Tag Archives: CELTA

Material-phobic Support Group

20 Oct

Disclaimer: Material design really isn’t my thing.  I prefer material-light tasks and I’m not very creative when it comes to material ideas.  Instead, I try to just build up a large mental bank of flexible task types and activities that I can use in all kinds of situations.  There are many amazing material designers out there and I’m happy to rely on their excellent work when I need resources.

With all that said, once in a while I do make a little something.  On my CELTA courses, I like for the tutors to actually teach most of the required ‘observation of experienced teachers’ component.  This is probably a topic for another post sometime, but one consequence is that I think quite a lot about what the trainees will be seeing and what will be most useful for them at different stages of the course.  So while I often have a Dogme or TBL lesson in the latter stages to show alternative approaches/methodologies, on Day 1, I like to have some material as the basis, much like the support they’ll be able to use in their own lessons.

In any case, somehow someone (aka Chris Ożόg) put some of my rare original material up on the IH journal blog.  A big thanks to a CELTA trainee from back in the day who inspired this lesson (I told you I wasn’t creative), Rusty Wienk – I love when trainees go on to bigger and better things in ELT and could end up as my boss one day.

Here’s the link to the journal: http://ihjournal.com/blog If anyone else has any lesson ideas to add, I’m sure Chris would be grateful.

Ok, enough about worksheets.  Maybe the next post will be about CELTA Dogme demos instead.

P.S. Since I also can’t think of any creative image or video to suit this mini-post, here’s a never-ending loop of the rooster from Robin Hood whistling – enjoy!


18 Jun

So… apparently movies in the Marvel ‘Cinematic Universe’ have grossed over $3,400,745,593 dollars. That’s 3.4 b-b-b-billion for 11 movies with a whole slate of follow-up on-screen bombast en route to complete their cinematic world subjugation. Not too shabby eh?

I’d argue though that the studio masterminds have left money on the table by overlooking a key figure in their comic book source material, the 1980’s anti-hero Taskmaster!!! Intent on “[training] a large number of thugs at criminal academies”, Taskmaster was a superhero and a teacher! True, he never went much into humanistic language pedagogy, but not all super teachers can start pseudo-scientific Hungarian cults.


I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Taskmaster until I googled the word a few minutes ago, but I can relate to the idea of a task-setting obsessive. It definitely doesn’t get into any of the deeper truths about language learning, but it still amazes me that the success of a lesson can hinge on whether learners have actually understood the tasks. That’s probably why a few years ago one of my first posts ever was about ICQs, and somehow, that post still gets more hits than almost any other (which doesn’t say much for my improvement as a writer!). Back then, I was railing against pointless instruction checking questions, and a few dozen CELTA courses later I’m still not a huge fan.

A few months ago though I decided to dig a bit deeper and see what actually does work in terms of helping students to come to grips with activities. Here, the concept of ‘instructional scaffolding’ was helpful, covering all kinds of support structures like checking questions, visual support, examples and demonstrations, gestures, etc. (Applebee and Langer, 1983).

With the kind permission of my Celtees, I made a note of every instruction given, the type of scaffolding used, and whether or not teacher intervention and repair was then needed. I even recorded a few samples for good measure. Four weeks, a bunch of pretty graphs, and one excessively long paper later, I came to a couple of simple conclusions:

1)  Instructional scaffolding works:

Pretty ground-breaking stuff, I know. Basically, looking at both the numbers and transcripts, it seems that no matter how you do it, providing some kind of support for instructions leads to better comprehension. This was true even when taking into consideration the type of task and the quality of the scaffolding, e.g. clear, unchecked instructions vs. garbled, checked instructions. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this!

Types of scaffolding used and subsequent repair


Between the three most common support types, there was not much difference in either usage or apparent effectiveness in comparison to when there was no support.  However, these stats are a bit misleading as Visual support was never used in isolation.

2)  Combinations of instructional scaffolds work best

More importantly in terms of being able to help my trainees, there was pretty compelling evidence that combinations of instructional scaffolds are more likely to ensure task comprehension than any instructional scaffold used in isolation. Although just asking ICQs or doing a demo worked some of the time, when used in combinations there was a massive improvement in task understanding. In fact, although it might seem excessive, when there was a demo or example, an ICQ, and some sort of visual, the learners understood 100% of the time on the course, no matter which of the eight trainees was teaching. At the other end of the spectrum, one or no scaffolds led to repair between 70% and 100% of the time.

Combinations of Scaffolds Used and Subsequent Repair


Of course, all the usual caveats apply – specific context, small sample, only one course, etc. Still, it was interesting to put intuition to the test and to gain a little evidence that may help future teachers trying to effectively set tasks.

Like with past blog posts about projects of little interest to all but a strange few, feel free to contact me for the complete paper full of thrilling facts, methodology, and figures. As well, if anyone has had a different experience in their teaching/training context, it would be great to hear about it as there are a lot of questions still to answer – does it make a difference if they are new or experienced teachers? The length of time the teacher has had the group? The cultural context?

More importantly, when will Taskmaster be coming to a theatre near me?


Applebee, A. and J. Langer. 1983. ‘Instructional scaffolding: Reading and writing as natural language activities’. Language Arts, 60/2.

Richards, J.C. and T. Rodgers.  2001.  Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Down a reflective rinvoludicrous rabbit hole…

30 Jan

(If you haven’t read the EnglishDroid Rinvolucri interview, read that instead of this!)

Final week of another CELTA course, and not surprisingly, the ol’ mental acuity might be slipping a bit. Time for an inner-grammatical biscuit!

Cookie monsterIf you’ve ever seen a trainee after they finish their final observed lesson, you might be surprised to find out that they aren’t quite as keen to soak up detailed oral feedback from their peers or tutors as in previous lessons.[1] To combat this pandemic, some tutors get creative with the observation tasks, a common one being for the peers observing to draw a picture representing the lesson: a happy meal, something abstract, a train wreck, etc. (thanks Jamie King, Brigid Nugent).

But is this going far enough? Last year, a timid Russian candidate decided that she wasn’t into drawing and instead created her own observation task – selecting what kind of dog breed best represented each candidate’s lesson and why. We had a poodle, a German shepherd, and I think a Labrador – Inspired!

Ugly dog

So for the last couple of courses, for the final day’s lessons, I’ve let trainees create their own equally random observation tasks. To date:

– Blank verse poetry

– Feedback set to Russian lullabies and military marches

– A map

– A flow chart (exciting!)

– Deciding the type of animal the lesson represented

– Deciding the type of food the lesson represented

– Haikus

– Drawing the type of dinosaur the lesson represented

– Drawing the type of crime the lesson represented

Not a massive list, but it’s produced some great feedback. Although, some of it’s been more funny than helpful, there has also been some really aware and insightful justifications for the choices. Granted, the drawing of New Brunswick flooded by a sea of blood and pigs was a bit arbitrary, but never mind. Proof once again that specific tasks and parameters can get the creative juices flowing.

If anyone else out there is dealing with peer observations, let me know if you have any equally random or trainee generated tasks (or conversely if you just think this is a massive waste of time)! I’ll try to start scanning and uploading some of my favourites too to add to the collection.

[1] Should be pointed out, they still get detailed written feedback which I’m sure they cherish and savour later.

If you say so…

8 Aug

I love new teachers-in-training. The enthusiasm, the motivation, the energy, the willingness to actually listen to me – it’s all good. And although I sometimes despair, I also love their creative use of ELT terminology.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a few of my favourite quotations from CELTA courses over the last four years, from lesson plans, self-evaluations, assignments, etc. This is in no way intended to be disparaging, but is a celebration of creative ELT language. If other trainers have any more hidden gems to add, please leave a comment.

From written assignments

• Here I give you the greatest opening sentence for a CELTA written assignment ever produced:

To begin, a special thanks to the learning style of adults.

Yeah! Give it up to our individual learning differences! Kinaesthesia rocks!

• And from an assignment analyzing the learners:

Mistakes are committed when using their receptive skills.

I tried imagining this then gave up.

From lesson plans

• After seeing an endless parade of personal aims focused on ‘giving clear instructions’ or ‘reducing TTT’, this following aim was like a breath of fresh air. A convoluted, incomprehensible breath of fresh air:

Have an overall plan to make an initial starting point for all other facets attached for teaching delivery system. Having trouble keeping up to get finished in time enough to deal with what I have created.

• Some of my all time favourite collocations come from the trainees stage aims and procedure. Here are just a few classics:

Drill the concept
Repeat after me ‘The present simple is used for routine actions’, ‘The present simple is used for routine actions’

Drill for fluency
I suppose they could have meant drilling language chunks in order to increase automaticity thereby leading to greater fluency – but I somehow doubt it…

Setting the concept

The little past continuous was walking along, when suddenly the big bad past simple pounced!

Discuss for accuracy
I really wish I could do this in Spanish.

Identify meaning through sound

Listen in pairs
Hey, what did I say about listening alone? This is an interactive class!

Vigorous mouth postures
No comment.


• I love a crazy task check, and these are just a few of my favourites:

Will you read alone?

While holding up an article: Are you going to listen to the text?

• There have been some classic CCQ’s as well but my all-time favourite had to be this check for the word ‘exhausted’:

Is she happy?

I couldn’t help but giggle when a student quipped that it depends on why she’s exhausted.

And finally…

Something off of a self-evaluation that I think we can all relate to:

This lesson was like an out of body experience watching myself suck.

Could you have said it any better?