Re-imagining the grammar classics: What did you do today?

Finally I’m back with the third in a series of blog posts in which I’ll present a range of activities that can be used in class with minimal – or even no – preparation at all. Most of these activities revolve around reviewing or extending grammar structures, and as such are designed to be as flexible as possible and thus usable in many different situations.

First up we looked at a way of personalizing gap fill exercises so that they work in a more meaningful and motivational way in your language class. Then I considered what to do when faced with making gap fills that we find in books more meaningful and how to inspire some creative thinking when completing them. In today’s installment I offer a simple technique for getting learners to use the simple past to describe their day to their class mates.

Today I…

Click on the image above to download the worksheet and teacher notes.

Click on the image above to download the worksheet and teacher notes.

This is a great way of getting learners to practice the simple past in a personally meaningful way and works really well as a warmer.

Basically, learners explain what time they got up, what they had for breakfast, and how they got to school or work.

Setting it up

  • On the board, write down what time you got up, what you had for breakfast, and how you got to school.
  • Make sentences with each and ask the learners to repeat in the form of a drill. Keep the sentences short and snappy: don’t go into loads of detail!
  • Give learners a couple of minutes to think about how they started their day; they can write it down if they wish.
  • Get one learner to repeat your answers, then supply his or her own, and go round the whole class repeating this pattern.

Here’s an example of how to do it…

Teacher: This morning, I got up at 6:30. I ate toast. I came to school by bus.
Learner A: The teacher got up at 6:30, he ate cereal, and he came to school by bus. I got up at 7:00, I ate cereal, and I drove to school.
Learner B: She got up at 7:00, she ate cereal, and she drove to school. I got up at 6:30. I drank coffee. I walked to school.

Extending the activity

  • If your class is in the evening, you could make this more challenging by adding further steps (What did you have for lunch? What did you do in the afternoon?).
  • If you have confident learners, ask them to tell you what the previous two speakers did, rather than just one (learner C explains what learners A and B did, for instance).

This is very simple to set up and requires very little preparation. While you can do this with no materials whatsoever, I have prepared a downloadable worksheet with instructions for you. Click here to download (pdf format).

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Posted in Teaching ideas | Tagged | Leave a comment

Secrets of those that do the TEFL hiring: Making the right impression at your interview

As with my previous post on the benefits of the CELTA course, this is an ancient bit of writing that I’ve brought back from the dead for you all. I originally wrote this for another blog I contributed to several years, basing the article on responses made on an ELT discussion forum.

Both the blog and the forum are long since defunct, but I think the points raised are as relevant today as they were then. All quotes given are as they originally appeared on the ELT World forum.


What you need to ask at your TEFL interview 

In March, Mishmumkin raised an issue of great significance to those of us who are looking for that dream TEFL job or are considering starting out in the profession: ‘If I’ve done my research correctly I should know a great deal about my potential employer before the interview. I’m curious what those who do the hiring wish their candidates asked about.’ So, what are recruiters expecting from their prospective employees at the interview? The forum members shared their wealth of experience in offering the following words of great wisdom. Here’s what those in the position to hire feel you should be asking your future employer at that interview:

1. Ask what you NEED to know

First and foremost, there is a consensus that you really need to ask what’s important to you as the employee: don’t assume that the person interviewing you knows what your priorities are. MELEE notes that, ‘mostly I’m just listening to see what they ask me. That will tell me what’s important to them (the students, the curriculum, resources, housing, benefits, vacation time…). I do the interviews individually, but then report back to a panel – that conversation always includes letting the others know what questions were asked by the candidate.’ When applying for a job it’s easy to forget that, while it’s a one of event for you as the potential employee, the person doing the hiring is having the same interaction many, many times and, as noted earlier, is probably under time constraints. Therefore they are likely to try to get what they need from the encounter, leaving you to ask the questions you personally need answering. Justin Trullinger exemplifies the kind of things that he, from experience, feels teachers should ask at the interview:

‘I do the hiring at the organization where I work. It’s not that I have a list of questions I want you to ask, because I don’t know what’s important to you but I feel very strongly that you SHOULD ask about whatever is. Some of the worst problems I’ve had with teachers have had to do with things that were important to them that they didn’t find out about beforehand, or didn’t ask for more details.’

Some examples:

1) Clothing:

Teachers placed in elementary schools through us wear uniforms. They are told about this before hiring, and asked if they are okay with it. Depending on the school, these uniforms vary – some are very smart suit looking things, but some, especially at lower income schools, are sweat suits with school logos. One teacher, very appearance conscious, was so horrified by wearing a sweat suit that she was unable to continue, and we had to negotiate special permission for her to wear her own clothes. This made all the parents think she was the principal. It was a mess. Personally, I don’t care what I wear, and would love to have a uniform, any uniform that meant I wouldn’t have to shop for clothes, or try to figure out what color tie goes with things…but to her, it was an issue. She should have asked.

2) Costs of living:

Some things are very cheap in Ecuador. Some are more expensive. Computers are first world prices or higher. Having read online that the cost of living in Ecuador is low (in terms of rent and food, it is) one teacher decided rather than bringing a computer, to buy one here. But here, lap tops are high end luxury without much selection. He should have asked.

3) Housing:

We don’t provide housing – but many of our teachers share apartments with each other – which is clearly stated in our pre-interview literature. This is because Ecuadorian apartments are mostly large family or multifamily units, and it would be hard to afford one on your own. A teacher who doesn’t like to share simply assumed that he could find his own, and anticipated finding an apartment for the same cost as a room in a shared unit. Not a chance. Then he complains that it’s hard to make ends meet…should have asked.

'Classroom' by Linda Pospisilova from #ELTPics

‘Classroom’ by Linda Pospisilova from #ELTPics

4) Teaching conditions:

Our teachers are expected to use text books, but not to spend the whole course using only textbooks. They also have to be creative and come up with their own supplementary activities and materials. Payment for this is included in their hourly rate – they are not paid for extra hours for doing it. This is standard enough that I didn’t make an issue of it, though again, it says in the package that “teaching hours are paid for at $X per hour, and that this rate includes preparation…” Again, if this is a problem, ask, let’s talk beforehand. Likewise, if you have any financial obligations outside of the country, like student loan payments, it would be good to ask about how feasible that is…

To that list I’d certainly want to add medical insurance and, if you’re thinking about staying in a country for an extended period of time, you might also want to look into their policies regarding work permits and social security contributions. Those of you who’re new to teaching may find it hard to believe but some of us end up staying for good. It would be a shame to find out several years down the line that you’ve been living illegally and that you’re presence in a country is no longer welcome, or that what could have become a reasonable state pension to supplement your retirement doesn’t exist as your employers never registered you. Ask!

2. Post-interview questions

Of course, sometimes as the interviewee, you’re going to feel overwhelmed by the situation. A natural consequence of this is forgetting to ask the questions that you really need answering, as Emma notes, ‘I’ve found in interviews that the interviewer has told me so much information about the school and teaching methods that I really can’t think of anything when asked if I have questions. To ask about obvious stuff like salary when I haven’t been offered a job seems presumptuous.’ This issue of asking about salary is something that I’ll return to later. Emma also asked the following question on the forum:

‘How do you feel about teachers coming back and asking questions before accepting the post?’

MELEE replied thus, reiterating the need to be time conscious, ‘I think it’s great. I’d rather teachers ask only 2 or 3 of the most important questions in the interview, but that’s because we interview over the phone and I’m under pressure to try to keep the calls around 30 minutes. I welcome additional questions by email, no matter how many. The sooner the better because really I’m using those questions to decide whether or not I’m going to make you an offer.’ Something I’ve always done at the end of an interview is ask the interviewer if I can make additional contact after our meeting, primarily because I experience the kind of information overload that Emma mentions. As MELEE quite clearly states, this is beneficial to both parties.

3. Time (not) to talk money

Now onto the issue that’s almost always at the bottom line, salary. Gordon shares his thoughts on the matter:

‘Prospective applicants should not ask about salary until they are offered the job. On the other hand, applicants should have a pretty good idea of the salary at this point anyways. I won’t apply for a job unless I have a decent idea of the salary range, in many cases it would be a waste of everyone’s time. I hate it when jobs don’t give the salary in the ad or at least the salary range.’

It’s not impossible these days to get a fairly good idea of what you can expect to earn in a particular country or even at a certain school. Asking questions at the ELT World Forums is one good way to learn such information (the forum can still be accessed through that link BTW). Sherri adds, ‘I don’t see why the salary should be such a big secret. I always tell the applicants what they can expect to make. I usually tell them over the phone before we schedule the interview. There is a pay scale so it is easy to figure out. All teachers have a copy of the pay scale once hired. If it looks like the interview is going well, I tell them how often they will be paid and when they can expect their first pay check. This is especially important for people who are relocating for a job.’ David also chipped in with a recommendation which has always seen me right in the past:

‘I think it’s appropriate for the interviewee to raise the issue, such as, ‘I’m sure once you’ve made your decision about hiring me, we can talk in more detail about the salary and benefits package you offer.’ This lets the interviewer know that while this isn’t your only motivation for wanting the job, it is something that they expect to be informed about in detail at some point.’

Gordon summarizes the issue perfectly when he states, ‘I think one doesn’t want to appear as though money is the most important factor in the job decision, whereas we all know that it is.’ I would make it clear that you will want to have a reasonable idea about the kind of money you’ll be earning without making that the sole purpose for you having turned up for the interview.

4. How can you prepare for the interview?

What can you do before the interview? Gordon again offers advice:

‘Before an interview, I write a list of things (housing, resources, etc) that I want answered before deciding to take a job. Then, during the interview I take copious notes, and if the interview hasn’t answered my questions, I ask them at the question time. Although, just thinking about it now, I haven’t had a face to face interview for years now, so it’s easy to have my little list and notebook. Not sure how that would go down in a face to face interview.’

While Gordon may not have tried this in a face to face interview, this is a tactic that I myself have used and find that it has been received well. If you’ve taken the time to sit down and make a note of what you need to know from this potential employer, it gives the impression that you’re serious about wanting the job.

Another thing that makes a good impression is showing that you’ve given some thought about how you’ll fit in to the school. Sherri exemplifies, ‘I must admit, I like it when people ask about the students. I like it when they ask about the work atmosphere, but how the teachers work together, if they share and support each other. I like it if they show an interest in our program and show that they at least looked at our website.’ For the interview I had for my present job, I printed of the school’s entire website, annotated the points that interested me and highlighted other information I wanted to ask about. While there was no way for me to get through more than one or two points that I’d noted, it gave the impression that I’d really thought about why I wanted to work here, and was told as much later.

It's good to talk

It’s good to talk

5. Don’t waste their time

Let’s now briefly assume you’ve been offered a job. Having noted earlier that recruiters appreciate you asking questions that will help you decide if you’re going to take the position, think about whether or not you’re realistically thinking of taking the position before making secondary contact. MELEE explains, ‘If I make the offer, then you hit me with questions that lead me to believe that this is not the best position for you, then you’ve wasted my time because I need to give you adequate time before I offer it to someone else rather than you.’ Think, at some point it could be you who misses out on an interview because someone was wasting the recruiter’s time mulling over an offer they didn’t intend to take.

One thing you also really need to do is prioritize what you need to ask. The interviewer will want to make a decision about you just as much as you want to decide if you want the job. One sure way to put off the person deciding whether or not to hire you will be asking questions to which you could easily find the answers elsewhere. Think about this: what would you rather know about, the number of hours you could expect to work in an average week or the color of the tiles in the bathroom of the apartment you’ll be sharing? Prioritize what you need to learn about the school. Yaramaz explains this issue, referring to a recent incident in her efforts to recruit teachers:

We just recently recruiting for next term and have had an interesting time poring over applications. One woman included a jpeg list of over 100 questions for us to answer– not even in word or PDF format! How can we even begin to answer 147 questions on a jpeg??? And most were really pointless questions that could be googled or asked in the interview, like “Do you have a photocopier?’ and ‘what is the climate of your city?’ Aaaaagh!’ Aaaaaagh indeed. Imagine how you would feel if you received such a list of questions at a time when you’ve got to interview numerous people. How much priority would you give to someone who asked questions to which they could so easily find the answers themselves?

I’ll conclude by returning to the advice of Justin Trullinger: ‘It isn’t a question of what you should ask – but ask everything that YOU need to know. I may not know what’s important to you, but it’s important that you ask about what you need to know. Do not assume! Whatever you need to know in order to make an adequate decision, you’ll need to ask.’


Posted in Life outside the classroom, Opinion, The life of an english teacher | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is the CELTA a waste of time?

OK, the first thing I should mention about today’s post is that it’s a golden oldie; I first wrote this back in 2008 when I was working as a writer for another ELT blog (yes, I’ve been blogging in one shape or form for nearly a decade now).

That blog is long since consigned to the history books, as is the discussion forum from which the quotes below were taken. Nevertheless, I feel this piece has stood the test of time and is worth revisiting. If you’re thinking of taking the CELTA in the near future, it might make for interesting reading.


The four-week TEFL course, a starting point for so many of us in our careers as English teachers. But is it really worth it?

What do we really gain from these short, intensive courses that can’t possibly hope to adequately prepare us for a career in teaching? A great deal, it would seem! Firstly, and most importantly judging by how many suggested this, the initial teacher training course provides a good foundation on which to build.

1. A good foundation

David started the ball rolling, stating the following:

‘It didn’t in any way prepare me for a full-time teaching position, but I can’t imagine having had to go into a classroom for the first time without having done it.’

Emma, a forum member currently embroiled in her initial training course, perceptively notes, ‘I imagine it’s like passing your driving test. You only really learn to drive properly afterwards.’ Spiral78 adds, ‘a good course is a pretty essential starter – not that certified teachers are professionals, but that they’ve got a decent idea of how to start. The course got me started on a stronger foot than I’d have had without it.’ Denise further reiterates:

‘It alone would not have gotten me to where I am now, but it was a crucial first step. It taught me the basics and I went on from there. I can’t imagine how my first teaching job would have gone without a certificate (if they would even have hired me without one). I learned a lot about how to plan, organize, and deliver a lesson.’

Canuck is another who shares the notion, ‘that the one month courses offer a foundation to build upon, maybe provide information about what someone currently does in their class now and reinforces good techniques.’ GueroPaz and Mishmumkin further exemplify, GueroPaz noting, ‘it helped me immensely; I would have been lost without it,’ while Mishmumkin adds, ‘I had been teaching a year before doing it, but it really taught me a lot about lesson planning, what to expect, how to talk less/listen more.’ Guy Courchesne reinforces the idea that 4 week courses should be seen as a foundation and that development is required after:

‘I took it without having any serious or immediate expectations of going abroad… I eventually did, about 6 months later. I completed my course in Canada and as it was geared towards teaching in Korea, I found I had to study further and learn ‘on the fly’ when I started teaching in Mexico.’

2. Increased job opportunities

Increased opportunity in the local job market is another advantage that was mentioned. Chimp Guevara asserts that, ‘it opened the door to better jobs for me in Japan, and gave me a good grounding in the basics so that I continue learning when I got back.’

3. An indicator of whether or not you’re up to the job

Another potential advantage of the four-week training course is that it will effectively indicate those who are clearly not up to it. spiral78 exemplifies, ‘I think the courses can also be useful for weeding out people who genuinely aren’t cut out for the job – for example, if a trainee can’t show up on time every day, looking reputable, he/she’s going to crash and burn early in a contract anyway.’

4. Not all courses are the same

It would seem, therefore, that these initial teacher training courses hold a lot of value. Nevertheless, Jerry was one who, validly, raised issue with an inadequate learning environment as reason for a course not being worth what was paid:

‘I would say it wasn’t worth the money. I say this because the course was delivered on a shoestring in less than acceptable premises with virtually no frills (coffee, water, working computers). The (course provider’s) websites are very misleading with respect to training environment.’

So, certain courses may be lacking in areas outside the experience you’ll gain in terms of teacher training. These are definitely things to consider when choosing a course, an issue we’ll return to later. Despite this feeling of dissatisfaction, Jerry goes on to note, ‘the course content was delivered well by the trainer and was comprehensive so in that respect it was “worthwhile”.’

5. Location of the course

Another factor relating to whether or not a particular course is worth the investment is related to what you gain from being in a particular location. This particular aspect caused some disagreement, with suggestions made in support of doing the course in an exotic foreign locale or at a location in your home country. Spiral78 led the cry for taking the course in the country where you’re thinking of teaching, listing the following benefits:

  •  You can get your feet wet in the country/culture while you still have a support system – training centers will usually arrange for your housing during the course, pick you up at the airport, and generally offer you some kind of local orientation.
  • Your practice teaching students will be representative of those you’ll be working with when you start.
  • A good training centre can give you invaluable info regarding reputable employers in a region.
  • You can be sure that your cert will be recognized by regional employers.

Jerry, in contrast, notes the benefits of doing the course in your home country:

  • When you set up a course online in the country you will work in can you be sure of the provider?
  • Is their course moderated?
  • Can you have your certificate notarized in that country?
  • What’s the validity of the certificate?
  • What’s the local reputation of the course provider?
  • What’s the training environment like?
  • Will you be picked up at the airport? I wasn’t, a pre-course orientation meeting was convened and conducted by a previous student who felt it was her moral duty to make sure new students were not left out on a limb as she had been.
  • Long term, is the certificate any use in another country or region?
'Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni' by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics

‘Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni’ by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics

6. It won’t prepare you for ‘real’ students

Jerry also notes that this won’t necessarily help you in getting used to the type of student you’ll be teaching, suggesting; ‘As for getting to know the type of student, the lessons are so heavily teacher orientated and regimented you don’t get near to learning about them or understanding them.’

7. Learn about your course before you take it

In terms of it being worthwhile, there was more agreement when it came to the notion of finding out about your course in advance, with spiral78 suggesting the following checklist:

  • How long has the course been operating – under current management?
  • What qualifications do the trainers have?
  • What support will the centre guarantee?
  • Will the centre allow you to contact current trainees?
  • I’d also send a very brief email to several employers in the area asking whether certification from course X is well-looked-upon.

Spiral78 further exemplifies the disparity between courses, noting, ‘there are a couple of 60-hour courses without teaching practice which are given as seminars using classrooms at universities – but which are NOT considered to be basic level certifications in many parts of the world.’ Indeed, deciding on whether or not a course will be worth it, finding out what the course will include seems to be vital, Canuck asserting that, ‘the only 4 week course someone should take is one that is 120 hours with a practical teaching component. The CELTA and 120 hour TEFL have this. I don’t think an online course can measure up. I also believe that the ‘every weekend’ CELTA isn’t as valuable as the one month all at once type.’

So, generally such courses are seen by the majority as being a good thing, providing as good a foundation in teaching as possible in a short space of time. The experience you gain will open doors in terms of job opportunities and will give you a pretty clear indication if you’re not up to the task.

There are also clear benefits to the location at which you take the course, depending on what your needs may be. Having said that, it’s clear that there are major disparities between the quality of such courses and doing some research before hand will pay dividends.

8. What type of students do you plan to teach?

One final thing to consider if you’re thinking of doing such a course is the group you’re likely to end up teaching. For example, in many countries this might end up being primarily children. Leprofdanglais comments, ‘the only thing is it trains you to teach adults, but where I was working in Spain, new staff always got lumbered with kids’ classes.’ GueroPaz reiterates, ‘here in Thailand and in most places in the world, you teach lots of kids. That’s my main complaint against any adult-oriented course.’ So, even at the initial, four-week starter course stage, think about how specifically the course is going to meet your potential needs.

Posted in The life of an english teacher, The teacher perspective, Theory | Tagged , | 20 Comments

The main theories in Second Language Acquisition (SLA)

A guest post on ‘Teach them English’ by Abdel Rahman Mitib Altakhaineh.

The language produced by learners learning a second language is extremely varied. It can range from one learner to another in regard to many factors. These variations can be accounted for by a number of ideas including: first language (L1) interface, age differences, motivation, self-confidence, aptitude, anxiety, gender and social distance. In this post I’ll define SLA and then outline five of the main linguistic theories. These outlines will form the basis for my analysis of the differences in language that are produced by learners. Finally, I’ll consider what level of impact these theories have and how they can account for these differences and, the many difficulties and successes that learners have on their way to learning a second language.

What is SLA and what accounts for the language produced by learners?

Saville-Troike (2006: 2) defines SLA as not just the learning of a subsequent language to that learnt in childhood but also the study of the processes involved and of those who are learning it. The language produced by learners changes as they learn the language and that language can differ from one student to another, even if they have the same L1. The following theories provide an insight into how and why this language may vary. Some are backed up by empirical data, others are not, but all have their strengths and weaknesses and they all have supporters and critics.

The main theories in SLA

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH)

In terms of the principles of CAH, Gass and Selinker (1994: 59) state that it is “a way of comparing languages in order to determine potential errors for the ultimate purpose of isolating what needs to be learned and what does not need to be learned in a second language learning situation”.Saville-Troike (2006: 34-35) explain that it focuses on the differences and similarities between the L1 and the Second Language (L2). This means that the similarities and differences between L1 and L2 play a crucial role in learners’ production.

Saville-Troike (2006: 35) also points out that there will be a transfer of elements acquired in the L1 to the target L2. This transfer is considered positive if the same structure exists in both languages and the transfer results in the correct production of language in the L2. However, it can also be negative if a language structure from the L1 does not exist in the L2 but the structure is transferred leading to the production of incorrect language. Arab students often omit the verb to be. For example, this book mine for this book is mine since both of them have the same meaning in Arabic /هذا الكتابُ لي /həðəlkɪtəbʊlɪ/. This kind of error might be made since the verb to be is rarely used in the present tense in Arabic. Because of this, Arab students may apply the Arabic rule to English. On the other hand, Arabic and English share the same idea regarding the position of object pronouns. The object pronouns are placed after the verb in English and Arabic. In contrast, with French, they occur before the verb.

Mitchell and Myles (1998: 30) say that the predictions of CAH, that all the errors made in learning the L2 are due to interface from L1, were shown to be unfounded. They claim that many studies and research explain convincingly that the majority of errors could not be attributed to the L1. In other words, CAH might not predict learning difficulties, and was only useful in the retrospective explanation of errors. This point considerably weakened its appeal. However, the heightened interest in this area did lead to the origin of Error Analysis.

Use songs to teach tricky conditional structures.

Learn about how people learn languages!

Error Analysis (EA) and Interlanguage (IL)

Error Analysis (EA)

Mitchell and Myles (2004: 29-30) consider this approach to be influenced by behaviorism through the use of fundamental distinctions between the learners’ first and second languages to predict errors, adding that EA showed that CA was not able to predict most errors. They claim that the differences between L1 and L2 are not necessarily difficult, citing as an example the difference between English and French in terms of unstressed object pronouns. These cause a problem for English speakers learning French, but not for French speakers learning English. Saville-Troike (2006: 39-40) observes that EA distinguishes between systematic errors, which are due to a lack of L2 knowledge and mistakes, which are made when the knowledge has been processed. She highlights some of EAs shortcomings including:

  1. Some people do not make errors because of L1 interface.
  2. Focusing only on errors does not provide information regarding what the learner has acquired.
  3. Learners may not produce errors because they avoid difficult structures. For example, Arab students avoid
    using models auxiliaries since they have difficulties in understanding their role in each sentence. They may use I want…, I need …., instead of could I have, I would like ……..?

Overall, EA is not good at accounting for variability in SLA data.

Interlanguage (IL)

Saville-Troike (2006: 40-41) states that the term IL was introduced by Selinker in 1972, “to refer to the intermediate states (or interim grammars) of a learner’s language as it moves toward the target L2″.

Ellis (1997: 19) hypothesizes that the nature of variability changes during the process of L2 development in the stages below:

  1. One form for multi-functions e.g., I live in Manchester, last year I live in London, next year I live in Amman.
  2. Some forms have been acquired e.g. I live in Manchester, last year I lived in London, next year I lived in Amman.
  3. The various forms start to be used systematically. Here the student may write the forms correctly but still use the incorrect forms when speaking.
  4. The student uses the forms correctly and consistently.

The Monitor Model Theory

Mitchell and Myles (1998: 35) point out Krashen’s theory was based on five hypotheses which are:

Acquisition – Learning hypothesis

Gass and Selinker (1994:144) refer to Krashen’s assertion that ‘acquisition’ and ‘learning’ are separate knowledge, and that language acquisition is a subconscious process. The acquirers of language are not consciously aware of the grammatical rules of the language, but they rather develop a kind of correctness. This is certainly the case for young children learning their L1. On the other hand, language learning refers to the conscious knowledge of L2. The learners know the rules, they are aware of them, and are able to talk about them.

Gass and Selinker (1994: 148) criticise this hypothesis. They claim that it does not show evidence of the distinction between acquisition and learning as two separate systems. However, Krashen said that many can produce language fluently without having been taught any rules and there are many that know the rules but are unable to apply them whilst speaking (Lightbown and Spader 1999: 38).

Monitor Hypothesis

Krashen’s hypothesis states that what learners learn is available as a monitor (Saville-Troike (2006: 45). Learners will make changes and edit what they are going to produce. The language that learners have consciously learnt works as an editor in situations where they have sufficient time to edit, are focused on form and know the rule (Gass and Selinker 1994: 145-146). This conscious editor is called the Monitor.

There are variations in use of the monitor that affect the language that learners produce. Acquired language skills can lead to improved fluency but overuse of the monitor can lead to a reduction in fluency (Krashen 1988: 30-31). Moreover, Krashen (1988: 30-31) believes that there is individual variation among language learners with regard to ‘monitor’ use. He claims that the learners who use the ‘monitor’ all the time are ‘over-users’, often producing stilted language whereas, ‘under-users’ will often speak quickly but with a lot of errors. Learners who use the monitor appropriately are considered ‘optimal-users’. These find a good balance between speed and accuracy, continuing to refer to want they have learnt but acknowledging the importance of communication. He emphasise that lack of self-confidence is the major cause for the over-use of the ‘monitor’.

Gass and Selinker (1994: 149) criticise this hypothesis as they believe that the monitor is only useful in production but it is useless in comprehension since it consists of learned knowledge that is used to edit utterances.

Natural Order Hypothesis

According to the natural order hypothesis the acquisition of grammatical structures (rules) proceeds in a predictable order (Gass and Selinker 1994: 145). They add that in a given language, some grammatical structures generally tend to be acquired early while others are acquired late regardless of the L1. They say “the natural order was determined by a synthesis of the results of the morphemes order studies and are a result of the acquired system, without interference from the learned system”. Krashen cited the example that many advanced students in English will still not be able to apply the rule for the third person singular verb, where an –s has to be added to the verb, when speaking quickly.

Input Hypothesis

According to the input hypothesis, SLA cannot take place without sufficient and necessary comprehensible input (Mitchell and Myles 2004: 165). Acquirers develop competency over time by receiving comprehensible input to move their present level to the next. Gass and Selinker (1994: 146) emphasize that this hypothesis is central to Krashen’s description of acquisition and is a complement to the Natural Order Hypothesis.

Affective Filter Hypothesis

Krashen’s hypothesis suggests that not everyone has the same ability in learning a second language and that self-confidence, motivation and anxiety all affect language acquisition (Gass and Selinker 1994: 148). He proposed that an Affective filter acts as a barrier to language input. Krashen (1988: 38) explains that a number of affective variables play a crucial role in SLA. These variables include motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. He claims that learners who are highly motivated, self-confident and less anxious are better equipped for success in SLA. Low motivation, low self-esteem, and anxiety contribute to raise the affective filter which prevents comprehensible input from being used for acquisition. In other words, if the filter is high, the input will not pass through and subsequently there will be no acquisition. On the other hand, if the filter is low and the input is understood, the input will take place and acquisition will have taken place.

'students 10' by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

‘students 10′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

Gass and Selinker (1994: 148) say that the filter and filter hypotheses explain the failure of SLA according to two parameters: insufficient input and high affective filter, or both.

Gass and Selinker (1994: 150) criticise the Filter Hypothesis because it does not explain how it works? Or how the input filter works? However, others see that it as something that can be seen and applied in the classroom and that it can explain why some students learn and produce better language than others (Lightbown and Spader 1999: 40).

Universal Grammar (UG)

The definition of UG by Chomsky (1976, as cited by Cook, 2001: 181-182) is “the system of principles, conditions, and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages … the essence of human language”. According to Chomsky, there are principles, which allow or prevent a specific structure from occurring in all human languages, and parameters, which govern ways in which human languages differ, usually expressed as a limited choice between two options. These principles and parameters are built in the human mind. In other words, children have an innate faculty that instructs them while learning of language (Mitchell and Myles, 2004: 33).

Saville-Troike (2006: 48-49) gives an example of a principle that Chomsky posited which is that every phrase in every language has the same elements including a head. For example, a noun phrase has to have a noun, a verb phrase has to have a verb and prepositional phrase has to have a preposition. On the other hand, an example of parameter is the direction of the head. For example, Arabic is a head last language and English is a head first language.

According to Mitchell and Myles (1998: 61-68), UG can account for variations in learner language as follows:

1. No access hypothesis

This hypothesis suggests that UG becomes less accessible with age and therefore its involvement will not be available to adult learners. Chomsky believes there is a critical period for language acquisition and UGs application. Adult L2 learners have to be prepared to apply more general problem-solving skills. Evidence by Johnson and Newport (1989, as cited by Mitchell and Myles, 1998: 65) showed that immigrant children mostly become native-like speakers of L2, but their parents very rarely do. I believe this supports Chomsky’s hypothesis.

2. Full access hypothesis

Mitchell and Myles (1998: 61) state that the processes of L1 and L2 acquisition are very similar. The differences noticed between them are due to the difference in cognitive maturity and in the learner’s needs. It is clear that L2 learners acquire principles and parameter settings of L2 which are not similar to L1 settings. Evidence given by Flynn (1996 as cited by Mitchell and Myles 1998: 66) explained that Japanese L1 learners of English as L2 successfully acquire L2 head parameter settings. They use principles in English which do not operate in Japanese.

3. Indirect access hypothesis

Mitchell and Myles, (1998: 61-62) point out that access to UG is only available to learners indirectly via the L1. They say “there will be just one instantiation (i.e. one working example) of UG which will be available to the L2 learner, with the parameters already fixed to the settings which apply in the L1″. Evidence given by Schachter (1996 as cited in Mitchell and Myles, 1998: 67) showed L2 learners’ failure to acquire principles absent in their L1 and/or failure to reset parameters.

4. Partial access hypothesis

Mitchell and Myles (1998: 62) say that some aspects of UG are still available and others are not. They give an example stating that principles may still be available but parameter settings may not.

In addition, White (2003:1-2) represents the application of the idea of UG to the area of SLA. She argues that SLA is constrained by principles and parameters of UG which is well explained in his book “Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar”.

In terms of criticism, Mitchell and Myles (1998: 70) say that UG as a whole has been exclusively concerned with syntax and the developmental linguistic route followed by learners when learning a L2. Thus, the social and psychological variables that affect the rate of the learning process are beyond its remit and therefore ignored.

Socio-linguistic theories

Mitchell and Myles (1998: 163) define sociolinguistics as the study of the effect of all aspects of soceity on the language in use. I will focus on the socio-cultural theory discussed in Lantolf (1994).

Lantolf (1994: 418) emphasises that the origin of socio-cultural theory refers to Vygotsky’s ideas.

In terms of variations in learner language, Vygotsky (1978 as cited in Mitchell and Myles, 1998: 146 ) defines the Zone of Proximal Development(ZPD) as ” the difference between the child’s developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the higher level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers’. Saville-Troike (2006: 112) says that one way is to help learners within the ZPD is through scaffolding which is defined as verbal guidance which an expert helps a learner to solve a specific task or collaboration of peers to solve a task that is difficult for any one of them individually. This means that little collaboration or guidance are the main reason for variation in learner language. For example, talk between peers could be helpful as in the following example:

Student 1: could I say I am loving you, daddy?
Student 2: I am loving ………..
Student 1: yes, I do not stop loving my daddy.
Student 2: love is a state verb
Student 1: yes, so I am love you, daddy.
Student 2: I think simple present form with state verbs?
Student 1: Ah, I love you, daddy.


To sum up, it is clear that not one individual theory on its own can account for all the variations in learners’ language. Each one has valid points and I have shown some of the variations in language these hypotheses may produce. However, in a lot of cases, there is a lack of empirical evidence and further investigation into these theories may identify new learning and teaching methods.

Teaching methods have to take into account that L2 learners are varied. Learners do not have the same characteristics so they do not all acquire a L2 in the same way and at the same rate. Motivation, aptitude, age, social background and self-confidence affect the learners’ abilities. At the current time, and with the knowledge that is available to us, I think it is important for teachers to consider the most important aspects of each theory when preparing their lessons. Clearly not all theories will be addressed in every lesson, but with careful thought and consideration, the ideas may be applied and the results will show whether or not they are effective for that particular group of students.

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Best free resources for… Business English

Like every other teacher in the world, I’m always on the lookout for the best resources I can find for a variety of different aspects of language teaching.

In this continuing series of post here on the blog, I’ll be sharing what I find with you in the hope that it helps you out.

Today I look at Business English…

Free e-books

Download Phil Wade’s e-books here.

Where better to start than with Phil Wade, who has an ever burgeoning collection of free e-books on various aspects of Business English. Titles include…

Each title in the series is short and sweet (between 1000 and 3000 words in length). All are available for free download in a variety of formats on his Smashwords author page.

Other free e-books:

Blogs and articles

Gabrielle Jones‘ ‘The Business English Experience‘ is one of the best blogs out there for Business English; her back catalog makes for highly recommended reading, although she hasn’t posted much for a while.

The BC/BBC TeachingEnglish website has a great section for Business English, including a wide range of articles on meetings, negotiating and socializing.

The BC LearnEnglish website has a great selection of resources for learners, including podcasts and articles.

Ontesol has a number of useful articles on Business English on their How to teach English blog:


Blair English 30 Minute Business English is a website of free online business and social English vocabulary exercises with pronunciation help.

Business Emporium is a collection of business English vocabulary, quizzes, tests, lessons, etc.

Business English Online offers lots of free downloadable business English worksheets plus a business English Web Guide.

Business Vocabulary with teacher Joe gives useful business vocabulary with clear sample sentences.

English-at-home offers dozens of useful links dealing with every conceivable facet of Business English

LinkEngPark is one of my favorite listening sites, as it gathers together links of every podcast and listening material out there. There’s a huge number of Business English podcasts listed on the site.


Christina Rebuffet-Broadus offers a diverse selection of videos that look at authentic activities, such as…

Anything to add?

If you prepare materials, write a blog, or generally have any suggestions of what I can add to this list, please let me know in the comments section blow.

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Songs to teach English: Footprints in the sand

Continuing my occasional look at how we can use songs in our language classes, today I choose a song that has a lot of lyrical content to analyze and a spiritual message to uncover.

Suggested level: B1


While you may not wish to or may not be allowed to discuss religion in your classes – I’m definitely not directly encouraging it here – you might want to start with a discussion of how you think people find the strength to carry on with their lives when they are faced with extremely difficult situations. For instance, write these questions on the board:

  • What was one difficult situation you faced? (Teach the phrase ‘to face a situation’)
    How did you overcome this situation? (Teach ‘to overcome a situation / problem’)


In this song the singer places faith in a ‘higher power’ and is caused to question that faith. Her questions are answered by the end of the song.

Listen to the song once: Cristy Lane Footprints in the Sand.

Ask these questions:

  1. How many sets of footprints does she see in her dream?
  2. Who do these footprints belong to?
  3. What happens to these footprints when she has times of trouble or sadness?
  4. How does her understanding change in the end?

Listen to the song again, this time the learners note their responses to these questions.


Get learners to visit Cristy Lane Footprints in the Sand and do some background research on the singer.

  • You can ask them to look at the biography section of the site and find several facts that interest them written in the simple past tense. Alternatively, you can set questions that require them to locate specific information, e.g. ‘When did she receive the award for New Female Vocalist of the Year?
  • Get learners to look at the awards section and complete sentences, e.g ‘In 1981 she…

You can also do some vocab and grammar analysis of the song lyrics.

Contrast the use of simple past and past continuous

‘One night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the lord.’

  • Why did we use simple past with ‘I had a dream’?
  • Why did we use past continuous with ‘I was walking along the beach’?

Use of the verb ‘to notice’

Look at these examples of how the verb is used…

‘I noticed that many times along the path of life, there was only one set of footprints. I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life.’

What pattern do you see in both of these sentences?

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Games for the language classroom: Who wants to be a millionaire

So, back to gaming here on the ‘Teach them English’ blog! Having summed up everything I want to say about the theory behind the use of games in my best-selling e-book ‘Using games in the Language Classroom (by which I mean I’m not going to go into great detail about the how and the why of using games in this post; please click on the link to download the book – it’s free!), I feel compelled to follow it up with a series of posts look at specific games. Consequently, I’m going to do just that over the course of a few blog posts during the course of the next couple of months (whilst also continuing my series of posts in which I re-imagine the classic grammar activities of the ELT world).

Let me continue this series with another old favorite of mine…

'Who wants to be a millionaire?' is a classic game format that works well in the language classroom.

‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ is a classic game format that works well in the language classroom.

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Believe it or not, ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ was a complete revelation when it first appeared on British TV. Never before on my island had a game show offered cash prizes of £1 million.

What really made the show so compelling was the slow pace of the Q and A delivery, which served to constantly ramp up the tension. As a result, the show became one of the most internationally popular television franchises of all time. Fortunately for us, this format is one that lends itself really well to the language classroom.

OK, I’m sure the first thing you’ll want to do s download the ‘Millionaire‘ template for the game. You can do that by clicking here. Now that’s out of the way, we can get down to business. As with my previous games post on the Blockbusters format, I’ve prepared a video which talks you through how to go about using the game.

In case you’re still confused and need a little bit more guidance, here are some directions on how to use this in class.

What do learners need to know?

This works really well as a grammar or vocabulary revision exercise, so learners should already be familiar with specific structures or vocabulary from the course book unit being taught, for instance.

What I often do is construct the questions from an end of unit quiz, play the game and then give the quiz as it appears in the course book.

What equipment do you need?

The ‘Millionaire’ template (which you have now downloaded) and an answer sheet for you to refer to (don’t forget this!).

Medium of delivery

I have projectors in my classes and so deliver this via PowerPoint, but you could also deliver it orally, if you think your learners are up to it. You could write questions and answers on the board, but this would be time consuming and might affect the pacing of the game.

How to play

  • The way I play it is to get the whole class playing as one big team.
  • One learner is nominated by the class to come and sit in the ‘hot seat’, i.e. they come and sit in a focal position near the front and answer that question.
  • This learner then nominates another if they give the correct answer.
  • Each ‘contestant’ gets 3 lifelines which help to alleviate the pressure and get everyone involved:
    • 50 /50: the teacher randomly eliminates two of the incorrect choices.
    • Phone a friend: the student may call any one of their friends. Phone-a-friends should try to express their certainty as a percentage.
    • Ask the audience: All learners raise their hands to choose the answer they think is correct; this is the most popular lifeline because it usually offers the correct answer.
  • Continue playing until someone gets a question wrong, or the class wins a million!

If you really want to make this a compelling and truly exciting classroom activity, remember the two key aspects of the show:

  1. The catchphrase: “Is that your final answer?” The template I’m sharing has a built in sound effect of this phrase: use it occasionally!
  2. You need to ham it up and make use of longish dramatic pauses before acknowledging whether the learner’s answer is correct. Obviously, the pauses should become more tense the higher the amount of money on the line; try and make it feel like the real thing!


This is a really flexible format, the difficulty / ease of which can be adapted to your situation. For instance, you can make your question all verbs, or all nouns. Alternatively, you can ask vocab questions in which the answers are the different parts of speech (of which either the verb, noun, etc. is correct) or offer four alternative spellings of particularly awkward words (healthy / heathy / healty / helthy, for instance).


  1. This can be a stressful task, so give your learners chance to study the vocab / grammar you’ll ask about before playing. As I mentioned, the game works well as a precursor to an end of unit quiz, so getting them to study formally for such a quiz is a good technique for preparing for this game.
  2. Start things off with easy questions and get the linguistically weaker learners to answer the first few. This way, you can give everyone in the class a sense of accomplishment while also grading the difficulty of each question according to the profile of your class.
  3. This works well as an end-of-day activity, but using it in this way can be tricky as the time limit for completing the game can vary a lot, especially if you’re strict about a wrong answer ending proceedings! Bear this in mind when you decide to use this game.
  4. Explain why you are playing, i.e you are getting them ready for their quiz in a fun and engaging way. As I mentioned previously, games are great only if there is a perceived reason for playing. Make sure your learners understand that they aren’t just paying, but are actively exercising their ability to retrieve the language they have learned.
  5. As with Blockbusters, don’t use this too often. While this is a motivating alternative to boring quizzes, learners will get bored if you use this too many times. You can probably get away with doing it at the end of every other course book unit.


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Apps for ELT: Practice English Grammar

An app developer called Cleverlize got in touch with me recently to talk about their free Practice English Grammar app. According to the website, this app is for basic and advanced learners and can be downloaded on iPhones, iPads, Android and Kindle Fire.

According to their website, the app contains over 1000 questions, is loaded with more than 750 flashcards, includes 100+ small learning games, has grammar articles, detailed feedback on questions, as well as offline mode availability.

The app, as mentioned, is free, so please take a look and let me know what you think. I haven’t used it myself yet, but it looks fairly functional and easy to use.


The ‘Practice English Grammar’ app.

Any thoughts? I’ll happily incorporate any feedback you have into this post!

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Games for the language classroom: Blockbusters

I‘m a gamer: I love using games in the language classroom. I find them such a great and versatile tool and, if used well, something that always goes down well with learners. I’ve discussed the role of games before on this blog and have probably summed up everything I want to say about the theory behind the use of games in my best-selling e-book ‘Using games in the Language Classroom (by which I mean I’m not going to go into great detail about the how and the why of using games in this post; please click on the link to download the book – it’s free!).

So, why am I returning to this subject? Well, my e-book on the theory of using games has proven to be so popular that I feel compelled to follow it up with a series of posts look at specific games. Consequently, I’m going to do just that over the course of a few blog posts during the course of the next couple of months (whilst also continuing my series of posts in which I re-imagine the classic grammar activities of the ELT world).

Let me start off with an old favorite…

The classic, easy-to-use Blockbusters grid

The classic, easy-to-use Blockbusters grid


Blockbusters is a British television game show based, I believe, on an American game show of the same name in which contestants answer trivia questions to complete a path across or down a game board of hexagons. It’s a very simple format, and one which lends itself very well to the language classroom.

OK, then, first things first. I’m sure you’ll want to download the template for the game. You can do that by clicking here. Now that’s out of the way, we can get down to business. In the spirit of making things as simple as possible for you all, I’ve prepared a video which talks you through how to go about using the game.

In case you need a little bit more, here are some directions on how to use this in class.

What do learners need to know?

This works really well as a revision exercise, so learners should already be familiar with specific phrases or vocabulary from the subject being taught.

What equipment do you need?

The blockbusters grid (which you have now downloaded) An answer sheet for you to refer to (don’t forget this!)

Medium of delivery

I have projectors in my classes and so deliver this via PowerPoint, but you can just as easily draw the hexagonal grid on a board by hand.

How to play

  • Divide your class into two teams.
  • One team needs to connect the top of the grid to the bottom.
  • The other team has to connect the left side of the grid with the right.
  • The hexagons contain numbers, relating to your numbered list of questions (you can replace these numbers with the first letters of each word to make it a little easier).
  • Teams take it in turn to select a hexagon.
  • You give an appropriate clue for that hexagon, and the team works together to give the answer.
  • The winning team is the first to complete the connection.


This is a really flexible format, the difficulty / ease of which can be adapted to your situation. For instance, you can make your question all verbs, or all nouns. Alternatively, you could give the first two letters of the word as a clue. Another way I use this at upper intermediate level is to ask for a definition of a topic we’ve studied, i.e. ‘give a definition of short-term memory.’ Here are some suggestions from fellow blogger Gabrielle Jones:

I regularly use it at the university where I teach, just before their exam. I give them 25 typical mistakes they make with their academic writing and get them to correct them, then play in teams as a revision exercise. With in-company groups I use it to review the feedback I’ve given them every few months. I’ve also used it with language areas such as false friends, tenses, and I even went and bought an old copy of the board game for the more advanced groups – rather expensive but great for advanced vocabulary.


  1. This can be a challenging task, so give your learners chance to study the vocab / topics you’ll ask about before playing.
  2. This works well as an end-of-day activity, but using it in this way can be tricky as the time limit for completing the game can vary a lot. Bear this in mind when you decide to use this game.
  3. Don’t use this too often. While this is a motivating group-based activity, learners will get bored if you use this too many times. On a sixteen week course, I might use this twice, for instance.
  4. Explain why you are playing. Games are great only if there is a perceived reason for playing. Make sure your learners understand that they aren’t just paying, but are actively exercising their ability to retrieve the language they have learned.

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Post-CELTA professional development: Dogme materials

Can you believe it? We’re now on part nine of this series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. As ever, we’ll continue where I left off in the first eight posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.

In the previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, how to approach lesson planning, how to make sure your first teaching job experience isn’t a bad one, some advice on how to get through your first observed lesson, a discussion on the multifaceted layers of a good lesson, some thoughts on how we can move beyond methods,  a provocative post titled ‘the great TEFL lie‘, as well as the most recent one, which looked at how people make the class what it is. Once again, it’s time for me to move over and make way for a guest post from Phil Wade. This time Phil introduces us to the notion of ‘Dogme materials’.

A big criticism people have of Dogme is about not using materials. How can you just replace a professional coursebook with stuff from the students? This is the common question and it is a good question. Well, there are teachers who decide to go full Dogme and throw out the book and there are others who decide to wade slowly into it. Another group, which I am a member of, are those who work with 0 budget so have no other option but to get creative.

1897804_10152068740636376_324094030_nFor me, Dogme changes the role of the coursebook from a bible which you spend 90% of class looking at and using to a resource which you may use for preparation, read from, use to show images or for recreating in the lesson. It becomes a resource for the course. Probably one of many. This first idea can be daunting for some. Just imagine confiscating all the class coursebooks and how confused everyone would look. But now think about what you really need in this week’s unit. There is probably a text, a recording, a speaking activity, of course some vocab and grammar too. Maybe even a writing box. Now, be very honest with yourself. Which of those things do students really need the book in front of themselves for?

Think about it. You normally set up a speaking activity by creating context then giving them instructions. Then, the students will read the instructions in the book, the task and whatever else is on the page and only then start thinking about speaking. Take the book away and they have to listen to you and then begin. You have taken the reading part away. For instance, if the task in the book describes 2 roles and then says ‘now talk to your partner and…’, it is easier and quicker to either make very brief notes on the board, dictate the roles to students or just explain them in very simple terms.

Here’s another example. The book has some PTV , a listening, a gist task and then some grammar focus. In total, probably a full page of exercises and reading. Take the books away and you can decide whether to do the PTV, leave it or have it as another focus activity later. You are also now free to play all or just some of the recording. You could also pause it or let a student control the playback. As for the questions, do you want gist, detailed, focus or all of them? Pick the ones you want or the ones that seem relevant and as above, write them on the board or explain them. I like to do them orally by stopping the playback and just asking a question or asking 5 at the end.

As you can see, you can use the book as a resource but adapt it as you see fit. This is still a Dogme lesson in a way as it is based on speaking, the people in the room, is personalized, has no materials and is highly motivating.

Phil Wade is an English and Business English educator interested in developing tailored effective teaching solutions.

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