interviews, presentations)

As your learners are not likely to have much knowledge about the world of work, you will have to teach them about business concepts.

For example, they might not do how to analyse sales figures.

When I first taught BE to pre-service learners, I bought a subscription to the Economist magazine and a few books on teaching Business English. I had some experience working in offices, so I had an idea of how most businesses worked, but I needed to teach myself the basics about business.

The good news is that there are lots of BE course books available. They deal with topics such as:

  • Company structures
  • Starting a business
  • Management
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Recruitments
  • Sales
  • Training
  • Branding
  • Legal Issues

They also provide lots of activities to practise skills such as:

  • Talking about your job
  • Participating in meetings
  • Being interviewed
  • Writing emails
  • Solving problems
  • Dealing with customers

Even teachers with little or no business experience should be able to teach in-service learners effectively. However, you should prepare for these classes by researching these topics.

In Company is one of my favourites.

Teaching in-service learners

While pre-service classes are similar to general English classes in many ways (syllabus, coursebooks, lesson structures), teaching in-service learners (professionals) can be very different.

Types of in-service classes
  • Individual learners
  • A group of professionals from the same sector (Construction, Media)
  • A group of professionals with the same profession (a group of accountants)
  • A group of employees from the same company
  • A varied group of professionals from different sectors

Unlike pre-service groups, your learners will have either:

  • Specific needs related to their sector
  • Specific needs related to their profession
  • Specific needs related to their company
  • Varied needs depending on individual learners.

Analysing the needs of your learners is essential when teaching in-service groups.

What is surprising, perhaps, is that your learners’ needs may not be what you expect.

An example of an in-service class

I was asked to teach a group of accountants a few years ago. What did they need?

  1. Vocabulary and concepts related to accounting
  2. Skills related to doing their job effectively in English (writing invoices, contracts)
  3. Conversation skills.

Before their first lesson, I met them and asked what they wanted and needed to study in their English lessons. I assumed they wanted specific language related to accountancy.

I was wrong.

What they actually wanted and needed was to practice speaking on the phone to their clients. They knew all of the job-specific vocabulary better than I did.

However, they lacked confidence and skills when speaking with their international clients on the phone. They weren’t able to understand their clients’ questions about their accounts and had no small talk skills, which made the conversations awkward and uncomfortable.

Now, this was just an isolated case. Your learners may need you to have specific knowledge about their sector. They may have been assigned to the London offices of their company and have no idea about British accountancy regulations.

In which case, you may be required to teach them about accountancy regulations and best practice in the UK.

What could you do in this situation?

Well, if you are an accountant from the UK, you would probably be a good option for them. If you’re not a British accountant, you would have to take a different approach.

Firstly, you would need to be honest about your lack of professional knowledge. Secondly, you would need to think about how you could help them.

Let’s think about what this group of accountants would really need.

  • Learn about British accountancy practices and laws.
  • Learn how to work as accountants in the UK.

You wouldn’t really be able to help them much with the first need. But, you could help them with the second one.

If they are working as accountants in offices in the UK, they may need to:

  • Write emails
  • Speak to clients
  • Participate in meetings
  • Give presentations
  • Attend social events with colleagues
  • Write reports.
  • Learn about UK cultural aspects.
  • Develop intercultural communicative skills.

You would need to find out what they need to do in English for their job.

Being able to work in an English-speaking environment requires learners to develop speaking and writing skills to become effective communicators.

Which you, as a good EFL teacher, should be able to help them with.

In conclusion, having business experience obviously helps when you are teaching Business English.

You have an awareness and an understanding of corporate practices and working environments. You can draw on your own experiences to develop an authentic context in which to explore the real linguistic needs of your learners.

However, teachers without business experience can still perform a useful role. You may need to study business-related concepts and lexis, learn about the structures and features of business texts, research areas such as interview techniques and giving sales presentations.

If you study these areas and are willing to keep learning, you could probably teach Business English in lots of different contexts.

So, as in many areas of life, a teacher without a business background or experience in business can become an effective Business English teacher as long as they are motivated to acquire the relevant skills and knowledge.

Useful sites for Business English teachers

English for Business (British Council)

Business English site

Macmillan In Company

Business English Pod (Audio lessons for learners)

OneStop English

Professional Development Courses and Organizations

One option for teachers wanting to train to become Business English trainers is to take a course such as the Cert IBET (Certificate in International Business English Training).

Another option is to join a professional organisation such as BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group).

There are short courses available to train you in the basics of Business English teaching.

Business English Idioms

Why are Business English Idioms important?


Do you use English for your job?

Do you need to speak with native English speakers?

Do you find them difficult to understand because of the strange things they say?

If you answered yes to these questions, you should read on….

Why are people who speak English as a second language easier to understand than native English speakers?

One of the main reasons is that native English speakers use lots of idioms.

Idioms are phrases which have a figurative rather than a literal meaning.

Here’s an example:

If you tell you to take the bull by the horns, what would you do?

Would you find a large – and probably very angry – bull and grab it by the horns? If you did, you would have taken my suggestion literally. This is where you think the phrase means the dictionary definition of the words.

Idioms work in a different way. Although you understand the meaning of the individual words, the phrase refers to something that has a different meaning to the words used.

Here’s a video which explains the meaning of ‘taking the bull by the horns’:

Learning Business English idioms will help you understand natural English used by native and fluent speakers.

At first, you’ll find them difficult to use when speaking. That’s not so important. What is important is being able to understand them when you hear them. In other words, you need to understand them in context.

Understanding idioms at work will help you improve your English because you will be able to follow what fluent speakers are saying.

I have a video course on Business English idioms. You can get the course for just $10 if you click the link below. The video above was an example lesson. There are nearly 50 more idioms in the course.

learn english phrase for work

discount for business english idioms course

If you don’t want to buy the course, you can listen to the idioms for free by clicking on the link below. You will be directed to my Speaker page and you can listen to short podcasts (each one teaches a different idiom).


Listening practise.




20 ELT Activities for Short Texts

In this post, I’ll look at what activities you can do with a short text in your English language classes. There is no agreed maximum length for a short text, but I would suggest that a short text includes fewer than 200 words.

There are many reasons why short texts are an effective teaching resource, and not just for low-level learners who struggle to deal with longer texts.

Short texts are ideal for classroom use, since they can be subjected to intensive grammatical and lexical study, without overtaxing learners’ attention or memory, as may be the case with longer texts. Scott Thornbury

Other reasons to use short texts include:

  • They do not overwhelm learners; they are perceived as being manageable.
  • Longer texts can – and perhaps should – be read for homework, leaving the classroom as the place where interactive communication can be practised.
  • Students read at different speeds; not such a problem with short texts as time differences are minimal.
  • The quantity of unknown lexis is likely to be higher in longer texts; teachers often end up defining words for a large part of the lesson.
  • Learners perhaps more likely to acquire reading habits through shorter texts. The ‘tiny habits’ principle suggests we should start with small and manageable goals (such as reading one short text a day).

I am not suggesting that longer texts should never be used in the classroom but I do think that using longer texts for comprehension tasks (learners read a long text and answer content questions and/or learn new vocabulary) can often be done at home.

Types of Short Texts

There are many types of short texts across a variety of writing genres:

  • News articles
  • Academic texts (abstracts)
  • Press releases
  • Adverts
  • Mini-sagas (very short stories)
  • Comments and anecdotes
  • Poems, literary texts
  • Social media posts (Facebook, Tweets)
  • Diary entries
  • Letters and postcards

How can we use short texts?

Short texts can be used to set the context for a particular lesson. We can use them to:

  • introduce the topic of the lesson
  • engage the learners with the topic
  • provide an interesting or unusual perspective on a common topic
  • review common vocabulary related to a topic
  • present topic-related vocabulary

They can also be used to raise awareness or provide a model of specific linguistic features:

  • Grammatical structures
  • Lexical chains
  • Idioms and phrasal verbs
  • Genre characteristics (Business texts, academic texts. news articles etc)
  • Literary texts (poems, limericks, short stories, reports etc.)

Short Texts for Skills Practice

Short texts can be used to practise all four skills.

Speaking practice

  • Focused pronunciation work
  • Prosodic features (rhythm, stress, intonation, connected speech)
  • Paraphrasing and summarising

Listening Practice

  • Dictation texts
  • Listening comprehension

Writing Practice

  • Dictation texts
  • Models of a particular type of text (Templates)

Simple activities we can do with a short text


The teacher reads out a short passage three or more times. The learners write down key content words during the first reading. Then, they compare with their partners. They add more content and grammatical words during the second dictation. They compare with their partners again and try to write the entire text. The teacher reads the text again and the learners made any changes and/or additions. After the third reading, learners compare their text with the original.

Missing Title

The teacher hands out a short text but the heading or title has been removed, The learners have to choose from several suitable titles or they guess the original title.

Sentence Jumble

The sentences in the text are given to the learners. They are asked to put the sentences in the correct order and reconstruct the original text.

Word Jumble

Take a text with between 3 and 10 sentences. Each small group/pair is given the words from a single sentence in the text. They are asked to put the words in the correct order. Then, they are given the jumbled words from a different sentence and order them into a sentence. Finally, the groups are asked to put the ordered sentences in the correct order to reconstruct the original text.

Cloze (Open)

The teacher removes several keywords (content or grammar) from the text. They read the text to the learners. The learners have to fill in the gaps. There are simple and free online cloze generators such as this one.

Cloze (Closed)

This is the same exercise, except that the words removed from the text are shown to the learners (usually in a box above or below the text).


Several content words are removed from the text and replaced with nonsense words. The teacher hands out this new text and the learners have to guess what the original words were. They should be encouraged to focus on word type and meaning from the context.

Running Dictation

The text is placed around the classroom. One learner in each group is nominated to be the scribe (writer). The other learners read the original text, try to memorise a sentence, and then read it back to the scribe as a dictation. This works better if each sentence is written on a single sheet of paper.

Error Correction

The teacher rewrites the text with small errors (spelling, grammar, incorrect words, false friends etc. The learners have to correct the errors. To make it easier you might want to: a) state the number of errors or b) indicate which words are incorrect.

The Story Continues…..

The teacher takes a paragraph from a longer text (the first paragraph in a news article). The learners have to write the next paragraph. Then, they compare it with the original text.

Missing Punctuation

The teacher removes punctuation marks from a short text. The learners are asked to punctuate it.

Make it longer

The learners are given a short text, e.g. 100 words. They are required to add details to make it into a longer text (200 words).

Make it shorter

The short text (100 words) has to be summarised in 50 words or fewer.

The Reporter

One learner is given the opening paragraph of a news article, which usually contains the basic facts (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?). They are given time to invent the details. The other learner plays the role of the reporter and interviews their partner.

Design an advert

Learners are given a short text about a product or service. They use it as the basis to create a radio or video advert. They write a script and then produce the audio/video.

Synonyms and Antonyms

The learners are given a short text which is written with simple and common words. They have to rewrite it with synonyms.


The learners are given a short text and are asked to rewrite it for a specific audience. For example, a short article from a serious news site could be rewritten for a tabloid audience.

Make it visual

The learners are given a short text and are asked to create a diagram, image, advert, or slide presentation about it. Then, they have to present it to the rest of the class. Instagram.

Social Media Post

The learners are given a short text which they have to transform into a social media post. Twitter is great as it has the 140 character limit.


A mini-saga is a very short story written in 50 words. Here are some examples. One way to use them in class is to ask them to read one and then add the details. This could be done as a dialogue, a longer story, or even an interview speaking activity.

Of course, getting your learners to write their own mini-sagas is a great activity too.

There are many ways to use small texts in class. What other ideas do you have?

5 Key Questions to ask before an Observed Lesson

You’re going to be observed. How do you react?

At some point this year, you are likely to be observed. If you’re lucky, you are one of those EFL teachers who are happy to let somebody from outside (probably your line manager) enter your class and watch you strut your stuff.

If you are not so lucky, the thought of being observed by your Director of Studies raises your anxiety levels. Your symptoms may range from a slight sense of unease to butterflies in your stomach to, in extreme cases, an overwhelming desire to burst into tears and call your mother!

Take a deep breath and get a grip of yourself. The stakes can be high when you are being observed but that may not be the case. Which is why it is important for you to get as much information as you can about the observation so you can make appropriate preparations.

When I worked as a DoS, I was always surprised by how my teachers reacted to being told them were going to be observed. Some of them were not phased at all (“Yeah, no problem. Pop in whenever you want. Oh, do you want a lesson plan?”) whereas others went deathly pale and lost the ability to speak. They would invariably produce a 5-page lesson plan and spend hours on creating beautifully-designed materials for the class.

In hindsight, I didn’t really think about the purpose of these observations. I just wanted to see my teachers in action and find out if they needed any help or not. This meant that some teachers gave me a set of bullet points on a scrap of paper ripped from a notebook and others wrote complex procedural documents written over several days.

My response to both types of lesson plans was the same; I just saw them as a brief guide to refer to while I was watching the class. Reflecting upon this approach many years later, I feel slightly ashamed that I didn’t provide clearer guidance about what was required of the observation.

Which brings me to the central idea of this post. Teachers often suffer a lot of emotional stress before, during and after observations because they are not aware of the observation requirements or even the assessment criteria.

So, next time you are told that you are being observed, I would suggest that you ask your observer a few questions so you understand what you are required to do in order to prepare and deliver the lesson. It goes without saying that you should find out about who you will be teaching if you are not being observed teaching your own class.

Of course, a professional/reflective/experienced Director of Studies should provide this information beforehand….

Question 1: Why are you being observed?

There are a number of reasons why observations take place:

  • It’s part of the interviewing process for a teaching post.
  • It’s part of your training as a new teacher (probation).
  • The school has regular observation schedule (e.g. every 3 months).
  • The DoS finally has time to observe teachers.
  • Complaints have been made and the DoS is concerned about your teaching.
  • The DoS is thinking of adopting a new teaching approach and wants to collect information about what is happening in the classes.
  • The school is planning to ‘downsize’ and wants to reduce the number of teachers.
  • Observations are seen as an integral part of CPD (continuous professional development).
  • The DoS is looking to promote a teacher within the organisation.

The important thing is for you to know why you are being observed. If you are the only teacher being observed, you might think you are in danger of losing your job when, in fact, you are being considered for a promotion.

If your DoS is unable to tell you why you are being observed, you might want to ask why…..

Question 2: What are you being assessed on?

This is a very important question because you need to be aware of the observation criteria.

Does your DoS want you to give the type of lesson you gave on your initial training course?

How will you be assessed?

  • on meeting your learning aims
  • on following your plan
  • on successfully teaching a grammar point
  • on developing your learners’ speaking skills
  • on demonstrating specific teaching skills such as CCQs, presenting new language, or correction strategies

You may have a Director of Studies who has a set of criteria (perhaps left over from their TEFL course) which they could show you so you can make sure you meet them.

You could even suggest that the evaluation criteria should be distributed to all teachers so they have a clear idea of what skills and practices they are expected to demonstrate in their lessons.

Question 3: What type of lesson plan are you expected to provide?

As I mentioned earlier, lesson plans vary among teachers. On most TEFL courses, a lesson plan template is used to ensure standardization.

More experienced teachers, however, will have their own planning preferences, ranging from detailed procedural documents to mind maps to bullet points and even perhaps a couple of learning aims stored in their head.

I have worked in schools in which experienced teachers were required to produce detailed lesson plans (resembling those used in training courses) for observed classes and this produced an overwhelming sense of frustration.

Asking experienced teachers to write formatted lesson plans solely for observations is likely to be viewed as a needless bureaucratic exercise. Any DoS who decides to enforce this duty should be prepared for an insurrection.

Using lesson plan templates may be an effective way of ensuring high teaching standards in a school. However, it should be reflected in the pedagogical strategy rather than ticking boxes.

Question 4: Do you want a ‘showcase’ or a ‘run-of-the-mill’ lesson?

Confessions of a Young TEFLer…

When I knew in advance that I was going to be observed, I generally made a special effort to create a great lesson. I’d spend ages on my lesson plan, design wonderful materials aimed at making sure my learning aims were achieved and prepped my students so they would appear to be some of the most competent, courteous and conscientious learners at the school.

Then, one day, my DoS said he didn’t want me to over-prepare for my next observation. He said that he wanted to see how I usually taught, without all of the bells and whistles common in observed classes.

He wanted to see what I normally did in class and not what I had the potential to do when I had time to create an ‘awesome’ lesson.

The class went really well and my DoS praised the organic nature of the lesson, highlighting the importance of providing a balance between keeping a lesson on track and responding to the immediate and often unanticipated needs of the learners.

Observing classes should be about observing a learning experience not just about observing the teacher. Some teachers perform really well in observed classes because; a) they know exactly what they observer is looking for; or b) because they have a few tricks up their sleeve which can dazzle the observer.

Giving a showcase class does not mean that a teacher is ready, willing or even able to consistently deliver effective classes on a consistent basis.

Question 5: What materials and resources should you use?

Many schools and academies expect teachers to follow course books. A good test of teaching skills is to ask a teacher to use a lesson from a course book to see how it can form the basis of an engaging and effective lesson. Good teachers can work with average materials and create an excellent learning experience.

If your observer has told you that they want to see a typical class and teachers typically follow course books, then it would make sense to use a course book for your observed lesson.

To sum up, when you are told that you are being observed, find out as much as you can about the nature of the observation before you go into panic mode and / or start creating the greatest lesson plan ever written in the history of English language teaching!

Here are some more posts about observations in ELT

Peer observation in TEFL

Observing EFL teachers

Questions You Need To Ask At Your TEFL Interview

If you don’t ask any questions at an interview for a TEFL job, you may regret not doing so…

You have an interview for an English language teaching position. You think you’ve made a good impression on your interviewer and then hear the words:

And do you have any questions for me?

I’ve interviewed lots of teachers and I’m always surprised by how few of them have prepared questions. The most common response is:

Oh yeah, I wanted to ask you something but I can’t remember what it was.

Asking a potential employer questions is not always essential in an interview – it could just mean the interviewer has covered everything you need to know – but it does indicate that you take your job seriously.

Also, asking these questions at the interview can prevent problems and misunderstandings later on.

So, my advice would be to prepare a list of questions and bring them with you to the interview.

Here are some of the questions you may want to ask.


How many hours per week are you expected to teach? Is that likely to change?

Will you be paid extra if you teach more than this fixed number of hours?

If so, how will you be paid? Cash in hand?

What non-teaching tasks are you required to do? (administration, creating materials, marking, placement testing of students). Will this extra work be included in your salary? Is it compulsory?

How many days of paid holiday are offered? (and does this include public holidays?)

Is there a probationary period during which either party can terminate the contract?

If you want to leave, how much notice are you expected to give?

What is your salary? When and how is it paid?

Is the salary net or gross?

Does the school have a fixed salary or is there a progressive salary structure (performance-related pay, length of service)?

Make sure you get your contract checked by a local expert before signing anything!!

Lessons, Learners, and Resources

What is the teaching philosophy / approach at the school?

Which course books does the school use?

Do the learners have to buy course books?

Are you expected to follow the course book?

Are you allowed / expected / encouraged to use / create your own materials?

What additional materials and resources are available? Access to online materials? Resource library?

What are the classrooms like? Make sure you have a look.

Does the school have internet access? Projectors? Multi-media?

Are teachers expected to use interactive/digital whiteboards? What training is given?

Does the school have a photocopier you can use? I’ve worked in a few places without a photocopier!

How many different classes will you have to prepare for? Find out about levels, ages, types of classes (General English, Exam preparation classes, Business English, One-to-One classes? Skype classes. Off-site classes.

If you are expected to teach off-site classes, does the school pay extra for travel costs? What about the extra time needed to travel to the off-site premises?

How big are the classes (maximum number of students) and what age groups will you be teaching?

What is the procedure for dealing with complaints from learners?

Are there any rules for learners? Lateness? Code of conduct? Absenteeism?

Teaching Support

Are teachers given a written job description?

Does the school have an employee policy handbook or some document detailing the company’s goals, policies and core principles?

Who should you talk to for teaching support, advice and problem resolution? Is there a Director of Studies? Senior teacher? Teacher mentor programme?

Are there regular observations? Could you observe any classes?

Is there a staff-room for teachers to prepare in? Ask to have a look and speak to any teachers if possible.

Does the school offer any in-house training? Teaching workshops?

Do teachers attend any external professional development training? Conferences? Local workshops? Does the school pay in full, in part, or are teachers expected to pay for their own CPD?

Is the school a member of any professional organisations?

How long do teachers generally stay at the school?

Are there any professional development opportunities within the school? Could you train to become an examiner? Teach other classes? Get involved in professional development or mentoring?

There are plenty of other questions you could ask at your TEFL interview so make sure you consider your local teaching context and cultural norms. In some cases, such direct questions won’t be appreciated or will be considered inappropriate so think about how you could phrase them without causing offence.

Have I missed any questions teachers should ask at interviews? Feel free to let me know.

10-step guide to Teaching Effective Conversation Classes

In this post, I’ll present my 10-step guide for teaching effective conversation classes to adult English learners.

Many adult learners enrol in conversation classes to improve their speaking skills. However, student numbers often drop as the course progresses. This can be due to several reasons:

  • Students are not interested in the topics.
  • Students don’t feel they are learning anything new.
  • Students don’t feel they are actually improving their speaking skills.
  • Students want more traditional grammar-structured classes.
  • Students feel they are learning new language rather than practising speaking.
  • Classes lack variety (just question and answer discussions).

Conversation classes are not always taken seriously by learners (just chatting), teachers (just listening to learners chatting) or academy owners (promotional tool for paid classes).

This is a great shame as conversation classes can be a really effective way to help our learners improve their speaking skills.

group of people sitting on sofa while discussing

Photo by Athena on


Read on for a 10-step process designed to help you give effective conversation classes.

Step 1: Get to know your learners

Conversation classes often fall flat because the learners aren’t particularly interested in the topics or don’t really know what they want from a conversation class. Some learners don’t even want to practise speaking in a conversation class!

A WIN analysis is a simple tool used in the business world that can help you discover essential information about your learners.

  • W: What do they want to talk about?
  • I: What are their interests?
  • N: What do they need to talk about?

In General English classes, your adult learners may enjoy the freedom to discuss whatever interests them (Wants and Interests). However, in other classes (Exam or Business classes), you will have to consider their specific needs.

Tip: Ask the learners to write down their answers to the WIN analysis questions before you discuss topics with the whole class. The WIN analysis should provide you with some important information about specific learners.

You could ask the learners to do the WIN analysis in small groups but some dominant learners may force their opinions on their peers.

Step 2: Work together to choose interesting and relevant topics.

Your learners will probably have a variety of wants, needs, and interests. But, they are not paying for one-to-one classes. Therefore, they will have to accept that they won’t always be interested in the topic of the lesson. There are a number of ways you could choose topics with your learners:

  • Ask learners
  • Find a list of topics
  • Each learner chooses a topic
  • Learners choose their top 3 topics from a list

Many teachers use a course book to decide on suitable topics. Course books are often written for the average learner, which means the topics are often a) bland b) Anglo-centric c) Global rather than local (maybe not suitable for monolingual classes d) aimed at teenagers and young adults rather than more mature learners.

Tip: Use the information from the WIN analysis and the topic syllabus from a course book to create a list. Then, ask learners to decide which topics they want to discuss from the new list.

Note: If you are teaching a group of employees, there may be specific work-related topics they want and need to discuss.

Step 3: Focus on language used in conversations, not just topic-related vocabulary

Many conversation classes are designed to teach vocabulary related to a specific topic. This, in my opinion, is a mistake because we need more than specific vocabulary to discuss a topic.

Which areas of language are found in typical conversations?

  • Functional language (agreeing, disagreeing, giving examples, asking for clarification, rejecting ideas, changing topics)
  • Communication strategies (asking for clarification, avoidance, using synonyms, circumlocution)
  • Discourse markers
  • Conversation features: False starts, hesitation, backchanneling, questions
  • Paralinguistic language (facial expressions, gestures, body language)
  • Prosodic features (intonation, stress, rhythm, connected speech)

By focusing on teaching vocabulary rather than conversation skills, we are not preparing our learners for the reality of authentic discussions in English.

Tip: Read this article for more info about teaching functional language. There is also a useful list of functions.

Step 4: Select purposeful and authentic tasks to follow discussions

I have observed conversation classes consisting of nothing more than an introduction to the topic, presentation of topic-related vocabulary, and a list of discussion questions. This might work for 20 minutes but learners are likely to lose focus if the discussion part continues for much longer.

Unless we are making small talk, we usually have a clear purpose for a discussion or conversation. In English, we may use the phrase ‘Can we have a chat?’ which seems innocuous but is usually a pretext for something else (dealing with a complaint, looking for a solution to a problem, asking for advice).

When planning a conversation class, we should think about what can follow the discussion. Here is an example:

Topic: Learning English

Discussion: Learners share their ideas, opinions, and experiences about learning English.

Task: Learners are put into groups to create a programme for an immersive 4-week English course. They will present their programme to the rest of the class who will vote for their favourite.

Without having a clear, purposeful and authentic task in our conversation classes, our learners will feel as if they are just having a chat about a topic with no identifiable outcome.

There are a variety of speaking tasks we can use for conversation practice. Here is a short list:

  • Ranking items in order of importance
  • Negotiating
  • Designing and delivering presentations
  • Reaching agreements about a plan or a decision
  • Solving a problem
  • Persuading others
  • Role-plays and case studies
  • Puzzle-solving
  • Critical thinking tasks
  • Summary tasks

Step 5: Find engaging materials and resources to introduce topics

Learning topic-related vocabulary takes time and effort. If we include too much new language in a conversation class, we will have to rush the discussion and accompanying task. This will result in our learners getting very little conversation practice.

Remember that our main aim is to help our learners become better at having conversations.

On the other hand, learners often benefit from having some language and content input at the beginning of the class to help them engage with the topic, activate their topic knowledge, expose them to useful language (topic and conversational).

There are a number of ways we can introduce and engage the learners:

  • discussion of a picture or an image
  • short video or audio recording
  • controversial statement
  • short text
  • short presentation
  • anecdote or story

If your adult learners have enough time and are sufficiently motivated, you might want to send them the materials before the lesson so they come prepared for the discussion task.

Step 6: Raise learner awareness of language used in conversations

Many adult learners feel the need to know specific vocabulary before discussing a topic. This can be a problem as it can lead to vocabulary presentations dominating the classes.

In your first class with your new learners, it’s a good idea to have a discussion about the objectives and outcomes of conversation classes. I usually tell them that conversation classes will help them develop their ability to have conversations and discussions about a variety of topics.

Then, we discuss the communicative functions and communication strategies used in conversations. I like to show them a video of a conversation or discussion (an interview or debate show) and raise their awareness of specific features.

Getting adult learners to think of reasons for having conversations and the objectives of participants in discussions can really help them identify what language and skills they need to acquire to become better conversationalists in English.

Another useful activity is to discuss what makes somebody a good or a weak conversationalist. This can be used to prepare the learners for the next task.

Finally, when your learners are more aware of what they need to improve to become more capable conversationalists, you should consider finding a way to measure progress. This could be done informally (discussions with learners) or more formally (create a set of assessment criteria). You could include some of the following:

  • Participation
  • Fluency
  • Range and accuracy (grammar)
  • Range and accuracy (vocabulary)
  • Pronunciation issues
  • Communicative functions used
  • Communicative strategies used
  • Task completion
  • Error correction
  • Examples of good language
  • Action points

Tip: Look at the assessment criteria for speaking exams and adapt them for your conversation classes. Make sure you get feedback and input from your learners about the appropriacy and relevance of the criteria. In general, most learners seem to benefit from receiving ongoing feedback (formative assessment) and you might want to consider asking learners to assess their own performance or even keep a learning journal.

Step 7: Agree on a Conversation Class Code of Conduct

Introverted learners or less confident learners often struggle with conversation classes. Extroverts, more confident learners, and more fluent learners tend to dominate. Therefore, I would recommend creating a conversation class code of conduct. You could include rules such as:

Do not use aggressive language

Don’t interrupt rudely when other learners are speaking

Respect the opinions of other members of the class

Sexist, homophobic or racist language will not be tolerated

All learners should be given the opportunity to share their ideas

Correction should be sensitive

Discussions can get quite heated, especially when talking about sensitive topics.

There is a strong argument for saying that learners need to develop the ability to defend their point of view and deal with interruptions and disagreement. To some extent, they will develop these skills naturally if you are able to develop a good rapport with your learners and they learn how to work together as a team.

Another tip is to introduce the concept of playing devils’ advocate. By doing this, learners can oppose the views of the peers without causing offence.

Step 8: Create a Conversation Class Lesson Plan Template

By this stage, you and your learners will have a clear idea of:

  • the objectives and outcomes of a conversation class
  • suitably interesting and relevant topics
  • how to behave during the lessons
  • linguistic and sociocultural aspects of successful conversations and discussions.

All you need to do is plan the lesson. The good news is that putting the work in at the beginning should result in enabling you to create simple but effective lessons plans.

My own preference is for the following lesson plan structure:

P: Preparation

  • Choose topic (Food and drink)
  • Select specific topic focus (Fast Food)
  • Choose suitable materials to introduce topic (video of effects of fast food)
  • Identify communicative functions for lesson (agreeing, disagreeing, sharing experiences, persuading)
  • Task: Learners have to present a Healthy Fast Food project to rest of the class.


  • Controversial statement: There is nothing wrong with fast food.
  • Pyramid discussion: Learners consider statement individually, discuss with a partner, each pair joins with another pair, report back to whole class
  • Brief discussion: 5 questions about fast food ranging from the personal (How often do you eat fast food?) to the more general (Why do so many people eat fast food?). This could be done as a mingling activity.


  • Put learners in small groups. Tell them they have to brainstorm a list of healthy fast food options.
  • Learners stay in groups. Tell them they have to submit a project for a new healthy fast food restaurant in their town. They have to decide on: type of food, name of restaurant, logo and slogan, location, menu, advertising strategy etc.
  • Each group presents their ideas to the rest of the class who ask questions after each presentation.
  • Learners vote for the best presentation (they are not allowed to vote for their team’s project).


  • Congratulate learners on successful performance of the task.
  • Review any errors, identify any interesting language used by learners in class, fill in any gaps
  • Leave time for practise of functional or communication strategy language which learners need to work on
  • Set some action points (Review exponents of giving opinions and aim to use in the next lesson)

Step 9: Get feedback from learners

The final step is to get some feedback from your learners. This could be done in small groups or as the whole class, You could even ask them to respond individually after the lesson.

Here are some sample questions:

  1. Did you enjoy the class? Why? Why not?
  2. What did you practise in the class?
  3. What new language did you learn?
  4. What would you like to practise in the next class?
  5. Was there anything you didn’t enjoy about the class?

Step 10: Encourage Learner Autonomy

This final step is very important for encouraging learner autonomy. When learners start taking more responsibility and control of the conversation classes, your job will become much easier and you will have to do less teaching and more guiding and supporting. After a while, your learners will choose the topics, present new language, provide feedback on each other’s performance and share useful resources and materials. Then, you will really be responding to their needs.

When learners feel involved in making discussions about the syllabus and management of the classes, they are more likely to get involved in the planning and even delivery of the classes.

This will give you the time and space to focus on providing personalised feedback which will really help your learners improve their speaking skills.

If you teach one-to-one classes to adults, you might like this collection of 30 Speaking Activities which require little or no preparation.

Link to Speaking Unplugged

16 Ways to Play The Hot Seat Game

One of the most popular TEFL activities for practising and reviewing vocabulary is called ‘The Hot Seat’ game. You have probably played it with your learners, although you may know it as ‘back to the board’. The procedure is simple:

  • One student sits in a chair with his or her back to the board.
  • The teacher writes a word on the board, which the student sitting in the chair cannot see but the other students can.
  • The other students define the word to the student with his / her back to the board. They cannot say the word.
  • When the student guesses the word or time runs out, he / she returns to his / her seat and another student sits in the hot seat. The teacher writes another word on the board.

This game/activity is great fun for learners of all ages and is an entertaining way to review vocabulary. I’ve even done it with Business English classes and they loved it, albeit they tend to get a bit too competitive and argue over every point!

Many teachers play it at the beginning of a lesson/week (to review vocabulary learned in previous lessons/week) or at the end of a lesson/week to practise the new vocabulary. I like to use a vocabulary box (or a digital equivalent) so I can access the new vocabulary items easily.

It’s also a good way to review vocabulary based around a specific topic.

If you want your learners to make the most of the game, you should also consider the pedagogical aspects of the game:

  • It’s great for practising the skill of explaining, describing and defining things and concepts using structures such as: It’s used for / Its’ made of / People do this when they need to / It’s a type of…. /defining relative clauses.
  • It’s also useful for practising simple metalanguage (It’s a verb used for / It’s a noun we use when we want to describe.., synonym, antonym)
  • As well as managing the game, you should also monitor what your learners said and record some common errors and examples of useful and correct language. Don’t forget to have a quick feedback session at the end.
  • It’s ideal for helping learners develop one of the key coping/communication strategies: circumlocution. This is what we do (native and proficient speakers too) when we forget the precise word for something. For example: it’s a thing we use when we need to….

It’s a simple game to play and requires very little preparation, except for a list of vocabulary items. Most teachers have a time limit (30 seconds / 1 minute / 2 minutes) for each word. However, there are several problems with the way the game is normally played:

  • individual learners sitting in the hot seat can feel rather exposed and embarrassed if they fail to guess the word
  • louder and more confident students tend to dominate when defining the word to the hot seat student
  • it’s not a particularly effective way of ensuring all learners get the chance to speak and define the words.

So, there are many ways of playing the game and ensuring all students get involved. Here are some variations – some of them don’t even require a seat!.

1: Two Teams

Divide the class into two teams and put two seats at the front of the class. Draw a vertical line on the board to divide the board into two sections. Group A defines the word to the student in Seat A and Group B defines the same word to a student sitting in Seat B. The smaller groups generally results in more students defining the words. Also, students who fail to guess a word can still be on a winning team. Finally, the element of competition increases motivation as it provides a clear purpose for playing the game.

2: Three or more teams

Why stop at 2 teams? If you have enough learners, you could play the game with several teams.

3: Post-its or mini-whiteboards rather than the main board

You can play the hot seat game with post-its, mini-whiteboards or sheets of paper if you don’t have a large board. Mini-whiteboards are particularly apt for this game if you have a small class.

4: Two Teams but with different words

One of the problems with asking teams to define the same word is that a student in one of the hot seats may actually guess the word correctly by listening to  another team’s definition. The problem can be resolved by selecting a different word for each team.

5: Two Teams but each team chooses words for the other team

There is no reason why you (the teacher) need to choose the vocabulary items. When your learners know the rules of the game (which are very simple), they can select the words themselves, which also increases learner autonomy. You will probably want to check the words before you play the game to confirm that they are words which have been recently studied.

6: Two Teams but each team has to define words related to a specific topic or word class

If you have been studying vocabulary items related to specific topics, you could ask Group A to define words related to one topic (food) and Group B could define words related to another (drink). You could also do the same with word types (verbs / nouns). To ensure that all groups get the opportunity to practise and review both topics, you could switch topics after a specific time. The winning group would be the one with the highest total of words guessed within the time limit.

7: List of words on the board rather than a single word

Extend the time limit (say 5 or 10 minutes) and write a list of words on the board for the groups to define. The students have to define as many words as they can to the student in the hot seat. You might want to appoint two judges to tick each word off the list as they are guessed correctly.

8: Pairs rather than groups

Put the students into pairs and ask one student in each pair to sit with the backs to the board. Write the word on the board and award points to the first pair to guess the word correctly.

9: Pairs with a list of words rather than single words

The procedure is the same as 6 but you have to trust in the learners’ honesty. You don’t need to use the board if you play the game in this way as you could just distribute a list to each pair. It’s a good idea to give Student A a list of words to define to Student B and vice versa so each student gets to define and guess. A good way to prevent / reduce cheating is to ask the guessing students to write the words down.

10: Parallel lines

You could ask the learners to form two lines. One line cannot see the board and the other line can. Students then define the words to the person facing them in the line. You could ask your students to stand up while they are playing.

11: Moving tracks

This is the same idea, but one of the lines moves. After a word is guessed, all the students move to the right or left (make sure the direction doesn’t change) and the student at one end of the line moves into Line B and the student in Line B at the opposite end moves into Line A. It’s more difficult to keep the game competitive if you use moving tracks but it means that the learners are not stuck with one partner.

12: Inner and Outer Circles

This is similar to 9 and 10 but you don’t write the words on the board. Instead, use sheets of paper or mini-whiteboards (some of them have a magnet on the back) and stick them around the class. The students in the inner circle define the words closest to them to the student facing them in the outer circle. When a pair has defined the word, you can ask the students in the inner circle to move to the next word. The problem with this option is that students often overhear their classmates’ definitions and guesses so ask them not to celebrate when they guess a word correctly.

13: Phonemic Script hot seat

If your students are learning (or already know  how) to use the phonemic script, you could write the words in phonemic symbols.

14: Images rather than words

You could use images rather than words. As you will probably want your students to practise the written word, you could add a rule that students only get a point if they guess the word and spell it correctly.

15: Phrases, phrasal verbs, collocations, idioms, proverbs etc

There is no reason why you need to limit the game to defining single words. Why not ask the learners to define longer items?

16: Taboo Hot Seat

Do you know the game ‘Taboo’? In this game, you have to define a word, but you have to do so without using 3-5 other words which are usually associated with the word on the card. Look at the example below. Playing Hot Seat / Taboo takes a bit more preparation (and more time to write the words on the board) but you could always ask the learners to choose the taboo words.

How do you play the Hot Seat Game?

There are lots of ways you could play this simple but effective and useful game for English language learners. I’d love to hear about some of the ways you play it.

Do you Teach the Communicative Functions of the First Conditional?

The first conditional is used for more than just talking about future events. We need to explore common communicative functions of the first conditional such as making promises and negotiating.

What is the first conditional?

The first conditional (as it’s often called) is generally a sentence with two clauses:

  • an ‘if’ clause with the present tense (or verb 1)
  • a conditional clause with some reference to the future (will, might, may)

Here is an example commonly found in grammar reference books:

If it rains tomorrow, I’ll take my umbrella with me.

Why is it sometimes called a real conditional?

The first conditional is sometimes called a real conditional. It is real because the situation (context) is not an imaginary one (it might rain tomorrow) and the consequence (taking an umbrella) is a likely or possible action in the future.

Most descriptions of the first conditional focus on form

Before writing this post, I did a quick online search for explanations of the first conditional. Most explanations (for teachers and students) covered the form but didn’t really explore the functions.

As a side note, make sure your learners know that ‘to be going to’ is often used in the conditional form.

If you do that again, you’re going to have an accident.

What is the most commonly taught function of the first conditional? 

Many explanations were vague. Here are some examples:

We use the first conditional to talk about the result of an imagined future situation, when we believe the imagined situation is quite likely.

It’s used to talk about things which might happen in the future. Of course, we can’t know what will happen in the future, but this describes possible things, which could easily come true.

We use first conditional when talking about possible future events.

Talking about possible future events is a general communicative function. There are specific functions of the first conditional which we should explore.

Why don’t we explore the range of functions of the first conditional?

Some course books and grammar reference books mention specific functions but I’m not sure they are explored in any depth.

The first conditional isn’t particularly difficult for our learners. It’s easy enough to present, the structure is logical, and we can give them lots of transformation and gap-fill exercises to ensure they master the form. 

I would argue that learners feel as if they have mastered the form but rarely get sufficient exposure and practice opportunities to perform the specific functions.

How often do we explore the range of functions associated with the first conditional? Our typical explanation (future possibilities related to real events) is rather vague and doesn’t really engage the learners.

The other functions are more difficult as concepts, but we can provide clear and memorable contexts to present the first conditional when used for these other communicative functions.

What are the specific functions of the first conditional?

There are many functions of the first conditional which are rarely explored by teachers. Let’s look at some examples:

If you eat these vegetables, you’ll grow up to be a big strong boy like your brother.

You’ll get sick again if you don’t take your medicine.

You’re going to get fired if I catch you smoking in the bathoom again.

If we don’t make a decision soon, we won’t have any options left.

You’ll be eating hospital food for a week if you speak to my wife like that again!

If we agree to a 5% increase in your salary, will you be willing to relocate to Manchester?

When we start thinking about the real function of these sentences, we can bring them to life.

If you eat these vegetables, you’ll grow up to be a big strong boy like your brother.

In this sentence, we can imagine a parent persuading their child to eat some vegetables. The parent is trying to influence the behaviour of the child. In other words, they are trying to persuade or convince.

Here are some common functions of the first conditional

Persuading / Convincing: to make someone do or believe something by giving them a good reason to do it or by talking to that person and making them believe it.

If you eat these vegetables, you’ll grow up to be a strong boy like your brother.
If you don’t buy this product now, you’ll regret it.
Juts imagine. If you accept this job, you’ll be running the department within 6 months.

Warning: to make someone realize a possible danger or problem, especially one in the future:

You’ll get sick again if you don’t take your medicine.

If you don’t pass the exam, you won’t go to university.
If you walk home alone, something bad might happen.
If you don’t pay attention to the road, you’ll have an accident.

Making threats: to tell someone that you will kill or hurt them or cause problems if they do not do what you want

If you do that again, I’ll report you to the police!
I’ll leave you for good if you speak to me in that way again.
If I catch you smoking in the bathroom again, you’re going to get fired!

Making promises: to tell someone that you will certainly do something

If you eat those carrots, I’ll buy you an ice cream.
I’ll take you to the concert if you pass your English exam.
If you lend me £10, I’ll pay you back £20.

Making offers: to ask someone if they would like to have something or if they would like you to do something

I’ll pick you up from the airport if your plane gets in late.

If you buy two packs, you’ll get a third pack for free.
We’ll enter you in our competition for a holiday to New York if you write your email here.

Discussing options: to talk about a subject with someone and tell each other your ideas or opinions

Well, if we accept the offer, we’ll make $5000 in the next 6 months.
But, if we wait until next year, the long-term benefits will be higher.
Um, but if we don’t make a decision soon, they’ll take both options off the table.

Negotiating: to have formal discussions with someone in order to reach an agreement with them

So, if we agree to a 5% increase in your salary, will you be willing to relocate to Manchester?
If I relocate to Manchester, will you pay for the relocation costs?
How about this? If you agree to work in Manchester, we’ll pay for 60% of your relocation costs and put you and your family up in a 5-star hotel for the first month until you find somewhere to live.
OK. I’ll agree to that as you long as you provide two season tickets to watch Manchester United for me and my son.

Activities to encourage our learners to explore the functions of the first conditional

In my experience, learners are far more engaged by exploring functions such as warning and negotiating than something as general as ‘future events’.

We often present the first conditional to A2 level learners and give them plenty of opportunities to practise the form. Then, we move on to more complex conditionals and rarely explore the more interesting and useful functions of the first conditional.

Warning: Encourage rather than insist that your learners use the first conditional in these freer practice activities. Other exponents (structures and phrases) are used to perform these functions and insisting on only one form leads to awkward and inauthentic discussions.

Here are some activities you could use to explore these functions

Persuading and Convincing
  • Selling Products: Students try to convince their peers to buy their products/services
  • Speed Dating: Students convince their peers to choose them as their date.
  • Holiday Planning: Students try to persuade their peers that their choice for a holiday destination is the best option.
  • Purchasing: Students try to persuade their peers that their preference for a new car/computer/mobile phone is the best option.
  • Survival Task: Students are stranded somewhere (desert. the moon, on a raft in the ocean) and have to persuade their peers to take action.
  • Negative Consequences: Students try to dissuade their peers from doing something by focusing on the possible consequences. If you get married to him, you’ll be expected to give up your job. If you leave your job to travel the world, you’ll never buy a house when you’re older.
  • Safety Guides: Students create a guide (travel, going to university, moving to another country) with a list of warnings.
Making threats and rules
  • Role plays: Students act out situations of conflict, such as meetings between students and teachers, parents and children, husband and wife, rival businesses, police officers and suspects.
  • Creating rules, regulations, and laws. Create a class contract for learners and teachers: We can only use our mobile phones in class if our teacher says we can.
Making Promises and Offers
  • Sales copy: Students discuss how to promote their products or businesses. They think of enticing promises and offers.
  • Radio / TV adverts: Students use this sales copy to create short radio or TV ads.
  • Study contracts: Students work with the teacher to create study contracts detailing what each part promises to do. For example: The teacher will show us a short film every Friday if we all do our homework.
Discussing Options and Consequences (Negotiating)
  • Syllabus Planning: Teachers and students discuss the syllabus and type of activities for their English classes. This is a really valuable activity as it encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning. They explore options using first conditionals. If we focus on speaking for the first 6 weeks, we can work on our writing in the second half of the course.
  • Business Negotiations: Great for Business English learners. Student A (or Group A) has a goal. Student B (or Group B) has a different goal. Both parties enter into a negotiation in order to achieve their goal.

As you can see, we can create a variety of authentic tasks related to the functions listed above.

These tasks can be used to give our learners the opportunity to practise first conditionals and related structures (provided that, in the case of, as long as etc.)

More importantly, they can acquire a deeper understanding of the specific communicative purposes of the structure.

Have I missed any common functions? Please let me know.

How to Use the Board Effectively in ELT

In this article and accompanying video, I will talk about using the board effectively in ELT (English language teaching). The board is perhaps the most useful piece of equipment in the language classroom.

Note that this post is written mainly for teachers using whiteboards (not digital interactive boards), although a lot of the advice still applies.

Watch the video here:

Types of Board
  1. Blackboard and chalk
  2. Whiteboard and markers
  3. Interactive whiteboards / Smartboards / Digital Whiteboards
A small confession

Like many experienced teachers, I don’t use the board as effectively as I should. Over the years I have developed a series of bad habits and could do with some extra training myself.

Ask your teaching colleagues for feedback on your board work. Take a few photos of your board and see what your other teachers think. Why not see if you can organise a training session in which teachers think of ways to improve board work at the school?

Read on for some answers to common questions about using the board:


1. What colours should you use?
  • Colours that contrast with the board. If you use a whiteboard, black and blue are easiest to read.
  • Use other colours (red / green) for highlighting, underlining, circling, identifying specific features, stress patterns, phonemic symbols, interaction patterns, syllable boundaries and so on.
2. How big should your writing be?
  • Write a sentence in different sizes on the board. Go to the back of the room and see which size is the most appropriate.
  • Ask your students for feedback. Let them decide which is the best size.
  • Make sure your writing is not too big – you’ll fill the board in no time.
  • Write reminders to yourself in very small letters in the corners of the board. For example, if you hear a mistake in class, write it down and then deal with it later. If it’s small enough, your learners won’t be able to read it.
  • As a rule of thumb, letters should be about the size of your thumb; unless you have extraordinary large thumbs!
3. Should you write in print or use a cursive (joined-up) script?
  • Use print with multi-lingual classes as most students will be able to read what’s on the board.
  • Most students will be used to reading on screens (print) so that may be most useful for them.
  • Cursive writing may be a thing of the past.  
  • Cursive writing may have other benefits, such as aiding creativity.
4. When should you use capital letters?
  • Learn the basic rules of capitalization
  • Capitalization can be used for effect when writing a topic heading.
  • Learners generally copy what they see on the board, so try to be as accurate and consistent as you can.
  • Use a Style Guide (notice the capitalization for effect!).
5. Can learners write on the board?
  • Yes, yes, and YES!!!
  • Learners should be encouraged to get out of their seats.
  • Think about how you could get several students to write on the board at the same time. This saves time, encourages peer teaching and learning, and reduces the risk of putting individual learners on the spot.
  • Divide the board into sections and ask pairs / small groups to write in each section.
  • Use dictation activities in conjunction with the board.
6. Should you use the board for correcting errors?
  • Make sure you let the learners know that what you have written is wrong.
  • Board mistakes and ask learners to correct & identify errors.
  • Collect several mistakes made by learners, board them, and then ask pairs / small groups to correct them.
  • Use green & red to indicate mistakes.
7. How can you use the board to record new vocabulary?
  • Spidergrams for eliciting vocabulary and adding new items.
  • Use margins to record unexpected vocabulary. Then, remember to review at the end of the class.
  • When presenting new vocabulary, use marker sentences to provide a context (clear examples of target language) and record syllable boundaries, stress patterns, intonation (chunks and sentences) and phonemic symbols.
8. What about grammar presentations?
  • Use the centre of the board to present new structures.
  • Ask learners to put their pens down while you are presenting (they probably need to focus).
  • Give learners time to record marker sentences and key features of structure, such as form / substitution tables.
  • Consider keeping the key aspects of the presentation on the board for follow-up practice activities but erase any non-essential information.
  • Create board plans and use them to refer to during the lesson.
9. How often should you clear the board?
  • Train learners to note down the essentials, not everything you write or draw on the board.
  • Ask learners before clearing the board.
  • Think carefully before erasing the target language.
  • Prepare the board for the next activity while learners are busy working individually or in pairs / small groups. This cuts down on dead time in the lesson.
10. What games can be played on the board?
11. What should you do if you make a mistake?
  • Confess. You’re only human; everybody makes mistakes – as long as it doesn’t happen too often.
  • Ask learners to check spelling in their dictionaries.
  • Ask learners to spell new words for you.
  • Congratulate learners on their powers of observation and pretend you made a deliberate mistake.
  • Prepare your board work before the lesson.
12. What can you do if you can’t draw?
13. Is there anything you shouldn’t write on the board?
  • Simple language (below the level of the learner) or language items they should know does not need to be written on the board.
  • For simple and known language, elicit spelling and other features from the learners. Nominate learners to write on the board if you think they need to practise or need confirmation. Then erase.
  • New language that you don’t think your learners need or will be able to understand. If you board something, you really need to explain it, so make sure you grade your language to the level of the learners.

With practise and feedback, your board work will improve. Make sure you plan what you want to write on the board and remember that you are responsible for your board after each class.


You don’t want to get on the wrong side of your Director of Studies or your fellow teachers. 

Why you Should Use Digital Storytelling in ELT

From Storytelling to Digital Storytelling

Throughout human history, stories have been used to share ideas, opinions and experiences. Stories are used for a variety of purposes – to entertain, to educate, to illustrate concepts, to provide moral guidance to inspire change – in all social activities in every industry. Indeed, this innate ability and desire to tell and share stories are tendencies which make us human.

Consider how you interact with others on a daily basis. You tell anecdotes, share events and experiences, and use stories to illustrate your ideas and opinions. We even tell stories when we give advice.

Storytelling is used for specific purposes too. Film directors use stories to make us feel and think. The media uses stories to explain and analyse events. Companies use stories to promote their products. Academics use stories to explore concepts and abstract ideas, which is one reason why storytelling is such a vital pedagogical tool in the ELT classroom.

We can use stories to present, study, practise and produce English in context, ensuring our learners practise all four skills and increase their awareness of grammatical, lexical and phonological features of the language.

Until recently, most stories used in the classroom were taken from published educational materials (course books and ELT materials). Published materials, however, do not always engage and interests our learners as the content is often too general.

In the 21st century, things are very different as there is content available online which meets the needs and interests of every learner. What is more, people can now create and publish their own content.

 What is digital storytelling?

Digital storytelling can be defined as the use of digital tools to record audio, graphic images and videos in order to create stories.

Most of these digital tools are readily available to teachers and learners: digital recorders, digital cameras, mobile devices, tablets, laptops and desktops. If you do not have a classroom connected to the internet, these devices can still be used offline to record audio and video, although you might decide to put them online later.

What types of digital stories can be created in class?

There are several ways to create digital stories:

The simplest form of digital story is an audio recording. Add music and sound effects to create mood and enhance the emotional intensity of the story. If you are a podcast fan, then you probably know about Serial.

A slightly more complex form of digital storytelling is to combine audio with text and/or images. Slideshow presentation software (Powerpoint, Google Slides, Prezi) allow for special effects (visual and sound).

Digital cameras and mobile devices make it easy to record talking head videos, so learners can tell a story while looking into a camera.

Finally, there are a number of video editing tools which can be used to combine moving images, text, music and audio narration to create short movies.

Do you need to be good with technology to create digital stories?

Now, you may be thinking that this sounds like a considerable amount of work or that you do not have the technical skills to create digital stories. However, creating digital content is easier than ever before. Digital recorders and cameras are easy to use and there are many simple apps for audio and video recording.

And, why do educational professionals need to master these digital tools? After all, our younger learners are ‘digital natives’, who have grown up with the internet, mobile devices. computers and tablets. Technology has always been a significant part of their life and younger people are often far more comfortable using digital technology than those of us who are termed ‘digital immigrants’. They are the experts, not us.

This does not mean that our role as teachers is less important than before. On the contrary, digital tools allow us to focus on helping our learners develop their linguistic and storytelling skills. Our learners can now tell their own stories in English and our role is to guide them through this process.

Some simple ideas for digital storytelling in the ELT class

Raising awareness activities: Use audio and video stories to present new language and analyse grammatical, lexical and phonological features of English.

Skills Practice: Learners listen to audio or video recordings of stories with transcripts to improve their pronunciation. When they are ready, they can record their own narration, focusing on stress, rhythm and intonation.

Audio or Video anecdotes: Learners write, rehearse and tell personal anecdotes which they can share. You can create a feedback template so students can assess each other on key aspects, such as delivery, speed, volume etc.

Slide presentations: Learners write stories and find images to illustrate the plot. Then, they create slides to accompany the stories Finally, ask them to record their screens as they tell the story while flicking through the slides.

Short film projects: Learners can write the script for a short film and then act it out themselves. All they really need is a smartphone. Video editing software can be used to increase production values.

Chain stories: Each section of the story is created by a different member, pair, or small group in the class. For example, in Lesson 1, each group writes the beginning. In Lesson 2, each group passes their beginning to another group who write the middle section. Do the same with the final part and then return the stories to the group who wrote the first parts. Then, each group can create use digital tools to present their completed story.

In my experience, all English language learners, young learners and adults, find digital storytelling activities stimulating and beneficial to their language learning. The sense of accomplishment they feel on completion of a storytelling project does wonders for their confidence too.

7 Must-Listen Podcasts for English Language Teachers

Podcasts are a great resource for English language teachers interested in professional development.

Teacher trainers on TESOL courses and by Directors of Studies can use podcasts as part of their CPD (Continuous Professional Development) programme for their teaching team.

What are Podcasts?

Podcasts are audio files, which can be uploaded to your phone, tablet, mp3 player, laptop or desktop computer and listened to at any time. They are basically radio programmes which can be listened to at home, at work, in the office, on public transport, in the car, in the gym, or while going for a walk or a run.

There are a number of podcasts available for English language teachers, for novice teaching and experienced professionals, and I will list a number of them in this post.

Some of them are only about teaching English while others deal with the broader fields of SLA (second language acquisition) and language teacher education.

7 Great Podcasts for English Language Teachers

The TEFL Show

This is a 30-minute podcast hosted by Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert McCaul, which deals with such issues as:

  • Teaching pronunciation
  • Taking the Diploma DELTA
  • Non-native English speaker teachers (NNESTs)
  • Teaching lexically

Style and Intended Listener: This is a podcast for more experienced teachers who are serious about the profession. The hosts are experienced teachers and trainers who discuss the topics in depth but always make sure they offer lots of practical tips and advice. There are some interesting guests too.

TEFL Training Institute

Ross Thornburn and Tracey Yu are the hosts of this podcast which deals with a range of issues including:

  • Career paths in teaching training
  • Reflective teaching
  • Learner and Teacher autonomy
  • Teaching listening

Style and Intended Listener:

Most episodes last for between 15 and 20 minutes, which means that topics are rarely dealt with in too much depth. However, this means the podcast provides an overview of the issues and the hosts (and frequent guests) keep things light and accessible.

The episodes on professional development and career options are particularly good, which makes the show useful listening for teachers looking to move into management or training roles.



TEFL Commute

The hosts, Lindsay Clanfield, Shawn Wilden and James Taylor, are familiar names in the industry. This light-hearted show deals with issues not normally associated with English language teaching such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Stationary
  • Alphabets
  • Staffroom
  • Clothes

Style and Intended Listener:

The hosts describe the show as a podcast for language teachers that is not about teaching. However, teaching-related issues (and lots of anecdotes) are not avoided for long.

What makes this show different is that the hosts are irreverent and love discussing some of the more bizarre aspects of life and teaching. It’s a fun show and thought-provoking at times.

The TEFLology Podcast

The hosts of this podcast (Matthew Schaefer, Matthew Turner, Robert Lowe) all work at universities in Japan. The show features frequent guests, many of whom are academics) and this means the show deals with complex issues:

  • Global Englishes
  • Bilingual Education
  • Critical Issues in ELT textbooks
  • Teacher Identities and Gender in ELT

Style and Intended Listener:

This podcast is probably aimed at experienced teachers who are familiar with SLA (Second Language Acquisition) theory. It’s ideal for teachers studying advanced teaching qualifications, such as the Diploma DELTA or Trinity Diploma (Dip TESOL) or an MA in Applied Linguistics. That doesn’t mean it’s a difficult listen, just that the interviews and issues discussed are more appropriate for teachers interested in the history, approaches and methods of language education.

Language Learning and Teaching Podcasts

Tea with BVP

This podcast deals with SLA and language teaching and is hosted by Profesor of Spanish and stand-up comedian Bill Van Patten (the BVP of the title). It provides a blend of serious discussion about methods and approaches with lots of humour. The format is unusual as listeners call in with their questions. Topics discussed include:

  • What is fluency?
  • Is fossilization real?
  • The role of conscious knowledge in SLA
  • What are appropriate goals for language acquisition?

Style and Intended Listener:

This is another podcast aimed at more experienced teachers with an interest in SLA. The host has some strong views and is not afraid to share them; he is not a fan of coursebooks for example.

Some episodes are quite long and the host does go off on tangents, so it’s not ideal for listeners looking for concise summaries of teaching issues.

Language Fuel

This is a new podcast presented by a team of teachers from New Zealand. This is an interview show aimed at people who love learning and teaching languages, so some of the issues are not directly related to English language teachers. However, each episode provides lots of food for thought about language teaching issues:

  • Dictionaries: To use or not to use
  • Creating (pseudo) immersion techniques
  • Understanding BYOD (Bring your own devices)
  • Self-directed language learning

Style and Intended Listener:

This podcast looks at changes and new approaches to language learning and teaching, making it a good listen for experienced teachers and newer teachers interested in novel teaching ideas.

Many of the interviewees teach other languages rather than English, so this is a great podcast for teachers looking for inspiration and ideas from outside the traditional English teaching sector.

I will teach you a language

This final podcast is actually aimed at language learners rather than teachers. What makes it so useful is that it provides plenty of ideas for teachers looking to encourage learner autonomy. The host, a former teacher and polyglot Olly Richards, answers questions from listeners such as:

  • Do you use apps in language learning?
  • What are the benefits of monolingual flashcards?
  • Should I rely on Google translate?
  • Adapting the Memory Palace techniques

Style and Intended Listener:

Episodes are generally short (20mins) which makes it a good listen for commuters. The podcast takes language learning out of the classroom and deals with the possibilities of using digital technology, mind hacks, and cognitive learning techniques to learn languages.

English language teachers interested in using technology or with an interest in motivation, cognitive theory and learning strategies can benefit from listening to this show.


Ideas for Podcasts for English Language Teachers

I made a few podcasts episodes a few years ago and the technological side was fairly complicated. Nowadays anybody can make a decent sounding podcast for English language teachers. All you really need is a smartphone, dictaphone or USB microphone.

I’ve got a few ideas about possible shows:

  • Interviews with successful English language learners. Successful learners have so much to teach us about learning strategies, maintaining motivation, useful resources, and feedback on what worked and what didn’t work for them in the classroom.
  • Teacher training. Many teachers do not have time or funds to attend teacher development courses. Podcasts do not provide the interactive benefits of face-to-face training, but training-focused podcasts could be a cheap alternative.
  • Context-specific podcasts. What is it like to teach in China or Spain? A podcast related to local issues could be really useful for teachers planning to work in specific countries or teaching contexts.
  • Vox pop Interviews with teachers. Most podcasts book guests with something to promote or interesting research to publicise. What about interviews with teachers in the field?
  • Lesson recordings. I’m not sure anybody would want to listen to a whole lesson. However, lessons can be recorded easily and segments could be extracted for analysis by teachers. Lots of micro-teaching feedback.
What about you? What shows would interest you?

I’m sure I’ve missed out a number of great English teaching and language teaching podcasts. Please let me know about of your favourites and I can add them to the list.


The one book you need before starting your Trinity Cert TESOL

Book Review: Jason Anderson: Trinity Cert TESOL Companion

Disclaimer: The author of this Trinity Cert TESOL guide is a former colleague. I was asked to look at samples before publication and provided a number of quotes found in the book.

However, I still stand by what I say in the review: It’s a really useful reference for trainee teachers.

I’ve been working as a Course Director and Course Tutor on Trinity Cert TESOL courses since 2011. I love the practical nature of the course and find training teachers to be an incredibly rewarding job.

If you are thinking of becoming an English language teacher and want a quick and easy read about the basics of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) you can download my Amazon bestseller here: A Short Guide to TEFL.

But, the course can be really intense and this is partly due to its procedural aspects. On every course, we have to convey a great deal of information to the trainees about the different units and related documentation – this takes ages.

So, one reason why this book is so useful is that it clearly explains the nature of each unit, what the assignments and projects consist of, and what you have to do in order to pass them.

Another reason why this book is worth buying is that it follow’s Einstein’s notion of making things as simple as they need to be but no simpler. The book doesn’t talk down to the reader. Trinity Cert TESOL courses are considered to be as difficult as a second-year university programme, which means that trainee teachers have to use their grey cells; they are not spoon fed. It is perfectly pitched at an intelligent adult without any or much teaching experience.

In fact, I would suggest that this book is ideal for anybody taking a TEFL course (Trinity TESOL , Cambridge CELTA, TEFL). Although it has been specifically written for Trinity Cert TESOL trainees, much of it applies to any initial English language teacher training course.

Finally, this book is an essential reference and resource for any course trainer / tutor / provider as it is full of ideas for workshops and training sessions.

The author, Jason Anderson, has also published a number of other useful books and materials for teachers. Check out his website here: Jason Anderson.


10 Reasons Why You Should Teach English in Spain

There are many reasons why you might want to teach English here in Spain. Read on…

If you have never considered living and working in Spain, maybe you should. The Spanish tourism industry uses the slogan ‘Spain is different’ and this is certainly true. It is a country with amazing natural resources and a wide range of vibrant and culturally-rich regions to suit all tastes.

So, if you can imagine yourself sipping a cocktail on a beach, wandering through a green valley, visiting some of the world’s most architecturally impressive monuments, or simply sitting in a plaza drinking a coffee and watching the world go by, read on and find out how you can live your dream in Espana and find a rewarding job to fund your stay.

By learning how to teach English as a foreign language, you can find work in Spain, or indeed, anywhere else in the world where people want to speak better English and make a difference while doing so. All you need to do in order to teach English is to obtain a TEFL / TESOL certificate (especially accredited ones like the Trinity Cert TESOL). These four-week courses will teach you the basics of teaching the English language and creating effective and dynamic lessons for your students. And, if you have a yearning to live in Spain, there is no better place to take the course. There are courses all over Spain but we recommend Granada!

Here are 10 reasons to take a TEFL course in Spain:

1. You can learn or brush up on your Spanish while you are doing the course. Spanish is one of the world’s global languages and is actually spoken as a first language by more people than English. If you take a TEFL course in Spain, you will be immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment. It’s a reasonably easy language to learn for English speakers as well.

2. You can experience a vibrant, exciting culture. If you want to teach Spanish people, it really helps if you get to know about their cultural values, what they think, how they feel and what they do in their daily lives. Spain isn’t for everybody, although most people love it here, you can get a feel for the life and the people here by taking a course in situ.

3. There are lots of jobs available. Even though Spain is in the middle of an economic depression, one industry is actually booming: English language teaching. Spanish, like Brits, are unfairly regarded as being poor at learning languages. It is perhaps more accurate to say that Spanish, like Brits, were not particularly motivated. Things have changed, however, and Spaniards are enrolling in language courses in droves. In particular, if you enjoy teaching children and are good at doing so, you will be turning down work!

4. Spanish people really, really need to learn English. Many Spaniards are seeking employment abroad, in the UK, in the USA, Germany, Scandinavian countries, all over the world. One of the main requirements for international jobs is the ability to speak English and this is an ability that is is difficult to fake. Internationally-recognised English language exams, such as the Cambridghighly valued by employers and the demand for teaching these exams outstrips the supply of teachers. Also, university students in Spain are now required to demonstrate they have a particular level of English before graduating.

5. You are making a real difference to people’s lives. Teaching English can produce tangible rewards. As your learners grow in confidence and ability when speaking English, you will feel that you are making a valuable contribution. My learners have gone on to find work and develop their education because I have helped them improve their English. Speaking better English can lead to an increase in the quality of life and I have hundreds of students who would testify to that.

6. Spain is different but not too different. While I have suffered from culture shock in Spain, it certainly wasn’t as dramatic as in other countries I have lived in. Spain is a modern European country in many respects and you can find home comforts easily here – you can even buy Marmite in some of the bigger supermarkets here! There is also a lively expat scene should you find the need to reconnect with your roots. Finally, cheap flights back to the UK or other parts of Europe are plentiful here.

7. Cost of living here is not too high. Spain certainly isn’t as cheap as it was and consumer goods can be more expensive here than back home. However, the simple pleasures in life, a coffee, a beer, a good meal, are more affordable than in most other countries in Western Europe. Rent outside of Madrid and Barcelona have dropped in recent years and you can find flats in smaller cities, such as Granada, for a few hundred euros a month. Rooms in shared flats can be very economical. Transport is reasonable here too so you can spend your weekends visiting some of the delights that the Iberian peninsula has to offer.

8. Fiestas! Fiestas! For an average Brit, the amount of local and national holidays here in Spain in bewildering but very welcome – you are never far from a long weekend. Spanish are also fond of the ‘puente’ (bridge in English): if a holiday falls on a Thursday, you will probably find that Friday is also added to make a long weekend! Another bonus for English teachers is that in some parts of Spain, you will have a four-day week as many students won’t want classes on Friday.

9. The sun! There are parts of Spain which are wet and cold, especially in the north, but, in general, you will see the sun much more here than you do in the UK. It really makes a difference to your overall well-being and you’ll end up leading an outdoor life here so that meeting a few friends for a mid-afternoon beer in a terraza (a space outdoors to drink and eat) will become a habit before long. If you are into sports, you’ll find lots of opportunities to practise them here and there are plenty of parks even in the big cities.

10. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. Living abroad is a wonderful opportunity which will enrich your life. It can be challenging and stressful but it is rarely boring and gives you the opportunity to learn new skills and develop on a personal level. Teaching English is not easy: you have to learn to be creative, resourceful and manage your time and your classes. Even if you don’t end up making it your profession, you’ll certainly learn lots of useful skills doing so.

Find out more about Teaching English by getting my free ebook here: A Short Guide to TEFL

So, I hope I have convinced you of the reasons for teaching English in Spain. Your next step is to look at training courses.

Thinking about teaching English in Spain?

Are you thinking about teaching English in Spain?

There are thousands of English teachers working in Spain. Why are they here? What keeps them here? Why don’t they go home? What’s life like here for English teachers?

Let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t want to live and work in this wonderful country? The sun, the sand, the sea, the siesta, the sangria, and lots of other things being with the letter ‘s’.

Just like most things in life, living and working in Spain has its pros and cons. Speak to a few people who have been here a few years and they will tell you some awful stories about problems with landlords, bosses, bureaucracy, surly waiters and so on.

Most fluent English speakers living in Spain teach English at some time or another. A few do it for a couple of years while they are finding their feet and learning / failing to learn Spanish.

Other people do it to supplement other work (writers, musicians, artists) and there are even a few odd people (like your humble writer) who end up working in the English teaching industry for good. All in all, it’s not a bad life… 

So, in this post, I’d like to answer a few questions about teaching English in Spain. My answers are based on personal experience, anecdotes, observations, and my knowledge about the industry here.

To begin with:

Are you the type of person who is cut out to teach English as a foreign language in Spain?

There are a couple of essential requirements:

You must speak and write English reasonably well. You don’t need a degree in Linguistics, but you need to communicate clearly. The CEFR (Common European Framework of Languages) should help you here. As a teacher, you should have a C1 or C2 level in English. Most educated native speakers of English will have this level and many non-native English speakers (people who speak English as a second, foreign or additional language) have this level too.

You need to have a patient and friendly personality – or have the ability to fake these qualities! Being fairly organised helps, as does having the ability to manage stress levels (yours and your students).

There must be other qualities or requirements to teach English in Spain!

The honest truth is that there are some oddballs teaching English in academies all over Spain. Spanish language academies can be a little lax in terms of letting teachers into English classrooms. This lack of regulation combined with a massive demand for English teachers means that there are people working in classrooms who shouldn’t be working in the industry.

Things are looking up, however, and these teachers (many of them unqualified) find it increasingly hard to find work.

In fact, it might be more useful to list what requirements you don’t need to teach English:

You don’t need to be a native speaker of English. Some of the best teachers are non-native English speaker teachers (sometimes known as NNESTs).

You don’t need to have a university degree, but it probably helps. In some countries, only graduates are employed as EFL teachers; not in Spain.

You don’t need to speak Spanish, but that also helps. Lots of teachers work with young learners so learning to say ‘Shut up’ and ‘Pedro, stop stabbing Miguel in the leg with your pencil’ may be useful in terms of classroom management.

You don’t need to have a TEFL certificate, but would you really want to teach without any experience or training?

Do you really need to take a TEFL course to teach English in Spain?

Teaching English, whether to young learners or adults, can be challenging. Kids can be terrifying if you don’t learn the basics of classroom management and adults will complain if you are not able to answer their questions about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

Training is required if you want to teach well and keep your job. Most TEFL courses will teach you the basics of language awareness – I had a degree in English literature but didn’t know what an adverb was before starting my training.

You will also learn lots of practical techniques and strategies for planning and delivering effective classes.

My advice here is simple: get trained up! 

So, which TEFL course should you take?

There are several options:

  • Online TEFL courses
  • Weekend TEFL courses
  • Blended TEFL courses (online and face-to-face)
  • 4-week full-time TEFL courses (120 hrs +)
  • Part-time TEFL courses (120 hrs+)

Unless you have significant teaching experience in a related area, I would always recommend a full-time or part-time face-to-face TEFL course, because you will get real teaching experience.

There is nothing like practical training to prepare you for the language classroom. Online courses are fine to help you learn some theoretical knowledge about second language acquisition and the technical aspects of the English language.

What you get on a face-to-face course is the opportunity to put what you learn into practice. Most TEFL courses require you to teach for a minimum of 6 hours and these lessons will be observed by your trainers, who will do their best to help you meet the standards required of the course.

But, there are lots of different 4-week TEFL courses? Which ones are the best?

Like many things in life, you pay a little more for quality. Here are the basic requirements for a TEFL course:

  • 120-hrs or more
  • At least 6 hrs of observed teaching practice with real learners of English
  • Qualified and experienced trainers
  • External moderation / assessment

Courses which are externally moderated or assessed cost more because the training providers have to pay for the accreditation to ensure quality control.

Unaccredited courses may be excellent, but there is no guarantee that they meet international standards.

Many TEFL trainees are left rather disappointed when they receive their TEFL certificate after four weeks of blood, sweat and tears, only to find out that nobody wants to employ them because their certificates are not recognised.

There are two brand leaders in the TEFL world: Cambridge and Trinity College, London. These venerable institutions validate CELTA (Cambridge) and Cert.TESOL (Trinity) courses.

These two certificates will increase your chances of finding work in Spain because many employers respect and trust the quality of the training.

They are also the best choices if you are considering forging a career in English teaching, would like to work at the British Council or International House, or would like to work in the UK at an English school.

In other words, these courses are more expensive but they will open more doors.

So, where should you do the course? Spain or your home country?

There are lots of CELTA and Trinity Cert.TESOL courses but you might want to consider doing one in Spain if you have the time and the money. There are several reasons why this is a good option:

  • Teaching Spanish students will prepare you for teaching in Spain
  • Learn or brush up on your Spanish
  • Get a feel for the culture
  • Make some local contacts
  • Start applying for jobs (most academies want to meet you in person before offering you work)
  • Build up a support group of fellow trainee teachers who also want to live and work in Spain.

I hope I have convinced you to take your TEFL training in Spain.

You could do a lot worse than come to Granada…..
  • low cost of living
  • wonderful monuments (The Alhambra! Swoon!!)
  • surprisingly varied nightlife and cultural events (punk rock to flamenco to poetry)
  • lots of demand for English teachers (It’s a university city)
  • easy access to the mountains (Sierra Nevada) and the beach
  • Free tapas with every drink!!

If you would like to chat about doing our Trinity Cert TESOL course in Granada, contact us now.

10 Guiding Principles of TEFL

The 10 Guiding Principles of TEFL

An Accidental Manifesto

By Dylan Gates


This was a post I wrote over 5 years’ ago. I’m not sure I still agree with a couple of the points but any comments are welcome.

Somebody asked me if I had a philosophy about TEFL, a manifesto if you like, perhaps a mission statement, a set of general beliefs about teaching English to speakers of other languages. I laughed and said I didn’t really believe in grand statements. Besides, I was watching the Wimbledon semi-final and didn’t want to be distracted.

A couple of days later, I read a blog post and it got me thinking about creating my own manifesto for TEFL. I’m not for one moment suggesting that I have found the secret to successful English language teaching, but I’d like to think that I have found a set of guiding principles that I generally follow when teaching, and suggest that my trainees follow when I am delivering TEFL training courses.

My 10 guiding principles of TEFL

  1. Learners need to practise using English, not the teacher.
  2. The learners are your best resource.
  3. Teaching doesn’t necessarily result in learning.
  4. If there was a magic pill to help learn a language, everybody would take it.
  5. Knowing how a car is built doesn’t mean you are a good driver.
  6. Learning a second language is like building your own house to live in.
  7.  Speaking and writing are 2 nations separated by a common language.
  8. Make grammar presentations as simple as possible but no simpler.
  9. Base your lessons around your learners’ needs and interests not your own.
  10. An empty room with 2 people and something to write and draw on can be the best way to learn.


  1. Learners need to practise using English, not the teacher.

When I started teaching, I loved being the centre of attention, making my students laugh and generally hamming it up. I feel like the actor-director in my own film with a particularly appreciative audience. However, over time, I started noticing that the learners weren’t really improving at the rate I had expected. They seemed to be enjoying the classes but a few comments on the ‘anonymous’ feedback forms were ever-so-slightly critical. “He’s a very funny teacher but I am not sure I learn enough” wrote one. Another commented “Good energy but I don’t speak too much in class” added another.

If you find yourself doing most of the talking, you are not letting your learners practise. Put a sock in it!

  1. The learners are the best resource.

Let’s face it, most people like talking about one thing in particular: themselves! We all want to contribute in some way, to express our ideas, views, opinions and show the world who we really are. Using too many published resources in the class results in an over-reliance on other people’s words and interests. Most coursebooks are fairly bland, are often Anglo-centric, and don’t really engage your average student. The topics are often relevant due to their universality but the specifics aren’t. Use these materials as a starting point for discussions about your learners’ lives.

  1. Teaching doesn’t necessarily result in learning.

Remember the idiom “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I believe the same applies to learners. No amount of explanation, explication and exposition can make somebody learn English, if they are not receptive. We are starting to realise that we teach ourselves to a large extent. Also, we often learn more from our peers than our teachers! Have a look at this TED talk and wonder if we haven’t got it wrong for the last couple of millennia.

  1. If there was a magic pill to help learn a language, everybody would take it.

Learning a language can be a slog, you feel like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll down again. Yet, I find myself thinking that our belief that learning a language is a struggle leads to it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. We set ourselves unrealistic targets and compare ourselves to our peers, usually the strong ones, and berate ourselves for our failures rather than celebrate our, often incremental, achievements. Learning a language is a tour not a quick trip. Make sure your learners know that but also praise them for their efforts and their successes.

5. Knowing how a car is built doesn’t mean you are a good driver.

One day, I observed a trainee teacher giving a grammar lesson to a group of Advanced level learners. During feedback, he complained that the learners didn’t even know what the present perfect was so had spent 20 minutes giving a detailed explanation of when, why and how we use it. When I pointed out, that they had used this tense successfully in his opening activity and less successfully in his final activity, he was lost for words. I asked him if he had known what the present perfect was before he had enrolled on the course and he shook his head. I asked if he was able to use it in oral and written communication before he had enrolled on the TEFL course and he laughed as the penny finally dropped. He offered an interesting analogy, comparing learning a language like driving a car. Certain actions become automatic over time, you do them naturally, without thinking about the mechanics. Isn’t that what language learners aspire to? To have tacit knowledge (knowing how to do something through experience and practice) rather than explicit knowledge (knowing how to describe this knowledge / ability).

  1. Learning a second language is like building your own house to live in.

When I explain the concept of interlanguage to my trainee teachers we discuss what happens when you build a house. You lay the foundations, construct a framework, add walls, floors etc, do some internal fitting and then get round to decorating it. Of course, most house owners don’t stop there, they make constant adjustments and modifications as time passes. In other words, a house never reaches a state of perfection, it is in a perpetual state of evolution. I then ask my trainees when they think a  construction becomes a house – not an easy question to answer! Some people think that the construction is recognisably a house when the framework has been erected. Others prefer to wait until the 3D TV has been installed and wifi connectivity in every room. My own belief is that each individual has the right to build their own construction and they determine when they think it is fit for living in.

You can live in a hut or a palace but your learners have to decide what kind of home they want to live in.

  1.  Speaking and writing are 2 skills separated by a common language.

When I worked as a Director of Studies at a school in London, one of my teachers asked me if she could move a student down a level. I knew this student – but had never taught him – and mentioned that I felt he was a fluent and confident speaker and almost ready to move up a level!

Oh yes, he’s very good at speaking, but his writing’s terrible and his spelling is atrocious!” she replied.

Learners are rarely balanced in terms of the four skills, just like native speakers. If you have the gift of the gab, does that make you a great writer? Are expert novelists captivating conversationalists?

Communicative competence (a learner’s ability to use language to perform communicative acts ) needs to be taken into consideration as well as the learner’s specific needs. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with categorising learners rarely works; they have their own strengths and weaknesses and we have to try to deal with them on an individual basis.

  1. Make grammar presentations as simple as possible but no simpler.

Many adult learners believe that formal, explicit grammar study helps them learn a language. As mentioned above, they might gain explicit knowledge of grammar rules but there is little evidence to suggest that explicit learning of grammar results in tacit knowledge, which can be applied in communicative situations. This is an age-old discussion in the field of language learning so I don’t want to dwell on it. But, my experience convinces me that simple, contextual analysis of language works far better for most students than lots of complex detail. You may impress your learners with your infinite knowledge of the English language but how much of this information will they retain? When I watch trainee teachers drowning their learners in linguistic analysis, I think of the book ‘A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkings. It has sold over 1o million copies but how many people have actually read it? And, of those who have, have many actually understood it?

  1. Base your lessons around your learners’ needs and interests not your own.

A no-brainer this one! Find out what they need and what they like and use this data as the basis for your classes. Over time, you might be able to introduce them to topics that interest you but the bottom line is they will be more engaged, motivated and responsive if they feel that their needs are being addressed. If they trust and respect your judgement, you can make suggestions about what you feel they need and they will be willing to follow your advice.

  1. An empty room with 2 people and something to write on can be the best way to learn.

If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I’d define myself as a Dogme / Teaching unplugged teacher. Learning is communicating and communicating is learning. Everything else (coursebooks, technology etc.) can be defined as learning aids but they are not indispensable. Let your learners express themselves, respond appropriately to the content (what they said) and form (how they said it) and work on improving their ability to express themselves clearly and confidently.

So, I seem to have inadvertently created some kind of manifesto. I’m off to buy a beret, grow a beard and learn how to play “La Marseillaise” on my ukelele.

Happy teaching and please join me at


Supportive Observations in ELT

Observations in ELT should be supportive not just evaluative, but how often is this the case?

When I started training teachers on TEFL courses, our Course Director told us that he wanted all members of the training team to observe each other. One of the trainers, an experienced TEFL Q (DELTA-qualified) teacher, managed to avoid being observed for nearly a month. She would agree a time for an observation and then, often at the last minute, come up with an excuse and try to reschedule.

Finally, she had to admit the truth: being observed terrified her. She had gone through a series of assessed observations on her DELTA Diploma training and this had scarred her for life.

Even experienced teachers often feel uncomfortable when an outsider enters their classroom. There is probably a significant psychological component to this. Self-efficacy,  one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task, can affect how we feel when we are observed by other teachers:

We may believe we are skilled and competent teachers because we get positive feedback from our learners, but there is always the risk that an experienced professional observing our classes may not have such a positive opinion regarding our skills, competencies, and overall teaching approach.

This might not be such a bad thing; we may not have an accurate assessment of our actual teaching ability. However, conflict may arise if our observers have a significantly different idea of best practice to our own.

But, I wonder if this risk of damaging our self-image as teachers results from an institutional failure in many language schools and academies to identify the true purpose, in my opinion, of observing teachers. I have had many conversations with experienced teachers who have complained about the observation policy at their academies being too focused on assessment and evaluation.

What I propose in this blog post is that observations, especially those of experienced teachers, should be primarily designed to encourage professional development rather than serve as an assessment tool.

Many academies seem to adopt the following approach when observing teachers. The Director of Studies informs their teachers that they will be observed. A timetable is created and teachers are asked to submit lesson plans before each observed lesson. The DoS (Director of Studies) observes their teachers and arranges a time to give feedback.

Feedback consists of the DoS and the teacher discussing whether a set of criteria were met and to what extent. A set of action points may be agreed and the teacher is expected to work on acquiring new skills and improving their weak points.

In my opinion, there is one major flaw in this approach:

Teachers on English language courses do not give discrete lessons; they teach over a number of lessons.

Observers have no real way of knowing what the teachers and students did in previous lessons leading up to the observation. Teachers do more than just teach a discrete language point; they build rapport, create a classroom atmosphere conducive to learning, they diagnose individual strengths and weaknesses, they negotiate a syllabus with their learners, they recycle target language etc.

To use an analogy; imagine I wanted to know whether it was worth watching a long-running TV show such as Games of Thrones. Would you recommend that I watch Episode 4 from Series 5 and base my assessment of the quality of the show from this isolated sample? I very much doubt that this would be a sensible recommendation.

If observations are to be used for assessment or evaluative purposes, then surely it would make more sense to observe over the duration of a course rather than a single lesson.

How can observations be more supportive?

There are a number of approaches which could be implemented to change observations from being an assessment tool to being a system for encouraging professional development.

Firstly, why should Director of Studies be the only people who conduct observations?

Senior teachers, who may need to be trained in observation skills, should be able to fulfil the requirements of the role but may be perceived by teachers as mentors rather than assessors, reducing the level of stress teachers may feel when being observed, which, in turn, should result in them giving more relaxed lessons.

The other reason why Senior Teachers may be more suited to observing teachers than a DoS is that this may reduce the observer effect, which states that the presence of the observer may have a significant effect on the phenomenon being observed. Experience tells me that both teachers and learners act quite differently when they are aware of the presence of the observer, especially when that observed is a figure of authority.

Secondly, planned observations may not demonstrate what a teacher normally does in the classroom.

When your DoS tells you that you are being observed next week, you are likely to do one or all of the following:

  • spend hours, maybe even days, planning an amazing lesson
  • repeat a lesson which you have given successfully a number of times (your showcase lesson).
  • tell your students that they are being observed and train them to behave and respond in a way which will meet the approval of the observer. Confession alert here: I once gave a lesson on a Monday and told the students that I would repeat the lesson the next day when I was being observed. The students were happy to collaborate in this deceit as I bribed them with the promise of free cakes!
  • spend the time before the observed lesson procrastinating about what to teach, getting increasingly anxious as the lesson approaches, only to implode in the observed lesson due to your high-stress levels.

When we give teachers advanced warning of their observation, they may respond by giving a wonderful lesson (which shows their potential) or they may panic and give a substandard class (which shows how they respond to stress). Unless teachers are used to being observed, they are not likely to give a representative lesson which means calls into question the validity of the observation process.

There are other approaches academies could take.

Involve teachers in deciding on the observation process and criteria.

Observations must be relevant to the teaching context. When I worked as a DoS, I used a fairly generic observation template without really evaluating the validity and appropriacy of the criteria. Why not hold a meeting with teachers and decide upon the observation criteria and the observation process. This would provide two clear benefits: the observations would be related to the actual needs of the teachers and this would also encourage them to invest in the whole observation process.

Peer observations could be encouraged so teachers get used to having observers in their classes.

This could be done in two stages. The first stage could consist of the observers noting down what they liked about the class and what they learned from observing their peers (positive feedback). The second stage would require the teacher to ask their peer to focus on aspects of teaching they would like to improve (negative feedback) and suggest improvement strategies.

The DoS (or whoever is observing) could do shorter but more frequent observations so they get to see what normally goes on in classes.

The information collected from these mini-observations could then be collated and feedback could be given to the teaching body and not just individual teachers. The advantage of this approach is that the Director of Studies gets a wider perspective on what is going on at the school, which can help with standardising best practice.

Another benefit of this approach to observations is that the DoS may discover that certain teachers have a talent or innovative approach in relation to a particular aspect of teaching. For example, a teacher may have wonderful board work. This teacher could then be encouraged to give a skills workshop for the other teachers.

Teachers could record (audio or video) segments of their lessons over a period of time and then submit a report (including the recorded samples) to their Director of Studies.

Feedback would then consist of the DoS and the teacher discussing the findings of the report and agreeing on action points.

In this post, I have made a few suggestions about adopting a different approach to observing teachers. They are certainly not intended to be prescriptive; each school or academy should consider what approach will produce the most beneficial results in relation to the quality of teaching provided.

If you are interested in some simple formative observation tasks for the EFL / ELT classroom, click on the image below:

Peer observation in TEFL

Observing EFL teachers




8 Reasons Why Learning Idioms is Easier than you Think

Learning idioms is an impossible task. There are thousands of them in English and you have to learn every single one!

Just kidding! There may be as many as 25,000 idioms in English and I doubt that I use more than a few hundred on a regular basis. But, as a native speaker of English, I am able to understand most idioms when I hear them because I can guess the approximate meaning from the context.

As an English learner, you won’t be able to guess the meaning from the context as quickly or as easily as me,  but you’re probably much better at it than you might think.

Let’s have a try:

Jack: I’m starving. I could eat a horse.

Mary: There’s some pizza from last night in the fridge.

So, what does the idiom ‘I could eat a horse’ mean?

That’s right – we use it to say that somebody is starving (very hungry).

What can make learning idioms difficult is that the words used separately often have a basic and common meaning, but are used to refer to something else when used in an idiom.

Words can have two or more meanings. One meaning (the common and basic one) is literal and the other (used as a metaphor or to symbolise something else) is the figurative meaning.

Idioms are fixed expressions which have a figurative meaning. Knowing the individual words may not help you understand the idiom.

The problem is that many English teachers will sympathise with your struggle with idioms. They say things like:

Yes, idioms are really difficult for English learners. Maybe you should just learn grammar.

Well, I would disagree with this view. Idioms can seem strange at first but they are not randomly generated – there is always a story behind every idiom, even if the roots of the idiom go back hundreds of years.

The idiom above probably refers to the fact that the horse was seen as a noble animal and was also extremely valuable as a form of transport, unlike a cow or a goat. Therefore, you only actually ate a horse as a last resort – if you were lost in the wilderness with nothing to eat. I doubt that this idiom is used in countries where horse meat is eaten.

In this post, I would like to persuade you that learning idioms is not so difficult and can even be fun.

Reason 1 – Idioms are fun

In my two decades as an English teacher, I can’t remember a student coming up to me to say: learning grammar rules is great fun. But, many students have told me how enjoyable they found a lesson on learning idioms.

One of my favourite idioms is ‘to run around like a headless chicken’. Watch this video below for an explanation.

By the way, if you like the video and want to learn more Business English idioms, you can get my video course here.

Idioms help make ideas, concepts, situations, and feelings more real. They work like stories, using unusual images to reveal something about life. This makes them memorable.

Reason 2 – Idioms are usually fixed expressions

You can’t make many changes to an idiom. Apart from changing the verb tense (and this isn’t often necessary), you don’t tend to alter idioms. They are generally fixed expressions, which means the grammar and the word order can’t be modified much.

To remember them, what you have to do is focus on the content words (nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs). As long as you learn the essential parts, you should be able to remember the meaning of the idiom when you hear it.

To run around like a headless chicken has three key words – run, headless, chicken. The grammar words (around, like, a) are not so important and you could even say something like ‘he is running in the same way as a headless chicken’ and native or proficient English speakers would understand what you’re trying to say.

In other words, make learning the content words in an idiom your priority – the grammar words will come with practice and exposure.

Reason 3 – Idioms usually refer to the physical world

Do you remember the difference between concrete and abstract nouns? Concrete nouns are things we can see, hear, feel, touch, and even taste, whereas abstract nouns do not have a physical state. A horse is a concrete noun but happiness is an abstract one.

Most idioms use physical references. They refer to real objects and actions in the physical world. Many idioms are decades of even centuries old and commonly refer to people, actions, animals, geography, cultural practices, food and drink, sports, modes of transport.

This makes them easier to remember and easier to access from your long-term memory because they are stored as images. If I ask you to think of a horse or a mountain, your brain instantly selects an image. Your horse or mountain may not be the same as mine, but we would both recognise each other’s images. When we think of happiness, we may recall events or feelings, and our ‘mental references’ may be very different.

Which is why you should use images to record idioms. Make simple flashcards with the idiom written next to the image.





Reason 4 – Your language may have a similar idiom

In English, there is an idiom ‘to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth‘ which means to be born into a rich family. In Spanish, the idiom is “nacer en cuna de oro” which translates as ‘to be born in a golden crib (the object that babies sleep in).

The idea behind the idiom is the same in each language. It doesn’t require much mental work to make the connection between ‘a silver spoon’ and ‘a golden crib’.

Now, many teachers may tell you not to translate an idiom from your language into English. This is a misguided view, in my opinion, because adult learners are likely to look for a conceptually-related idiom in their first language automatically. And you are not translating word to word; you are connecting concepts.

So, when you hear a new idiom, try to match it to an idiom in your language and focus on the concept not the specific details.

Reason 5: Idioms often repeat sounds

You know when you hear a song for the first time and spend the rest of the day singing the chorus. Well, idioms are often catchy too. They have been passed on from person to person, becoming more concise and memorable in the process.

There is also a special effect found in many idioms: alliteration. This s when a sound is repeated at the beginning of words. Here are some examples of alliterative idioms:

tried and tested

below the belt

the grass is always greener

beat round the bush

a dime a dozen

cutting corners

curiosity killed the cat

It takes two to tango.

your guess is as good as mine

Reason 6: Idioms are like memes, short and sweet

In the digital age, things which are memorable get shared on social media. Striking images and striking phrases get passed around until they become part of our communal culture. Idioms are basically the forerunners of memes; in a world in which most people couldn’t read, idioms moved like a virus, passing from person to person through spoken (oral) communication.

Our short-term memory doesn’t appear to be very good at storing long phrases, which is why idioms tend to be short and sweet. Longer ones, like ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ tend to get shortened naturally, which is why we don’t always remember full idioms.

Another feature of idioms is that they are grammatically simple. Most idioms use basic conjunctions (and, or, but) and repetition. They are often binominals (two-word expressions) such as ‘rough and ready’ or ‘tried and tested’ or trinominals (three-word expressions) like ‘signed, sealed and delivered’ or ‘cool, calm and collected’.

Another type of idiom is the simile. This is when we compare one thing to another, usually with ‘like’ or ‘as’:

He’s as cunning as a fox.

It worked like a dream.

Reason 7: Idioms often have fascinating, if frequently untrue, back stories

When you watch a film, you often wonder about a character’s motivation. For example, why did Bruce Wayne (Batman) decide to fight crime? If I was rich and handsome, I would choose the life of an international playboy rather than dress up as a bat beating up bad guys!

But, my parents weren’t murdered by a nasty criminal in front of my eyes. That’s Bruce Wayne’s back story, the reason why he became Batman.

Idioms have back stories too, which can help you remember them, although the origins of these idioms should be ‘taken with a pinch of salt’ – you should not believe them 100%.

Have you heard of the idiom ‘ to let the cat out of the bag’?

It means to reveal a secret.

But, what do secrets have to do with cats in bags?

Well, apparently it was a trick played by market traders on the customers back in the 15th century. Imagine you go the market to buy a piglet ( a baby pig) for your Sunday lunch. The market traders used to put piglets in bags or sacks so you picked one up, paid for it, and took it home. Some unscrupulous traders used to put cats in these bags and convince their customers that they were buying piglets. The poor customer had a nasty shock when they got home, opened their bag and found they had bought a worthless cat rather than a delicious piglet. On opening the bag, the secret was revealed!

So, a great way to learn idioms is to read about their origins. Idioms are not created by chance; they almost always refer to real events, actions or objects.

Reason 8: Idioms reflect cultural values

The final reason why idioms are not so difficult to learn is related to reason 7: they reflect cultural values and ideals. Although many idioms are based on specific cultural practices, the deeper values are usually universal. In other words, they express emotions, ideas, concepts and situations which are probably found in your cultural background too.

Idioms deal with universal themes: food, religion, politics, work, family life, art and music, relationships, money. homes, and community.

As I discussed in reason 4, you may have similar idioms in your language. You shouldn’t try to translate them word for word, but you will remember them if you identify the deeper meaning behind them. Once you do that, you will understand them on an emotional, logical, psychological, intellectual, socio-cultural and maybe even spiritual level.

The idiom mentioned earlier (the grass is always greener on the other side) reflects that universal feeling of wanting to change your life by changing your environment. This is a feeling we all experience at some point in life.

So, I hope I have convinced you to keep learning idioms. Understanding them is more important than using them, so take your time and don’t start using them until you are ready. But, understanding them will really help when you are having natural conversations with native and proficient English speakers. You’ll be able to follow their thoughts and keep up with the flow of the conversation. And when you actually start using them, they will be extremely impressed!

If you would like to learn common idioms we use at work, you might be interested in my course on Business English Idioms.

Here is an example lesson:

You can get the course by clicking on the image below.

Great speaking pace. Very nice examples of idioms and opportunities for self-check. Thank you for the course!







3 Deep Questions about how to speak English

At British English Coach, I receive a lot of questions about how to speak English well. The 3 most common questions are:

  1. How do I speak English fluently?
  2. How do I change my accent?
  3. How do I stop making grammar mistakes?

These 3 questions show the problems most of you have when speaking English so I want to examine the beliefs behind these questions in the hope that discussing them helps you gain a clearer understanding of how to improve your speaking skills.

deep questions speak english

How do you speak English fluently?

Most people learning a second or foreign language want to become fluent speakers. They want to speak English with the same amount of confidence and comfort as native speakers.

But, have you ever really thought about the meaning of fluency?

What does fluency mean anyway?

Fluency is difficult to define. According to the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, fluency refers to:

“ the features which give speech the qualities of being natural and normal, including native-like use of pausing, rhythm, intonation, stress, rate of speaking, and use of interjections and interruptions.”

I find this definition problematic  for two reasons.

  • The phrase ‘native-like use’. English, unlike many languages, is spoken as a first language in many different territories and so this phrase ‘native speaker’ encompasses so many different varieties – each with a range of dialects and accents – that the notion of a ‘native speaker of English’ becomes really difficult to define. It becomes even more confusing when we consider the varieties of English in territories where English is an official language alongside local languages. Are bilingual English uses native speakers?
  • Native speakers of English vary considerably in terms of fluency. Some of us hesitate, pause and stumble over words and sounds while other native speakers communicate in a fluid, smooth manner. Rate of speaking differs enormously among native speakers and some non-native speakers have a higher rate of speaking than native speakers.

Reading on, I see there is another definition of fluency in the dictionary:

“In second and foreign language teaching, fluency describes a level of proficiency in communication, which includes:

  • The ability to produce spoken language with ease
  • The ability to speak with a good, but not necessarily perfect command of intonation, vocabulary and grammar
  • The ability to communicate ideas effectively
  • The ability to produce continuous speech without causing comprehension difficulties or a breakdown in communication

This definition seems to me to be far more practical and useful for those of you who are learning English than the former. Becoming as proficient as fluent native speakers is not an easy goal to reach. Moreover, the amount of time, effort and dedication needed to attain native-speaker like competence may not produce a good return on investment.

How do you change your accent?

Before discussing your accent when speaking English, I’d like you to assess your accent when you speak your first language?

  • Do you like your accent?
  • Does your accent ever change depending on who you are speaking with?
  • What are the characteristics of your accent?
  • Are some accents viewed more positively than others in your first language?

When we talk about accents, we tend to generalise. People talk about an American accent, a British accent, or an Italian accents. Yet, accents are incredibly varied and this variety exists within countries (Does a New Yorker have the same accent as a Texan); within regions (Do all people from the North of England have the same accent?); within cities and towns .

Do people from North London speak English exactly the same as people from South London?); between social classes (Do middle-class Londoners have the same accent as working-class Londoners?); between generations (Do elderly people from Edinburgh speak with the same accent as teenagers from the same city?). Also, what differences are there between members of different ethnic /socio-cultural groups within the same local area?

Accents are more complex than we think

When we start to think deeply about accents, we realise that we have a tendency to generalise. We often have an idea about a specific accent and think that applies to all members of a linguistic group.

By thinking about the variety of accents among people who speak our first language, we should be able to understand that there are differences among speakers of every language. These differences result from a complex set of factors: age, social class, geographical location etc.

Why do we think some accents are better than others?

The other notion we have about accents is that some accents are better than others. How do we assess the ‘quality’ of an accent? In the UK, which is a society in which social class is particularly important, RP (received pronunciation) was seen as a prestigious accent and many people deliberately disguised, reduced or changed their accent if they wanted to find professional success.

Most of us are guilty of accent discrimination; we judge people not by their actions but by their accents. But accents reveal so much about us: where we are from; which social class we grew up in. Why should we decide to disguise who we are?

We change our accents when we speak to different people

And that brings me to the next point about accents. Accents are not fixed. We have the ability to adopt different accents. Some people are far better at identifying and appropriating accents than others but we can all do it to a greater or lesser degree. I’m sure that many comedians and actors in your country are known for their ability to shift between different accents.

Even politicians change their accents to suit their audience.  There are often criticised for doing so but some studies suggest that many successful communicators do the same.

Accommodation theory states that we find a middle ground when we communicate. For example, if I have a conversation with an American, I may modify my accent slightly by reducing or dropping some of the features of my accent and adopting some of the features of my conversational partner’s accent; my conversational partner may well do the same. The result may be that we end up speaking with trans-Atlantic  accents, a blend of British and American.

What is a standard accent?

Which is possibly why we value accents which we consider ‘neutral’. Neutral accents do not really exist – many people use the term ‘standard accents’ – but most of us have an idea of accents in our first language which seem to be fairly easy to listen to.

In other words, we tend not to discriminate against people when they speak with this accent, which allows us to concentrate of the content rather than the delivery. These accents do not reveal much background information about the speaker; there are few clues about their social origin.

How do you stop making grammar mistakes when you speak?

When we talk about speaking English skills, we often contrast fluency and accuracy. I have had students who speak fluently yet make many mistakes and students who speak with a high degree of grammatical accuracy and yet lack fluency.

Communication breakdown can occur with fluent but inaccurate speakers because the quantity and serious nature of their errors can result in confusion.

A breakdown can occur with accurate but hesitant speakers because listening to slow, deliberate English requires a great deal of patience and concentration which can lead to tiredness or frustration. Fluent speakers have to work hard to resist the temptation to interrupt and/or complete the other speaker’s utterances for them.

Why mistakes are so important

For many reasons, most notably the influence of the grammar-translation method on teaching approaches and curricula, speakers of second or foreign language feel the need to avoid making mistakes when they speak. This means they are often reluctant to speak or feel frustrated when their errors are noticed.

Yet, many second language learners have excessively high standards and think they should be able to use complex grammar structures found in written language in their conversational output. Many grammatical structures found in written English are rarely used in spoken English.

Differences between written and spoken English

Recent studies of corpora (databases of written and spoken English) have confirmed that there is a substantial difference between written and spoken English.

Some differences:

  • Simple and present tenses
  • Continuous and perfect tenses used in narratives
  • Simple conjunctions far more frequent than complex conjunctions
  • Direct speech used in favour of reported speech
  • Incomplete sentences
  • Communication strategies: repetition, reformulation, repairing

In other words, native speakers rarely speak in grammatically perfect utterances either. When I trained to become a teacher, I remember going for a drink with friends and found myself correcting their English. Spoken English is generally spontaneous and interactive, which means that we do not always know what we are going to say before we speak; we use formulaic phrases; we correct, clarify to express ourselves.

You may disagree with some of my opinions and beliefs in this post. That’s great – we understand more about how things work by discussing ideas.

What is important is that you think deeply about these issues and challenge your own beliefs.

If you want to make changes, you may need to change how you think and what you believe.


Teaching Exam Classes in Spain

Exam classes, CEFR Levels, certificates and coursebooks in Spain

B1, B2, C7, R2D2??? What’s going on with certificates in Spain?

We could argue that the financial crisis has certainly benefited the ELT industry in Spain and there’s high demand for English classes for various reasons. In students’ words:

  • I’ll be more employable with more and better qualifications, such as English
  • I’ve finished uni and there’s no work out there: let’s continue studying something useful, such as English
  • I’d like to work abroad and I need to demonstrate my level of English
  • After all this blood, sweat and tears studying for my degree, in Spain I still need an English certificate to be able to obtain my qualifications

So, when you get a teaching job in Spain, you’re likely to be favoured if you are familiar and have experience in teaching Exam Classes.

Most common exams are Cambridge ESOL and Trinity College London ISE. Since a B1 level (Pre-Intermediate) is the minimum level required for any purpose, even beginners and elementary level learners generally aim at obtaining at least a B1 certificate, and they want it ASAP.

Let’s have a look at the exam names, levels and what Cambridge English says about each of the CEFR levels, which describe competences in reading, listening, speaking and writing:

CEFR Level Trinity ISE Cambridge ESOL


C2 – Good User: the capacity to deal with material which is academic or cognitively demanding, and to use language to good effect, at a level of performance which may in certain respects be more advanced than that of an average native speaker

C1 – Competent User: an ability to communicate with the emphasis on how well it is done, in terms of appropriacy, sensitivity and the capacity to deal with unfamiliar topics.

B2 – Independent User: the capacity to achieve most goals and express oneself on a range of topics.

B1 – Threshold User: an ability to express oneself in a limited way in familiar situations and to deal in a general way with non-routine information.

A2 – Waystage User: an ability to deal with simple, straightforward information and begin to express oneself in familiar contexts

A1 – Breakthrough Level: a basic ability to communicate and exchange information in a simple way.

I’ve always found these definitions and general descriptors a little vague and subjective, and I’ve only managed to understand the levels by teaching exam classes and using coursebooks focused on exam preparation.

There are different types of coursebooks where we can get this information:

  • General English coursebooks are used in bridging courses, ideally a year and a half before the students sit the exam. They cover the grammar, vocabulary and skills a learner should be able to master and perform reasonably well, but you won’t find any exam exercises. For instance, a B1 level is generally the equivalent of a Pre-Intermediate level, so any Pre-Intermediate coursebook will indicate what we need to teach, namely what’s required from students at that level.

  • Exam Preparation coursebooks are ideally used 8/9 months before the exam takes place (October to June). For example, if our students are interested in taking the Cambridge ESOL B1 exam, they need to prepare for PET (Preliminary English Test). Some examples of books for PET preparation are: Objective Pet, Ready for PET and Compact Pet. In Spain, most schools use Complete PET simply because it covers precisely what’s required in the test, including exercises, especially for Spanish Speakers and it’s an example of the Official Preparation Material published by Cambridge University Press (CUP). All CUP is based on the Cambridge English Corpus “a multi-billion word collection of written and spoken English. It includes the Cambridge Learner Corpus, a unique bank of exam candidate papers”. These coursebooks compile the vocabulary and expressions for the specific level, as well as the most common mistakes made by candidates in the exam.

  • Finally, Exam Trainers and Exam Paper Books are often used for Exam Training Classes, where students acquire the techniques to perform well within the constraints of an exam. I don’t recommend using these books in initial courses and it’s very important to let your students know that there’s no point in practising exams before they’ve actually acquired the level: Students won’t get enough practice to acquire the language and skills involved in the exam and teachers can’t cover the syllabus so quickly. It’s a waste of very valuable preparation material. When it’s used before they’re ready, the students could manage to memorise the answers but it’s very unlikely (if not impossible!) to find the exact same question in two exams.

Let’s compare 2 similar sample questions in different FCE exam papers. Students are required to use SUCH accurately in each exercise but it would be really hard for them to get the right answer if they can’t use it properly and don’t know the grammatical principles behind it:

  • I didn’t realise that the beach was so far from the campsite.


I didn’t realise that …………………………………. long way from the beach to the campsite.


  • Raymond has so much skill as an artist that his drawings look like photographs.


Raymond is …………………………………. artist that his drawings look like photographs.

Helping students to improve their English should be any teacher’s main goal. Exams must be only a refection of the learners’ linguistic and communicative skills but they involve a lot of pressure for both students and teachers. Here’s a list of things to remember when teaching exam classes:

Learning and learners come first: Even if exam classes are exam centred, don’t forget that in order to do well in an exam, students need to learn.

Communicate with your students: Inform your students about the exam and what’s expected from them. Tell them about their progress regularly and explain why you think they need to work more on some areas, or wait a little longer to sit the exam.

Work on your social role: Be approachable, supportive and provide extra practice material for students to study independently.

Any more ideas? Please, share with us…

References (coursebook photos)

Heydermann, E.; May, P. & Mayhew, C. 2013. Complete PET: Student’s book. Madrid, Spain: CUP

Latahm-Koenig, C.; Oxeden, C. & Seligson, P. 2012. English File: Pre-Intermediate: Student’s Book. Third Edition. Oxford, UK: OUP

May, P. 2015. First TRAINER: six practice tests with answers. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: CUP

Simple Tips for Choosing a Coursebook for your EFL Class

Walk into any bookshop selling English language materials and you’ll be met by a bewildering array of options. Some have straightforward names, usually with the word ‘English’ in the title, whereas other names, such as Cutting Edge or Headway, could be used for other products, such as razor blades or hair gels.

Choosing a coursebook for your EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class that will meet the needs of your students, your teachers, and your employers (and parents if you are teaching kids) can be tricky. As the old adage goes, you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’.

Bearing that in mind, we can confidently state that there is no perfect coursebook. They take a long time to plan, design and produce, which means they are always slightly dated when they are published, especially those aimed at Young Learners or Young Adults. They are also aimed at the typical class rather than individual learners. As we all know, no learner is typical. Finally, great teachers can create great lessons with mediocre coursebooks but poor teachers are unlikely to give great lessons even when they are using great coursebooks.

So, assuming that the stakeholders (your students, other teachers, and employers etc) want to use coursebooks, we need to make an informed choice about which ones to invest in. The aim of this article is to give you a set of questions to help you choose the best coursebook for your students.

How attractive is the design?

First impressions count, unfortunately some might say. If a coursebook looks cheap, tacky, unprofessional or dull, our learners might not respond positively to it. If the content is good, they might change their minds after using it for a while, but a coursebook that doesn’t match what your students consider to be visually stimulating may prove to be a tough sell.

Length of Course.

How long is the course you are teaching? Coursebooks are designed to provide the teacher with enough material for a set number of hours. This can, of course, be extended by using supplementary materials, often provided online or in the form of a DVD-ROM. A common complaint of teachers and students is that coursebooks contain too much material and teachers have to rush through the units to ensure that students feel that they are covering all the essential material. This can be a serious problem as it can result in teachers going at the pace of the stronger students and leaving the weaker learners behind.

Supplementary Materials

Most coursebooks are accompanied by a workbook, classroom activities (usually found in the Teacher’s book or DVD-ROM) and, increasingly, online practice materials. These materials are often ideal for homework but they should supplement the coursebook rather than provide new content. Remember that learners need to recycle and review materials to ensure they retain new language.


Have a look at the Teacher’s book. Does it clearly state the thinking behind the coursebook? What approach to learning does the book recommend? Does it match the teaching philosophy (often expressed in the promotional copy) at your school? Check that the approach proposed in the Teacher’s book is reflected in the choice of activities found in the Student’s book? Refer to the contents page.

Ease of use for students

Put yourself in the role of a student – or better, ask a student to test-run the book – and think about how easy or difficult it is to work your way around the book. Are the goals for each unit clear and appropriate? Are the topics clearly stated? Where are grammar explanations and how clear are they? Is there enough white space to prevent overwhelm? Where are the review activities? Are tapescripts to listening texts found at the back?

Ease of use for teachers

Experienced teachers can generally navigate any coursebook. Inexperienced teachers may struggle if the Teacher’s book is not well-designed. Go through the first unit in the coursebook and see how easy it is to follow the teacher’s notes. Are there some clever ideas for adapting or extending coursebook activities? Where are the answers? Do you understand any technical terms used?

Appropriate and relevant topics

Are the topics likely to engage or bore your learners? Are the cultural references specific to English-speaking countries? If they are, they may not hold the interest of your learners. Are the images, in particular, the images of people, likely to appeal to your learners? In recent years, coursebooks have made a concerted attempt to appeal to a global rather than local audience.


Have a look at the contents page. Is there good coverage of the 4 skills? What about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation? Are there review activities at the end of each units? What about tests? Are there regular progress tests and an end-of-course test?

Listening materials

Good coursebooks should provide the right blend of authentic and scripted materials for the level of the learners. Advanced learners can find some scripted listening activities condescending if the materials are obviously scripted. Coursebooks now include a mix of native and non-native English speakers conversing in listening activities. How will your learners respond to being asked to listen to people from their own country speaking English?

Coursebooks, at least those created by established publishing companies, are the product of a long and thorough research and development programme. They are tested and trialled with a large number of teachers and students before they are let loose in the marketplace. Good teachers should generally be able to create effective learning opportunities for their students when using coursebooks.

Which isn’t to say that you need to use coursebooks in class…….that’s for another post.


How to Deal with 5 Challenges of Teaching English in Spain

Life in Spain is fantastic. I live and teach English in Granada: it’s sunny, one hour away from the beach and ski slopes, everything’s within walking distance, it’s cosmopolitan and it has a great social life, not to mention the food and its affordability. I have lived and taught English here for more than 12 years and I’d suggest that if you are teaching English in Spain, there are certain challenges you need to deal with if you want to make the most of your time here.

If you are thinking about teaching English in Spain, you might want to read this post first.

teach english in spain

TEFL granada

Here’s a brief guide to the 5 most common challenges of teaching English in Spain with some tips to help you deal with them successfully:

1. Challenge. I’m an A2 level but need my C2 certificate by the end of this month!

Spanish students aren’t usually personally motivated to learn English. In fact, they often join a language school to get a CEFR certificate and believe learning English means acquiring exam techniques. There are basically three types of externally pressured students:

  1. Undergraduate students won’t be awarded their degree unless they hold a B1 certificate in a foreign language
  2. Working for the government is considered a dream job in Spain. A lot of Spaniards spend years preparing for oposiciones (public examinations) to become a funcionario (civil servant). They’re awarded extra marks for language certificates.
  3. The Spanish government is trying to turn all public schools into bilingual schools. Teachers need to demonstrate a high level of English if they want to keep their job or are looking for a teaching position.

Most students don’t even know what the exams are like, or the differences between an exam techniques class and general English classes to learn or improve their English.


  • Make your first exam class a thorough explanation of the exam:

Take for instance that you’re teaching English for the Cambridge FCE exam. An introduction to each test should take up one 90-minute class for each test:

General description of the Reading (R) and Use of English (UOE) test:

Part 1 – multiple choice cloze (text with gaps) (UOE)

Part 2 – open cloze (text with gaps but no options) (UOE)

Part 3 – word formation (UOE)

Part 4 – key word sentence transformations (UOE)

Part 5 – text with 6 multiple-choice questions (R)

Part 6 – text with 6 sentences missing (R)

Part 7 – multiple matching, 10 questions (R)

Go through the different parts and give instructions for each activity. Tell them about the expectations from the rubric (guidelines) and practise each part as a demo.

  • Hard-working students do lots of homework but feel totally lost and find it hard to see whether they’re improving or not.

Informing them about their level and progress makes your students feel they’re being cared for, which builds rapport and trust. Raising awareness of their own level and readiness to sit the exam will also give you the opportunity to work on their learner training skills: they’ll understand they’re also responsible for their own learning process and you can help them find extra material for weaker areas.

  • Classes are result and error focused, so they feel overwhelmed by the amount of mistakes they make and struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Exploit your social role, do a bit of counselling and take a couple of minutes to remind them they’re doing a good job, and they’ll get there if they continue working hard.

  • It’s generally hard to keep up with the homework and practice activities are very repetitive for both students and teachers

The good thing about teaching exam classes is that all materials are already in the book. Exams are very competitive, so you can easily adapt the activities to create games and have some fun.

Read this post for some tips on teaching writing for Cambridge exams.

Cambridge English Writing Exams

helping learners with fce and pet writing

2. Challenge. Hey teacher! Let’s stop chatting in class and get on with real work!

Although Spanish students really enjoy communicative activities they’re used to a very traditional educational system. They aren’t particularly familiar with the communicative approach, nor the benefits of CLT (Communicative Language Teaching). You are very likely to come across the odd student who, despite making excellent progress, believes a fun class is a waste of time.

Parents could also be problematic when their seven-year-old kids come back home saying they haven’t got any homework and they’ve spent the whole class singing and dancing.


  • Even if there isn’t a clear line management in the school you’re working at, search for the Director of Studies (DoS), Jefe de Estudios or director to see if they have a protocol to talk with parents and let them deal with them.
  • Be open about your approach with your students; remind them they can do gap-filling activities at home and enjoy the opportunity to communicate in English in class as their opportunity to use English outside the classroom is limited.
  • Give them tools to observe their own progress.

e.g. video them, create a class/individual list of 5 most common errors, get them to pay attention to 1 error per week and check progress weekly.

3. Challenge. It’s outrageous! My teacher doesn’t even know what a pronoun is!

Language students are generally used to terminology and newly qualified teachers could easily feel intimidated by questions like: So… Is ‘people’ a countable or an uncountable noun?


  • Try to anticipate problematic language questions and be prepared.
  • If you don’t know the answer, rule number one is: be honest! Admit you aren’t sure and use reference material. Students feel considerably more empowered when they are engaged in their own learning process: train your students to become independent and search for language in dictionaries and reference sources.
  • Advanced levels are competent speakers of English: give them credit! They’re very likely to come up with existing vocabulary you’ve never come across. Look words up and discuss the context where you’re more likely to use them, they’ll surely appreciate your instinct as a proficient speaker.

4.Challenge. I’ve paid a fortune and we’ve hardly used the book!

Enthusiastic, creative and motivated teachers could find coursebooks a complete turn-off. Besides, students really enjoy putting the book aside and getting on with a more creative activity where they can make best spontaneous use of their English. However, they’re encouraged to buy very expensive material and they’d like to feel it’s worth the money.


  • Be organized and let your students know how much they’ll be using the coursebook during the course. Tell them from class 1 that the coursebook is used as a guide and reference, but your activities are customised for them: that would make them feel special!
  • Coursebooks help you cut down on preparation time so, make good use of them! You can always transform activities and use them to contribute to your lesson.

For instance, you can photocopy a reading text from the book and post it in pieces around the classroom for a matching activity. Students could always go back to the book as a reference for what they’ve learnt that day.

You can also use the book for listening tasks and homework.

Here are some simple tips about choosing the right coursebook for your learners.

tefl coursebooks

coursebooks elt

5.Challenge. The Spanish have their lunch at 3.30 and I’m already starving at 1pm! They also want lessons until 10pm!

You might find it difficult to get used to the teaching timetable in Spain. You aren’t very likely to have an extremely early start but be aware of massive gaps in your timetable and a late finish if you’re teaching adults in Spain.


  • I’d say make sure you always carry a banana in your bag.
  • Set your limits with the school from the start. Sometimes they simply don’t know you don’t want to work that much, or they haven’t had a proper look at your particular timetable.
  • If you have a 90- minute or two-hour gap you might want to spend some time in the gym, go back home or grab a bite, so consider your options to fit in some free time activities to switch off!

Don’t forget that…

Spaniards have a great sense of humour and love socialising! This means that you can both teach English and have some fun inside and outside the class. In Spain, people love gathering over a glass of wine and good food after work, and there’s often a special plan for the weekend: Visiting a close village, hiking, partying…

What are you waiting for? 

15 Reasons Why You Should take a TEFL Course

The reason why I took a TEFL course in 1996 (imagine, smartphones didn’t even exist then) was the standard one.  Just 6 months out of university, I saw teaching English as a foreign language as something that could fund my travels around the world, in particular, Mexico and Central America.

Strangely enough, there was only one other person on my course like me. The rest of the trainees were older and had different reasons for taking the course. One was an amateur linguist and wanted to work part-time; another was thinking of moving to Turkey where her husband was from; one lady was born to Polish parents and wanted to work with the local Polish community in North London.

It’s certainly true that the reasons why lots of gap-year students take TEFL courses is to travel around the world, doing lots of wild and crazy things before they settle down. But, they are not the only types of people who train to teach English as a foreign language and there are lots of reasons why you should take a TEFL course.

Taking a TEFL course allows you to do something different with your life. You may not make an enormous amount of money, although there is enormous money to be made in the English language teaching industry (£1.2 billion in the UK alone), but money isn’t the only reason to do something, is it?

Here are 15 reasons why a TEFL course might be a good idea for you:

1. You are interested in teaching but are not sure you want to take a degree. TEFL is a great way to test the waters and discover if teaching is a) something you might enjoy doing and b) something you might be good at doing. Also, TEFL courses are much cheaper than degrees (usually under £1000) and you can recoup your investment in next to no time.

2. You are a lover of the English language and love telling people about it. Teaching EFL (English as a foreign language) can be surprisingly creative and innovative teachers can find original ways to present and practise the language with students. You don’t need to speak English as your mother tongue (native speaker) as some of the most effective EFL teachers speak English as a second language. If you have a C1 or C2 qualification in English, you could apply to join a TEFL course.

3. You are thinking of taking a gap year and need to support yourself while you’re abroad. TEFL work is fairly easy to pick up in certain countries. Many people teach somewhere for a few months and then move on. There are lots of programmes which offer short-term contracts to qualified teachers. Be careful though, lots of teachers find somewhere where they feel at home and stay for years.

4. You have just graduated and not sure what you want to do next. You don’t need to rush into a decision and teaching helps you develop lots of skills, such as public speaking, which you can add to your CV. Learning the local language may also help you stand out in a crowded job market.

5. You are retired after working in a different sector but would like to continue working. Teaching English gets you out and about and you can meet many interesting people. If you have professional experience, you could promote yourself as a specialist English teacher (ESP – English for Specific Purposes) and carve out a niche for yourself, teaching lawyers, nurses or journalists.

6. You have always wanted to live and work in another country. Who hasn’t wanted to live in another country? The grass is always greener, right? Well, if you have ever wanted to experience Rome or Rio, Barcelona or Beijing, you can do so with a TEFL certificate.

7. You are feeling worn-out or dissatisfied with your current job and looking to do something different. Fed up with working in an office cubicle, staring at a computer screen all day? TEFL is a really social job, you spend your days surrounded by people, and the rewards can be immediate: when you see your students improve day by day, you realise you’re making a difference.

8. You have been made redundant and looking for a change of career. There is a steep but short learning curve in TEFL. The course is tough but many trainee teachers become competent teachers in the space of a month. You don’t need extensive training to teach English which can help get you back to the world of work again.

9. You are a qualified teacher looking to gain experience or expand your range of skills. I’ve trained professional teachers and many of them said that taking a TEFL course was more stimulating and practical than taking a degree in education. TEFL courses generally train you how to teach language using the communicative approach, and you might find techniques which reinvigorate your teaching.

10. You are a professional living in another country and are finding it difficult to get work in your field. Most teachers don’t teach EFL forever, but it is a great job for a few years. The job can be very flexible (many teachers work part-time) so you can always support yourself teaching English while you continue looking for work in your field.

11. You are looking to move abroad to be with your partner and wondering what you could do to support yourself. It’s amazing how many people in TEFL move to be with their partner. It may not be the job of your dreams but it’s not a bad option if you want to be with the person of your dreams.

12. You are looking for flexible part-time work to fit around your other commitments. Lots of people teach English in order to pay the bills while they are working on other projects, such as completing post-graduate qualifications. 

13. You are a creative person (musician, artist, writer) looking for a job which can provide you with some supplementary income. I’ve worked with artists, musicians, writers, actors and comedians and their artistic talents and interests often made them great teachers. Actors, in particular, are often fantastic at teaching pronunciation.

14. You are looking for work which you can do from home. You can teach online if you want to stay at home, which makes it a good job for parents or people looking after elderly relatives. 

15. You want to do a job which allows you to help other people. Learning English can make a huge difference in your students’ lives. Knowing that I helped people find work, pass university entrance exams, or move abroad makes me feel pretty good about the job I do. 

Teaching English as a foreign or second language is a boom industry at the moment. All over the world, people are determined to learn or improve their English skills, which means that qualified teachers are very much in demand. It doesn’t have to be a job for life, but it can be a lot of fun and is a great way to broaden your horizons and become a global citizen. So, if you have a good reason to take a TEFL course, why not get in touch?

If you want to know more about TEFL, read my free ebook A Short Guide to TEFL.


13 TEFL Observation Tasks

It’s amazing how much you can learn from observations. Unfortunately, in my experience, many language schools use observation primarily as an assessment tool rather than for professional development purposes. This post describes a range of simple but useful TEFL observation tasks. They can be used by a Director of Studies, teacher trainers on TEFL or professional development courses, and by teachers observing their peers. Also, some of them could also be used by teachers who record and then analyse their own teaching.

These TEFL observation tasks are probably more appropriate for newer teachers but experienced teachers may find them helpful, especially for identifying their own bad habits. I know that I could certainly benefit from being observed when I train teachers as I’m sure I am just as guilty as anybody of failing to practise what I preach!

These TEFL observation tasks should be adapted to your particular teaching contexts. You might want to use them with video lessons as part of your school’s professional development programme.

Task 1 – The Teacher’s Persona – Imagine you were a student in this class. What impressions would you have of the teacher?

  • How approachable and accessible are they?
  • How supportive are they?
  • How confident and relaxed are they?
  • Do they have any mannerisms that might be annoying for learners?
  • How would you describe their persona?
  • How do they use body language to aid understanding and develop rapport?

Task 2 – The Teacher’s Voice – Consider how the teacher uses their voice (not the actual words) to communicate effectively with the learners.

  • How fast do they speak? How appropriate is that for the level?
  • Are they easy or difficult to hear from the back of the class?
  • What about their intonation? Expressive or monotonous?
  • How do they vary the pace and volume of their voice?
  • How successful are they at modelling word and sentence stress?

Task 3 – Grading Language – Consider how the teacher grades their language to communicate effectively with the learners.

  • Note down any examples of the teacher grading their language.
  • Note down any examples of instances when the teacher fails to grade their language. What was the effect on the learners?
  • Note down any examples of the teacher using ‘artificial’ language.
  • Note down any examples of ‘colloquial’ or ‘idiomatic’ language.
  • Note down any examples of ‘metalanguage’. Do you think the learners understand?

Task 4 –  Interacting with the learners – Consider how the teacher builds rapport, engages, and maintains the interests of the learners.

  • How does the teacher build rapport with the learners and put them at ease? Voice? Body language? Genuine interest in the lives of their learners?
  • Does the teacher interact with all students equally? Does the teacher have any ‘favourite’ learners?
  • How effectively does the teacher praise learners? Any instances of overpraising? What words or phrases do they use when praising? Do they use gestures?
  • How does the teacher use names and nominate learners to develop rapport?

Task 5 – Giving Instructions – Consider how the teacher gives instructions to set up and manage activities.

  • How does the teacher signal the start and end of an activity?
  • How successfully does the teacher grade language when instructing?
  • How does the teacher use gestures to support instructions?
  • How does the teacher check learners have understood instructions? Instruction check questions?
  • How does the teacher demonstrate and model tasks?
  • How do learners indicate they have not understood or need clarification?

Task 6 – Using the Board – Consider how the teacher uses the board to meet the aims of the lesson.

  • How successfully does the teacher use the board to present new language?
  • How organised is the board?
  • How could the teacher improve their board work? What do they do well?
  • How does the teacher use the board to support activities?
  • How often do the learners write on the board?
  • How effectively does the teacher use the board for correction?
  • Ask to look at a learner’s notebook. What did they write down?

Task 7 – Interaction Patterns – Consider how the teacher changes interaction patterns to manage different activities in the lesson.

  • Note down the interaction pattern used for each activity.
  • How often does the teacher change interaction patterns?
  • Why do you think the teacher chose specific interaction patterns for each activity?
  • How did the students respond to changes of interaction patterns?
  • Could the activities have worked with different interaction patterns?

Task 8 – Presenting New Language – Consider how the teacher presents new language (both planned and unplanned).

  • Consider how the teacher presented new language (grammar and lexis). Inductive or deductive approach?
  • How did they cover MFP (meaning, form,pronunciation)?
  • How did the teacher check understanding? Were any CCQs (concept check questions) used? Were they effective?
  • What controlled practice opportunities were learners given to use the new language?
  • What freer practice opportunities were learners given to use the new language?
  • How well was the class able to use the new language? Did the teacher insist or encourage use of the new language?

Task 9 – Eliciting – Consider how the teacher gets the learners to provide information.

  • What techniques did the teacher use to elicit language from the learners?
  • How did the students respond to these eliciting techniques?
  • How many students did the teacher manage to elicit language from?
  • How clear were the contexts used for eliciting?
  • How patient was the teacher when attempting to elicit language?

Task 10 – Error Correction – Consider how the teacher corrects errors.

  • What techniques did the teacher use to correct errors?
  • How does the teacher use self-correction and peer-correction strategies?
  • Does the teacher encourage the learner/s to produce the correct version?
  • How does the teacher use the board to correct errors?
  • Why does the teacher choose not to correct learner errors?

Task 11 – Student utterances in Open Class Activities – Observe how often each learner speaks in the lesson.

Studies show that some students contribute much more than others. Draw a table like the one below and note down how often each learner speaks in open class activities. Consider why some students contribute more than others. Is it because they have a higher level of fluency or competency? Are they nominated by the teacher more often than their classmates? Does the teacher neglect to nominate? Is is because of where the students are sitting (in the teacher’s line of sight)? 

Student Name Number of utterances
Pedro llllllllll
Maria llll
Carlos llllll
Sara lllllllllllll


Task 12 – Teacher Student Interactions – Observe how often the teacher interacts with each learner.

Note down how often the teacher interacts with each learner. Is there a relationship between the open and positive body language of the learner and the amount of times the teacher interacts with them? Does the teacher’s positional sense encourage or discourage interaction? Does the teacher interact with the more competent or less competent learners?

Student Name How often teacher interacts with them
Pedro llllllllll
Maria llll
Carlos llllll
Sara lllllllllllll

Task 13 – Focus on just one learner – Observe what an individual learner does during the lesson.

Choose one learner and observe them during the whole lesson (or a substantial part of the lesson).Make notes about what they do, who they interact with, how engaged they appear, how often they speak, the quality of their utterances, their facial expressions and physical gestures, and any other actions they take during the lesson. 

These TEFL observation tasks are designed to help teachers develop their teaching skills. In the post-lesson feedback stage, the issues raised should be discussed rather than delivered by the observer as an assessment.

Over to you. What other TEFL observation tasks have you tried which can help teachers develop their teaching skills and deliver more effective lessons?


33 maneras de hablar mejor inglés sin ir a clase

Si está leyendo esto, imagino que desea comunicarse en Inglés con confianza y de forma competente.

Cuando nos comunicamos modo efectivo somos capaces de expresar nuestras ideas y opiniones, compartir experiencias estableciendo relaciones con los demás. Cuando la expresión es una lucha para expresarnos, sentimos inseguros e infravalorados. Como seres humanos, queremos participar en discusiones grupales y tener un impacto en la sociedad que nos rodea.

En la sociedad moderna, nos comunicamos más allá de las fronteras. El inglés es lo más cercano que tenemos como idioma internacional.

Al hablar mejor Inglés, la gente pueden escuchar nuestra voz en todo el mundo. Pero para hablarlo mejor, necesita un profesor, ¿verdad?. Las clases de inglés son necesarias ¿verdad?.

Sin duda, los profesores y las clases de inglés le ayudarán. Sin embargo, estudiar Inglés durante unas horas a la semana no mejorará mucho puede su Inglés hablado.

Lo que se necesita es conseguir ser un alumno autodirigido, alguien que asuma su responsabilidad y cree de su propio programa de aprendizaje para desarrollar el conocimiento Inglés.

Es un hecho que hablar es una actividad social y se lleva a cabo óptimamente con otras personas.

Sin embargo, esto se puede extrapolar a diversas actividades. Leo Messi se convirtió en un jugador de fútbol maravilloso porque se pasó muchas horas diariamente y durante años practicando.


Y esto mismo usted puede hacerlo mismo con su Inglés. Estas son las 33 maneras de mejorar su Inglés hablado, sin ir a clase.

1. Grábese a sí mismo hablando inglés. Escucharse puede ser resultar extraño al principio, pero a la larga se acostumbrará. Escuche una grabación de alguien con Inglés fluido (un archivo de audio corto) y luego grábese a sí mismo repitiendo lo que ha escuchado. Compare la diferencia e inténtelo de nuevo. Los seres humanos somos imitadores por naturaleza por lo que cada vez lo hará mejor y mejor. Soundcloud es una excelente herramienta de grabación que le permite a usted o a su profesor anotar los errores orales cometidos.

2. Lea en voz alta, sobre todo el diálogo. Leer en voz alta no es lo mismo que hablar de forma natural. Sin embargo, es muy útil para el ejercicio de los músculos vocales. Practique 5 o 10 minutos diariamente y notará cuales son los sonidos difíciles que le cuesta más reproducir. Busque transcripciones de diálogos naturales, como los que encontrará aquí y practíquelos con un amigo. A la vez, aprenderá frases comunes que usadas al hablar.

3. Cante canciones en inglés mientras conduzca o en debajo de la ducha. Las letras de las canciones pop son a menudo conversaciones que le permitirán familiarizarse con expresiones comunes, si se escuchan. Los seres humanos también somos capaces de recordar palabras cuando se utilizan junto a la música. Por eso, se no hace difícil recordar poemas, pero fácil recordar las letras de las canciones. Estas son algunas de canciones para empezar a practicar.

4. Visione vídeos cortos, póngalos en pausa y repita lo que ha escuchado. YouTube es un recurso increíble para aprender idiomas y es probable que ya tenga sus videos favoritos. Mi consejo es que los visiones y los estudie a fondo. Es posible que con videos más largos su atención se disperse. La clave para mejorar viendo videos es escuchar con mucha atención y utilizar la pausa para la total concentración en cuanto a los sonidos y palabras. Muchos de los vídeos de YouTube están subtitulados actualmente.

5. Aprender el sonido de las vocales y consonantes en inglés. La gráfica de Fonemas es una lista de los diferentes sonidos de vocales y consonantes en Inglés. Aprenda ha reproducir estos sonidos y, posteriormente, implemente lo aprendido durante la pronunciación correcta de las palabras. Este proceso, le ayudará realmente a pronunciar el Inglés con claridad. Este es un gran recurso del British Council.

6. Aprenda e identifique schwa. ¿Se preguntará qué es el schwa?. El schwa es el sonido más común en Inglés: Haga clic aquí. Es muy utilizado en palabras como “teacher” y “around“.

7. Aprenda las formas débiles y fuertes de palabras comunes. Una vez que haya incorporado el sonido “schwa”, se dará cuenta que percibirá a los nativos de forma diferente. El Inglés es un lenguaje de tensión temporizada lo que implica que utiliza una combinación de formas fuertes y débiles en algunas palabras. Por ejemplo, ¿en qué palabras hacemos hincapié en la frase siguiente?. I want to go for a drink tonight.

¿Cómo pronuncian los nativos to / for / a en una oración?. Utilizamos el sonido schwa y entonces suena así:

I wanna go ferra drink tenigh.

Aprenda cómo y cuándo utilizar formas débiles y su comunicación mejorará diariamente un rápido. También aprenderá a concentrarse en las palabras acentuadas cuando se escucha a un nativo inglés que habla rápido. Este ejercicio le permitirá ser capaz de ¡entenderlo de forma fehaciente!

8. Aprenda acento prosódico. Cuando las palabras tienen más de una sílaba, reforzamos en una o más de ellas. Por ejemplo, la palabra “intelligent” tiene cuatro sílabas, pero qué sílaba reforzamos?. Haga clic aquí para descubrirlo. Recuerde que el acento (la pequeña marca vertical situada encima de la letra) identifica la sílaba acentuada: /ɪntel.ɪ.dʒənt/

9. Aprenda acerca de la acentuación en las frases. La acentuación se refiere a las frases o palabras que se acentúan. Cuando hacemos hincapié en una palabra, ayudamos al oyente a entender lo que es importante. Si resaltamos la palabra equivocada o no el énfasis en la palabra clave, puede confundir al oyente o no identificar lo que es importante en la frase. Hace algunos años, me inscribí en un gimnasio. Me solicitaron que asistiera a una clase de introducción a “de cinco a seis”. La recepcionista húngara hizo hincapié en la palabra «seis» por lo que llegué a las 5.55. Me miró y me dijo que había llegado tarde y la clase casi había terminado. Ella debería haber enfatizado las palabras “cinco” y “seis” y yo hubiera comprendido que la duración de la clase introductoria ¡se iniciaba a las 5 de la tarde!. Para más información sobre el énfasis frase, leer aquí.

10. Identifique frases fijas y semifijas y practíquelas. Las frases fijas contienen por lo general entre 3 y 7 palabras e incluyen palabras como:

to be honest

in a moment

on the other hand

Una conversación está compuesta por estructuras gramaticales, vocabulario y frases fijas o semifijas. De hecho y para decir la verdad, normalmente, la mayoría de las veces, mis amigos y yo, nos comunicamos con una serie de expresiones fijas y semifijas.

Aprenda las funciones comunicativas de estas frases y practique cómo se pronuncian (recuerde las formas débiles de las fuertes) y utilícelas en sus conversaciones diarias. Haga clic aquí para obtener un listado de 1.000 frases comunes.

11. Aprenda las construcciones gramaticales. A las palabras no les gusta estar solas. Prefieren pasar el rato con sus amigos y, al igual que las personas, algunas palabras son muy cercanas y otras nunca se relacionan.

Amarillo no se lleva bien con pelo. Tal vez el amarillo es celoso de rubio, porque las palabras pelo y rubio con frecuencia se asimilan a la diversión. El amarillo no entiende por que el pelo rubio prefiere el rubio si amarillo y rubio son tan similares.

Escuchar con atención las combinaciones comunes de palabras. Corto y pequeño tienen un significado similar pero la gente tiene el pelo corto y no pequeña. Largo y alto difieren mucho pero la gente con frecuencia tiene grandes esperanzas y no altas. Los zorros son astutos no sinuosos. Las horas pueden ser felices, pero nunca animadas. Los idiotas son estúpidos, pero rara vez tontos.

12. Sustituya verbos regulares por verbos compuestos. Muchos alumnos no entienden por que los nativos utilizan tantos verbos compuestos en vez de verbos normales teniendo el mismo significado (por lo general con raíces latinas). Originalmente, el Inglés era una lengua germánica que incluyó una gran cantidad de vocabulario latino después de la conquista Normanda en el siglo XI. Independientemente de los factores históricos, la realidad es que los nativos ingleses utilizan muchísimas verbos preposicionales. Si usted quiere comprendernos, utilícelos en sus conversaciones. Si comete un error, es probable que nos haga reír, pero no nos confundirá, ya que podemos percibir, desde el contexto de lo expresado, a lo que se refiere. Los verbos compuestos son espaciales y originalmente se refieren al movimiento por lo que cuando se aprende uno nuevo, haga movimientos físicos que le ayuden a recordar.

13. Aprenda respuestas cortas y automáticas. Muchas de nuestras respuestas son automáticas (Right, OK, no problem, alright, fine thanks, just a minute, you’re welcome, fine by me, let’s do it!, yup, no way! you’re joking, right?, Do I have to?, Sí, no hay manera! ¿Es una broma, ¿verdad ?, ¿tengo que? etc.). Una estas respuestas automáticas cortas y utilícelas.

14. Practique contando historias y use tiempos verbales narrativos. Los seres humanos están concebidos para contar historias. Utilizamos el pasado perfecto simple, pasado y el pluscuamperfecto para relatar, pero cuando el oyente está totalmente inmerso en el relato, siente como si en realidad estuviera viviendo la historia en primera persona. Por lo tanto, a menudo utilizamos tiempos de presente para convertir nuestras historias en ¡más espectaculares!.

15. Aprenda a pausar para hacer surgir el efecto. Hablando de forma rápida en inglés no te convierte en un orador eficaz. Sabiendo cómo introducir una pausa se obtiene como resultado el darle tiempo al oyente reflexionar sobre lo expresado, responder de manera adecuada y que prediga la continuación. Imagínese que usted es un actor en un escenario, haciendo una pausa mantiene a las personas en vilo. Esta es una gran estrategia si precisa hablar Inglés en público.

16. Aprenda a fragmentar. Chunking significa unir palabras formando una sola con significado. No es necesario que analice cada palabra a usar en una frase. Observe la frase: Nice to meet you. Es una frase corta (4 palabras) susceptible de ser recordada como un sólo elemento. También es un ejemplo de elipsis (obviando palabras), ya que las palabras “it” y “es” no están al principio de la frase. Sin embargo, no es necesario incluirlos. Más información aquí.

17. Tome conciencia de los típicos problemas de pronunciación de su lengua materna. los alumnos japoneses tienen dificultades para identificar y reproducir la “r” que convierten en “l”; en Español es imperceptible la diferencia de pronunciación entre “b” y “v”; los alemanes utilizan a menudo el sonido de la “v”, en vez del de la “w”. Averigüe qué problemas de pronunciación tienen en su lengua materna y como pueden repercutir al hablar Inglés. Con esta conciencia usted sabrá en que focalizarse.

18. Elija un acento que le guste e imítelo. A menudo tenemos una conexión emocional con ciertas nacionalidades. ¿Tiene más interés en la cultura Británica que en la cultura Americana? ¿Apoya el Manchester United o al Arsenal?. El primer paso es decidir qué tipo de Inglés desea.

19. Encuentre un actor/actriz que le gusta e identifique lo que los hace en potentes oradores. ¿Quieres sonar como Barack Obama, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) Beyonce o Steve Jobs?. Si quiere sonar como David Beckham, le aconsejo que lo reconsidere, a menos que ¡le apetezca sonar como una niña!

20. Utilice un espejo y/o una hoja de papel para identificar los sonidos aspirados y los expirados. Los sonidos aspirados son los que tienen un breve impulso, tales como “p” en “pen” mientras que los expirados no tienen o tienen poco aire, como la “b” en “Ben”. Mira este vídeo para aprender más.

21. Practique trabalenguas. Los trabalenguas son frases con sonidos particulares explícitamente diseñados para mejorar la pronunciación. Esta una lista para niños pero es muy divertida. Trate de leerla .Intente decir esta frase incrementado la rapidez:

What a terrible tongue twister. What a terrible tongue twister. What a terrible tongue twister.

22. Deletree en voz alta nombres, números y fechas. Esto les puede parecer muy básico pero si no practica, se le olvidará como se pronuncia “them. Repase los números y los nombres de aquí.

 23. Aprenda los patrones más comunes de entonación. La entonación en Inglés (cuando subir el tono de voz y cuando hacerlo descender) es compleja pero muy importante, ya que expresa el sentimiento o la emoción del comunicador. A continuación, una introducción divertida de la entonación.

24. Aprenda los puntos de articulación. Los articuladores son las partes bucales que utilizamos para convertir el sonido al pronunciarlo. Pueden ser partes fijas como (los dientes, en la parte posterior de éstos, el paladar blando ) y móviles como (la lengua, los labios, el paladar blando y la mandíbula) fijos. Haga clic aquí para obtener más información.

25. Después de observar las partes de articulación, la practique haciendo los mismos movimientos que los nativos hacen al hablar. A continuación un video y recuerde ¡abra las mandíbulas, ejercite los labios y consiga que su lengua se mueva!

26. Sepa porque el inglés es una lengua de acento cronometrado. El ritmo de la lengua se basa en sílabas acentuadas por lo que acortamos las sílabas no acentuadas para ajustar el ritmo. En los idiomas de sílaba cronometrada (como el Español) se tarda el mismo tiempo pronunciar cada sílaba. Esta es una explicación que deja en evidencia por qué usted habla Inglés como un robot o vea este divertido video.

27. Aprenda a interrumpir e interponer de manera correcta y exitosa. Haga clic aquí para obtener una lista de frases de interrupción.

28. Obtenga información acerca de la elipsis, la asimilación y los sonidos de enlace.

29. Hable bajo, no alce la voz. Los estudios han demostrado que con un tono más profundo vocal es la forma de llamar la atención y demostrar autoridad, especialmente en los hombres. Esto es especialmente importante si usted debe hablar en público. Aquí encontrará una guía rápida.

30. Escuche y lea poesía (o canciones de rap) para practicar el ritmo de inglés. Quintillas humorísticas (poemas rimados cortos y divertidos) son realmente útiles y demuestran cómo el Inglés es de acento cronometrado y la utilización de las formas débiles.

31. Aprende palabras de admiración y muletillas. Vea este video o estúdiese la lista adjunta de las 100 exclamaciones comunes.

32. Aprenda a parafrasear. Parafraseando es cuando reformulamos la frase expresada para que le quede claro que al oyente o cuando transmitimos un mensaje ajeno recibido utilizando distintas palabras. A continuación encontrará algunos para empezar.

33. Utilice más las contracciones. Las contracciones hacen su discurso más eficiente porque ahorran tiempo y energía. Diga ‘should not’ y luego diga ‘shouldn’t’: ¿cuál es más fácil de pronunciar? Muy común en el habla con fluidez.

Ahora, está es la LLAMADA A LA ACCION .

En los próximos 33 días, trabaje durante 15 minutos diarios uno de los consejos. Estoy seguro de que dará cuenta de una mejora enorme.

Y ¡tal vez un día hable inglés como Messi juega al fútbol!

Gracias por leer el post.

10 Tips To Help You Pass Your TEFL Course

So, you have spent a considerable amount of money on taking a TEFL course. You’ve heard that everybody passes but, then again, you’ve also heard that it’s a boot camp. Well, let me tell you that not everybody passes and that a TEFL course doesn’t have to be a boot camp, as long as you make sure you’re prepared when you begin.

You ever-so-slightly concerned that you won’t make the grade. How can you maximise your chances of passing your TEFL course?

In this post, I’m going to provide 10 tips that should help you pass.

1 – Take the Pre-course tasks seriously

Make sure you complete the pre-course tasks. Don’t leave them for the night before you pass the course. Get them done early and review what the tasks before you start the course.

2 – Brush up on your Language Awareness

Make sure you buy and study the recommended language awareness books. Don’t study general grammar books because you need to learn the terminology used in English language teaching (pedagogic grammar). A good way to do this is to buy a grammar book for students (Intermediate level should be fine). Familiarise yourself with the terms and concepts.

3 – Find online resources before you start the course

Spend a few hours looking for TEFL-related material online. Think about enrolling in an online TEFL courses to get a head start. Watch videos of English classes online. Just type ‘TEFL blogs’ into Google and see what you find. Watch out though. When you start the course, you run the risk of wasting lots of time surfing the net for info and resources. It may be better to use tried and tested materials recommended by your trainers (See point 9).

4 – Review your notes on a daily basis

Input sessions in which you learn about different aspects of English language teaching will come at you thick and fast throughout the course. You’ll be learning new things every day so make sure you review your notes at the end of each day or early in the morning. Why not record yourself talking about what you’ve learnt, make mind maps, slideshows, to ensure you don’t forget.

5 – Team up with a ‘study buddy’

Trainee teachers are assessed on their ability to work with colleagues. Arrange study sessions with other trainees on the course and test each other. The best way to learn something is to teach it to somebody else so team up with another candidate and do some ‘peer-to-peer teaching’.

6 – Really pay attention in classes you observe

During the course, you will have the opportunity to watch experienced teachers – often your trainers – give classes. You will learn so much in these observed classes as these teachers will demonstrate techniques and activities which you can use in your own classes. Also, you will observe the other trainee teachers giving classes. Don’t use these classes as an opportunity to catch up on your sleep or plan your next class. Ask your trainer for specific observation tasks and ask your fellow trainees if you would like to focus on any specific areas (giving instructions, corrections, classroom management). Remember that your trainer will expect you to give some useful feedback to the other trainees during the feedback sessions.

7 – Listen carefully to your tutor’s feedback – and don’t take it personally!

Nobody likes being observed and some of us have a real problem receiving constructive criticism. Your trainers want you to pass the course because it reflects well on them. If you feel deflated by the feedback, ask your trainer for some practical advice on what to do to improve. Also, don’t compare your teaching performance with other trainees – you want to pass the course not ‘out-teach’ your fellow trainees.

8 – Learn how to plan effectively and efficiently

Many trainee teachers spend too much time planning and not enough time rehearsing the lesson. Your plan should be clear and concise but it does not have to be a work of art. Also, the plan you give to your trainee may not be a working plan that you can refer to in the lesson. Make yourself a simple plan that you can refer to while you’re teaching.

9 – Use approved reference materials when planning

The internet can be a trainee teacher’s greatest enemy. You have to teach the Present Perfect and decide to do some online research. 6 hours later you’re still looking for the perfect activity or grammatical explanation, glance at your watch, and realise you have to start the class in 10 minutes. Refer to reference materials and resources created especially for language learners. They should provide you with the information you need to prepare your plan. Remember that you have to teach according to the level of the learners and provide them with lots of activities that will allow them to practise the language you want to teach them. In other words, keep your language explanations simple and practical.

10 – Make sure you meet the criteria of each unit

In order to pass the course, you need to meet the requirements of each unit. Nothing more, nothing less. TEFL courses are initial teacher training courses which means that you are not expected to reinvent the wheel. Use check-lists to ensure you do everything that is expected of you on the course. You may not think certain tasks are particularly useful but you need to complete them to pass your TEFL course. If you have any complaints or suggestions, wait until the end of the course or the external moderation.

So there we are, I hope these 10 tips help you pass your TEFL course with flying colours.

Speak C1 English? Ever thought about teaching it?

For the attention of C1 English speakers

If you have a C1 English level, you should think about taking a TEFL course. Being a qualified Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) means you can work around the world and make a real difference in people’s lives. Moreover, many non-native speakers of English make fantastic teachers because you really know what it takes to learn English.

You speak great English even though it’s not your mother tongue

So, you have spent years and years studying to reach a C1 English level. You’re able to communicate well in English, especially with other people who don’t speak English as their mother tongue. You can watch TV on English and get most of the jokes, even if you don’t find them all funny! You know all about English grammar; in fact, you know much more than your average British person, who has no idea what the present perfect is. If you speak English at C1 level English, you have definitely studied the present perfect and would know how to explain its form and function. You don’t necessarily need to have passed a C1 English exam, you just need to be at that level of proficiency.

International English in the 21st century

In the 21st century, English is used more as a language of communication between non-native speakers than between native speakers. And when you think about it, most native English speakers don’t actually care too much about your accent. They understand you perfectly and even find your way of speaking charming, maybe even sexy!

In fact, if you are a fluent English speaker with a C2 English qualification, you would probably make a great English teacher. Even if you only have a C1, you could still probably teach 90% of ESL learners. Many TEFL courses only require you to have a C1 certificate, which means that you will be pushed to actually improve your English during the training.

Why Native speakers of English don’t always make the best teachers

Qualified English teachers are in high demand all around the world. However, there is still the belief that native speakers make the best teachers. But, is that true?

Native speakers may have a wider range of idiomatic expressions; they use grammatical structures with little effort; they have a high level of fluency meaning they are rarely lost for words. Yet, even native speakers struggle to write formal texts; we make spelling mistakes and mispronounce words; we stumble when we are asked to discuss an unfamiliar topic; we may not even understand dialects…or teenagers.

And many of us haven’t studied and analysed our own language because we acquired it naturally. Think of us like car drivers, we know how to drive but we don’t know how a car actually works or what to do when we need to fix it. We call a mechanic. Non-native speakers who have learned English in an EFL/ESL context know what works and what doesn’t work in TEFL.

Why Non-Native English speakers are often better teachers

As a teacher trainer, I can confirm that non-native speakers of English often make better teachers than native speakers.You struggled to learn the language which means you have a much better understanding of the challenges facing learners of English as a second or foreign language. You know the common errors and mistakes and have developed ways to explain and correct these errors.

In order to reach C2 English, you had to deconstruct English language in order to understand grammatical structures. Native speakers have a natural awareness of English grammar but are not always able to present it in a way that helps students learn it. Many native speakers really come unstuck analysing language on TEFL courses. As a C1 English speaker, you had to learn and discover rules and patterns in English.

You have a natural empathy with your learners. On an emotional level, you feel their pain and stress when they try to communicate in English. Acquiring a C1 level of English requires blood, sweat and tears; you should be very proud of your achievement.

You probably use a standard version of English. Native speakers often use lots of idioms and phrases specific to their variety of English. They sometimes struggle to express themselves clearly when communicating with non-native speakers. Your English is suitable for international communication. Remember that you will provide use English as a lingua franca (ELF) with members of a global community – not just Brits or North Americans.

The Curse of Knowledge

Finally, being an expert is something doesn’t make you an expert teacher. Native speakers often suffer from the curse of knowledge, they know too much about the language and are not able to present language in a way that their learners can understand. If you have a C1 level of English, you won’t be able to teach learners at C2 level, but you are probably expert enough to teach all the way up to B2. In other words, we often learn more effectively from non-experts, just people who are better than we are at speaking English.

Of course, you will have teaching challenges which native speakers don’t have. You will have to make sure your pronunciation is close to standard English, you will have to develop your knowledge of common idioms and phrases, you will have doubts about grammar which native speakers won’t have, and you may lose fluency when you are tired or stressed.

But, you will learn how to overcome these weaknesses with training and guidance. You’ll be able to resolve a number of doubts you have about ‘correct English’ and your trainers will identify about fossilised errors (mistakes you have made for a long time) and help you correct them. TEFL courses train you how to teach classes which help your learners really communicate in English. You won’t be expected to teach outdated methods, such as grammar translation.

Good teachers are good teachers, wherever they are from

I’ve trained hundreds of EFL / ESL teachers and they have common traits: a love of the language, a passion for teaching, patience and empathy, and a desire to help people achieve their learning goals. Some were native speakers and other spoke English as their second, third or even fourth language, but they were all skilled communicators in English with clear, intelligible pronunciation.

To quote David Crystal OBE, author of over 100 books on the English language and honorary professor of Linguistics at the University of Bangor in Wales.

If I were in charge of a language-teaching institution, I would want to know four things about applicants: are they fluent? are they intelligible? do they know how to analyse language? are they good teachers? I would not be interested in where they were born, what their first language was, or whether they had a regional accent. There are absolutely no grounds for discrimination these days.

Why you should consider taking a TEFL course

So, what do you think? If you are a C1 English speaker, why not consider training as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher? There are other reasons why taking a TEFL / TESOL course might be a good investment. Unlike educational degrees, you can complete the TEFL / TESOL course in just a month and they are relatively cheap: between 1000€ and 1500€.

On a TEFL / TESOL course, you will train with people from different backgrounds communicating in English. This is a microcosm of how English is used in the world today. Communication occurs between native speakers; between native speakers and non-native speakers, and between non-native speakers. This sharing of information, experience, and opinions is a wonderful feature of TEFL courses, it enables you to develop intercultural skills.

Another benefit of taking a TEFL course is that it throws you out of your comfort zone. You’ll be asked to do things in English, writing assignments, giving presentations, teaching without recourse to translation, which you may never have done before. If you have never taught before, just standing up in front of groups helps you develop skills which are really useful in the modern world, such as giving presentations. If you have taught, you will still learn lots of new techniques and approaches which will help you become a more versatile teacher.

Finally, the demand for English teachers with a TEFL qualification is incredibly high at the moment. There is a global craze for learning English. This may not last, although the signs are good, but academies, schools, universities, businesses, and recruitment agencies are struggling to find good teachers to fill their vacancies. Conditions aren’t always fantastic but TEFL is a great way to see the world and maybe even learn another language.

In the 21st century, English is the closest thing we have to an international language, a lingua franca. Taking a TEFL course trains you to become an international educator, meeting the needs of language learners around the world.

4 Essential Factors for Serious English Learners

There are four essential factors you need to focus on as a Serious English Learner if you want to upgrade your English.

Serious English learners don’t rely on teacher, textbooks or courses. They create their own learning program based around these four key aspects.

Take responsibility for and control of your own individual learning journey.

Find your motivation, develop a positive mindset, choose effective methods, and look for mentors who can really help you achieve your learning goals.

What you really need to improve your English

10 Board Games for EFL Teachers

How often do you play board games with your English learners?

With a little bit of imagination, you can use your board to practise grammar, lexis and pronunciation in lots of fun and engaging ways that will make your learners love your classes.

If you’re lucky, the board may be a new-fangled, hi-tech snazzy interactive smartboard. If you have never used one of these, they are basically like a giant tablet. You can do anything with them, but they do have a habit of breaking down when you’re in the middle of an activity.

The majority of private language academies – and even universities and training centres – still use boards which aren’t very smart at all – but are much more reliable.

There are two main types:

1. Old-school blackboards with chalk and dusters

2. White plastic boards with coloured markers.

Now, whichever type of board you use, I hope you use it for more than delivering boring grammar presentations and noting down new vocabulary.

I hope you use it for language learning games.

In my experience, even to most po-faced, straight-laced adult learners (the ones you often find sitting at the front in business English classes) understand the appeal of board games in language learning.

1. Hot Seat / Back-to-the Board

One student sits with their back to the board. The teacher writes a word on the board and the other students have to define the word to the student in the chair. Here’s a video explaining the game.

That’s the boring version.

Make it more competitive by putting the students in teams. A student from each team is chosen to sit with their back to the board and then the members of each team try to define the word to the seated student from their team.

Total mayhem will ensue and you’ll feel like a WWF referee. Great fun though!

2. Hangman

I’m sure you know how to play this classic game. Make it more engaging and challenging by getting the students to choose the words. In fact, why stop with words? Use phrases and idioms. You could even substitute letters for phonemic symbols!

3. Countdown

This is a TV show in the UK. Ask one student to pick 9 letters which you (or better still, one of your learners) write on the board. Make sure there are at least 3 vowels and 4 consonants. The students have to create the longest word possible from the combination of letters.

A variant of Countdown which I often play with students is to write a long word, such as ‘elicitation’, on the board and set a time limit of 3 minutes. The students (individually, in pairs, small groups) have to write down as many words as they can they can be found by using the letters found in the chosen word. Award extra points for longest word, funniest word etc. This is great for raising awareness of spelling combinations, prefixes and suffixes.

4. Bingo

Write 10-20 words or phrases on the board. Best to use lexical items that your students have recently studied. Your students choose 5 of the words and write them on a piece of paper. You – or one of your students – randomly read out the words and the first student to cross out all of the words on their paper is the winner.

This game is fine but can also be adapted to make it more fun and/or challenging.

Instead of reading the words, why not read out a definition. Write the word ‘rich’ on the board but say ‘This is a word that describes somebody with a lot of money’ to your learners.

You could also read out a synonym. For example, write the word ‘rich’ on the board but read out the word ‘wealthy’.

Tell a story and use the words. Students will have to follow the narrative and listen out for the words. To make it really challenging, you could tell a story and ‘beep out’ the words. For example, “Even though my grandfather was extremely poor, he married a woman who was (beep)… When they met,…’

5. Board Races

You can do board races in lots of ways. Draw a line in the middle of the board (or even divide it into 4 sections) and assign a section to each team. Students have to write their answers in the part of the board.

One very simple way to do a board race activity is put the students in two lines in front of the board. A student from each team stands in front of the board with a marker in their hand. You say a word and the first student to write the word correctly on the board wins a point for their team. A simple and fun way of practising spelling.

This game is also easy to adapt. Read out definitions rather than words. Read out a sentence with a missing word and asks the students to fill in the gap. You could even ask students to draw the word. If you want to practise telling the time, draw clock faces on the board, read out a time, and the students have to draw the hands on the clock face.

As well as spelling and vocabulary, you can do grammar board races. Modals, tenses, conditionals….

6. Pictionary

Give a student from each time a word. They have to draw the word on the board and the other members of the team have to guess. Higher-level students could draw idioms. ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ could prove very amusing!

7. Blockbusters

Another TV show from my childhood. Draw a grid on the board (20 squares with 4 columns and 5 rows). Write a letter in each box. Team A starts from the left-hand side and Team B from the right. Each team has to cross the board by choosing a letter and answering a question about a word beginning with that letter.

Student: “Can I have a p please?” (British people of a certain will titter nostalgically)

Teacher: “Of course. P is a word we use to describe a large, tropical fruit”

Student: ” A pineapple”.

If one team is unable to answer, the other team can answer and win the square. This is basically a ‘3-in-a-row’ game and I’m sure you can find ways to adapt the basic premise. Here is a more detailed explanation of how to play with ESL learners.

8. Word and Sentence Jumbles

Write a word on the board but put the letters in the wrong order. Students have to rearrange the letter and write the correct spelling of the word.

Do the same with a sentence to practise grammar or syntax. You could also write idioms or phrases and scramble the words. As always, once you have modelled the game with your learners, you should aim to encourage learner autonomy by asking them to create the word and sentence jumbles for their opponents.

9. Grammar Auctions

Grammar auctions are really simple to create. Write a sentence on the board and ask your students if they think it is grammatically correct or incorrect. If they choose correctly, they win a point. Here is a template you could use.

This simple idea can be adapted in several ways:

  • Hand out toy money and ask students to place a bet on whether they think the sentence is correct or not. If they are right, they double their money; if they are wrong, they lose their bet.
  • Get each group to write a correct / incorrect sentence for the other group.
  • Instead of grammar, write sentences with idioms, phrases or definitions on the board.

10. Board Dictations

If you have a large board, enough markers, and a reasonably small class, you can get most of the students writing on the board at the same time.

Read out a sentence and ask the students to write what they hear on the board. Correct sentences earn a point.

With higher-level learners, read out short passages. Even better, get students to dictate to each other.

If you haven’t come across dictogloss activities, you should try them. Read out a short text at normal speed and students write the keywords on the board. Read the passage again and let them add words. Read it out a third time and they may be able to write out the full passage, by using their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and syntax to complete the sentences.

Finally, you could always do a ‘running dictation‘. Write words, phrases or sentences on pieces of paper (post-its) and stick them around your area of study. Each group nominates a ‘scribe’ who will write down what they hear. The other students in the group run around, read the words on each piece of paper and try to memorise them. Then, they have to run back to their scribe who is waiting by the board and dictate what they read. The scribe writes what they hear on the board. This is a great example of an integrated skills task because it practises speaking, reading, listening and writing.

These are a few of my favourite board games in the English language classroom. You might like to try some of them for yourself. Working out how to instruct and implement board games with your learners will take some trial and error. In my experience, the learners themselves will often give you some useful feedback and ideas about the best way to play these board games in class: they may even like to design their own (learner autonomy!!).

What about you? What board games do you like to play with your learners?

I’m a great fan of using board games in the ELT classroom. If you’d like to know more about this topic, why not listen to this webinar by my friend Jason Anderson, author of Speaking Games.

As well as being great fun, I believe speaking games offer some of the best opportunities for ‘authentic’ language use in both adult and teenage classrooms, promoting real communication in interaction between learners, interaction with the teacher and interaction with materials.

Jason Anderson. Speaking Games: Learning to Play Webinar

Do you have a English-speaking role model?

A few years ago, I had a Japanese student who was obsessed with David Beckham. For those of you who don’t know, David Beckham was a very good English footballer who became incredibly famous for his good looks as well as his ability to kick a ball. This student, Kazu was his name, dyed his hair so he was blond like Beckham. He styled his hair in the same way as Beckham. He even dressed like Beckham.


One day. he came into class and started talking with a high-pitched voice – like an 11 year-old girl. His natural voice, which I heard when he spoke Japanese, was quite deep and masculine. After the class, I asked him why he was speaking in this funny voice.

“Funny voice” he said, he looked disappointed, “I’m trying to talk like Beckham”.

Well, David Beckham has many positive qualities but he is not regarded as the possessor of a rich and resonant speaking voice. ‘Golden balls’ not ‘Golden Voice’.

Listen to David Beckham speaking here.

However, I don’t think Kazu was wrong to look for a vocal role-model in English. His choice may have been a mistake but his learning strategy was, I think, quite a good one.

I often ask my learners who they would like to sound like in English.

I imagine most singers start by copying other singers they like. I imagine most artists start painting pictures which are similar to paintings by more famous artists. I imagine sportsmen and women and business people have role models which inspire them.

Find somebody with a clear and effective speaking voice and aspire to sound like them.

Having said that, we should choose realistic role models. If you are a woman with a high voice, you are unlikely to sound like James Earl Jones, the actor who voiced Darth Vader in the Star Wars film.

Your role model does not have to be a native speaker either. Most studies show that becoming fluent and proficient in a second language is possible but sounding like a native speaker is rare. Finding a fluent English speaker from your country might actually be a better – and more realistic – option for you.

But, why not do some research? Search for famous people with attractive voices and choose a vocal role model. See if you can find some audio or video recordings of them speaking English and try to copy them. Watch how they form the sounds in English and observe their body language. Record yourself speaking the same words and see how close you can come to sounding like them.

Analyse your vocal role model by focusing on the following aspects of their speech:

  • how they stress words and which words they stress
  • how they use strong and weak forms of common words (a/an/ of)
  • how they use intonation to express emotion
  • how they use intonation to finish one point, move to a new one, and ask questions
  • which phrases (fixed and semi-fixed) they like to use
  • what fillers (umm, right) they use between utterances
  • when and why they vary the speed and volume of their speech
  • how they interrupt and take turns
  • how they reformulate, repeat, paraphrase etc.
  • watch their facial expressions and how they form sounds and words

We can learn so much by observing effective speakers and discovering which techniques they use to communicate and express their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Also, make sure you watch how they interact with others and make them feel relaxed and comfortable.

Watch some TED Talks if you want to learn how to deliver speeches in English. There are some amazing public speakers you can learn from.

Who do you think has a great speaking voice that you could use as a vocal role model?

What is TEFL anyway?

What is TEFL anyway?

TEFL, TESOL, ESOL, ELT, CELTA, EAL, EAP, ESP etc. The list of acronyms (abbreviations consisting of the first letters of each word in the name of something, pronounced as a word, for example IKEA or UNICEF) initialisms (like acronyms but each letter is pronounced separately such as the BBC or the FBI) and abbreviations (short forms of words or phrases) is maddening. Terms vary from country to country and a term in one place may have a different meaning elsewhere.


TEFL  is probably the most common term (at least in Europe) and it stands for:

Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

There it is, simple isn’t it? ELT is another term I like to use and I’ll use this to refer to the English Language Teaching industry. Now, lots of people in this industry have a problem with the term TEFL because of the internationalisation of the English language – known as EIL (English as an International Language) or ELF (English as a lingua franca).

Is it accurate to say that English is a ‘foreign language’ in many countries where it is studied and used almost as deftly as the native tongue? Let’s be honest, your average 25 year-old Norwegian is as comfortable using English as many Brits, Americans or Australians. In fact, they may speak a version which is closer to the ‘standard and correct’ version than many native speakers (people whose mother tongue is English) who speak in a regional dialect with distinct grammatical structures, vocabulary items and pronunciation features.

Anyway, TEFL is what I shall be talking about; other terms might be used but they are mostly interchangeable unless you are having an academic discussion. I’ll be referring to the type of teaching that occurs in classrooms all over the world where a group of adults, children or adolescents turn up to speak with and learn from a teacher who supposedly speaks better English (wider vocabulary, awareness of formal grammar structures and accuracy and fluency when writing and speaking) than they do.

For many students, the only type of teacher they feel can do this job effectively is a native speaker teacher.

This might seem reasonable but just consider this for a moment: imagine going to, let’s say, Liverpool in the UK or Alabama in the USA and listening to the local native English speakers. Do they use the same variety as presenters on the BBC or CNN?

Rightly or wrongly, many students believe that the best way to learn ‘correct’ English is from a native speaker. If one is not available, the next best option is a non-native speaker (a person whose second, third or eighth language is English) who has mastered English and has no problems communicating with native speakers of English (our 25 year old Norwegian for example).

As a last resort, many students will begrudgingly accept classes with a teacher from their own country who is able to communicate more effectively in English than they can. It’s not really fair on non-native teachers of English but there is, unfortunately, a considerable amount of discrimination in the TEFL world. Click here if you want to join the campaign for TEFL equity.

But, why do so many people want to learn English?

There are several main reasons. They may need it to integrate into a society where people speak English in their daily lives (integrative motivation) or they need it to improve their study or work prospects – (instrumental motivation).

In many countries, English is mandatory in schools, colleges or universities (extrinsic motivation). There are those unusual souls who love it for its own sake (intrinsic motivation) and want to read Charles Dickens in the original language or understand the lyrics of Bob Dylan or their favourite rap artist but I doubt if they form the majority.

However, it’s also true that many people learn English in order to have a voice in the global community through social media such as Twitter or Facebook.

To sum up, TEFL is teaching English to people who don’t speak it as a first language. People do this all over the world from Afghanistan to Zanzibar.

There is also a huge market for teaching English to non-native learners (students or immigrants on the whole) in English speaking countries (The UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, Ireland etc.) but relatively few positions in countries where the majority of citizens are bilingual (Sweden, Norway, Gibraltar). This means that many teachers go abroad for a few years, enjoy the work and then find teaching jobs in their own countries.

A TEFL certificate is often described as being a passport to the world. With it, you can live and work (with a few exceptions) anywhere you want to.

How to Give Advice

When you give advice, you position yourself as somebody with experience, knowledge or wisdom that is worth sharing.

Sometimes we offer advice and other times we are asked for advice. Remember not to always give advice unless people seek your help. Otherwise, people may think you are a know-it-all.


Many of my students ask me for advice about how to improve their English and while I have some ideas which may be useful, there is a strong argument for saying that the best people to give advice about improving your English are successful language learners and not teachers.

A few years ago, I asked a group of Advanced-level learners (successful English language learners) to give some advice to lower-level learners.

Here are some of the things they said:

I think the best way to improve your English is to find an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend.

What you should do is find someone who wants to learn your language and arrange regular meetings with them – they can practise your language and you can practise English.

If I were you, I would go to a small town in an English-speaking country and immerse yourself in the language and the culture. Find a job working in an English-speaking environment, join clubs, and attend courses in English. Big cities, such as London, are full of people who speak your language, so you won’t need to spend 24 hours speaking English.

I reckon you ought to pay for a private tutor. They may be expensive but they are worth investing in because you can personalised attention and individual feedback.

If I were in your shoes, I would enrol in an intensive language course in which you spend 6 or 7 hours a day using English. It’s the only way to really develop.

The way I see it, you can learn English online now by doing everything in English, surfing the web, watching YouTube, reading articles, everything.

My advice would be to study abroad if possible. It will be really difficult at first but after a while, you’ll start to think, speak and dream in English. Oh, one more thing, avoid hanging out with people from your own country.

Let’s quickly review:

I think the best way to do something is to …
What you should do is do….
If I were you, I would do
I reckon you ought to do
If I were in your shoes, I would do
The way I see it, you can do…
My advice would be to do….

So, your homework is to tell me what advice you would give to people who want to go from Intermediate to Advanced English.

How to make suggestions in English

I imagine the reason you are listening to this podcast or reading this article is because you want to improve your English, to take your English to the next level. You might be a competent user of English but I expect you do not consider yourself an expert. In fact, you might consider me to be an expert because I am a) a native speaker of English and b) I have been teaching English for a long time.

Because you consider yourself to be a learner and you consider me to be a teacher, it is normal that you ask me for help, advice, and you value my opinion (I hope).

In this episode, therefore, I’m going to talk about making suggestions.

One way to look at the wider area of advice and suggestions is to think about 3 different levels:

The first level is making suggestions. When we make suggestions, we introduce an idea which the other person might like to consider. There are not under much pressure to accept our idea and can reject it or ignore it if they wish. A simple way to say this is to use ‘Could’. For instance, you could watch TV in English if you want to improve your English.

The middle level is advice. When we give advice, we are presenting ourselves – or the other person sees us – as somebody with some knowledge or experience about the problem. They come to us because they value our opinion and think we can help them. A simple way to say this is ‘You should find an English teacher to help you improve your English’

The highest level is when we offer our idea or opinion because it is necessary and vital that the  other person listens to us. In other words, our opinion is something that they really need to know. A simple way to say this is ‘You must speak more if you want to improve your English’.

One difficulty we have is deciding what level of advice we should give. Men, in particular, have this problem. We often give the highest level of advice even when the other person doesn’t ask for our help.

So, in the next 3 podcasts, I’m going to look at the 3 levels of advice.

Let’s look at making suggestions first. This is lower-level advice when the problem somebody has isn’t so serious and they are not desperate for our help. When we brainstorm ideas, think of possible solutions to this problem, we often use these phrases.

I was having a drink with some Spanish friends on Friday and one of them mentioned that she would like to improve her listening in English. She doesn’t need to pass a listening exam and doesn’t need to understand English in her job. So, it’s not something she needs, it’s just something she’d like.

Here are some suggestions I made:

You could start listening to English-language radio while you’re doing the housework.

How about listening to the British English Coach podcast every day?

Have you thought about buying an Audio Course in English?

Have you considered watching films in English with subtitles in your language?

It might actually be a good idea to try reading subtitles in English too.

What do you think about finding a podcast in English about something that interests you?

Have you tried going to a language exchange night and meeting some English speakers to practise with?

Let’s review the phrases. I will use the verb ‘do’ but you can obviously use any verb you like.

You could start or try doing something.

How about doing something?

Have you thought about doing something?

Have you considered doing something?

It might be a good idea to do something?

What do you think about doing something?

Have you tried doing something?

The great thing about these phrases is that you do not put any pressure on the person you are speaking to. Because they are only suggestions, you are letting them decide to follow your advice or forget it. No pressure and no stress for you or your conversational partner.

As I said, these phrases are great for brainstorming because the person who receives the suggestion does not have to assess it or evaluate it. They can even say ‘Good idea’ and then forget it and you won’t be offended.

Please tune in (which means listen to) the next podcast in which I’ll discuss phrases we use to give advice (level 2 ).

How to give explanations in English

Explaining is about making somebody understand something. When we explain, we often provide details of reasons about the thing, process, situation or theory we are discussing.

Explanations usually link cause with effect. For instance, we were you late home (the effect)? Because, I had to work late in the office (the cause).

In this podcast, we are going to look at some phrases used in English to give explanations.

I live in Spain and, when I’m not speaking English, I communicate in Spanish. My Spanish isn’t perfect – far from it – but I can generally express my ideas and opinions in most situations, although I make lots of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation mistakes. In fact, sometimes I even dream in Spanish.

But, the thing is, no matter how good my Spanish might become, I doubt whether I will ever feel 100% comfortable speaking Spanish. The truth is I feel like I have a different personality when I speak Spanish.

What about you? Do you feel like you have a different personality when you speak English? Do you feel like a different person when you speak English?

Why should that be the case? Why do we feel like we have a different personality when we speak a second or foreign language?

I’m going to explain why I think we feel this way. I’m going to discuss some of the possible causes for this effect.

The reason for this effect is that we have an emotional attachment to our first language, because it is the language we used as a child. Our deepest and oldest memories, the ones we have carried with us all our lives, are recorded in that first language. As we grew older, our bodies change but the core, the foundation of our personality, is expressed in our mother tongue.

One possible explanation is that we have the chance to create a new personality for ourselves when we learn a second language. We can be like actors performing a role. If we are shy in our first language, we can choose to be more confident and extroverted in our second language. This can be quite liberating for many people as we can create a second language alter-ego.

On the other hand, many people feel less comfortable and confident when speaking a second language. What’s responsible for that is that we do not have the language resources to express ourselves in a sophisticated way and this is really frustrating for adults. We feel like we are children again, communicating in an infantile way when we speak with adults. Let me explain, when we communicate in our first language, we have mastered the ability of complex communication. We are much more successful at finding appropriate ways and phrases to clearly express our ideas and opinions. We don’t have to worry about making grammar mistakes or mispronouncing words. And when we make mistakes, we are able to self-correct. We are able to communicate as equals with other adults. When we communicate in a foreign language with native speakers of that language, we notice the difference between their sophisticated use of language and our simple childish attempts at conversation.

There’s no doubt in my mind that successful learners of a foreign language realise that they are not the same person when they communicate in a second language. It could well be that trying to express the same personality in your second language causes people to feel frustrated and uncomfortable. So, I’d say that we feel like we have a different personality in our second language because our public persona is actually different.

So, let’s quickly review some of the phrases I used:

The reason for ……

One possible explanation is that….

What’s responsible for this effect is….

Let me explain,……

There’s no doubt in my mind……..

It could well be that…………

I’d say that ………..

Well, what do you think? Do you feel that you have a different personality when you speak English? If so, what are the possible causes of this effect?


How to agree and disagree in English

In this podcast, we are going to look at some phrases for agreeing and disagreeing with people’s opinions. If you didn’t listen to the last podcast, why not listen to that now and learn or review some expressions for giving opinions.

Listen to the podcast here

If you want the easy life, then just agree with everything that people say to you. All you have to do is say ‘Yeah’ or nod your head and you won’t have any problems.

Until one day, when people start to find you boring. They think you are just a ‘Yes man or woman’ with no opinion of your own.

Most of us prefer to interact with people who add something extra to the conversation and disagreement is often preferable to complete agreement.

So, let me begin with a few statements. Listen to them and decide if you agree or disagree. Also, think about whether you completely agree, partly agree, partly disagree or completely disagree.

The only good English teachers are native speakers, teachers whose first language is English.
British English is superior (better than) American English.
Correct grammar is more important than good pronunciation.
The only way to truly learn a second language is to go to that country where it is spoken.
Adults cannot become fluent speakers of a second language.

Now, I hope some of those statements made you think. I know I would find it difficult to completely agree with any of them.

But, agreeing or disagreeing is something that you are expected to do when you speak English. If you are taking a test, an interview, or even just socialising, you will be expected to respond to opinions.

Of course, there are cultural factors we have to consider and maybe you feel uncomfortable disagreeing with certain people in specific situations in your culture. Maybe, you shouldn’t disagree with your boss or your teacher or your parents.

However, if you are communicating with most native speakers of English, disagreeing is expected but there are ways to disagree indirectly which reduce the risk of argument or confrontation.

So, let’s look at some phrases for agreeing.

When we agree strongly, we can say:

You’re absolutely right.
I couldn’t agree more.
That’s exactly what I think.

Partial agreement is a little more difficult.

Yes, OK, but perhaps..
I see what you mean but have you thought about..
I hear what you’re saying but..
I accept what you’re saying but…
I see your point but…
I agree to some extent but..
True enough but….
On the whole, I agree with you but…

As I’m sure you have noticed, we often show we are in general agreement and then say ‘but’ to introduce a reservation or a different point of view.

As well as partial agreement, we can also express doubt or weak disagreement.

Yeah, I’m not really sure about that.
Maybe, but isn’t it more a question of …
That’s not really how I see it, I’m afraid.
I’m not really with you on that one.
Mmm, but don’t you think…?

And then of course, sometimes we just have to disagree

I can’t agree. I really think…
I have to disagree there..
No, I disagree. What about….?
No way! I completely disagree with you
Come on! How can you say that….
Absolutely not!
You’re talking rubbish.
You don’t know what you’re saying.
That’s absolute nonsense.

You get the idea. If I continue with stronger phrases to express disagreement, I will have to put a parental warning on this podcast and restrict it to people over 18.

There is also a great phrase in English when we know we will never agree with somebody so there is no point continuing with the argument.

OK, let’s agree to disagree.

So, to end, I’d like to repeat the statements I read out earlier and I’d like you to try to respond using some of the phrases we’ve looked at in this podcast.

The only good English teachers are native speakers, teachers whose first language is English.
British English is superior (better than) American English.
Correct grammar is more important than good pronunciation.
The only way to truly learn a second language is to go to that country where it is spoken.
Adults cannot become fluent speakers of a second language.

How to to give your opinion in English

In this podcast, I talk about some of the different ways to give your opinion in English.

Giving opinions

When we give our opinion, we say what we think, feel or believe about something or somebody.

For example, what do you think of the new boss? What do you think is the best way to improve your English?

Some people are very opinionated, which means they are certain about what they think and believe and express their ideas and opinions strongly and frequently. They love and can’t stop themselves expressing their opinions, even when they know nothing about the topic. I’m sure you know this type of person.

Other people are more cautious and careful when asked to give their opinions. They prefer not to be so certain about their own ideas and opinions and try to keep an open mind. Or they distance themselves from the opinions they express.

And of course, we are often more confident about giving our opinions when we are with people we know well or we are discussing a topic we are familiar with.

So, when we express our opinion, we have to decide how we would like to express it. We have to think carefully before expressing our opinion because if we express our opinion too strongly or directly, we can cause offence. However, if we are too cautious about expressing our opinions in certain situations, people may think we are indecisive and even weak. For example, if you are in a position of responsibility, you will probably be expected to have a strong or firm opinion.

So, now lets look at different phrases we can use to give our opinion.

Let’s choose a topic that we are all familiar with: the best way to improve your English.

There are at least 4 ways to give an opinion.

Firstly, We can express a strong opinion.

I’m absolutely convinced that the best way to improve your English is to live in an English-speaking country such as the UK.

It’s obvious to me that the best way to improve your English is to buy a grammar book and learn all of the rules.

As far as I’m concerned, the best way to improve your English is to immerse yourself in the language and stop communicating in your first language.

Secondly, we can express a cautious or reluctant opinion when we show that we are not certain about what we think or we are reluctant to express what we believe.

I suppose that getting a private tutor would be a good way to improve.

As far as I understand it, you need to practise on a regular basis if you want to improve.

It seems to me that there is no best way to learn English. Each person has to find a strategy or method that works for them.

I must admit that I’m not sure there is a best way to improve your English. I suppose that going to an English-speaking country to study English might be a good way.

I’m no expert but if I had to say, I guess that working in an English-speaking environment would help you improve.

Thirdly, we can express an objective opinion, based on research or what we have heard or read. In this way, we distance ourselves from the opinion to show that maybe it’s not what we personally believe.

Apparently, setting a clear goal, such as passing an exam, can help you improve your English.

I’ve heard that going to an English-speaking country is the best way to improve.

The research seems to suggest that there is no best way to improve your English.

Finally, we can express a subjective opinion, based only our own personal experience.

In my experience, the best way to improve your English is to practise as much as you can and learn from your mistakes.

I don’t know about other people, but I can say that taking English classes helped me.

What I’ve found is that watching and listening to films and TV in English can really help.

Of course, there are many ways to express your opinion in spoken English but I certainly recommend that you move beyond the most basic phrases such as ‘I think’ and ‘In my opinion’ if you want to take your English to the next level.

So, I’d love to hear what you think. Why not give me your opinion about the best way to improve your English. Express your ideas using the phrases we have looked at or maybe you know other ways to give your opinion.

How to express fear in English

Listen to the podcast first then read the article

A strange sound makes you up one morning. The sound of something tiny, moving around quickly. You wonder if it’s an insect, some kind of bug. But, where is it? On the wall? In your bed? On the floor?

Suddenly, you’re wide awake. Your eyes wide open in the darkness.

The bug isn’t on the wall, nor is it on the floor or even in your bed.

The bug is inside your ear. It’s running around inside your ear!!

Yesterday, I read a news story about singer Katie Melua. She had to go the doctor to have a spider removed from inside her ear. She seemed amazingly calm about it but I would have been petrified.

I’m scared of spiders! In fact, I’m terrified of spiders!

In this article, I’m going to give you a few common phrases to express fear in English.

FEAR is an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful or bad that is happening or might happen.

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

In English, we choose words to express the level of fear we feel about something.

I’m petrified of spiders

I’m terrified of spiders

I have a terrible fear of spiders

I’m really scared of spiders

I’m really afraid of spiders

I’m really frightened of spiders

I have a fear of spider

I’m scared of spiders

I’m afraid of spiders

I’m frightened of spiders

I am a little (bit) scared of spiders

I’m a little (bit) afraid of spiders

I’m a little (bit) frightened of spiders

We can also use this structure:

Spiders petrify me

Spiders terrify me

Spiders frighten me

Spiders really scare me

Spiders scare me

Spiders scare me a little (bit)

There are a number of colloquial (everyday language used mainly in spoken or informal communication) in British English, such as the following:

Spiders frighten the life out of me

Spiders scare the hell out of me

Spiders scare the shit out of me (this contains the word ‘shit’ which is a mild swear word, which you shouldn’t use when speaking to your grandmother).

So, it’s over to you.

What are you scared of? What frightens the life out of you?



Stop trying to be perfect

Listen to this blog post here

Here are a few questions I’d like to ask you. Just answer yes or no.

Do you avoid saying something in English if you don’t know the right word?
Do you avoid using grammar structures until you have mastered them?
Do you spend more time doing grammar or vocabulary exercises than actually communicating in English?
Do you only want to speak English with native speakers?
Do you ask your teachers to correct every mistake and then feel discouraged when they do?
Do you get upset when you don’t get top marks in your test?
Do you always ask your teacher for the best way to say or write something and get annoyed when they are not able to provide a clear answer?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, than there is a good chance that you are a perfectionist.

What is a perfectionist? According to the Cambridge dictionary, a perfectionist is a person who wants everything to be perfect and demands the highest standards possible.

A short time ago, the Iphone 6 was released and many reviewers talked about it being the perfect smartphone. Until, some person realised that they may bend out of shape when you put them in your pocket. Even Apple are not yet able to produce the perfect smartphone.

And if we cannot find a perfect smartphone, why do we think we should be able to communicate perfectly? When we decide to express ourselves, in our first, second or sixth language, we have to make choices. Sometimes, these choices are reasonably simple. If someone asks you what the time is, you could say five to six or nearly six or five minutes before six or five fifty-five. When we express ideas or opinions, we have an unlimited set of options. If I am in a job interview and the interviewer asks me why I want the job, what do I say?

I need the money
I love your company
I’m the best man for the job
I believe I can be a great asset to this company
Because I want your job in 5 years time.

See what I mean. There are no perfect responses in spoken communication. Even if I am offered the job, I cannot say my answer to the question was ‘perfect’. Maybe the interviewer chose to give me the job despite not because of my answer. Maybe he gave me the job because he liked my CV or my suit, or I reminded him of his son or best friend, or I was the only person who applied for the job.

When we use the English language to perform a function, agree, disagree, complain, make somebody laugh, how we express ourselves is based on a combination of factors such as the words we use or our facial expressions.

And what we say is affected by other factors beyond our control: the relationship we have with the other person, the mood of the person we are speaking with, the temperature of the room, the time of the day, their relationship with their husband or wife, the kind of day they are having, what they want to achieve from the interaction, what they think about you, distractions which may lead them to think about something else, how much attention they are paying to our words. The list of factors is endless.

But, we often blame ourselves for imperfect communication rather than look for other reasons why we didn’t get the response we wanted.

Which is why we need to reflect upon what happened when we spoke. Was it what we said or how we said it that was wrong? Or was it an external factor beyond our control that caused the problem?

In the end, it always difficult to be certain about why something happened. All we can do is observe the reaction we get, make an educated guess about why we got this reaction, and make changes for the next time. Only by experimenting with different approaches can we find a suitable and successful way to say something: not the perfect way but a way that works.

We learn from our mistakes and through trial and error.

And remember, it’s better to say something imperfectly than say nothing perfectly.

How to make sure you remember new words in English

Listen to the Podcast here

Read the article below

Have you heard of the Vocabulary Graveyard?

It’s the place where words go to die.

Many years ago, one of my teaching mentors told me why I should make sure my students reviewed new words and phrases.

If they don’t review these new words, they end up in the vocabulary graveyard!

When we learn something new, we are likely to forget it unless we keep on using it.

Use it or lose it

What do you do when you learn new words or phrases in English? How do you make sure this new language is stored in your long-term memory and doesn’t end up in the vocabulary graveyard?

Read on to discover a simple strategy for really learning new language

When you come across a new word, you can increase your chances of remembering it – and store it in your long-term memory – by using your mobile phone.

Step 1: Check the word in a dictionary app on your phone

Here’s what I recommend for fans of British English! This is the initial learning part. Make sure you check word type (noun, verb etc.) and make a note of the meaning. Read the example sentence which shows how the word is used in context and refer back to the text you read in which you first saw the word.

Step 2: Make it personal

We remember words much better when we relate them to our own life. Dictionary definitions and example sentences are fine, but they are not written especially for you. Adapt them using references to your own life and you are more likely to remember them.

Step 3: When you are happy with your example sentence, read it aloud a couple of times and try to remember it

Say it aloud, talk to yourself. After a couple of repetitions, you’ll remember it and won’t need to check what you wrote.  Even better, teach the word to a friend and make sure you ask them to teach it back to you!

Step 4: Then, record yourself defining the word with your example sentence on your mobile

I’ve just learnt the word ……

This is a verb / noun / adjective which means………

It has a similar meaning to

Here is an example of how it is used

Say your example sentence here

Listen back to the recording immediately. Wait a couple of minutes then write the word, the definition and the example sentence on a piece of paper or repeat it verbally.

Step 5: After an hour, listen back to the recording again (repeat to remember)

Listen again over the next 24 hours. Wait a day then listen again. Leave it for a couple of days then listen again. Wait a week before going back to it. Again, practising with a friend will maximise your chances of storing it in your long-term memory.

This is a really simple way to maximise your chance of actually learning new vocabulary in English.

There are 3 main reasons why this strategy works:

1. Personalisation of new language makes it more memorable

2. In everyday communication, we often use all 4 skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) which research suggests increases the chances of long-term memory storage.

3. Spaced repetition is a learning technique in which we learn new information by reviewing it but we extend the gaps between each review. For example, we review something after 2 hrs, then 10 hrs, then 2 days, then 10 days etc. This seems to be an extremely effective way to learn and many learning applications, such as Duolingo, use this technique.

As John Medina, author of Brain Rules puts it: Repeat to remember and Remember to Repeat.

I’d love to hear what you think. What do you do when you want to really learn new words? Let’s share our ideas.





How To Make New Language Sticky

A man goes on a business trip to a city in a small country in Europe. In the evening, he leaves his hotel room and goes to a local bar for a drink. He orders a cocktail and drinks it while he watches a sports game on TV.

He wakes up the next morning in a bath full of ice and a severe pain in his lower back. Next to the bath, there is a chair. On the chair there is a note and his mobile phone. He reads the note. It says the following:

Call this number or you will die.

For a moment, he doesn’t know what to do. He makes up his mind and calls the number. The voice tells him to stay where he is and somebody will fetch him. Minutes later, some men in white coats arrive to take him to hospital. As he is in the ambulance, he asks one of the men what is going on. The man tells him that he has been drugged and that while he was unconscious, one of his ………… was removed!

Now, even if you don’t know the word for ‘kidney’ in English, I am sure your mind created a mental image of a kidney as you were reading the end of the story.

In fact, many of you have probably heard this story, although some details may have been different in the version you know. What is amazing about the ‘kidney thieves’ story is that so many believe it but it has been proven to be an urban myth ( a story that people think is true but actually never happened).

The story, however, has all the ingredients of a story that sticks in the mind.

And, if you didn’t know the word kidney before, I’m sure you won’t forget it after hearing it in this chilling tale.

In their best-selling book Make it Sticky, Chip and Dan Heath talk about the key components of memorable ideas. While their focus is on brands and business, their model for making ideas memorable may also help you learn new language.

If you want to learn new words and phrases in English, applying these principles should help you remember them.

1) Keep it simple

When you learn an item of new language, you need to write a simple definition.If your definition for a new word is too long or complex, you are unlikely to remember it. Make sure your definition can be written in fewer than 10 words (fewer than 7 is even better). Even better, draw a picture if you can.

2) Be unexpected

After writing your definition, write a sentence using the new language in context. Make the sentence funny, strange, dramatic or even ridiculous. The important thing is that you create a surprising but vivid image that you will remember.

3) Make it credible and concrete

While unusual or unexpected sentences are likely to be more memorable, if they are too strange, you are likely to forget them. Remember that a great way to really learn new language is to teach it to another person. Sentences which make no sense are too far from reality to stick in the memory. Also, it’s a good idea to use examples which relate to your own life or experience.

4) Emotional

I remember far more from my Biology lessons at school than from my Physics lessons. The reason why is that my Biology teacher loved to shock us by asking us to dissect frogs’ hearts or he’d throw rats’ eyes at us. Disgust is a very powerful emotion, along with anger, fear, contempt, joy, sadness and surprise, and creating sentences which appeal to one or more emotional states should result in better retention of the new language. The story above works on many levels and evokes a range of emotions.

5) Make a story around the new language

The best way to make something memorable is to build a story around it, like the word ‘kidney’ in the example. You don’t need to create a script for a film but using the new item in a short anecdote will definitely increase your chances of remembering it. A short dialogue is especially effective for phrases, idioms, phrasal verbs or proverbs. Of course, creating even a short anecdote takes time and effort but I’m sure your hard work will pay off when you find yourself being able to use the new language in real-time communication.

Take Action

When you come across a new item of language:

  • Write a short definition or draw a picture. Remember to note down what type of word it is (noun, verb etc).
  • Write a sentence using the new language. Make the sentence unusual enough to remember but not too strange!
  • Think or even write a short anecdote using the new word. Make sure to personalise it and relate it to your own life and experiences.
  • Share the story by telling it to other people. If you can’t do that, record yourself telling the anecdote.

Here is a link to a video lesson by TED-ed on Make it Sticky.







How to tell anecdotes in English

“Words are how we think; stories are how we link.Christina Baldwin

The one thing that all humans share in common is our ability to learn and share experiences through stories.

Just think for a minute about your own life. How many stories could you tell people about what’s happened to you over the years? Hundreds? Thousands?

Stories are an essential part of communication. We love hearing other people tell stories. They are so much more engaging, so much more memorable than facts or theories.

Learning to tell stories in a foreign language isn’t as difficult as you might think. If you can tell a story in your own language, you should be able to use the same material and retell it in English. 

I’d like you to think of some incident that has happened to you  – or somebody you know – recently. Short stories about incidents (events that happen or occur) are known as anecdotes.  They are much easier for us to remember than stories from films or books because we have a personal attachment to them. We share anecdotes all the time. In fact, many scientists now argue that the brain is wired for stories because they enable us to make sense of the world. When we hear a story, we relate what happens to our own experiences. In other words, we make the story our own.

So, one of the most important skills you can learn in English is the ability to tell anecdotes. 

How to introduce an anecdote

We don’t plan to tell anecdotes. They emerge naturally in conversation. For example, somebody mentions a particular place, person or thing and you make a connection to something that you or somebody you know has experienced. It’s like a door opening for a few seconds, giving your anecdote just enough time to enter and make an impression on the people inside the room.

Here are some phrases you can use to introduce an anecdote:

Did I ever tell you about the time I………?

Have I ever mentioned the time when I….?

I’ll never forget the time I……?

Funny you should say that.  Have I told you about the time I……..?

Talking about / of …………, that reminds me of the time I …………..?

Using these phrases will indicate that you wish to tell an anecdote. You will get the floor (you have the right to speak) and people will listen to what you are about to say – as long as your anecdote is related to what was being discussed.

Setting the context

Once you have the floor, it’s a good idea to set the context. This basically means that you should provide a few background details so your listeners can imagine themselves in the situation. Think of it like the first scene in a film, where the director shows us where and when the story takes place, and who the principal characters are. Anecdotes should be short and sweet and too much context, especially if it is unnecessary, may bore or confuse the listeners.

It’s quite a few years ago now 

I was on my way to (place) to (verb)…. , when….

Do you know .(person or place)?  Well, we were

I’m not sure if you know ….. but it’s …….. 

I’m sure you all know about….. /I’m sure you’ve all been to……

Telling the story

After setting some context , you will provide want to create the narrative flow. In their simplest form, stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Anecdotes are generally simple stories so I’d recommend that you follow a linear or chronological narrative (arrange the events in the order of time) at first. When you have told the anecdote a couple of times, you might want to make even more interesting by telling it in a non-chronological way. To do this, you might want to use past perfect tenses.

Also, remember that you might want to switch to the present simple and present continuous when you are sure you have the listeners’ attention. Using present tenses can make the story more real and immediate. Using this technique puts the listeners inside the event and makes them feel as if they are experiencing it in real-time. This is known as the historic present.

Adding emphasis

When you are telling a story, you do not have to stick to the facts. Telling stories is a creative act and you will entertain your listeners more if you add emphasis and even exaggerate at times. When we listen to a great story told well, we remember what is was like to be a child, when everything was new and exciting. Children don’t want to hear about ‘an ordinary princess‘, they want to hear about ‘the most beautiful princess in the land’.

Here are some expressions we use to add emphasis:

You’re not going to believe this, but…..

You should have heard / seen…….!

And the strangest thing / funniest thing / best thing / worst thing was…..

I’ve never heard / seen such a ……. thing in my life…..

When you have told most of the story, you need to end it in a memorable way. We often do this by saving the best part of the story for last. Stories or anecdotes are like punch lines in a joke (the final part which makes everybody laugh) and should surprise, shock, amuse, or provide the listener with some useful insight about the experience. Good anecdotes can even change the way people think about things.

And then, to top it all,…..

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better / worse / stranger, ……..happened

And, you’ll never guess what happened at the end, well……

However, sometimes we decide to end with a kind of explanation about what had happened:

Anyway, to cut a long story short,…..

So, in the end, what happened was………

Anyway, it turns out that…………

The ending is, arguably, the most important part of an anecdote. It the listeners feel satisfied at the end, they are likely to remember the gist of the story. This means they can share your anecdote with people they know. Indeed, if you listen to your friends and family retell anecdotes, you will hear them add details to the original story. You may even find that they start telling an anecdote about your own life as if it had actually happened to them!

This week’s homework. 

Write down some notes about an anecdote based on something that happened to you. Practise telling it and try to use some of the phrases listed above. After you have told it a few times to yourself, try telling it to a friend. Then, next time you are speaking English with a group of people, try to introduce the topic related to the anecdote. For example, if you have a restaurant anecdote, move the conversation towards food. Finally, use one of the anecdote introduction phrases to get the attention of your listeners and tell your story.













Why you should study for 25 minutes at a time

Do you ever crawl into bed at the end of a hard day feeling annoyed with yourself?

You promised yourself you would stick to a learning routine. You told yourself that you would study English for 2 hours but only managed a few minutes. You make a mental promise to study extra hard tomorrow.

Do you think you’ll keep this promise to yourself?

The problem with learning a set of skills like a language is that is takes time and effort. Anybody who tells you that they learned English in 3 months is either delusional, a liar or someone who thinks being able to order a coffee and a sandwich means they are fluent.

The other problem with learning a language is that our degree of motivation rises and falls, depending on the difficulty level of the activity. If the challenge is too easy, we relax and feel bored. If it’s too difficult, we feel discouraged and lose motivation.

One way many people try to deal with these problems is by setting themselves unrealistic learning goals. Like somebody who decides to get fit by entering a marathon, they train too hard and wear themselves out.

Many studies support the view that successful learners (not just of languages) are able to focus on single tasks. They are also able to maintain that focus on a regular basis. In other words, they are consistent.

Many of my students seem to believe that time is the key factor in learning something. You may have heard of the 10,000 hour rule, which states that you need to practise something for this length of time in order to become an expert.

However, the problem with this rule is that it equates quality with quantity. Just studying something for 10,000 hours will not make you an expert unless you really focus on developing your skills. I have seen this many times with language learners. They attend an English language course for a set amount of hours and then feel disappointed when they have not achieved the results they expected.

Sitting in a lesson for 3 hours may have less effect on your English than spending half an hour on focused learning. You could:

study how to use a grammar form you have always found difficult

spend 30 minutes working on your pronunciation of vowel sounds

listen to a short podcast / watch a YouTube video and make some notes. Listen again and check the transcript (if there is one)

read a short article and identify how the writer uses past tenses to tell a story

write the first draft of an email you are planning to send

learn 7 new phrasal verbs and never forget them

When we spend a long time doing one thing, our energy levels diminish. We start off well but our energy and motivation levels drop as time goes on. This can also be seen at work. German workers seem to be more productive than British workers despite working for fewer hours so they do as much in one hour as we do in two.

Learning a language is the same and forcing yourself to continue studying when you are tired and disinterested may have a long-term negative effect on your learning development.

Learning English becomes an activity to be endured rather than enjoyed.

The Pomodoro Technique

One technique that may help you stay focused and motivated is the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. The inventor of the technique used a timer in the form of a tomato to develop the technique.

The technique is simple and you don’t need any special equipment  – except a timer with an alarm. You could use your mobile or an app on your computer but I’d suggest getting a physical one, for reasons I’ll explain later.

The Pomodoro Process

1. Write down something you want to study or work on.

2. Remove as many distractions as you can. Turn off your Facebook, Twitter alerts etc. Put some headphones on if you don’t want people to talk to you (this works!).

3. Set your timer for 25 minutes.

4. Start working or studying and don’t stop until you hear the alarm.

5. When the alarm rings, stop what you’re doing and walk around the room. The advantage of using a physical timer is that you can place it at a distance from where you’re working. This forces you to stop what you’re doing and physically get up to turn it off.

6. Take a 3-4 minute break and try to think or do something else, such as washing the dishes. Your mind needs to have a short rest.

7. Set the timer again for 25 minutes and do another ‘Pomodoro’.

8. If your task takes a long time (more than 4 Pomodoros), take a 20 minute break after the fourth round.

The Pomodoro technique works for several reasons:

a) It helps you focus on your goals

b) It trains you  to avoid distractions. You can even check your Facebook, Twitter feed during the 3 minute break.

c) 25 minutes is long enough to get things done and short enough so you won’t get bored or tired.

d) You can break long tasks into shorter ones. This means you feel a sense of achievement after each Pomodoro.

e) You can train your brain to focus on single tasks. If you think you can multi-task, look at the evidence.

f) The 3 minute break is long enough to give your brain time to recharge. This really helps with problem-solving because you return to your      work after the break with a fresh perspective.

g) It’s ideal if you are preparing for an exam.

Well, why not give the Pomodoro technique a try.

Here is your homework challenge.

Write down 5 English learning goals. These could be skill-based (speaking, listening, reading, writing) or related to specific language (vocabulary, grammar forms, pronunciation) and make them as specific as possible.

Set your timer and see if you can focus on your learning goals. Let me know how it goes and if you have any other ideas.









Should you use formal, neutral or informal English?

When you are introduced to somebody for the first time, what should you say?

a)  Nice to meet you

b)  How do you do?

c)  What’s up?

You may or may not be surprised to know that all three are common and appropriate in certain situations. They all perform the same function but they have different levels of formality.

a) Nice to meet you – This is neutral and can be used in most social contexts with most people.

b) How do you do? – This is a formal phrase that would only be used on formal occasions with specific people.

c) What’s up? – This is informal and would only be used on specific occasions by certain people.

This distinction between formal, neutral and informal registers (or styles) is not always so clear.

You may think that we would use a formal style in a situation such as an interview for a job.

However, I don’t think many people would use b) nowadays, because it is old-fashioned and rarely used, except in rare situations such as being invited to have a cup of tea with the Queen!

The neutral phrase (Nice to meet you) is probably the most suitable of the three for job interviews, although the informal phrase (What’s up?) might be fine if the interviewer is a young, relaxed American.

On the whole, formality in spoken English is not as common or important as it used to be. In the past, people made clear distinctions between formal language (which was often considered to be the correct form) and informal language (which was often considered inferior and incorrect). These days, we are aware that we make decisions about which style of language based on what is considered appropriate in each particular situation.

Characteristics of formal, neutral and informal spoken English

Formal language is characterised by the following features:

  • complex sentences
  • use of reported speech
  • indirect questions
  • use of modals such as could and would rather than can and will
  • full forms (should not) instead of contractions (shouldn’t)
  • frequent use of the passive voice
  • limited use of phrasal verbs
  • frequent use of long words with Latin or Greek roots

Neutral language is characterised by:

  • simpler sentences
  • active rather than passive voice
  • factual rather than emotional language
  • limited use of complex language
  • limited use of slang

Informal language is characterised by:

  • simple, often grammatically incomplete, sentences
  • active voice
  • emotional language
  • personal opinions
  • humour
  • slang, idioms and cliches
  • phrasal verbs
  • exclamations

Now, deciding which style to use can be difficult. To start with, we need to consider 2 main factors:

1. The degree of social distance between the speakers. If we know somebody well (friends, family, some colleagues) we generally use informal language. When we don’t people well or they are strangers, we generally use neutral language. When we don’t know somebody well and they have a high social status (judges, doctors, company directors, religious leaders), we may use a formal style to show deference (respect and politeness).

2. The nature of the topic. When we discuss serious or sensitive topics, we sometimes use formal language. This shows that we are thinking deeply about the topic and understand that it is serious and complex. So, when people discuss some aspects of business, intellectual conversations, official meetings, it is common to use formal language. In contrast, when we talk about everyday topics, we generally use informal language with friends and family and neutral language with strangers or people we don’t know well.

Another way of deciding which register is appropriate is to ask  these questions:

  1. Where are we?
  2. What are we talking about?
  3. Who are we talking to?
  4. How do we feel about the person and the topic of the conversation?

Let’s look at these questions in more detail:

1. Where are we?

If we are in a relaxed, social environment such as a bar or a cafe,  we probably don’t need to use formal English. In fact, using formal polite English might lead to a negative or unfriendly response.


A student of mine ordered a beer in a pub in London and made a polite request to the barman:

I wonder if you would be so kind as to serve me a glass of beer, sir.

The barman responded angrily, believing the student was making fun of him. In this environment, formal language was clearly inappropriate. As well as using an inappropriate register (formal), the student also failed to realise that we use phrases such as ‘I wonder if you would be so kind…‘ when we need somebody to do us a favour. As a barman’s job is to serve drinks to paying customers, he was perhaps offended by the choice of language used.

Formal language, however, is suitable in certain settings. If you go to an official ceremony (weddings, funeral, graduations), you will certainly notice that the people present use fixed formal phrases that are specific to the event, such as this phrase only ever heard at weddings:

Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding to the bride and groom.

In general, we don’t need to worry about learning these specific phrases, unless we are going to have an important role in these ceremonies. Just make sure you don’t use informal phrases when you speak to people you don’t know very well.

2. What are we talking about?

We tend to choose a particular register when we discuss certain topics. When we talk about everyday topics such as sports, weather, travel or TV shows, we are unlikely to use formal language. Again, using formal language may annoy the person you are talking to. Most people use informal or neutral more frequently than formal language outside of work. Therefore, if you use formal language when discussing an everyday topic, you may find that people think you are showing off or possibly being unfriendly.

On the other hand, we commonly use formal language to discuss some topics. These topics are generally of a more serious nature, such as business issues, politics, religion,personal finance and health issues. That is why even people you know may use more formal language if they talk about these serious issues with you. Serious topics often require serious language. You may joke with your boss in the office (informal language) but you are both likely to adopt formal language if you are negotiating a new contract.

3. Who are we talking to?

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you might find you use informal and formal language with the same person. This can cause problems because you may think you have a friendly relationship with somebody (because you sometimes communicate with informal language) and then find your relationship is fundamentally a professional one. In fact, you might decide to maintain a professional relationship and use neutral language with some of your colleagues or teachers: you know them quite well but they are not necessarily your friends.

It is probably more common to use neutral language rather than formal language with strangers. When we have small talk with somebody on a bus or with a taxi driver, we are unlikely to talk about serious topics.

4. How do we feel about the person and the topic of the conversation?

Our emotional attitude towards the person and the topic often determines whether we use informal, neutral or formal language. We may even start with neutral language and then switch to a formal style as the conversation changes.

Imagine we get into a taxi and start chatting to the taxi driver about an everyday topic, such as the weather. We would probably use neutral, perhaps even informal language, with them as the topic is a familiar one. This would probably change dramatically if the taxi driver tried to overcharge us. In order to show our frustration, we might switch to formal language to show we are serious about the topic (the price) and to demonstrate that the social interaction is a professional not a personal one.

So, as you can see, choosing the right level of formality when you communicate in English is important. But remember that native or proficient speakers will not necessarily be offended if your style is not entirely appropriate. We recognise that you are learning the language.


If you are able to use formal, neutral and informal language when you speak, you should find that you are able to express yourself appropriately in most situations.

However, out of the three styles, I would suggest that the formal style may be the least important. Unless you need it for professional or academic purposes, formal spoken English is not particularly common and you can often use a neutral style instead and still communicate in a suitable way.

Informal language helps you build friendships and develop strong relationships with people. It also allows you to express your sense of humour effectively.

Neutral language helps you deal with most everyday situations in a variety of different environments. It’s the default style and will rarely be inappropriate.

Formal language helps you function effectively in certain situations and will be appropriate in many professional, academic or official contexts. It’s useful for dealing with figures of authority.

So, next time you are about to have a social interaction in English, think about this question:

Should I use formal, neutral or informal language in this situation?











What you really need to know about Phrasal Verbs

Most of you probably find phrasal verbs one of the most frustrating things about the English language.

It’s so easy for native speakers. We use phrasal verbs without thinking. In fact, most native speakers – except for English teachers – don’t even know what they are! But we use them all the time, especially in spoken communication.

So, if you want to understand native speaker English, it’s a good idea to learn common phrasal verbs. You may not feel confident using them yourself but your listening comprehension will improve if you understand them when you hear them.

However, how important is it to learn hundreds of phrasal verbs if you use English to communicate with other non-native speakers of English?

I sometimes think teachers overstate the importance of phrasal verbs and this has the effect of putting you (our learners) under too much pressure. You think you need to learn what they mean and how to use them. And because there are so many, this feels like an impossible task!

But, I’m not sure all of you need to spend so much time studying them.


So, in this post, I’d like to present some of the key issues surrounding phrasal verbs and ask you some questions so you can decide if you need to devote so much effort towards learning how to use them.

Phrasal verbs are used much more between native speakers than between non-native speakers

If you listen to an informal conversation between native speakers, you’ll probably hear lots of phrasal verbs. However, even proficient non-native speakers don’t use them as much as you might think. Many of you are learning English because you want to use it as a Lingua Franca (a language used as a common language between speakers whose native or first languages are different). Phrasal verbs are not so important in conversations between non-native speakers so you may not need to spend so much time learning them.

  • Do you need to communicate with native speakers of English?
  • Do you want to live in an environment where native speaker English is used by your neighbours and colleagues
  • Do you find native speakers use fewer phrasal verbs when they speak to non-native speakers?

Native speakers often avoid using phrasal verbs when communicating with non-native speakers

People generally modify their language based on who they are speaking to. When I speak to an older person, I won’t use the same vocabulary I use when I’m chatting with friends. This feature of spoken communication, known as accommodation theory,  means we adapt our language to match the language used by the other person.

  • Do your native speaker conversation partners use many phrasal verbs when they speak to you?
  • Do they explain or use synonyms for any phrasal verbs you don’t understand?

Phrasal verbs are used much more in informal spoken than in formal written communication

Many proficient users of English rarely use phrasal verbs because they use formal English to communicate.

  • Do you need to write formal English for work or study purposes?
  • How often do you use informal spoken English?

Phrasal verbs can make communication quicker, easier and more relaxed

Many of my students ask me why native speakers of English use so many phrasal verbs when we can often express our ideas using regular verbs. Phrasal verbs because they make our conversation more natural and fluid. Look at these two sentences.

She learned some Italian by practising it rather than being taught it during her holiday in Rome.

She picked up some Italian during her holiday in Rome.

The second sentence with the phrasal verb is far more concise. It’s true that we can often express our ideas using regular verbs but phrasal verbs help us communicate more efficiently, saving us time and effort.

  • Is it important for you to communicate in a concise and efficient way?
  • Do you want to communicate in a relaxed way or do you prefer to use a more formal communicative style?

Common phrasal verbs often use common verbs

Most common phrasal verbs are formed using common verbs such as pick, give, make, take, put, come etc.

  • Can you think of many phrasal verbs which contain unusual verbs?
  • Do you think it is effective to learn phrasal verbs based around specific verbs?

Most phrasal verbs have a twin: a regular verb which has a similar meaning

If I pick somebody up from the airport, I could express this action using the regular verb ‘collect’. I don’t need to use the phrasal verb to communicate. Many phrasal verbs in English derive from Old English and the regular verb equivalent is often a more formal word based on a similar sounding word in Latin.

  • Do you learn phrasal verbs by matching them with their regular verb equivalent?
  • Do you need to use the phrasal verb if you can express your idea using a regular verb equivalent?
  • Does you first language have Latin roots? If so, do you generally use formal verbs rather than phrasal verbs?

Phrasal verbs may have a literal and / or an idiomatic meaning

Perhaps the most difficult thing about phrasal verbs is that a single phrasal verb can have different meanings depending on context.

What does the phrasal verb ‘pick up’ mean in these sentences?

  1. She picked up the pen from the floor.
  2. He picked her up from the airport.
  3. She picked up a little Italian during her holiday in Rome.

Sentence 1 is quite easy to understand. She takes the pen from a down position to an up position. In other words, it refers to a vertical movement.

Sentence 2 is more difficult but many of you would have a good chance of understanding that he takes her from the airport to another place. Again, this use refers to a physical movement.

Sentence 3 is almost impossible to guess. The meaning of pick in this sentence is not clear. Up is not used in a physical sense here.

Some linguists say that a phrasal verb is always idiomatic and the meaning cannot be understood by knowing the meaning of the individual words. I think it’s more useful to say that some phrasal verbs are easy to guess from the context and others are much more difficult.

  • How often do you guess the meaning of a phrasal verb from the context in which it is used?
  • Do you often use the preposition to help you guess the meaning of a phrasal verb?
  • Do you need to spend so much time learning the ‘literal’ phrasal verbs?

Learning lists of phrasal verbs may not be very effective

Many course books list phrasal verbs according to the main verb. I’m not sure that students benefit from learning 20 phrasal verbs with ‘come’. There are too many and they are too similar – students just get confused and worry about using the wrong particle.

Other course books categorise phrasal verbs according to topic or function. This seems to work better but learning 20 phrasal verbs used in cooking can be artificial. When I talk about food, I am likely to use a variety of phrasal verbs and not all of them have a direct relationship with food.

  • Do you think learning lists of phrasal verbs is effective?
  • How many phrasal verbs do you remember after studying them based around a key verb or a topic?
  • Do you make mistakes about which preposition / particle to use?

Learning individual phrasal verbs might be the best way to learn them

Perhaps the most effective strategy to use when learning phrasal verbs is learn them one at a time. When you read or hear a phrasal verb, note it down and check its meaning in a good dictionary. Think of phrasal verbs as synonyms, another way of saying something. Then, create an example sentence that means something to you, based on your personal life or your interests. You can do this by adapting the definition in the dictionary.

  • Do you keep a phrasal verb notebook?
  • What’s the best way to record phrasal verbs so you can remember them?
  • How often do you review the meaning of phrasal verbs you have learned?
  • Do you create your own example sentences?

Categorising phrasal verbs according to their type may confuse you

Many teachers may ask you to put phrasal verbs into categories. Many course books or reference books refer to Type 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Are they transitive? Intransitive?

Where does the pronoun go?

Is it possible to separate the verb and the particle?

Knowing the form of each phrasal verb may help some of you produce them accurately. Click here for a short video I made showing the different types.

On the other hand, learning about the different types may actually confuse you. Remember that it’s more important to recognise their meaning when other people use them and don’t worry about producing them accurately. If you make a small mistake with the position of the pronoun or preposition, native speakers will usually understand you (and they might even correct you by repeating the correct form).

  • Have you studied the 4 types of phrasal verbs?
  • Do you remember which verbs are transitive and which are intransitive?
  • Do you find it useful to categorise phrasal verbs according to their form?

To summarise, when you study phrasal verbs, you should think about these 3 questions:

  1. Is it necessary for you to learn hundreds of phrasal verbs?

  2. Do the strategies you use for learning and remembering phrasal verbs actually work for you?

  3. What learning strategies might help you improve your ability to learn phrasal verbs?

So, what do you think?

Has this article convinced you to spend more or less time and effort learning phrasal verbs?

What have you found to be the most effective ways to learn phrasal verbs?



5 things you should know about spoken English

Have you ever written down (transcribed) a conversation between native or proficient speakers of English?

If you have, you will know that natural conversation is far more chaotic, far less structured than written text. It contains lots of reformulation, repetition, false starts, incomplete sentences, formulaic phrases, and unfinished questions.

Conversations are unpredictable. We don’t have much time to think about what we are going to say next so most of us speak in a chaotic way. Thought and ideas are like butterflies that come into our mind. We do our best to catch them and transform them into words before they fly away.

When we speak, we constantly edit, reformulate and paraphrase what we have said to make sure our conversational partner is able to understand us.

When we speak, we generally do it in ‘real-time’, which means we are not always able to create grammatically perfect sentences.

When we have a conversation, we have to react in ‘real-time’ to our listener’s verbal and non-verbal responses and utterances, which means we have to improvise.

In other words, speech is far more flexible than written communication and doesn’t always follow the grammar rules you may learn in class.

So, here are some features of spoken English that may help you speak in a more natural and relaxed way in everyday conversations:

1. The historical present

When we tell a story or an anecdote about something that happened, we often start by using past tenses. When the listener is engaged and interested, we often switch to present tenses because this makes the story more lively, engaging and real to the listener.

The other day, I was walking to the station when I saw a huge black dog with enormous teeth. The dog started running towards me and I froze because I was so scared. Suddenly, the dog jumps and me and I manage to jump out of the way. But the dog grabs my coat in its teeth, I kick it with my left foot….

2. Discourse markers

Discourse markers are short words or phrases that connect ideas, indicate when somebody wants to start or end a speaking turn, check that the listener has understood, change the conversation or add something, show the listener how the speaker feels about something, and prepares the listener for what the speaker is about to say.

Common discourse markers in spoken English include: you know, like, right, OK then, actually, basically, as I was saying, what I mean is…

Listen carefully to fluent English speakers to identify which discourse markers they use. Try using them in your own speech.

3.  Situational ellipsis

When proficient speakers of English have informal conversations, they often leave out certain grammatical words, particularly pronouns and auxiliary verbs.

A. You coming? (Are you coming?)
B. No, staying at home. (No, I’m staying at home).

Ellipsis refers to omitting or leaving out certain words so we communicate quickly and economically, using only the words which we think are necessary to convey what we need to express.

If you have everyday conversations and speak in full sentences, you may sound too formal. However, if you have formal conversations and leave out too many pronouns and auxiliary verbs, you may sound too familiar and too informal.

Other grammar words (articles and prepositions) can also be omitted. Make sure you don’t leave out content words (verbs, adjectives, nouns) though!

4. General extenders

We lead very busy lives and information is all around us. Maybe that is why young people, in particular, use general extenders in their everyday speech. These are words or phrases that are used when we want to refer to a set of items but don’t want to list them all.

For example: I went to the supermarket to buy bread and milk and stuff.

Phrases such as something like that, and all that, and those sort of things, and everything, and ‘stuff like that’ are all general extenders.

Listeners don’t always need to know the details so you don’t have to list everything. If you do, you might find that you bore your conversational partners.

5. Hedging

We don’t always want to give strong opinions about things. Sometimes we are not sure how we feel about something or we don’t have a close relationship with the listener so don’t feel comfortable expressing how we really feel. Sometimes, we don’t want to give a ‘black and white’ response because we don’t know the appropriate or correct response. This is called ‘hedging’.

Hedging words include items such as:

may, might,could, quite, a bit, suppose, sort of, I guess, and not with an adjective.

What did you think of the meal?

It wasn’t bad.

Are you going to the party tomorrow?

Well, I may go. I suppose it might be fun.

The speaker is not 100% committed to their opinion. This means that people are unlikely to criticise them later because they didn’t express their views with complete certainty.

One of the reasons we criticise politicians is because they always speak with such certainty, even when they are wrong or the facts suggest otherwise!

So, get into the habit of listening to fluent speakers, notice how they express themselves. I’m sure you’ll hear examples of these 5 features of natural spoken English all the time.

What other characteristics of natural conversation do we find in English?

33 ways to speak better English without taking classes

If you’re reading this, I imagine you want to speak better English and communicate in a more confident and competent way.

When we communicate effectively we are able to express our ideas and opinions, share experiences, and build relationships with others. When we struggle to express ourselves, we feel unvalued and insecure. As human beings, we want to participate in group discussions and have an impact on the society around us.

In the modern world, we communicate across borders. English is the closest thing we have to an international language.

By speaking better English, people all over the world can hear our voice. But, to speak better English, you need a teacher, don’t you? You need to take English classes, right?


Well, English teachers and English classes definitely help. But, studying English for a few hours a week may not improve your spoken English very much.

What you need is to become a self-directed learner, somebody who takes responsibility for their own learning and creates their own learning programme to develop their English.

Now, it’s certainly true that speaking is a social activity and is best done with other people. However, you could say the same about many activities.  Leo Messi became a wonderful football player because he spent hours every day for many years practising by himself.

You can do the same with your English. Here are 33 ways to speak better English, without going to classes.

1. Record yourself speaking English. Listening to yourself can be strange at first but you get used to it. Listen to a recording of a fluent English speaker (a short audio file) and then record yourself repeating what they said. Compare the difference and try again. Humans are natural mimics so you will find yourself getting better and better. Soundcloud is an excellent tool for voice recording as you or your teacher can make notes about your errors.

2. Read aloud, especially dialogue. Reading aloud is not the same as speaking naturally. However, it is very useful for exercising the vocal muscles. Practise for 5 or 10 minutes a day and you will begin to notice which sounds are difficult for you to produce. Find transcripts of natural dialogues, such as these here, and practise acting them with a friend, you will also learn common phrases which we use when speaking.

3. Sing along to English songs while you’re driving or in the shower. The lyrics to pop songs are often conversational so you can learn lots of common expressions by listening to them. Humans are also able to remember words when used together with music which is why it is difficult to remember poems but easy to remember the words to songs. Here are some songs to get started with.

4. Watch short video clips and pause and repeat what you hear. YouTube is an amazing resource for language learners and you probably already have your favourite clips. My advice is to watch short clips and really study them. With longer videos, you may find your attention wanders. The key to improving by watching videos is to really listen carefully and use the pause button to focus on sounds and words. Many YouTube videos now have captions.

5. Learn vowel and consonant sounds in English. The Phonemic chart is a list of the different vowel and consonant sounds in English. Learning how to make these sounds and then using them to pronounce words correctly will really help you speak English clearly. This is a great resource from the British Council.

6. Learn and identify schwa. What is schwa you might be asking? Well, it’s the most common sound in English: Click here. We use it all the time in words like ‘teacher’ and ‘around’.

7. Learn about weak and strong forms of common words. When you know about the ‘schwa’ sound, you will listen to native speakers in a different way. English is a stress-timed language which means that we use a combination of strong and weak forms of some words. For example, which words do we stress in the following sentence?

I want to go for a drink tonight.

How do native speakers pronounce to / for / a in the sentence? We use the schwa sound so it sounds like:

I wanna go ferra drink tenigh.

Learn how and when to use weak forms and your speaking will improve overnight. You will also learn to focus on stressed words when listening to fast, native-speaker English and you will finally be able to understand us!

8. Learn about word stress. When words have more than one syllable, we stress one or more of them. For example, the word intelligent has four syllables but which syllable do we stress? Click here to find out. Remember that the small vertical mark above the word identifies the stressed syllable: /ɪnˈtel.ɪ.dʒənt/

9. Learn about sentence stress. Sentence stress refers to the word or words we stress in a phrase of a sentence. When we stress a word, we help the listener understand what is important. If we stress the wrong word or don’t stress the key word, the listener may get confused or not realise what is important in the sentence. A few years ago, I enrolled in a gym. I was asked to attend an introductory class at ‘five to six‘. The Hungarian receptionist stressed the word ‘six‘ so I arrived at 5.55. She looked at me and told me that I was late and the class had nearly finished. She should have stressed ‘five‘ and ‘six‘ so would have understood that the class lasted for one hour and began at 5pm! For more on sentence stress, read here.

10. Identify fixed and semi-fixed phrases and practise them. Fixed phrases usually contain between 3 and 7 words and include items like:

to be honest

in a moment

on the other hand

A conversation is made of grammatical structures, vocabulary and fixed or semi-fixed phrases. In fact, to tell the truth , on the whole, most of the time, my friends and I , communicate with each other in a series of fixed and semi-fixed expressions.

Learn the communicative function of these phrases and practise how to pronounce them (remember weak forms, which words are stressed) and use them in your everyday conversation. Click here for a list of 1000 common phrases.

11. Learn about collocations. Words don’t like being alone. They prefer to hang out with their friends and, just like people, some words form close friendships and other never speak to each other.

Yellow doesn’t get on well with hair. Maybe yellow is jealous of blond because blond and hair are frequently seen out together having a great time. Yellow doesn’t understand why hair prefers blond because yellow and blond are so similar.

Listen carefully for common combinations of words. Short and small have similar meanings but people have short hair not small hair. High and tall are often not so different but people have high hopes but not tall hopes. Foxes are sly not devious. Hours can be happy but are never cheerful. Idiots are stupid but rarely silly.

12. Replace regular verbs with phrasal verbs. Many learners of English don’t understand why native speakers use so many phrasal verbs where there are normal verbs (usually with Latin roots) which have the same meaning. English was originally a Germanic language which imported lots of Latin vocabulary after the Norman conquest in the 11th century. Regardless of the historical factors, the fact is that native English speakers use lots and lots of phrasal verbs. If you want to understand us, then try to include them in your conversation. If you make a mistake, you’ll probably make us laugh but you are unlikely to confuse us as we can usually guess what you want to say from the context. Phrasal verbs are spatial and originally referred to movement so when you learn a new one, make physical movements while saying them to help you remember.

13. Learn short automatic responses. Many of our responses are automatic (Right, OK, no problem, alright, fine thanks, just a minute, you’re welcome, fine by me, let’s do it!, yup, no way! you’re joking, right?, Do I have to? etc.) Collect these short automatic responses and start using them.

14. Practise telling stories and using narrative tenses. Humans are designed to tell stories. We use the past simple, past continuous and past perfect for telling stories but when the listener is hooked (very interested), they feel like they are actually experiencing the story right now. So, we often use present tenses to make our stories more dramatic!

15. Learn when to pause for effect. Speaking quickly in English does not make you an effective English speaker. Knowing when to pause to give the listener time to think about what you have said, respond appropriately, and predict what you are going to say does. Imagine you’re an actor on a stage, pausing keeps people interested. Great strategy if you need to speak English in public.

16. Learn about chunking. Chunking means joining words together to make meaningful units. You don’t need to analyse every word to use a phrase. Look at the phrase: Nice to meet you. It’s a short phrase (4 words) which can be remembered as a single item. It is also an example of ellipsis (leaving words out) because the words ‘It’  and ‘is’ are missing at the beginning of the phrase. However, we don’t need to include them.  Learn more here.

17. Learn about typical pronunciation problems in your first language. Japanese learners find it difficult to identify and produce ‘r‘ and ‘l‘ sounds; Spanish don’t distinguish between ‘b‘ and ‘v‘; Germans often use a ‘v‘ sound when they should use a ‘w‘. Find out about the problems people who speak your first language have when speaking English and you will know what you need to focus on.

18. Choose an accent you like and imitate it. We often have an emotional connection with certain nationalities. Do you have more of an interest in British culture or American culture? Do you support Manchester United or Arsenal?  Deciding what variety of English you want to learn is your first step.

19. Find an actor/actress you like and identify what makes them powerful speakers. Do you want to sound like Barack Obama, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Homes) Beyonce or Steve Jobs? If you want to sound like David Beckham, I advise you to reconsider, unless you want to sound like a young girl!

20. Use a mirror and / or a sheet of paper for identifying aspirated and non-aspirated sounds. Aspirated sounds are those with a short burst of here, such as ‘p‘ in ‘pen, and unaspirated sounds have no or little air, such as the ‘b‘ in ‘Ben‘. Watch this video to learn more.

21. Practise tongue twisters. Tongue twisters are phrases designed to improve your pronunciation of particular sounds. Here is a list for kids but it’s great fun.  Have a go now.Try saying this phrase quickly:

What a terrible tongue twister. What a terrible tongue twister. What a terrible tongue twister.

22. Practise spelling names, numbers and dates aloud. This may seem very basic to some of you but if you don’t practise, you forget how to say them.Have a go here at numbers here and at place names here.

23. Learn about common intonation patterns. Intonation (when the pitch of the voice goes up and down) is complex in English but it is very important as it expresses the feeling or emotion of the speaker. Here is an amusing introduction to intonation.

24. Learn about places of articulation. The articulators are the parts of the mouth we use to turn sound into speech. They can be fixed parts (the teeth, behind the teeth and the roof of the mouth) and mobile parts (the tongue, the lips, the soft palate, and the jaw). Click here for more information.

25. After looking at places of articulation, practise making the movements that native speakers use when they speak. Here’s a video and remember to open the jaws, move the lips and get your tongue moving!

26. Learn why English is a stress-timed language. The rhythm of the language is based on stressed syllables so we shorten the unstressed syllables to fit the rhythm. Syllable-timed languages (such as Spanish) take the same time to pronounce each syllable. Here’s an explanation which might explain why you speak English like a robot or watch this funny clip here.

27. Learn how to interrupt and interject politely and successfully. Click here for a list of interrupting phrases.

28. Learn about ellipsis, assimilation and linking sounds.

29. Speak lower not higher. Studies show that you command attention and demonstrate authority with a deeper vocal tone, especially men. This is particularly important if you have to speak in public. Here is a quick guide.

30. Listen and read along to poetry (or rap songs) to practise the rhythm of English. Limericks (short, funny, rhyming poems) are really useful and demonstrate how English is stress-timed and how we use weak forms.

31. Learn exclamation words and fillers. Watch this video or study this list of 100 common exclamations here.

32. Learn how to paraphrase. Paraphrasing is when we repeat what we have just said to make it clear to the listener or when we repeat what the other person has said by using different words. Here are a few to get started.

33. Use contractions more. Contractions make your speech more efficient because they save time and energy. Say ‘should not’ and then say ‘shouldn’t’: which is easier to say? Very common in fluent speech.

Now, here’s your CALL TO ACTION.

In the next 33 days, spend 15 minutes every day on one of the tips. I’m sure you’ll notice a huge improvement.

And maybe one day you’ll speak English like Messi plays football! 

Thanks for reading the post.

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10 Dictation Activites for EFL classes

Why write things on the board for the students to write in their notebooks when you can dictate them? In this post, you’ll read about 10 simple but fun dictation activities  that can be used with kids and adult learners.

Dictation fell out of fashion in EFL but smart dictation activities give your students a clear model of pronunciation and allows them to practise their listening and writing skills

Here’s an example:

Imagine you have a few topic questions you want your students to discuss.

You could write them on the board yourself or let them read the questions on the handout or in the course book, but if I were you, I would……


The teacher’s words are in italics. Note the use of imperatives to instruct the learners.

“Close your books”

“Write down what I say”

“What are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

“I’ll repeat. When ?”

(Pause while they write down what they have just heard)

“Now, discuss what you have written with your partner. Don’t show what you have written.

(Make exaggerated gesture hiding your notebook from your partner).

(Let them discuss what they have written, spelling out words out to each other if necessary)

“OK, one more time. When are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

(Let them make any final changes)

You have 2 options here:

Option 1

“Jose (there is one in every class here in Spain) Tell me what I said.”

Option 2

“Jose, write the question on the board.”

“Everybody, is Jose correct?”

(If Jose is correct, proceed to the next step. If he isn’t, see if the other students can produce the correct sentence)

“Everybody, repeat after me. What are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

(Students repeat in a choral drill)

Jose, say the sentence. Juan, your turn, Carmen, Patricia.

(Ask each student or several students to do individual drilling)

Now, in your pairs, discuss the question. You have 5 minutes.

Now, you might feel a bit uncomfortable dictating at first  but it can be, without doubt, a very student-centred teaching strategy which allows you to identify and deal with any grammar, lexical or pronunciation issues.

Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for recycling vocabulary items or grammar structures: if students are familiar with the language, why board it?
Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for introducing new language: English is often cited as being a non-phonetic language but many words actually have a strong sound and letter relationship so students can benefit from predicting spelling patterns. If the sound / spelling relationship is weak, dictating a word, letting students attempt to spell it, and then giving them the correct form may prove to be an effective strategy for retention.
Dictation helps students develop their note-taking ability. A useful skill to have in meetings, conferences, lectures etc.
Dictation is an integrated skills task. Students practice listening, writing, speaking and even reading.

Here are 10 Dictation Activities you might like to try

1.Jumbled Discussion Questions

Most course books use a series of discussion questions to interest and activate students current linguistic and cultural students knowledge about a topic.. Dictate them but jumble the words so they have to put them in the right order to create the questions. This will give them extra practice with word order in questions, which is often difficult for learners.

2. Single sentence dictations

If you have a series of sentences (or questions), give each student a number and only ask them to write down the sentence (or question) corresponding to their number. When you finish the dictation, the learners can dictate their sentences to each other in an information-gap mingling activity.

3. Running Dictations (with text)

These are often used in language classes. Take a text and cut up the sentences. Stick them on the walls of the classroom or even around the language centre (in the corridors, on windows, on computer screens, doors etc.). Put the students in small groups and assign a scribe (or secretary) to each group. The rest of the students have to read the texts, memorise them and then dictate them to the scribes. The winners are the first group to write down the text without any errors.

4. Running Dictations (with pictures)

This is the same activity as the previous one. The only difference is that the learners have to look at pictures and memorise what they see. This can be used with low-level learners to help them acquire and retain vocabulary. It is also useful for learners who have to describe pictures for exam tasks. In this activity, accuracy is not the main objective.

5. Running Dictations (with live speakers)

This is a fun activity with larger groups. Rather than use text, students have to dictate short texts to each other. Choose 4 students and ask them to stand or sit in one corner of the room. The other students have to go to each corner and listen to each of the 4 students dictating their text. Then, they run back to the scribe and dictate what they heard. This can be used with Business English students as each of the 4 students in the corner promote their brand. You could also create an activity based around a series of clues, for example, a murder mystery puzzle, in which the students have to go around asking for the clues so they can solve the problem.

6. Shopping lists

Writing lists is something we all do on a regular basis. Think of a real-life situation in which one person dictates a list to another. For example, an housebound elderly person dictating a shopping list to a home helper or a boss dictating a ‘to do’ list to their personal assistant.

7. Dictagloss

This is one of the most complete dictation activities, testing each of the 4 skills. Choose a short text and tell the students you are going to read it to them 3 or 4 times at normal speed.

When they listen for the first time, tell them to write down the content words they hear (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). Let them compare what they wrote down with their partner.

When they listen for the second time, tell them to write down the content words they missed. Again, ask them to compare with their partner. They should, at this stage, have identified most of the keywords.

When they listen for the third time, tell them to see if they can fill in the missing grammar words (pronouns, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, articles etc.). When they compare with their partner this time, they should be able to write down the sentences they heard.

At this stage, the sentences may not be grammatically correct so they can join with another pair and work together, using their existing knowledge of grammar and word order, to reconstruct the sentences they heard. This can be difficult so I recommend reading a final time so they can check their sentences against the originals.

What is so useful about dictagloss activities is that they allows learners to identify any recurring errors they make and notice any gaps they have. Here is a great post on dictagloss activities.

8. Recorded Message Dictations

If your students need to use English on the phone, put them in pairs and ask them to sit back-to-back. Student A calls Student B and Student B reads out a ‘pre-recorded’ answer phone message. This could be a phone number to call, an email, a timetable, or even a list of numbered options (Dial 1 to speak to a customer services operator, Call 2 to make a complaint).

9. Consequences / Mad libs

If you don’t know this game, click here. We usually play this game by writing down our answers, folding the paper and passing it on. However, this game can also be played as a mingling activity. Students walk around asking the prompt questions, such as ‘Who was the man?’ to a different student each time and then write down the answer they hear on their sheet of questions.

10. ‘Breaking News’

There is no reason why students have to write down exactly what they hear in dictation activities. In life, most of us take down notes not verbatim copy. You could create dictation activities based around real-life situations such as press conferences. You could use authentic or created audio files and ask your learners to take down notes. Then, put them in short groups and ask them to write a short news report about the event.

Traditional teaching consisted of teacher-led dictations. By letting students dictate to each other, we are giving them extra speaking training in class and encouraging them to develop their ability to speak clearly in English.

What dictation activities work well with your learners?

10 ways to use course books and encourage learner autonomy

Whatever you might think about using course books in class, most teachers in most teaching contexts are obliged – or strongly encouraged – to use them. In fact, I imagine most of you have succumbed to the temptation of starting a class by saying:


Your learners may well be comfortable with this approach. However, after a while, many of them will start to wonder why they are paying for classes when they could be doing most of the exercises at home.

Simply following exercises from a course book generally results in ineffective teaching.

Course books, no matter how good they are, have been written for the average group of learners and your group of learners have their own unique learning differences, interests, needs and objectives.

Teachers can certainly benefit from using good course books as they have a progressive syllabus, clear learning aims and objectives and lots of well-designed activities and exercises.

But, the fact remains that our learners have their own needs and interests and want to have some input into what and how they are learning.

One way to meet the challenge of following a course book and responding to the needs of your learners is to adopt a restricted negotiated syllabus approach and give them some responsibility for how the course books are used inside and outside class.

Here are 10 ideas to encourage learners to take control of the course book.Let your learners choose their course book. Bring in a selection at the beginning of the course or let them do online research. Then, they can share their opinions in small groups before coming to a class decision about which one is best suited to meet their learning needs.

  1. Ask your learners to define their learning needs and then let them refer to the contents page of the course book and decide upon a programme for meeting these needs. This could be done as an individual activity first. Then, they could compare their needs in small groups before deciding as a class.
  2. Refer to the contents page and let your learners decide which of the topics they want to study in class. They could also rate the topics in order of importance which means that you could decide how much time you want to spend on each one.
  3. Refer to the contents page and let your learners decide which grammar items they feel they need to focus on. This should probably be done in conjunction with a grammar diagnostic test so you can focus on real needs and not just perceived ones.
  4. Let your learners choose which activities or exercises they can do for homework. Many reading texts and controlled practice activities do not need to be done in class time. Many reading texts are preceded by several discussion questions to activate interest in the topic. Why not do these discussion tasks at the end of your class and then assign the reading texts for homework? Flip the classroom!
  5. Many of the reading / listening texts and controlled practice activities (gap-fills, sentence transformations) are not culturally relevant for the learners so elicit examples which are relevant to the students’ lives.  For example, I found short reading texts about a dead British author and a living British author designed to differentiate the Past Perfect and the Past Simple in one course book which could easily be replaced by eliciting information about authors from the learners’ own countries.
  6. Encourage your learners to create their own speaking /writing activities based on what they have been studying. Many of the ‘activation tasks’ in course books are simple discussion or problem-solving tasks and I have found learners to be more than capable of designing similar tasks which are based around their own needs and experiences.
  7. Rather than teach grammar items yourself, why not ask the learners to research particular grammar items  in small groups and prepare live or video/audio presentations (they can use the reference materials in the course book as the basis for their own presentations)? These small groups could present particular aspects of the grammar item or a different group could be asked to create a presentation at regular intervals throughout the course.
  8. Rather than create progress tests yourself or use those provided in the teacher’s book, you could ask groups of learners to refer to the units studied in the course book and create tests for their classmates.
  9. Ask your learners to create their own comprehension questions for reading texts. They could create questions related  elements of the text they found challenging. Again, they could even do the reading at home and then test each other in class.

There are many other ways we could encourage learner autonomy by giving our students some level of control over the course books we use. I’d love to hear some of your ideas.