50 things I learnt from my first ELT book

I have just finished reading my first book about English Language Teaching (ELT), which was ‘Teach EFL’ from the Teach Yourself series by David Riddell. (The hyperlink points to a far shinier version than the one I bought second-hand from eBay!) 

'Teach EFL' - Teaching English as a Foreign Language, by David Riddell

‘Teach EFL’ – Teaching English as a Foreign Language, by David Riddell

I thought I’d go for a basic read to start with, to whet my appetite for what is to come on my CELTA course, and to get a general overview of the whole industry and profession that is ELT.

The author, David Riddell, has worked as an English teacher for over 25 years, according to the book’s blurb – 20 of which he has spent as a teacher trainer. His experience radiates from every page and from the Introduction onwards, I knew I was in for a really productive read. From the little hints and tips he suggests, to the amusing anecdotes from his classes he proffers, you feel throughout the book as if you are in very safe hands. His creativity also shone throughout the book – this is something I am most concerned about, as I learn how to teach my mother tongue to foreigners. I am alright at writing, passable at presenting, and I’m not too shabby at speaking my own language, but creativity is not something that comes naturally to me, so I am really pleased to have picked up some fantastic teaching ideas from reading this book. It did exactly what it says on the tin: everything you need to teach EFL successfully. Of course, it’s no teaching course book itself, but to set you up for the profession when you knew very little before, it does the job wonderfully.

As it happened, I started reading the book shortly after I passed my phone interview for my CELTA and was offered a place, which ended up being a train journey to Birmingham one sunny Sunday afternoon in November. Since then, it’s generally been train journeys that I’ve whipped it out, as the kind of book you don’t need to get lost in, and one into which you can dip in and dip out. (At least, that combined with Christmas, is my excuse for it having taken me 2 months to finish!) As I went, I typed little notes into my phone. These were fairly general notes, which could apply largely to any kind of ELT context, and so I thought, in case one day more than 5 people read this blog, I would share them for the wider ELT community. Why 50 things, you ask? Well, for no other reason than the fact that my list got to around 54 as I finished the book so I combined a couple, deleted a couple and ta-dah, here you have a tidy list of 50 – a nice, round number which I know will at least appeal to my boyfriend’s OCD tendencies.

I have broken them down into three sections:

Teaching tips, which I considered to be general comments about how best to teach

Teaching prep, which I would roughly describe as things to think about in advance of teaching any given lesson

And finally,

Teacher training tips, which are mainly points I should bear in mind as I attempt to pass this notoriously intense course!

If anyone has any comments or questions about the below, feel free to scribble a Comment at the bottom – I’d be delighted to know that anyone got to the bottom 😉

Teaching tips

  1. think about students’ learning rather than teaching in isolation
  2. regularly self-assess your own teaching
  3. make a list of key qualities to be a teacher
  4. try to get the students to tell you everything and not the other way around: this ‘eliciting’ is a key way to constantly check students’ learning
  5. give instructions THEN do, so you know you have the students’ full attention (for example, first explain the worksheet and then hand it out)
  6. use direct language and don’t be overly polite – at the end of the day, you are their teacher
  7. personalise situations where possible to enthuse students more about their learning (depending on the age/level/location of your students of course)
  8. always give a time limit for activities, but do feel free to extend it a little if students are engaged, but struggling a little. (Equally, reduce time if they are struggling too much and explain in a different way.)
  9. accuracy and fluency are both important when speaking, but it’s more important students are happy to speak than it is that they speak flawlessly – so foster the fluency!
  10. always plan where students will sit (particularly if there is a mixture of languages in the class; don’t let those students all group together)
  11. give gentle encouragement to shy students
  12. sometimes you might have to justify your activity, especially a ‘fun’ activity to some adult groups
  13. let students of a lower ability work together for writing tasks so they feel less pressure
  14. it’s important to recognise why mistakes happened (feedback and plenary work)
  15. self-correction and peer correction both foster learner independence more than teacher correction
  16. draw students’ attention to the element that needs correcting in their utterance by using hand gestures
  17. don’t be too strict about English only in the classroom, use a variety of techniques such as humour to stop the interference of other languages
  18. make sure everyone is always engaged in your lesson and have emergency activities planned for fast finishers
  19. sometimes let students work together because it’s a good test of what they’ve learnt
  20. highlight the stress within each utterance/word/sentence where relevant
  21. drilling for pronunciation is important

Teaching prep

  1. all speech has a function: learn them
  2. MPF = meaning, pronunciation, form; a popular way of teaching new vocabulary in its context
  3. recommend realia for students: postcards, authentic magazines etc.
  4. use concept questions in simple tenses to check students’ understanding of new vocabulary
  5. for concept questions, first think of the meaning and then invert into question
  6. forecast potential problems in the lesson you have planned
  7. always do the exercises yourself and know potential questions
  8. invest time getting students interested in the text before reading it with a quick fun starter activity
  9. listening is a harder skill than reading, but the two can often be integrated together
  10. evaluate whether writing needs to feature prominently or not based on whether or not students are preparing for exams etc
  11. consider the most appropriate way to teach each language form (use the internet as you develop your confidence)
  12. adopt the ‘use, adapt, reject, supplement’ approach for the recommend course book as you see fit for each topic
  13. BUT, do make sure you work through the course book order – it exists for a reason
  14. testing should be a mixture of subjective and objective (simple wrong/right questions and more complex opinion-based questions)

Teacher training tips

  1. throughout your course, you are assessed on punctuality, professionalism and preparedness
  2. think about the aim of your lesson from the students’ perspective
  3. primary and secondary aims – if your lesson runs over time, then always ensure you have completed at least your main aims
  4. try to always ask yourself ‘what did the students practice’?
  5. your lesson plan should be a working document and other teachers should be able to teach from it
  6. when observing other teachers, focus on one or two students and see how their learning has been affected by the teaching
  7. when observing, try to guess the teacher’s aim and compare with the aim in his/her plan
  8. review how successful your lesson was
  9. be willing to be observed and to observe others within the language school
  10. feel confident in asking your Director of Studies for more feedback
  11. read new teaching ideas
  12. read professional publications, such as the TESOL magazine
  13. join professional organisation if freelancing, such as IATEFL
  14. write articles; give talks
  15. evaluate course books to be able to comment on them in interviews
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About BerLingo

My name is Rachel, I am 25 and I love Germany. I studied German, Spanish and Italian at Durham University for four years, one of which I spent living in Europe, and then worked at Routledge academic publishing house for almost 3 years. Towards the end of 2014, I decided it was time to finally fulfil a long-held ambition to live in Berlin, and so in April 2015 I completed the CELTA qualification (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, adminstered by Cambridge University) here in the German capital. Now qualified, my blog berlingo18.wordpress.com charts my experiences as a new English teacher in my favourite city... (More information about my plans can be found in my first ever blog post.)
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One Response to 50 things I learnt from my first ELT book

  1. Pingback: 10 things I have learnt from Jeff Mohamed’s ‘Grammar Development Course’ | BerLingo

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