The So Whats of “Exercise E on page 5”

Edit/Update: Sandy Millin commented on the initial ‘Exercise E on page 5’ post, and as usual she got right to the heart of the matter: 

“It never occurred to me to write about a single exercise in so much detail, and it’s a brilliant way to demonstrate just how many things are going on when we ‘do’ one exercise, both in our heads and those of our students. Show this to a CELTA trainee who doesn’t understand why ‘Do exercise e’ is not a sufficient level of detail for their lesson plan, and we’ll scare them all into submission!”

While I’m not likely to scare any trainees into anything anytime soon (I’m irretrievably harmless), the intention of that post is exactly as Sandy described: to illustrate how much lies beneath the surface of the simplest classroom activities.

This post is a bit tl:dr (as the kids these days say), but the idea is similar: it’s simply a demonstration of reflection on a classroom event, now, proliferating beyond the minimum and in multiple directions.


What I said I’d do at the end of April 27th’s ‘Exercise E on page 5’ post

In the next post I plan to reflect, analyze, unpack, contextualize. I might even cite a few experts and quote some folks.

I think I might quote and/or mention Adrian Underhill and ‘Demand High’, Thomas Farrell, the Lexical Approach maybe, teacher cognition and decision making, and…some other perfectly preposterous pretentiousness.

All that in the service of something very real and very important: understanding what in the world I’m doing when I do what I do as the teacher in the classroom.

In the off-handed sounding yet sophisticated language of tripartite reflection offered by this blog’s favorite CELTA graduate Anne Hendler: I’ll being engaging the so what and the now what (the above being the what) parts of a reflection cycle.

The extent to which what follows will turn out to resemble what I imagined above I truly don’t know, but I’m hoping it serves me as worthwhile reflective activity and also, in some way, you dear blog reader! 

It seems I can start off by referencing the ‘Demand High’ meme and fulfill at least one small part of the prophecy right off the bat

I’d describe what I did with exercise E on page 5 as ‘doing Demand High‘. Or…erm…Demanding High. Being Highly Demanding? Let’s just go with doing DH. But what does that mean? To me, the most basic sense, that simply means “proactively and conscientiously trying to make the most out of your materials and your time in class, so that learning is maximized”.

That sounds so bland and generic it approaches meaninglessness, though. It sounds a bit like an athlete saying “the key thing is, really, well, we’ve just got to go out there and give it 110%”.  

…make the most of what exactly?

Maybe: make the most of the learner’s interest – interest in being respected and being challenged and being engaged by the realistic difficulty, the manageable complexity, at the ‘edge’ of a) their knowledge and b) their effort. If the learner has some knowledge (they tend to) and puts forth some effort (they tend to if conditions are reasonable), you’ve got the seeds for your DH garden, and demanding high is how you water them. 


When I looked at exercise E on page 5, all I saw were two suggested ‘demands’ (task instructions): 

  1. Read the sentences. 
  2. Match the boldface words with the definitions. 


That’s nuthin’, muffin!

What the DH concept (Scrivener’s stuff on the more practical technique/techtweak level, and  Underhill’s writing on the more conceptual/philosophical level) urges me to do is look at all the space, the ‘fat’ space on the page around this ‘thin’ little exercise.

That space on the page can represent exercise E as it exists off the page, in the space of the classroom, in the mindspace, in the soil of all the potentials there. What happens in those space before, during, and after these very basic and limited on-page ‘matching’ actions in this exercise that makes it rich, even needed? How can these four little matching items be made somehow more “3-D” and buzzy? There’s certainly plenty of space for MORE. 

“Read the sentences”. Just that, eh? the sentences HOW? Scrivener might suggest whispered, then said, then shouted. Or said silently in the head, but listening (Underhill might interject) for the inner voice’s pronunciation. 

“Match the boldfaced words with the definitions”. Match, match. Match HOW? Maybe with pencils down first, and only once you’ve agreed with another student are you allowed to write something in. For each item, agree with a different student. And use a different phrase for agreement each time. 

The essential thing is to completely halt, cease, desist from putting any stock in a course book’s instructions as sufficient or even necessary. Perhaps, dear reader, that’s an obvious point to you. Perhaps not. Interrogate the too-thin simplicities of the materials you’re using, and inject some fat. We’re doing inverse-liposuction. 

Yes, perhaps, dear reader, that’s an obvious point to you. It wasn’t to me for a good while. I was never really prompted to harness and bring with me into those quiet concentrated moments of lesson preflection some sharper critical habits of mind. I find that the answers to the interrogating, probing questions above grant me exponentially more ‘teaching ideas’ than any teacher’s book (when I’ve got one) ever does. Certainly the instructions written into the task itself give me next to NOTHING. Except for a space and a reason to dig into into it with my questions and my demanding answers. The DH idea tells me to go for it in a way that no teacher’s book I’ve seen has ever clearly instructed me to.

Scrivener (2015) writes:

More and more people in positions of authority (including many people who should know better) are making the mistake of assuming that the course book is “the course” – and as a result – are prescribing that teachers must finish so many units in so much time e.g. “Complete the first three units by the end of next week”. As a result, a generation of teachers has felt pressurized into speed-paging: “just teaching the book” at a great pace, turning the pages and almost not noticing whether the turning of those pages has led to any learning or not.

In an environment where not using the book at all is not an option, a ‘DH approach’ to coursebook use works for me. A simple way to think about it is: treat every coursebook exercise a bit like a reading text and apply the old ‘pre, during, post’ technique. Come up with something to do before the task that primes it, something to do in the task – a way to do the task, a tweak, wrinkle, or challenging dynamic, and something to do after the task, like reflect on which items were the easiest/hardest, or turn the papers over and try to recreate the entire thing from memory, or come up with a logical bonus item for a classmate to complete. 

The simplest of gap-fills can be tweaked to high heaven, and both you can stop hating gap-fills.

In any event, that’s all the kind of stuff I was thinking to myself when thinking about what I might/should do with exercise E on page 5 before the class. 

Demand High Exercise

I wrote: 

That picture is of a photocopy I made of the teacher’s copy of the student’s book. This is a book that gets handed down from teacher to teacher when assigned to this class. It has the odd penciled-in note here or there, but it’s not really annotated, answers aren’t filled-in, nothing like that. I don’t like that – I don’t want the same thing in my hand as the student has in their hand. Hence the photocopying.

(All the text in the above ‘quote’ format in this post is from the original ‘Exercise E on page 5’ post. Boldfaced = my thoughts/associations looking back at it).

I always suggest to CELTA trainees that their very first step once they find out their pages/source materials for upcoming teaching practice classes should be to head off to the copier and run off at least two copies of all of it. A teacher’s copy for them to mark up during the planning process and at least one other copy to edit, cut up for resizing and/or reordering, insert more example answers, or anything else imaginable. Getting this first step done accomplishes at least two things, to my mind:

  • Gets you a bit further away (both physically and mentally) from the course book. The book is a) un-write-on-able b) relative to 5-6 sheets of paper, heavy c) vaguely imposing d) (too) sleek and slick e) the product of the man, possibly in cahoots with big brother f) in color, which your handouts won’t be unless you make them g) did I say un-write-on-able? h) complete with answer ‘keys’ in the teacher’s book but in static, sealed-off from the activity itself while the ‘key’ to a good activity is along the path to the answers, and the best answer keys sit pat right on the very same blanks and spaces the Ss’ will write in, and are the product of the hand of the very teacher who’ll soon guide others through, and the task itself as filtered through the teacher’s mind.
  • You get some practice with using the photocopier at a time maximally farthest away from the time the class you’re planning for begins. Let’s face it, you’ll likely be here near or at the end of this process. Start here, get to know this place and this tool.


Obviously the first reason is multi-layered and is a not just a bit more important than the second one, but both of those things are there. 

I need to be able to write ALL OVER the materials I’m using. Write, note, scribble, mark the paper in some way, releasing feedback-vibrations from my brain. I need to dig in. But with a light touch. Shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. I want to float through the exercises and probably have the answers in there is best, embedded into the rest of the tracings. Rather than in an answer key neatly laid out in another book. Written into mine, which is in my hand in the room, with the scribbles that connect this me and the me who saw this coming down the road. You see some evidence of all this above. That’s relatively neat looking compared to what I often do.

So am I saying I suggest or expect the trainee teachers I work with to be ‘scribble-thinkers’ like me? I’m not. What I want to be clear with them about is the need to preflect. I don’t use that word because it’s odd and a bit precious. What I usually talk about is the need for “pre-planning engagement” with the materials, or some variation on that.

At the most blunt, this means do the lesson yourself first. Keep your teacher-planner hat off for a while and sit down with your favorite spot with your favorite libation and the tunes of your favorite musician and enter the world of the lesson as it exists on/in/around those materials you’ve been given. Find the/a place to enter, move through it patiently, take in your surroundings as you turn the corners, and get thee to the spot which seems to be the intended destination. If it helps to take those notes or scribble those scribbles, by all means…at the very least, having done the thing you now have an answer key to those parts where written answers are elicited.


You may have noticed that you weren’t really sure whether to write in full-sentence answers for Task C or not. Ah! Waste not this confused cognition for it is not in the least trivial. This is the ‘flect in preflection. You are seeing the invisible lesson. Which is the actual lesson. It’s invisible because all the action takes place in the students’ minds. And so here you are, with the lesson in YOUR mind. That’s not planning, but preparedness (again, echoing Scrivener most recently but it’s clearly not a new distinction). 



Do you get the lesson IN your mind by simply jumping into planning it with your teacher hat on? Of course you don’t. I least I don’t. And over the last two years of observing two hours of teaching at work every day, one of the things I have developed a decent ability to identify is the extent to which the teacher teaching the lesson has actually SEEN the lesson before. No, not someone else teaching the same lesson; THIS lesson.

The best classes are taught by teachers who prepared for their lessons by taking the steps which involved seeing the ‘material’ of the class NOT as stages on a procedure page or exercises on a page but as a particular “mental adventure” for which they will act as guide. The activity isn’t ON the paper, it’s IN the paper. 

I sometimes want to use the term ‘third eye’ in this connection but I tend to hold off more often than not. But in honor of the late, great Prince I need to mention it here. The teacher needs to awaken and use a sort of ‘third eye’ (mind’s eye) to ‘see’ the lessons they teach. But it’s not mystical. I believe it has to do with awareness of a) self b) students and c) language. But all three of those aren’t givens, especially for novice ELTs. The kind of ‘preflective prep’ I’m on about above is approaching teaching lessons as a way of learning lessons.

Prince wore 3rd Eye Sunglasses!

This is simply an attempt to describe an internal process. In the post I’m following up on here, I said: “it’s something I feel I need to do in order to set the groundwork for the in-the-moment decision making that happens in class”. This suggests that it’s not a ‘whole’ process in itself. It’s a ‘priming’ process for later mental stuff. But the second processing is, I think, the stuff called ‘online’ processing and informs near/immediate action. I think it’s hard to pin down, but neither is it mystical (‘3rd eye’ talk notwithstanding). 


Okay. Next, I’m going to commentate (in somewhat riffing fashion) on the 13 turns into which I broke down that action. I’ll also sum up most of the 13 turns with a pithy ‘so what’ statement (with the help of the ‘so what’ master himself Mr. Miles Davis).   


After the previous task (detail questions on a reading passage) I had the student close his book as I told him that he’d done really well with the reading task.

I love praising my students. I’ll go right ahead and praise myself for praising them. Top flight, Matthew! Top drawer. 

I try to praise them in different ways, and make this rich material for them. I’m happy to report that it’s often salient stuff for them; they’ll often ask for further clarification. Probably because they view it as useful, attractive language to be able to use themselves. So I’ll say “Good job! You really knocked that one out of the park!” or “You did a killer job with that. Done and dusted, eh?”. I don’t remember what I said here, leading into exercise E on page 5. 

It may just have been “Good work, Frank”. His name’s not Frank, but that became my nickname for him after noticing the dramatic overuse of the word ‘Frankly…’ to introduce all kinds of statements that, frankly, didn’t call for that word at all! 

There may be times when students don’t really deserve praise. In that case, don’t give it. If you’ve established a good working relationship, a bit of honesty is best: “well, this one wasn’t strong by you”. Every time you praise students for work that doesn’t deserve it, you blunt the blade of all the praise you give (do you agree with that?). 

A recent article in EFL Magazine called “Teacher Talk Acts, Not Teacher Talk Time” identified praising/congratulating as one of many ‘valuable Teacher Talk Acts’. 

So what 1


I asked him “now that you read that article, what do you think is next? [+ wait…until S says ‘Um..I don’t know…read more?’]. Well, I think there were some words that you should look at more closely. So, you’re going to focus on some vo…vo….voooooo…” until the student said ‘vocabulary’, and maybe gave me a look. ;P

I really like asking the learners to tell me what they think is coming next in class. I want to use a big work here and say I think it’s a metacognitive thing. I think it’s good thinking for them. I don’t think the structure of my lessons or even more nuts-and-bolty stuff should be hidden away or thought of as ‘behind the curtain’. I think students are typically really interested in teachers’ methods and constructs and tools. And of course they are interested in the learning process itself. More Underhill: 

underhill quote
(I’ve lost track of the source for the quote above – I think it’s in Meaningful Action? The image is from a slide in a presentation I made at the Teaching House Boston Mini-Conference in 2014 called “Beyond the Japanese Fan: Making Task Feedback More Learning-Centered)

So there’s a) a shift to more focus on the mental activity in the learners (as far as we can perceive or at least predict it) and b) acknowledgement of the learners’ own attention to that stuff, the interior lesson, to which you and your lesson are an instigation, but are also “at a distance”…that is, until you show up closer in to it, leaning into the interior, as Underhill invites us to try. 

I like the idea of making the lesson a partial object of the lesson because it suggests that the lesson and the teacher are separate. The teacher and the learner can stand together, “hey, check out this lesson we’re doing! whoa. hey, what do you think will happen next? what do you think should happen next?” :) 

Hear that cool, foggy blue-grey muted trumpet phrase? That’s Miles, he’s back with his so what?

So what 2


I had the student open to the blank back page of the book and write numbers 1 to 4 and then I told him I’d dictate four short sentences.

I feel like I do dictations more and more these days. There’s really nothing I don’t like about them. I love bottom-up listening work these days, and dictations can get into/lead in to the nooks and crannies of decoding the speech stream very nicely. 

I’ve also never heard a student complain about or express negativity towards doing dictations. Have you? In my experience students grab their pens and jump right into it with gusto, as a rule. It’s funny that I used to see dictations as the ultimate in old-fashioned uselessness. 

So what 3


When he was ready, I said “Can you explain the rules to me?”, careful to say it in a completely relaxed, naturally paced, relatively quick manner.

See above re: decoding the speech stream. I’ve never done ‘slow motion’ dictations, I wonder if there’s any value in that. Or ‘from down the hall’ dictations (though I’ve done S-S dictations from across the room crisscrossing, you know, Ss trying to talk over each other, etc.). 


As you might imagine, he started writing a little bit and then looked up at me and said, “again, please?”.

He had that sort of incredulous look in his smiling eyes there, that look I’d put money down on you, dear reader, recognizing instantly. “Teacher, you can’t possibly expect me to be able to get whatever that was from your voice through my ears, into my brain, out of the pencil in my hand onto this paper here. Feed the needy, man. Feed the needy!” 

So what 4

^ specifically, I’m thinking, in terms of where ‘really hard’ meets ‘really fun’. That’s also something that applies to the CELTA course! Where’s that sweet spot? 

*I’d like to acknowledge here how terrible the writing is in that image above! My blog writing can be sloppy but…how did I manage THAT?😛


First I shook my head, and my eyes said ‘no soup for you!’. His reaction to this refusal was a big ol’ laugh. Oh my god! Leally?! Back in my head, I was thinking no repetition would be nice, but in that moment I decided against it. I told him “Sure, I’ll say it one more time. And for 2, 3, and 4, I’ll say it twice. And you need to ask for the 2nd time. If you really think you don’t need it repeated, don’t ask!”. “Ok!”, and he dove back to the page, pen at the ready for dictation item #2.

I believe he DID ask, but I’m glad I set him up to take the initiative for it. This, I was thinking, would instigate more attention to what happened the first time, self-evaluate, that kind of thing. 

So what 5


So we did that, and I watched him closely, and he did pretty well. If memory serves what he ended up with was something like: Can you explain rules to me? I feel very uncomfortable. You made a lot of mistake on the test. All of great children respect him.

Do you find that the results of dictations like this are relatively predictable in where the missing pieces tend to be (I mean, not be)? Me too. 


Next, I had him guess which words in those sentences would be the vocabulary words. He identified these correctly.

I don’t think I’d ever done exactly that before. I like it and I’ll do it again. For one thing, if the student identifies some other items as potential target vocabulary, it may help tip me off to what else might be interesting for them. Of course, that could start to approach the old “are there any words in there you don’t understand?” chestnut if taken too far. 


I then had him compare his sentences with exercise E. He read those, looked back at his sentences, but didn’t immediately notice the gap. He also clearly wasn’t trying to fill it immediately with the answers from page 5. I was happy to see this, and I prompted him with thing like “a lot of is plural, so…what’s missing? it’s small, but it’s a MUST” and “WHOSE grandchildren?” in #4. He made comments like ‘oh, grand sound same as great for me!’. I tried to be patient and acknowledge these things. The little things that “come up” are JUST as important as “what we’re doing”. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Why was I happy to see him ‘not trying’? In a word that people seem to like these days, “affordances”. This deserves its own post. 

So what 6


Next, we moved back to exercise E on page 5. I directed my student to read the definitions for himself once, then to me out loud. I told him to focus on his pronunciation when doing so. I gave some very immediate corrective feedback prompts in a handful of spots, most of which I’d predicted in my minute or so of looking at the exercise earlier.

The ‘reading aloud in class or not, ever, never’ controversy (that’s a controversy, right?) mars not my practice – the only issue, it seems to me, is the purpose/focus assigned to the thing. It’s usually pronunciation to me, or perhaps, in the case of pronunciation through/with reading, “phonics”…whatever that means. ;) 

So what 7


Then I had him read them out again. It was better and he corrected himself a few times. Me: “mm-hhm, mm-hhm”.

My favorite ELT person this month (it’s on a calendar) is a guy named Drew S. Fagan. Once of Fagan’s articles I’ve been able to get a hold of is called “Beyond “Excellent!”: Uncovering the Systematicity Behind Positive Feedback Turn Construction in ESL Classrooms” (available online here) and like some of his other work is a microanalysis of one expert teacher’s classroom practices utilizing the framework of conversational analysis. You end up with a wonderfully fine-grained picture of how one teacher provides positive feedback in the moment during lessons.

Interestingly, Fagan draws a clear distinction between giving positive assessment and implying positive assessment. Although what Fagan explores in terms of the latter is much more subtle and varied than my “mm-hhm, mm-hhm”, I’m going to use this distinction to identify and further explore my own ways of less-than-direct (“Good! Correct!”) feedback. 

When I listen back to recordings and watch classroom video of my own teaching, I notice that I do these ‘hum-phrases’ a lot. Come to think of it, there must be a name for those? This will be staffroom chatter later today. 


A colleague’s google search hit on paralanguage but I suspect there’s more to that story. Hmmm, with my training, experience, graduate degree, etc. should I know this? And I think I remember doing a lesson on this stuff at least once before! In any event, according to the products of my externalization devices (class recordings, peer feedback, etc.) I’m “paralanguaging” all the time throughout my classes.

And what I think I’m doing with it is finding efficiencies for feedback-giving. In particular, in order not to disturb or arrest the discourse while still providing relatively constant feedback. Rather than beyond excellent, this – more below excellent. Sub-talk stuff. 

So what 8


Finally I had him match them. As usual, we sort of did #1 together out loud, then he flew through the rest (this is a very short 4-item exercise!).

So what? So that Gandhi’s quotable can be invoked, of course: the before and the after are as important, if not more important, than the thing itself in and of itself. 


BTW: No, people who post quotes online aren’t, in fact, dumber than average.😉


After confirming the answers, I prompted some brief discussion with questions like ‘have you ever said #1?’, ‘had #3 said to you?’, ‘what rules do you break most often?’, ‘who is the most respected person in your family?’, ‘what’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve experienced in the US so far?’.

It’s clear to me that using the vocabulary in a personal way (the highly technical term, I believe, is personalization) at the point of learning/clarifying is a good thing. 

That’s all. I didn’t mention Thomas Farrell. Until now. 

I didn’t mention the Lexical Approach and hearing Hugh Dellar chat with Marek on the TEFL Show podcast this morning, I’m not sure why I felt the need to capitalize that. Hugh does a nice job of demonstrating why it’d be best not to peg that as a very particular ‘method’. Anyway, I guess I thought something related to that might come up simply because in doing a bit more sentence-level stuff on the way to the single words in exercise E on page 5, it kind of had those vibes.

What Hugh brings up on the show about the quality of examples is great food for thought, though. Seems reasonable to think “explain” collocates very strongly with ‘the rules’, and that the plural of rule is likely much more frequent than the singular.

I have to admit that I’m still not comfortable actually using online corpora tools, even though I find the whole thing very attractive and interesting.  

What else do I want to say? I think I’m so whatted out. But all of this (the Miles Davis sponsored ‘so what statements’ specifically) lead to one more step: the now what. See you then! 

You’re supposed to finish blog posts with questions and prompts that would inspire your readers to consider interacting and/or feeding back by leaving a comment. I dunno, so I’ll just leave it to Miles to ask YOU:

blank so what

Live from Motown: CELTA TP Student’s ‘Black Belt in English’

Happy Friday! I’m not going to post much this evening (it’s almost time to step out on the town), but I did want to share a little blast from the past here before I head out. And because it’s Friday, it’s just a simple, happy thing that I just wanna groove on as the weekend gets rolling.🙂

Sometimes it feels like we –  committed and concerned members of the ELT profession who connect and converse online – spend a lot of time digging into and dialoguing (and sometimes arguing) about the challenges and problems and limitations and imperfections of what we do. That’s because we care. We’re always on the search for insight and improvement. But it can also be wearisome.

So we can…we should…we have to always remember to celebrate and appreciate that we’re in a wonderful profession, we get to work with wonderful people, and despite everything, wonderful things happen around us nearly every single day.

This was just one of those days:

If you’re watching on your phone you won’t be able to see the explanatory annotation on YouTube. Here it is:

Last summer we ran the first ever CELTA course in the amazing and astounding city of Detroit, MI. It was a huge challenge, but we pulled it off. The man speaking had heard about the TP classes and brought his niece who was visiting from China. After seeing him waiting for her down the hall, I asked him if he’d want to join our TP classes himself. He did. This is what he had to say on the final day.

You might not have a recording, but do you have a memory you could share about something a student said or did that reminded you to smile and feel great about your small part in something great? If so, please share in the comment space below.🙂

Following Frances: Expert corrective feedback in action at Columbia University

Just today Laura Soracco posted a fantastic collection of 14 short reflections from teachers on their TESOL 2016 convention experiences (including mine). Rather than pinpointing my favorite moment of the conference I decided to deflect reflect on the notion of ‘takeaways’.

But I thought of a moment. A very specific moment. Here’s what happened:

I saw her and did a double-take.

Then, a bit like an irrational superfan: “You’re the woman from the video! It’s you! Oh my god, it’s an honor to meet you! You’re from the video! I just want you to know, I think you’re the coolest. It’s you, from the corrective feedback video!”


The woman was Dr. Frances A. Boyd (see her impressive bio here). The video was:

I first saw it as part of Carol Numrich‘s presentation “Students and Teachers: Differing Perspectives on Oral Corrective Feedback” at TESOL 2014 in Portland.

Since then I’ve used the video often to give CELTA trainees a glimpse at how an expert teacher harnesses corrective feedback to give learners the kind of responsive feedback they need to notice, upgrade, and internalize the language they’re working on and working with.

It’s a great exposition on corrective feedback. It’s also really well produced – giving us the teachers’ actions, plus her personal narrative illuminating her decision making in her own authentic voice. See? This is what accounts for my fanboy moment! (A more graceful one than reaching out to shake Scott Thornbury‘s hand…in the men’s bathroom). This film is an instant classic and Frances is a star!🙂

Here are the photos I took at the TESOL 2014 presentation:






As you can see, there’s really nothing new under the  “Pardon the Correction” workshop presentation sun. This presentation is an aunt or uncle, if not a parent, of ours two years later.

So thanks, Carol. And thank you Frances! I’ve got the signed version of this photo already framed up on the ELT hall-of-fame wall in my mind…


Pardon the Correction: Meeting Students’ Needs & Expectations with Confidence (Video)

We had a great time leading this workshop in Baltimore, and I’m excited to post this video summarizing it here…though I had a bit less fun making the video because I’m suffering from a nasty toothache today. But I couldn’t wait to put this together, today was the day. Hopefully the dental issues and swollen cheeks don’t too badly affect my delivery. The themselves are here: PTC TESOL16 Final.

Links to our favorite research on immediate oral feedback: 1 (full), 2 (full), 3 (abstract only) all by Drew S. Fagan at the University of Maryland.

Please use the comment box below to leave your thoughts on the topic and/or questions about the presentation. I’ll definitely be following up with more as this is an area that is endless interesting to me.

Also, as briefly hinted at in the presentation above we were using the terms ‘error’ and ‘correction’ in part in order to intentionally limit the scope of what we’re focusing on. But ‘error correction’ by itself doesn’t, in fact, go far enough to get to the heart of the larger matter, which is feedback more generally. Well…I take that phrase back – because I think ‘error correction’ is at the heart of the matter…it’s just not the body which the heart feeds with good blood. I plan to explore these matters much more here soon.

In the meantime, I’d mention that Diana England led an excellent webinar the other day called “Feedback as a Springboard for Learning”, and the recording is here.

Update: Chris Smith’s guest post today on Russ Mayne’s blog is an excellent look at the effectiveness of corrective feedback:

How I ran exercise E on page 5

I’m in between courses right now and working on a bunch of training-related projects. But I’m also…teaching! Whodathunkit. I’ve got a single student in a lower level writing class for 2 hours a day, 4 days a week for the next month. Part of me would rather just focus exclusively on my projects, but I’m sincerely happy for the instructional hours. It’s not healthy for a teacher trainer to spend too long away from teaching. I don’t have a reference and citation for that. It’s just a thing I believe. Maybe Tessa Woodward mumbled it once.

Okay, so the blog…I’ve got a whole slew of epic, mind-blowing, world-shaking but unfinished posts in my ‘drafts’ folder. Trust me. I do. This, though…this isn’t one of those. This is really simple and rather blunt: I just want to report on how I ran exercise E on page 5 in my afternoon class today. I had this strong urge to just ‘write down the bones‘ of what I did. So here I am. I’ll talk about the why and wherefore in the next post. It’s time to describe how I did exercise E on page 5 now. Here we go.

There it is, exercise E in all its simple and straightforward glory:

Demand High Exercise

That picture is of a photocopy I made of the teacher’s copy of the student’s book. This is a book that gets handed down from teacher to teacher when assigned to this class. It has the odd penciled-in note here or there, but it’s not really annotated, answers aren’t filled-in, nothing like that. I don’t like that – I don’t want the same thing in my hand as the student has in their hand. Hence the photocopying.

I need to be able to write ALL OVER the materials I’m using. Write, note, scribble, mark the paper in some way, releasing feedback-vibrations from my brain. I need to dig in. But with a light touch. Shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. I want to float through the exercises and probably have the answers in there is best, embedded into the rest of the tracings. Rather than in an answer key neatly laid out in another book. Written into mine, which is in my hand in the room, with the scribbles that connect this me and the me who saw this coming down the road. You see some evidence of all this above. That’s relatively neat looking compared to what I often do.

That picture of the done-over exercise, the result of this process, may look vaguely ‘schematic’ but it is NOT evidence of me ‘planning’ exactly how I’m going to run exercise E. Rather that’s me ‘preflecting’ on exercise E. It’s me taking it in and knocking it about (‘it’ being a) the bolded vocab words b) the sentences they’re embedded in c) the simple dynamic of ‘matching’ d) the language in the definitions below. All these things, and probably some other stuff, in a fuzzy-logical 60-120 second process. I need to have taken ownership, you could say, of the stuff on these pages of these course books I’m given if I’m going to be able to use them in the ways I think are best most satisfying.

It’s something I feel I need to do in order to set the groundwork for the in-the-moment decision making that happens in class. Which turned out something like this (in 13 turns):

  1. After the previous task (detail questions on a reading passage) I had the student close his book as I told him that he’d done really well with the reading task.
  2. I asked him “now that you read that article, what do you think is next? [+ wait…until S says ‘Um..I don’t know…read more?’]. Well, I think there were some words that you should look at more closely. So, you’re going to focus on some vo…vo….voooooo…” until the student said ‘vocabulary’, and maybe gave me a look. ;P
  3. I had the student open to the blank back page of the book and write numbers 1 to 4 and then I told him I’d dictate four short sentences.
  4. When he was ready, I said “Can you explain the rules to me?”, careful to say it in a completely relaxed, naturally paced, relatively quick manner.
  5. As you might imagine, he started writing a little bit and then looked up at me and said, “again, please?”.
  6. First I shook my head, and my eyes said ‘no soup for you!’. His reaction to this refusal was a big ol’ laugh. Oh my god! Leally?! Back in my head, I was thinking no repetition would be nice, but in that moment I decided against it. I told him “Sure, I’ll say it one more time. And for 2, 3, and 4, I’ll say it twice. And you need to ask for the 2nd time. If you really think you don’t need it repeated, don’t ask!”. “Ok!”, and he dove back to the page, pen at the ready for dictation item #2.
  7. So we did that, and I watched him closely, and he did pretty well. If memory serves what he ended up with was something like: Can you explain rules to me? I feel very uncomfortable. You made a lot of mistake on the test. All of great children respect him.
  8. Next, I had him guess which words in those sentences would be the vocabulary words. He identified these correctly.
  9. I then had him compare his sentences with exercise E. He read those, looked back at his sentences, but didn’t immediately notice the gap. He also clearly wasn’t trying to fill it immediately with the answers from page 5. I was happy to see this, and I prompted him with thing like “a lot of is plural, so…what’s missing? it’s small, but it’s a MUST” and “WHOSE grandchildren?” in #4. He made comments like ‘oh, grand sound same as great for me!’. I tried to be patient and acknowledge these things. The little things that “come up” are JUST as important as “what we’re doing”. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
  10. Next, we moved back to exercise E on page 5. I directed my student to read the definitions for himself once, then to me out loud. I told him to focus on his pronunciation when doing so. I gave some very immediate corrective feedback prompts in a handful of spots, most of which I’d predicted in my minute or so of looking at the exercise earlier.
  11. Then I had him read them out again. It was better and he corrected himself a few times. Me: “mm-hhm, mm-hhm”.
  12. Finally I had him match them. As usual, we sort of did #1 together out loud, then he flew through the rest (this is a very short 4-item exercise!).
  13. After confirming the answers, I prompted some brief discussion with questions like ‘have you ever said #1?’, ‘had #3 said to you?’, ‘what rules do you break most often?’, ‘who is the most respected person in your family?’, ‘what’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve experienced in the US so far?’.

That’s it.

That was how I ran exercise E on page 5.

Like I said above, all I’m doing here is describing what happened. In the next post I plan to reflect, analyze, unpack, contextualize. I might even cite a few experts and quote some folks.

I think I might quote and/or mention Adrian Underhill and ‘Demand High’, Thomas Farrell, the Lexical Approach maybe, teacher cognition and decision making, and…some other perfectly preposterous pretentiousness.🙂

All that in the service of something very real and very important: understanding what in the world I’m doing when I do what I do as the teacher in the classroom.

Or, in the off-handed sounding yet sophisticated language of tripartite reflection offered by this blog’s favorite CELTA graduate Anne Hendler: I’ll being engaging the so what and the now what (the above being the what) parts of a reflection cycle.

anne whats


In the meantime, if you have any comments please leave them below!

Also, as a lil’ random bonus in this blog post, a quick snap of some things that went on the board during the same class that I kinda liked:


This also now gives blog readers who have lived and taught in Korea no excuse not to comment on this post. I need to hear some nugget of your experience/perception of Korean drinking culture. It would be cruel to deny me. It would also be neat if it were something my student could read or hear about and potentially react to.😉

DBA (Death by Acronym) on CELTA

There can be so many different acronyms used on the CELTA course, uttered and echoed so many times. The entire affair is slathered in them. Its something trainees often struggle with, comment on, and joke about. Is this AOK? Or should I be asking WTF? IMO, it’s something that’s worth a WCSL (well-considered second look).

[*NOTE: Before going any further, I want to say  that I’m well aware of the difference between an acronym and an initialism. What I call “acronyms” in this post are, in fact, initialisms according to the very straightforward dictionary definition (acronyms are said as words, like NASA – initialisms like FBI aren’t). Here’s the thing: people these days brazenly, even gleefully, ignore this fact. I’m people. Hence, I ignore it too. I apologize if this bothers you. I also pity you.]

These endless acronyms include:

CCQ (Concept Checking Question)

ICQ (Instruction Checking Question)

TTT (Teacher Talk Time)

STT (Student Talk Time)

TTT (Test-Teach-Test)

FB (Feedback)

WC (Whole-Class)

WCFB (Whole-Class Feedback)

S (Student)

Ss (Students)

T (Teacher)

IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

EFL/ESL/ESOL (you know…)

YLs (Young Learners)

TL (Target Language)

TPR (Total Physical Resonse)

WB (Whiteboard)

PPP (Present Practice Produce)

TP (Teaching Practice)

MFP (Meaning, Pronunciation, Form)

DEC (Delayed Error Correction)

LSA, FOL, LRT, LFC (Assignments)

TBL (Task-Based Learning)

LA (Language Analysis)

LP (Lesson Plan)

CP (Course Participant)

Etc., etc.

Now, I’ve found myself defending DBA (Death by Acronym) during the CELTA on the grounds that we need efficiencies. We need the quick n’ dirtiest referencing tools because we refer to lots of these things so often. It’s a shorthand, and it’s a good thing.


But I think I’ll stop. I mean, I’ll stop defending it. But more importantly, I think I’ll also stop acronym-ing my trainees to death’s doorstep in the first place. This would be based on a handful of interrelated considerations:

  • acronyms are technical and lifeless

I don’t want the CELTA courses I work on to be technical or lifeless…and I don’t want the vibrant, organic, vital act of teaching to be referred to in overly technical or lifeless terms. I might write this on a CP’s LP: BTW, good FB in your DEC on the F an P of the TL! No, I really don’t think e.e. cummings would like it, not at all. And I want to be able to imagine that e.e. cummings wouldn’t hate the teacher training course I work on.

There’s good reason trainees often joke about, sometimes mock, CELTA acronyms – they become like flotsam and jetsam, good for tossing around as you float along together. But they aren’t what’s keeping you afloat, and it’s definitely not all affectionate teasing. If “STT” is really so important, I’d rather the language I used to insist you account for it not suggest a TPS report. My least favorite is ‘TTT’ and I’m happy to say that I’ve already all but erased it from my vocabulary. To take something as central and consequential as the teacher’s speech in a lesson and cram it down into the bluntly quantitative, one-dimensional ‘teacher talk time’…uggg. This is what you get, even when you DON’T repeat it with unreasonable frequency: “but…wouldn’t that be teacher talk time though?” when you suggest someone tell a wonderful and humorous personal anecdote to their students.

  • acronyms are frozen solid

As we explore teaching and learning on the course (and this exploratory side is the best side of the whole endeavor), we move, like spelunkers, into deeper caverns, seeing different formations and noticing more patterns in the rock. What all these acronyms may do, rather unhelpfully, is force us to use the exact same language to talk about quite different things. Acronyms pin something down in a very final way. NML (me no like). Sure, I can – as I remember doing just the other day – make one simple rubik’s twist and use ‘FCQ’ (form checking question) when I notice a candidate using student-directed questions to confirm and consolidate their understanding of the form of the structure his lesson was focused on…but then why fossilize the C into CCQ so thoroughly in the first place, unless, like a slot machine, we wanted even more acronyms with exponential substitutions.

  • they can make things that “get an acronym” seem equally important

Take ‘CCQ’ and ‘ICQ’. My co-tutor and I recently promised each other never to utter ‘ICQ’ on the course again after witnessing an IC-Coup, a near-total takeover of our trainee’s entire sphere of concern in their lessons as they carpet-bombed the students with questions like “are you going to work alone, or with a partner?” three point five seconds after clearly announcing to the class “you are going to work alone on this”. We decided that the trainees had only recently been introduced to the essential notion of ‘checking understanding’, along with the famous CCQ, and were, bless their hearts, treating the relative trifle of checking task instructions using similarly straightforward yes/no questions as a similarly profound mandate.

  • acronyms are too efficient

It’s true that the CELTA course is very busy and very full. Busier and fullier than pretty much every other thing in the known universe. So it makes sense, what I do when I rationalize the need for so many acronyms. Doesn’t it? Actually, not really. Not really, because things like the meaning, pronunciation, and form of a piece of language or the way we check and consolidate the understanding of a concept are NOT, in fact, the places we should be trimming seconds off our run time. Instead, aren’t these the very things we want to speak of in whole and patient prose, sonorously, with soul, even perhaps with a pinch of panache?  Maybe it should take up some time to make a reference to ‘teacher talking time’. Being too efficient, acronyms simply fly forward, allowing nobody to bring their own language into play. When I think about it, I’d rather have different trainees potentially refer to X with their own most salient term. With an ‘official’ (sounding) acronym on the scene, however, that door is more tightly closed.


Well…I’m pretty sure there’s a fifth and likely a sixth reason why I should take a critically reflective look at how I use and potentially misuse acronyms on the courses I work on. I think I could continue, but it might just be TMI. I think what I’ve already got is enough to help me be able to say, to myself, FTFY. Also, I’d like it not to be TL;DR.

Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to ask a question or add a comment (as short and basic as you like – it’s just always nice to see even the quickest of check-ins!) in the place below.

Cert as CPD: Interviews with Anne pt. 5

It’s been a week since Anne Hendler completed her CELTA certificate course in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Congrats Anne! What an interesting and enlightening privilege to do this series of interviews with you! I hope we can do some further follow-ups about it in the future.  


IH Chiang Mai

At the time of publishing this post, Anne is enjoying some ‘island time’ down in the south of the country…I’d say much deserved!

But we left off our interviews back when Anne was toughing out Week 3 and just beginning to catch a glimpse of the finish line up ahead. How did the final stretch go? To start off this fourth and final installment,  we’ve got some of the Week 4 notes that Anne shared as the days unfolded…


This is Monday, week 4. Also, it’s my birthday. Having a CELTA birthday was a nice experience. Someone told the students and they made a thing of it, singing at the end of class. Some of my friends got a cake and got everyone together after lunch. That was really sweet as well. I felt pretty special. Which took some of the sting away from TP7.

TP7 kicked my ass. Why are language lessons so hard? I remembered what you wrote only afterwards and realized I should have skipped the rest of the worksheet and just moved straight to practice. Shoulda. WILL I EVER FIGURE OUT PACING AND TIMING?

Yeah, I really think you will!🙂

BTW, Trainer 1 says HER demo lessons are NOT polished perfected lessons. I wouldn’t have know any different since I saw her demo on the very first day and Trainer 2’s on week 2 Friday. HIS lesson was definitely a polished product. Of course, all the input sessions are brilliant examples of teaching. I normally pull them apart in my notebook instead of doing the tasks they set for us, trying to pay attention to how they do the things I find challenging.


Tuesday. We had a session on professional development today. It made me really happy to see Trainer 1 share a page of must-follow blogs, including Mike Griffin, Anna Loseva, Tyson Seburn, Rose Bard, Hana Ticha, Kevin Stein, Marc Jones, Joanna Malefaki, Anthony Ash, Sandy Millin, and a few others. I took a sneaky picture and posted it to Twitter, but it didn’t turn out too well. I tried to explain why Twitter is super awesome. No one joined on the spot.

Our other session today was on using song in the classroom. It came just in time for our TP group, since our lessons tonight were all based around a song. I really disliked the song Trainer 2 chose. I assume he chose it because it’s something he wouldn’t mind listening to three times in a row and it was teachable. I learned that the peril of choosing ‘put stuff in order’ activities for listening is that if you miss one, you miss everything after it. I also learned that the more cognitively challenging the activity is, the less it matters that I don’t like the song.

Oh, and irritating ICQ of the day: “Should you circle the answers or underline them?”

We’ve decided to stop using the term ICQ at my center because trainees tend to equate them with CCQs and misuse/overuse them in place of describing and demonstrating tasks properly.  

By the way, trainees have been taking pics of each other during TPs, so I have photographic evidence of my CELTA teaching (and also of my trainer observing with her head in her hands in despair. Actually that’s unfair and it’s probably just a thinking pose).

Anne Pic 1
“Keep calm & pretend it’s on the lesson plan”
Anne Pic 2


Wednesday. We walked into class this morning to find the desks arranged in rows facing the board. Final exam style. I found it hard to see a place for myself in an arrangement like that, so I sat on the floor. And I wondered about my own belief: It’s good to change seating arrangements and desk arrangements. I didn’t realize that different seating arrangements speak so loudly about what kind of class we will be having.

Trainer 2’s review session featured more random groupings with non-random results. I think it had to do with where he started in the room. He must have thought it out while we were doing something else.

I wonder if we are harder to teach in week 4. It’s not that our enthusiasm has drained, but I think we’re all tired (and especially the three trainees in each group who teach first). So the people who tend to speak out in input sessions are unusually quiet. And when we aren’t quiet, we tend to go off topic. I feel bad sometimes, because I know how hard it can be to direct a class back to the topic of study when they get onto something else. Our trainers are experts, of course. And if they’re frustrated, they hide it well. (They’re probably tired too. I heard this is their second course back to back.)

In my experience there is a clear shift in atmosphere and behavior during Week 4. It can be frustrating as discipline and focus sometimes unravels, but it can be great fun and quite a bit more creative because the pressure is finally off (for most trainees anyway).

Moment of hilarity of the day came from a review activity – a body parts word jumble.

– ‘sinep’:  ‘Everyone has one. It keeps you erect’ –

It’s a spine, of course.


This week has been killer, but thank god my group works so seamlessly together. Trainee C stayed up half the night with me, both of us working on our lesson plans and keeping each other awake and focused. Trainee B wisely went to bed. They both taught amazing lessons today. I think if there’s an area that our whole TP group has all improved on in this course, it’s context creation. On Monday we taught lessons around ‘Hindsight’. On Tuesday, the other three taught brilliant interconnected lessons around animals. Today we created lessons around the theme of a murder mystery. I guess if you consider we’ve been making our own materials all week starting from scratch, it’s no wonder we’re so tired.


Thursday night and pretty much finished up now.

You were right about creative feedback in week 4. Trainer 2 hasn’t varied his style according to that group, but Trainer 1 had some surprises for us: feedback based around materials for TP7 and creative feedback for TP8. Feedback with colorful posters was delightful. A creative way to give positive feedback.

Anne Pic 3

There are trainers who do that (and that kind of thing) for peer feedback towards/at the end and trainers who don’t. I’m definitely one who does; I don’t think it’s a trifle…it’s some of the most important peer-feedback on the course. The CELTA has a stiff upper lip, but also…a soul. 

We decided to make a positive feedback poster for Trainer 1 as well. So we’ve been up half the night working on it. We started with the idea of teacher hats, and ended up with the words we brainstormed on a scarf instead, since she doesn’t really wear hats.

Anne Pic 4

What a wonderful gift for a trainer. I’m sure your trainer really appreciated it!

After classes tonight, we had a party with the students. We gave some of them certificates. They had a really hilarious time listening for their names (and begging us to repeat in our terrible pronunciations just so they could laugh more). All in good fun.

Trainer 2 gave us recommended readings. I already decided which one I want to read (first): The English Verb (if I can find a copy that’s not $70!).

I found a cheap copy of that (maybe because lots of highlighting) and I’d be happy to send it to you. The question is, where are you going to be? What’s in your post-CELTA future?

First, I want to sleep until Forever.  After that…I can’t even begin to guess yet. When I am less tired, I’ll try to answer the big question: what is the next step for me?

Wow, what a great piece of writing. In case you missed it, dear reader, click ^ that link to check it out…

Anne Weakness

Anne, I can see how that previous job was draining and not leading someone like you towards your best position, which you made up for in other ways. But when did you sleep? And the self-doubt. Oh, the self-doubt! Also, sounds like you re-energized since giving yourself that time off, but the hyper-intensity of the CELTA course was a double-edged sword. Someone here, just the other day, floated the ‘why, I mean WHY isn’t this thing FIVE weeks?’ pondering – a not uncommonly heard Week 3 sentiment. Folks get worn down, sometimes worn out. Of course there are good reasons why that’s not standard, but the level of stress involved in this wonderful course is not a small issue. What’s gained and what’s lost? Something I think about a lot. And I know it can certainly affect trainers, too – at least, still green ones like me! 


Finally, some punchy “listicle”style Q & A to account for the experience as we reflect and celebrate your achievement…


Memorable moments from input sessions?

The learning or the laughter? There was a lot of both and I think they are both valuable parts of the experience.

  1. Dictogloss – the queen of dictations. That was also a lesson which occurred all over the school and generated a lot of enthusiasm.
  2. Making board art about young learners with two other trainees – and seeing how all our different ideas mesh together.
  3. And of course the Professional Development session, seeing all my friends’ blogs up on the screen.
  4. The phenomenal Lexis input session with Lennie’s Menagerie. I have never seen anything like it. Trainer 2 set the context (Lennie, who needs some help sending his animals to good homes), delivered the lesson as a Test-Teach-Test with every part connecting to the context so there was a purpose to every activity, and followed up with games and activities that led to consolidation. And even though I was only half-paying attention to the content of the lesson because I was trying to pull it apart to figure out how he was doing it, I still remember most of the words and details about them. This is completely because of the elaborate story of Lennie (who called to mind the character from ‘Of Mice and Men’ – another stroke of genius), and the need to recall and use the information in order to help him. This lesson was absolutely genius.
  5. Trainer 1 had a lot of extension questions ready. It seemed like whenever I finished something early (which only happened in the first couple weeks) there were additional questions to think about. Best yet, some of them were not display questions and I never found out the answers. I hope I wrote them down now that I have more time to think.


Tough or terrible lesson planning experiences?

  1. Grammar analysis sheets! They take so long to make, and I still have no idea how to use them.
  2. The day my USB died and I had to redo anything I had done since the last backup.
  3. Not checking the length of the recording when I added up the time for TP 8. What a rookie mistake.


Good or great lesson planning experiences?

  1. Staying up late at night creating contexts to link our lessons together, and being a bit silly about it.
  2. Figuring out how to color-code my handouts so I didn’t get lost (this is why multicolored paper clips are great)
  3. Making my first ‘guided discovery’ grammar worksheet, and seeing how it could make me shut up and let the students do all the work. (Still trying to figure it into my time management, though)


Critical incidents from your TP lessons that stand out?

  1. Feedback that included the word ‘defeated’ (or something really similar). And I knew why. And it helped me change my attitude.
  2. Completely losing my place in my lesson plan in my first TP helped me realize I need to up my organization game.
  3. An ah-ha moment when I realized that I was married to the lesson plan and that’s one reason why I was failing to manage the timing.


Meaningful and/or memorable moments with TP students?

  1. Hearing about a student’s childhood experiences and realizing how amazing it is that we met at IH. Also amazing how willing the students are to share their lives.
  2. The boy who can draw like a boss! He brought his binder to show us his work. If we’d had more time with that class, I’d’ve found a way to add some of the animation he and his friends like into the materials.
  3. The moment when one group of students decided genetic mutation will help save the Tasmanian Devils and another student said it would make them mutants like x-men.


New perspectives on ELT gained from the CELTA?

  1. I will never look at a lesson the same way again. From now on, I will know what my students have learned.
  2. I will never plan 7 hours for a 45 minute lesson. But I will adapt the useful bits of the format to fit into my planning time.
  3. I disagree with the party line on collaborative writing, and I would love to play devil’s advocate for reading aloud.
  4. (Bonus) Breaking down the process of everything that goes into teaching really helped me get a new perspective on what I do in a classroom and why. It’s the ultimate reflective practice. I can’t wait to get more into this!


Pieces of advice you’d give potential CELTA candidates?

  1. Don’t be afraid to take risks in the classroom – it’s how you grow.
  2. Even if you’re an experienced teacher, there is still a lot to learn from your tutors and from the fresh eyes of the other trainees, whether they are experienced or not. Be open to it.
  3. Whether you are experienced or not, you’ll find you have your own strengths. Share.
  4. (Bonus one) The camaraderie between the trainees on my course was what made it manageable. Try to be kind even when you’re stressed.
  5. (Other bonus one) Read the books! Really! Trust me!


Impressions of Thailand/Thai culture:

  1. I had a sort of negative image of the ‘land of smiles’ before I came. It came from experiences in the islands and the impression that the smiles hid negative thoughts about me. This month has reversed that impression. I love the people here and find them genuinely friendly and helpful.
  2. The temples are beautiful. The monks are always on the move. Where are they always going?
  3. Thai drivers are not as dangerous as Korean ones (from a cyclist’s perspective).


*** I get to add my own: some things Matthew appreciates about and honors in Anne: 

  • the amazing drive to learn from every experience & reflect with your PLN
  • the openness and generosity in how you’ve shared very personal experiences here 
  • the seemingly casual but often totally brilliant photography you do, I love it! 



Postscript: a trainer appreciation by Anne

I talked a lot about Trainer 1 in these posts, but haven’t said much about Trainer 2. I wrote this description of him on the first day of the course:

“Trainer 2 writes with a fountain pen. He wears his glasses on top of his head. He is wearing an IH collared shirt. He gestures with his left hand when he speaks, and he puts his pens and markers in his breast pocket. He wears a silver watch on his left hand, and a gold claddagh ring on his ring finger. He has another ring on the middle finger of his right hand.”

Trainer 2 is quite a gifted teacher and an excellent story teller. Last week when he was telling us about adult literacy he presented us with an unfamiliar script and had us copy it out left handed to give us an idea of what it feels like to write in English for the first time. I was so focused on completing the task that I didn’t even bother looking at the script as anything other than dots and lines. It wasn’t until I’d finished writing that I wondered where I had seen it before. It took me a while to recognize the runes Tolkien used. If he and I had met in other circumstances, I think we would have got along.


Thank you so much Anne! Readers, please share you comments below!🙂


Verbing weirds language…

From the great Bill Watterson:

calvin verbed

Just thinking of all the English native-speaker CELTA trainees entering into a whole new relationship with their own language on the course….bon voyage (and never mind Hobbes’s cynicism)!

*For actual ELT comics:

*Update (a couple days later):

Why was I thinking of so-called “native-speakers” exclusively in this post? Surely the bilingual/”non-native” speakers have a similar experience of ‘stretch’ in their awareness of language and language elasticity? 

I guess my first answer to that would be “because it’s most obvious in them/they react most viscerally”. 

Something to think about more. 

Cert as CPD: Interviews with Anne pt. 4

We pick right back up again as Anne continues through the heart of a CELTA course in Thailand, the Land of Smiles…and 8,334 7-Elevens. Let’s follow…

…just after ducking into this mercifully air-conditioned “sewen” for a couple of steamed pork buns, some Pocky, and a nice cold M-150. mBeeem-boop! mBeeem-boop! 

Hey there, Anne. You’re way down the CELTA road now.

They say week three is the hardest. I couldn’t imagine harder than last week. But there is definitely a lot to do.

Highlights of hilarity: potatoes and multilingual poo. Flakes (but not fluffers). Word tennis, which is definitely not ping pong. CCQ as weapon. Visual aids.

Nope, I don’t dare to ask! It’s funny how CELTA courses birth little self-referential microworlds of their own…often featuring very high levels of absurdity. So. Many. Inside. Jokes. 

What else is new? 

I’ve met my third trainer of the course, who is of course another extremely gifted teacher. And he’s added new techniques of giving and getting feedback.

Cool. Can you give a couple examples of some of the feedback techniques you’ve experienced on the course?

Ah, of course! One way was sitting around the table discussing the positive things we saw in the lessons and ending by adding a way to help the teacher for next time (I LOVE this focus on ‘next time’ rather than dwelling on ‘last time’). Another was writing feedback for each teacher on the boards and letting the teacher decide which parts they want to take and which to leave. The third (and most creative so far) was ‘Giving’ and ‘Taking’ – a discussion on what we want to take from the lesson for ourselves (like great CCQ-ing) and what we would like to give to the teacher for their next lessons (like five minutes of meditation time before the class). I wonder if there’ll be any others.


Sometimes the most creative peer observations are left for the very end of the course. Prepare thyself!

As for the agreeable “dwelling on the future”, I learned early on from a trainer during my training up process to consciously practice shifting how I talk: from X is what you “could have done” to X what you “can do (next time)”. Of course that constructive focus was my intention from the start, but my language wasn’t actually directly reflecting and serving that intention. But with this help, I sorted it…took about two full courses to nail it down as an ingrained habit/speech pattern. It makes all the difference! 

“Trainer Talk”, innit. 

In input sessions, I can always tell when I’ve given a wrong answer or expressed an idea that one of the trainers wasn’t expecting by the pause that comes before “…that’s okay…” or “…that’ll work…” But I actually think this is a good thing in terms of lesson planning because they aren’t so set in their ideas of how things should go that they won’t let me try things out (even though I can almost feel them biting their tongues).

Yep, I actually have a special tongue-guard protector thing for those moments. Maybe your trainers have temporarily misplaced theirs. Cambridge send one to all CELTA tutors after their first year on the job. We need to protect out tongues from all that biting; we need to preserve the health of our tongues for when they REALLY need to be bitten. Job hazard. 


Seriously though, that’s good news because I’m sure you’re bringing a whole bunch of quality ideas to the table!

…so, a few more days have passed now and you’re well into Week 3. How’s it going?  

I have been feeling a lot of panic the last couple days. On Monday I found myself terrified that I’d misread the deadline for turning in my assignment. On Tuesday I worried that I had forgotten something else, and was shaking before I managed to convince myself that I was still on track. But when I’m being realistic, I know that there is always time to do the things I need to do for this course. And it’s amazing how friendly and supportive everyone is. There is a lot of laughter and silliness to cut the stress, and we all help each other.


Yup, sounds like a CELTA week 3! And it seems you ARE on top of the assignment side of things. Impressive, Anne! 

Back in our first interview you talked about three specific development aims you hoped the course would help you with. They were:

  1. Getting & using feedback on your teaching from both trainers and peers
  2. Improving classroom management skills
  3. Developing better lesson planning skills

Where are you with these three specific things at this point? 

Well, I have definitely gotten a lot of feedback from everyone. I feel like I have a much clearer idea of my strengths and weaknesses (particularly in the delivery of my lessons and where my time management is going awry). I really value the feedback, support, and help they have given me, and the constructive suggestions for how to improve. I think my classroom management has improved quite a bit in most areas except for time management. I’m working on that still (and maybe will be for a long time). I’m so inconsistent from one TP to the next – depending on the lesson types and how tired I am, but also because I have a tendency to ‘front-load’ the lesson so that practice gets sacrificed. Now that I see what’s happening, I can find more strategies to fix it, though. Oh, and lesson planning is a legit strength now. Delivery, on the other hand….Well, development never ends, you know?😉

The ‘front-loading’ challenge is pretty common in TP lessons, at least in my experience. Easy to do…hell, I did that with an input session the other day! But when later stages of TP lessons get ‘crunched’ too much and too often it’s a real problem.

I like to conceive of lesson stages as being consecutively more heavily “weighted” as they go…and how a lesson should almost feel like its on a slight downhill slope rolling – whether gracefully or not, maintaining real momentum – towards a center of gravity and magnetism which is those later stages, those richer tasks. I suggest that it’s the “arc” of the full stage-cycle itself which has the most power – so prioritize momentum, like getting to the end of a whodunnit mystery novel to find out who killed Gertrude before you fall asleep. And (thus) prioritize practice (which later stages provide the most of).

Sometimes people are so concerned with input being good enough and clarification being thorough enough that they ignore the fact that the practice keeps exposing and inputing and practice keeps clarifying. Naturally, they want to send their students into practice tasks fully prepared. But in TP lessons this often ends up being lots of preparation for what ends up being a rushed and rattled practice phase, especially final freer practice – the juiciest bit too often trampled over and squeezed if not squeezed OUT. So I say: PROTECT your later stages from encroachment! 

To my mind, it’s usually better to have practiced less language, more than practiced more language, less. Especially if, during practice, a teacher is providing immediate and/or delayed feedback which clarifies things further, based on the students’ challenges in the practice. But there’s just no saving insufficient practice time. So with this sobering danger in mind, cultivate a focused sense of urgency and a certain kind of impatience. The lesson itself – in its full arc, as you DID in fact plan it –  will bring your students to the happy place (and your TP assessment, too). 


But yeah, is so easy to end up not quite getting through these ‘stacks of stages’ much of the time with an observed, assessed CELTA TP lesson.  The pressure’s on, it’s all eyes on you, no next lesson to connect back to right where you left off; all very different than a ‘normal’ single class off-world of Planet CELTA. 

How about your trainers’ demo lessons? The other day one of our trainees here said that she’s “never seen anything like” my lesson on Monday. Of course that’s always nice to hear, but I also know it’s sort of just baked into the course – I’m all set up to bring that “A-game” demo. I suppose I remember perceiving my own trainers as veritable magicians from that awe-inspiring first demo right on through. 

I have no doubt you are an amazing teacher.🙂 My trainers are also fantastic and their level of expertise seems unreachable. But don’t you think it’s a little unfair to take trainers as models since they’re teaching polished lessons and we’re doing every lesson we do for the first time. 

That’s a really interesting perspective! I suppose you just want the best possible model…but I wonder, hmm…is it unrealistic? Is there a way this could be changed to be less ‘unfair’?

It shouldn’t be changed! It could be made explicit.

Ah, right! You had me imagining the trainees choosing a lesson for the trainer and saying “YOU’RE teaching THIS tomorrow at 2pm, tutor-guy. Yup, THE TABLES HAVE TURNED BWWAAHAHAAA!….oh and don’t forget copyright on all handouts OR ELSE”, and thus having a truer model of what they’ll be expected to do. 

Hahahahahahaha. Wouldn’t that be funny! But seriously, don’t trainers have enough to do?

Ummm…..yeah. Yes we do.🙂

So…what’s one common and recurring theme in TP lessons so far?

Little strips of paper. Lots and lots of little strips of paper.



Because as we’ve realized how cool toys with lots of moving parts are, we’ve completely forgotten the advice about how easily they break. Also, language lessons are a lot less boring with lots of strips of paper. I wonder what other ways there are of making language lessons interesting?

Oh boy…we could be here all night! ;P 

That does remind me of one little thing we talked about in TP feedback here yesterday, I think it was. This was the takeaway: to generate and increase interest don’t call a listening “a listening” or a “track”. Don’t call a worksheet a “worksheet” or a “set of 8 gap-fill sentences”. If there’s any context to it at all, stick to that – squeeze the juice out of that. So often trainees instructions sound like: “So, now we’re going to listen to the CD and you’re going to…” when maybe it would generate and maintain interest more to say “Now you’re going to listen to an older guy named Steve and a slightly younger guy named Stuart – they’re pretty good friends – having a short conversation about global warming while sitting in an empty Starbucks”. As we’re showing the class the next worksheet and setting up the task before handing it out, what can we do so that learners don’t actually think of it only as a classroom exercise, but rather something that reflects real life? 

We could pretend all these generic course book stock photo characters are distant members of your family, for example. Every one of them. We could be so consistently sincere about it that students find themselves falling willfully for a long-con just because it’s amusing (it’s a muse). This kind of thing is not just ‘being entertaining’ for the sake of it, or for covering for any lack of content – rather, it’s positively conditioning what we can add as the primary ‘input-machine’ of the classroom. Just make sure your backstory involving Kevin from SB p24 and Janice from WB p13 holds up over time. In any event, of course it’s the principle of the thing. Not being a clown, but affecting learning conditions by generating interest, and humor is potent in this regard. It’s not entertainment, it’s attention cultivation. Something that’ll lead to it being the learners who end up ‘entertaining’ more – in the sense of considering possibilities, contemplating: a good learning state! When and if input needs to be enriched, ‘act it up’ a bit. Anyway, just some thoughts on ‘keeping it interesting’. End: current rant. Commence: next question!  

You mentioned a course room conversation about this whole twitter thing, which is where you and I connected.

That has only been a source of joy🙂 I even went so far as to defend Twitter in a room full of haterz when Trainer 3 said “I keep hearing that everyone’s on Twitter. But when I ask trainees in each of these courses, it seems that not more than three or so over the past few groups are. What do you guys think of Twitter?” …the responses ranged from “I don’t use it.” to “I actively hate it.” And when he finally asked, “Does anyone here actually use it?” I was the only one who does. The obvious question came next: WHY.

“Why do I? Why don’t you?” is what I didn’t say because that’s not helpful.

My actual response: I use Twitter to connect with a community there. The people I’m connected to are supportive and friendly. They share articles, blog posts, resources, and materials, and they answer questions and help with problems and make me feel like a valued member of a professional community.

I hope that landed well in some people’s minds and they’ll consider checking into it at some point. As it happens, Laura Sorocco and I are doing an Electronic Village workshop called “Twitter for Anyone: Resources and Professional Development Opportunities” at TESOL 2016 in Baltimore this April. It’s pretty straightforward: it’s essentially just what you said above! In fact, would you please be our “plant” in the audience?😉

I’ll be sure to share it on Twitter once I’ve got them all signed up.🙂

Deal. So we’re both ELT twitter evangelists. All hail the chubby lil’ blue bird and praise the PLN!


Ok, back to the CELTA, IRL. You’ve mentioned ‘microteaching’ in input sessions on the course. What do you like about it?

It’s kind of fun and really builds confidence. So long as the instructions are clear. Once during a phonology lesson the trainer gave us each a low-frequency word to teach. Seemed like there was about 30 seconds to look at it before we had to teach it. I felt bad because I’m usually a pretty safe bet to call on to go first, but I declined the honor that day because I had no idea what he wanted me to do. I had MFP dancing around in my head and 30 seconds was not long enough to figure out how to teach it. It turned out he was just interested in the P part (because it was a phonology lesson, duh). Other micro-teaching moments have been a lot more successful and fun. One day we taught a mini-text-based grammar lesson. Another day we taught mini-lessons on intonation.


Image from: Ways of Training by Tessa Woodward (here)

Another day, with a (very smart) partner, we brainstormed, wrote down, and then explained task-based lessons to the rest of the class. And suddenly I found myself standing in front of a group of my peers sharing what I can share and learning what I can learn without the fear that used to make my head spin.

Sounds great. 

Any major mishaps? (we’ve all got our CELTA scars…some of mine came from a disastrous reading lesson using my independently chosen text: a description Buddhist monks meditating on decomposing bodies).

Well, what is the number one panic-inducing thing that could go terribly wrong a few hours before a CELTA teaching practice?



Somewhere inbetween this morning and this evening, my USB stick with my whole CELTA life on it got corrupted.

Oh no! 

thumb meme

But don’t worry, intrepid reader! It was already in my #anticipatedproblems because of a moment of sheer panic last weekend when I realized that my USB was the most important thing in my pocket – including my phone. So I backed it up and started saving to the cloud as well. #anticipatedsolution and #disasteraverted

Whew, that was lucky! But before the resolution it must have been a pretty terrible feeling. 

What happened during your disastrous lesson? I’m dying of curiosity. My biggest mishaps have been about language lessons that never get to practice.😦

Oh, it was just…way off. In fact, most of the TP students who showed up that day were Vietnamese Catholics – and just kind of…flabbergasted and confused…okay, not ‘kind of’. I’m just glad I didn’t have a notion to bring in any realia for that one. ;) 

I’m sure it went better than you think.

I know that my fellow trainees are a lot harder on themselves than I think they should be, and I sometimes wish they could be sitting in my chair watching themselves teach and seeing how it’s actually going pretty well in spite of all the things happening in their heads. Wouldn’t it be cool if trainers made a practice of videoing lessons – not for evaluation or extra work for anyone, but for the trainees own reference so that they could see how they’ve changed from TP1 (or even 3) to TP 8?

Yeah, lots of trainees get self-evaluative in a way that’s not always productive and slips into a negativity that’s just, well, unfortunate if it sticks and blocks and drags. Good TP group dynamics help; trainees can and do really uplift each other, as your account shows. 

To my knowledge the videotaping TP thing is actually very rare, but it’s not entirely unheard of. I know Chris Meoli in Boston gives trainees the option of having their TP videoed and he gives them the file. I think it’s a fantastic idea for a whole host of reasons. Nonetheless the closest I ever get is to take pictures for trainees during the final few TPs – essentially just as a souvenir. Fanselow-level self-observation it ain’t! But you’ve got me thinking…and maybe we can try something new on an upcoming one, or maybe even this current one. We’re one week in now here. 

Hope your new CELTA course started off well! The more I watch my trainers here, the more respect I have for all of you. What an amazing set of skills you have to do what you do.

Friday evening has finally arrived here in Chiang Mai. Our students have the day off, which means we do too. And our tireless trainer has gone home with work in her bag. She ran the show mostly by herself this week when Trainer 2 got sick and Trainer 3 had other duties. We just shake our heads in amazement at what an awesome person she is. And she somehow still managed to be available, friendly, and compassionate.


So week 4 is in the future and I have a grammar and a speaking lesson to teach. Thankfully, we already have TP group that works really well together. It took us about 20 minutes to sketch the four days of classes with interconnected contexts daily and building on last week’s work. It’s kind of exciting to be on our own with the lessons plans. It won’t be glamourous, but it should work. And maybe MAYBE I’ll be able to improve on the past three weeks (and not end up in the corner with a dunce cap!).

That is exciting. Looking forward to hearing about it! Good luck with those lessons. 

Cert as CPD: Interviews with Anne pt. 3

Welcome back! We’re deep in the golden triangle CELTA jungle now with Anne heading into week 3. Just joining the trek? This is the third installment of an interview series you can find part one of here and part two of here. Pull up a tree stump stool. Hear that thumping sound? That’s the som tam (green papaya salad) we ordered being prepared. Ice in your Singha? Of course. Thank Buddha for trailside rahn ahaans!  :)


Let’s jump right in. How did your teaching practice go in week 2?

I felt that I had been a step behind all week long. I worked on assignment 1 on the weekend and did my best, and also prepared TP3, which went pretty well. BUT I spent the rest of Monday night and most of Tuesday helping out people who were still struggling with assignment 1 and didn’t get much sleep. So when TP4 came around, I was rushed, missed lunch, hadn’t finished creating much less printing materials and I was TIRED.


TP4 was a train wreck.

Oh boy.

I’m my own worst critic – I remember thinking I’d be shocked if that lesson was even remotely to standard. I slept on it and mentally prepared myself for the next day’s morning feedback session.

I bet you passed out and slept like a big ol’ CELTA log that night. So was it entirely as bad as you thought when you got your feedback and assessment the next day?


Turns out the only thing that saved me from being roasted was my reflective skillz. Mantra of the week: learn from it and move on. Time management is still a huge challenge, I guess.

Not at all surprising – reflectivity being a strong point which really buoys you along the way, that is. But time management is such a heavy and multi-faceted challenge on the course. You’ve got the personal time management with your own massive course workload and pedagogical time management as you pilot these 45 -minute isolated, hyper-planned, super-staged, observed and assessed language lessons-slash-‘performance pieces’. You’re on two hours of decent shut-eye and have had but 3 coffees and a single bite of someone’s oreo cookie. Why, one might even start to see and feel time itself a bit like ol’ Sal Dali…

dali clock

Ha. I like that picture.

But yeah, that’s a good description of how it feels. I wish I had done a lot of things differently, most importantly taking care of myself! I know I wasn’t the only one who is having time management problems – everyone in my TP group that day felt the same. On the plus side, I passed the assignment and I learned a lot about managing my time and becoming a better teacher.

Well done. Can you say more about week 2 learnings?  

I have got to check instructions better and demonstrate. And then monitor in order to make sure they understood. 

I should use simpler model sentences (without adjectives) so that I properly model stress.

And then when they are ALL doing the activity wrong, I should just re-explain to the whole class, rather than one by one. Oh, and if I change groupings by color, avoid red and yellow. #facepalm

Self-reflection is really important and being self-aware can make feedback less painful.

Nice. This is why we pay the big bucks for the best courses, eh? Just a few other comments from my end:

First, on the topic of instruction giving, Jo Gakonga produced this helpful video with a very high clarity quotient (sometimes I point trainees towards Jo’s excellent videos as “backup”, especially if and when I know I’ve been *cough* uncharacteristically *cough cough* unhelpful). 

Second, colors for student groupings = great. Using red and yellow in Chiang Mai = priceless. For those who don’t know, in Thailand red + yellow = PARSNIP!🙂

Finally, Joanne Mitten posted a Mike Hogan conference presentation slide on twitter just now which relates to your last point about receiving feedback well:

FB final

What else, coming out of week 2? 

Watching the trainers has also given me a lot to think about.

The one who has more experience has a lot of management techniques I can learn from – like intentional groupings that look random (the results are clearly not random, though).

Both have taught me a lot about the sorts of activities that probably take a lot of prep (posting 13 activities around the school, each with little parts, for one) and ones that take less prep but are still fun to do (finding your partner based on your connected sentences).

They’ve help us with what to do if your students are all late (skip the lead in) and how to quiet a noisy class (with noise or lights or voice).

They’ve modeled different ways to present materials – hi-tech with ppt and techless – and different times of distributing handouts (with ‘at the end’ being most frustrating for me).

Did I remember to mention last week that one of the trainers really successfully sold 9-page lesson planning in her input session? I was absolutely amazed by that.


Never stop working, eh? Reminds me of someone /*braces self for next course*/.

Sounds great, Anne. It really does. Can I ask two follow up questions? What happened/happens with unsuccessful instructions and what’s your plan to improve in that area? And can you say a little bit more about the lesson planning bit (I’m piqued because it pings the topic of my previous post here and this TEFL Show Podcast episode I was listening to).   

I better give you an example to answer the first question: just before a listening activity where the students were supposed to listen and put the pictures in order, I gave the instructions and checked them badly. The students were using a textbook and there were two listening activities on the page and I didn’t remind them not to do the other one. So they ended up doing the wrong one. At the end when I said something like, “Did you get the order?” a few of the stronger students in the class asked to listen again. (I bet you can see what happened to my timings from there, right?) What I will do next time is 1) anticipate problems better to forestall them and 2) monitor sooner to make sure they are doing the right task.

But let me move on to lesson planning. I read your TEFL Show blog post and it was really interesting – particularly the part about lesson planning. I can’t imagine lesson planning like this post-CELTA if I have 30 hours a week of classes. I am well aware that in real life there is just no time for this kind of planning, but I can see the value of trying. I think my planning is getting better now that I understand the process more and I feel like there is a purpose to the lessons I plan. I think one of the things that I was not very good at in the past was seeing where it was all going.

Very interesting. It seems like this recurring idea of the “unrealistically” thorough CELTA-style lesson plan as a sort of ‘hologram’ of the mental processes of planning actually taken forward into the field is being echoed in your experience here. The challenge of “seeing where it’s all going” in planning, as you nicely put it – I can relate to that! And, it reminds me of the idea of “preflection” (links here, here, here). If nothing else, maybe that’s just a good name for what ultimately grows out of all the super-intensive heavy lifting of the lesson planning requirements on these courses. Sure, you can produce a “professional” lesson plan for those times you’re getting observed, etc. But much more importantly for your actual teaching, you (ideally) come out of it with big ol’ preflective muscles.  

Finally, you relayed several ‘memorable quotes’ from week 2. I quite like how they give these little spapshot glimpses into the life of a course. I mocked up a few below (and will steal the first one from your trainer forthwith, please don’t report me!)


In the parlance of this here blog, perhaps we could say that ^there is some evidence of a process of muddles transforming (or transmorgifying?) into maxims (even if one is “eat, child, eat“). 

pouring water in a glass collection isolated

Anne, thanks for another great interview and good luck in week 3! Dear readers, it would be wonderful to hear from you this week. Have a comment or question for Anne? Experience to share? Hard-won tips on time management, grouping students, model sentences, or any of the many things Anne has brought to the table here? The comment box awaits. 

In fact, this is now a full-tilt guilt trip – if you’re reading this sentence and not going to comment, feel it: feel the burn slowly rising within, higher, higher. Until it forces your hand. You’ve got so much to contribute – DON’T deny us your comment.🙂