Posted in EFL

Gamefully Designed Language Learning

I’ve added a link below to my dissertation for the MA in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching at the University of Nottingham.

It’s quite a long read and it’s far from watertight statistically, but it may be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about potential shifts in language learning pedagogy in our digital age, and research methods. It also looks at motivation in some detail, in relation to games, narrative, and make-believe.

After finishing this work, I fell down a rabbit hole of alternate realities, propaganda, and politics. I became especially interested in how behaviour can be manipulated through narrative and belief. Perhaps this is normal after an MA… 😉 Anyway, would much appreciate any suggested reading on these topics.

I hope to explore these themes further in the future, perhaps from the beginning of the next academic year…

Anyway, if you should choose to explore parts of my dissertation, I hope you find it inspiring. And, of course, please feel free to comment and recommend further avenues for investigation or reading.

Here’s the link

Gamefully Designed Language Learning

An alternate reality for EFL blended learning environments

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 18.31.04.png

Posted in EFL

Observation and feedback styles


Since my first opportunities to observe a CELTA tutor giving feedback on teaching practice (TP), I have had the chance to see two other tutors and approaches to feedback. Here is a brief description on the different styles.

Other styles

Observing and taking notes

The first tutor in question used a similar note-taking approach to that which I had witnessed. He used short sentences in bullet points on the stage/procedure sheet, with brackets around points to consider, and ticks for good points.

The second tutor used longer, more descriptive prose for each stage of the lesson. The advantage of the first is that the observer can take in more of what is happening, while in the second there is perhaps a clearer account of what happened for the trainee to review.

I personally find it quite difficult to write in prose while I’m observing, but I have had difficulty in recalling exactly what happened when giving feedback. See my previous post.


During feedback the first tutor took on a very different approach. In the space between the end of the TP session and giving feedback he typed up some questions for the trainees to discuss. He then monitored while the trainees worked through the questions before giving feedback. He asked for opinions from all the trainees, then from the trainee that had taught the lesson, and finally gave his opinion.

In contrast, the second tutor identified 3 or 4 key points to focus on and wrote them on the white board. The trainees then worked together to add positive and negative aspects to each area. When the trainees had done their best, the tutor asked for opinions from peers before the trainee who had done the TP, and then gave her opinion. This last stage differed to the first tutor’s approach in that the focus was on the key areas rather than the TP as a whole. The tutor explained that less detail is needed as the course progresses and as basic concepts have been assimilated.

I found both these approaches interesting, especially the second, because when I tried to give a full account of the lesson I got a bit lost and ended up repeating myself. So, it was good to see that there isn’t only one way to give feedback.

My turn


When it came to my second observed feedback session, I had all these ideas in my head, but I wasn’t sure which approach to use. While I was observing the trainees, I found myself noting down key points for each lesson and trying to make connections between them. After the observations had finished, I asked the trainees to pair up and give feedback to each other while I prepared. This had worked well before with this group to help them formulate ideas and facilitate more active peer feedback.


I had my key points, but I wasn’t sure whether to put them on the board or type them up. As i fumbled with the computer I was aware of the clock ticking and decided to dictate some questions for the trainees. I used a range of questions, some with a comparison between two techniques, such as guided discovering and eliciting. Others were more open, such as what is the most important part of the lesson? I dictated the questions and monitored to gauge the level of reflection and awareness. I then got opinions from the peers and the trainee who had done the TP. Finally, I tried to go through the lessons in detail while referring to the points in the questions.

Feedback on the feedback

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I received feedback on my feedback session. but it turned out okay in the end 🙂 I had basically combined the parts I liked from three different tutors to create my own style. One interesting point that came up was the fact that I hadn’t used the good-bad-good sandwich technique, where you start and finish on a positive note. The suggested benefit of not using this technique is that the trainee will go away feeling that they need to make an effort to improve. Perhaps finishing on a positive note is more important at the beginning of the course…


Posted in EFL

Error Correction 2


The focus of this CELTA training session was on what, when, and who to correct during speaking activities. The main topics were: on-the-spot correction; delayed correction; peer correction; self correction.


Trainees began by discussing various approaches to correction. This was facilitated through the use of quotes from three different teachers. The trainees discussed which teacher they would prefer. This was interesting because a range of views emerged based on the trainees’ previous experiences of language learning.

The next task had the trainees decide what they would do in various situations, or at various stages of a lesson. the options were: Accept it; Correct it on-the-spot; invite peer correction; and note it down for delayed correction. This was designed to raise awareness of the various ways to deal with mistakes at different stages in lessons.

Finally, the tutor conducted a grammar auction to demonstrate one way of doing delayed error correction.


When to correct can be a contentious issue for learners and teachers. Personally, I like to give my students the opportunity to express their ideas first before focussing on language issues. I also try to encourage peer correction, especially with writing tasks. However, learners do need to be trained in the art of giving and receiving feedback. As I observed this session, I was reminded of an interesting approach to delayed correction from Correction, A Positive Approach to Language Mistakes by Bartram, M. & Walton, R. (1991).

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 22.11.26

It’s a way of creating a self-correcting activity. Students are given 14 sentences and have to decide whether it is correct or not. If it’s correct, they follow the white line, and if it’s incorrect, they follow the black line. They will only escape if they identify the mistakes correctly. I think it is important to equip learners with the skills to correct themselves and see both good and bad language in their peers’ work. Thus, I think if I had the opportunity to redesign this session, I would focus on this and the ways in which online dictionaries and grammar tools can be used. I would also mention the use of mobiles to record and listen for mistakes. In general, I feel that the CELTA needs updating somewhat to better prepare teachers for the digital realities of the classroom.


Posted in EFL

Language Awareness Future Forms


As with the previous session on modal verbs, there was a lot of information to discuss in this CELTA input session. Future forms are particularly tricky for learners due to the fact that tenses do not necessarily correspond to their names. For example, the present tense can be used to talk about the future, as in ‘The train arrives at 10am’, while ‘will’ can be used for the present ‘I’ll take a break now’. Thus, the input session I observed was designed to raise awareness of these issues for learners.


Trainees worked together to match example sentences to forms and functions, and then completed a series of guided discovery tasks. After this the trainees evaluated example lessons on future forms from course books. The idea was to highlight the criteria teachers and materials writers use to select which forms to focus on and when. These were:

  • Simplicity of form
  • Simplicity of concept/meaning/use
  • Usefulness
  • Frequency of use


Evaluating published materials at different levels is an interesting way to elicit/discover reasons for selecting certain language items. This task also encouraged critical thinking which is essential when uses course books or online resources. In fact, in my experience, all course books need to be adapted heavily to match your learners understanding and context. As for CELTA trainees, this is probably one of the most challenging parts of lesson planning, deciding what needs to be changed or scrapped.

Posted in EFL

Presenting and Practising Language Workshop


This CELTA workshop was designed to review and practise giving situational presentations. As the name suggests, this way of introducing new language is in tune with the Present, Practice, Produce (PPP)  method of instruction, and very teacher centred. It basically involves the teacher setting up a context within which the meaning and form of a language point can be inferred and elicited.

The workshop

First, the tutor demonstrated a situational presentation and then asked the trainees to notice and write down the stages. The trainees were then put into pairs and given a language item to present. To guide them in this process, the tutor gave them a list of questions. After about 20 minutes the trainees took turns to teach the rest of the group. To keep things simple and quick they could only use the white board and markers. when each pair finished, the tutor observed the mini presentations and gave feedback.


This was a useful workshop for the trainees to develop/review a range of skills, such as eliciting, board work, concept check questions (CCQs), pronunciation drilling, nominating and classroom management. It was also a good opportunity to identify individual strengths and weaknesses at this mid point on the CELTA. One interesting observation was that the trainees enjoyed being the centre of attention and ended up speaking quite a lot, which is probably the main danger with situational presentations. I think that if you are going to use this method, it is better to somehow make your students the stars of the show rather than being the sage on the stage. Below are a couple of resources that discuss situational presentations in more detail.

Jim Scrivener demonstrating a situational presentation

And a link to Thornbury’s thoughts on situational language teaching.


Featured image retrieved on 8/3/18 from


Posted in EFL

Language Awareness Modal Verbs


On the CELTA there are a few language analysis input sessions that focus on some of the more complex areas of grammar. This session was on modal verbs.


First, the trainees brainstormed examples of modal verbs, such as can, could, may, might etc.

Jigsaw discussion 

Trainees were divided into three groups A, B, and C. Each group had different questions to discuss related to meaning, form and pronunciation. After ten minutes or so, the trainees were regrouped with one person from groups A, B and C. They then compared their ideas with each other. After this the tutor gave the trainees a copy of his notes and they compared their notes to his.


Feedback was conducted in plenary and some key points were highlighted.

These were:

  1. Due to multiple meaning/use of each modal verb it is important to focus on one function at a time in a clear context;
  2. It is also important to review the many exceptions in modal verbs during the lesson planning stage to avoid confusion in class;
  3. Finally, modal verbs are not usually stressed in a sentence and take on a weak form. When students over-stress modal verbs in questions they can come across as being rude.


I admired the simplicity and learner-centred nature of this session. It was also very materials light and easy to set up. The trainees were engaged and had lots of opportunities to share their knowledge on the subject. Sometimes I feel that I over-complicate and over-prepare for input sessions. This means I need lots of time to get ready and makes it difficult for colleagues to follow your session plan. However, it might depend on the content of the input session. For example, in this session there was a lot of information to discuss and worksheets was probably the best way to cover it all. At the end of the day, it was a well designed guided discovery conducted as a jigsaw.



Posted in EFL

Giving Feedback 1


In a previous post, I outlined how my supervisor gave teaching practice feedback on the CELTA and couple of weeks ago, it was my turn to give feedback. Here is a brief account on how it went and some reflection.

How it works

I observed and gave feedback on three 40 minute lessons. For each lesson I was given a lesson plan, and materials to evaluate. I also needed to complete a detailed record of each stage in the lesson and a general comments sheet on strengths and weaknesses. Each trainee also completed a self-reflection form which is given to the observer/trainer after the lesson.

Getting ready

Before I gave feedback, I wrote down some key areas that would be useful for all trainees. One of these was giving students a reason for tasks, or listening to each other. I felt the need to introduce the concept of gaps often discussed in communicative language teaching: information gaps; experience gaps; and opinion gaps. The idea being that students will be interested in finding out about something new, or need information to complete a task. Another issue common to the group was the amount of time and mode for giving feedback to students, as most of the trainees did this exclusively in plenary.

Areas to work on

One of my main concerns/challenges was to decide how to give more negative feedback. In fact, this worried me so much that I got a bit nervous while I was giving feedback. This lead to to make a few ‘mistakes’, such as forgetting to get the self-reflection forms back from the trainees, which was a shame because this might have been exactly what I needed to structure constructive criticism. I also allowed one trainee to dominate the session and then had to rush through the other two. This led to me jumping in and giving answers to some of my own questions rather than opening up the questions to other trainees or nominating less vocal members. The third issue that came up was the way I gave examples of things that didn’t go so well. Basically, I gave very general ideas on how to improve rather than linking them to specific examples from the trainees’ lessons.

Final thoughts

It wasn’t all bad of course, I gave lots of praise and showed interest, I elicited alternative techniques, I encouraged opinions/ideas from trainees, and I boarded some key points for the group. Next time though, I would like to use more specific examples from the lessons, and demonstrate alternative activities with the trainees. I also want to feel more comfortable with negative feedback and use the self-reflection forms. Finally, I must try to finish the feedback session on a positive note in general to aid the trainees’ self-esteem.

Featured image

Retrieved 21/2/18 from



Posted in EFL

Checking Meaning


This session discussed the art of formulating concept check questions (CCQs). A CCQ is used to check students (SS) have understood new language, such as vocabulary, grammar, and functions.

This is important because the answer, yes or no, to the question ‘Do you understand?’ doesn’t really tell you anything. I have personal experience of this in China where the fear of losing face means SS will usually say yes to everything, but is true in most contexts. I’d say ‘Do you understand?’, and get  ‘yes!’, then ‘Where is the supermarket?’ and get ‘Yes!’ again.

Crafting CCQs

Anyway, after establishing the what and why of CCQs we moved onto crafting them. I found the approach suggested very clear and useful. It went like this…

  1. Summarise the essential meaning into a number or short sentences.
  2. Turn these sentences into questions.
  3. Write the answers to the questions to make sure they produce short answers.
  4. Put the questions in a logical order.

Here is an example.

I wish I had a car.

  • Have I got a car?
  • Do I want a car?
  • Do I want a car now?
  • Can I buy one?

Summing up

Finally, trainees were given language items to write CCQs for in pairs. There was also some focus on the use of timelines to aid the understanding of tenses but the main focus was CCQs.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 22.15.37.png

Key points from the session

  • Context is king
  • Guide SS to correct answers with simple language
  • Keep CCQs simple and avoid target language


The methodical procedure for creating CCQs is invaluable for CELTA trainees. I think it is important to remember that many trainees are completely new to teaching and these kinds of simple rules can really help them.

Posted in EFL

Reducing control


The aim of this session was to clarify the meaning of freer or free practice, participate in freer practice activities, and then evaluate them.


As a review the trainees first completed a true and false questionnaire on the reasons for freer practice. For example it should:

  • Focus on fluency over accuracy.
  • Include opportunities for use of target language.
  • Activate the language for semi-real world task.
  • Be written or spoken.
  • Involve personalisation.
  • involve less on-the-spot correction.

Trainees then compared activities to identify freer practice activities For example, a) Find someone who (questions using present perfect), and b) Class discussion on who has done the most exciting thing in their lives. This highlighted the fact that there is not always a clear distinction between more controlled and freer practice.

Micro-teaching activities

The next stage involved a selection on micro lessons lead by the tutor. This is what we did. S=student SS=students.

Lie detector

In groups of 3 SS conduct a lie test. One S asks random questions, one answers, and one draws an polygraph. The ‘suspect’ and polygraph are connected via paperclips and elastic bands. A context can be given, such as mother and daughter to aid the role play.


Look back

This is a simple board game from the Reward resource pack with question in the past simple. Board games are great! Something I would like to talk about in more detail in a later post.


Spot the difference

In this activity there are two pictures that differ slightly. SS work in pairs, but cannot see each other’s picture. This creates an information gap between the two and thus a need for communication. Although freer, this task usually requires specific lexis, prepositions of place and use of present continuous. I particularly enjoy getting SS to make their own using photos, but that’s another story…


Fortune teller

The final example activity involved a balloon, a scarf, and some confetti to create the scene. One S played the role of fortune teller while the others asked what was to come. Obviously designed to practise future forms and question forms.



When all the fun was over, trainees evaluated all the activities using a table to guide them. They reflected on:

  • Potential SS Interest.
  • Personalisation.
  • Authenticity.
  • Volume: how long can you use it for.
  • Validity: How useful is it.
  • Ease of set up.


I enjoyed this session due to its practical nature, which hopefully gave the trainees a feel for what is meant by freer practice. All the activities were also useful, tried and tested, and easy to set up.





Posted in EFL

Lesson Planning


The first message of this session for trainees was that, ‘on a bad day, the lesson plan counts’. Basically, we have bad days in the classroom, but if your lesson plan is really tight you might just pass your teaching practice (TP) on the CELTA.

The session

The session started with another brainstorming task on the elements of a good plan. Here are the points that came up.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 19.04.57.png

The next issue up for discussion was the writing of lesson aims and stage aims. Trainees matched lesson types and aims, such as Improving pronunciation with To practice recognition and production of weak forms. This was to give examples of appropriate language, and highlight the need to be explicit and specific with aims.

Overview of lesson plan

Finally, the tutor talked through an example lesson plan with the trainees and gave them a template to use. The template is divided into the following sections:

  • General information about level, time etc.
  • Lesson aims.
  • Sub aim(s).
  • Assumptions
  • Personal aims
  • Examples of language to be taught
  • Materials
  • Anticipated problems/solutions
  • Boardplan
  • Language analysis
  • Procedure/stage plan


Lesson planning is a time consuming activity and not something that is expected for every lesson in most contexts. However, for teacher training it is a very effective tool for development. It is of no consequence that when the trainees start lesson planning in detail their performance often improves quite dramatically. In my initial training we focussed on the Engage, Study, Activate (ESA) model for staging lessons. This has not been adopted on this course, but I feel I would like to include it. It gives a more student-centred feel to planning compared to Present, Practice, Produce (PPP), and also moves us away from the input/output metaphor of learning. Another idea I have come across that might have been nice for this session involves putting a cut up stage plan in order to raise awareness of why certain activities proceed others.


Featured image retrieved on 18/2/18 from