Posted in EFL

Qualitative Analysis from a Virtual World


This post is the 4th in a series of posts on virtual worlds (VWs). You can find some initial thoughts here, a revisiting of VWs here, and the first step of the qualitative analysis here.

In this post I will reflect on how the analysis is progressing, explore some emerging themes, reflect on the shortcomings of the data collection tools, interpret the data and pose some questions for further research.

Organising the data

Part 1

First, I extracted the raw data from three B2. 2 CEFR classes: (13-15); (15-18); and (Adults). Then, I transformed them into ‘Popples’ in Popplet. Popples are basically nodes in a mind map or network and Popplet is my favourite mind mapping application. For each node I added another node with related key words, usually taken directly from the raw data. After this, I reflected on the data (See previous post).

Part 2

Today, I went back to the data, grouped the nodes with similar themes. Then, I identified a hypernym or over-riding category for these groups of themes. This left me with a smaller group of key themes for each class to aid readability and interpretation. The raw data for each class is in three colours: Black(13-15); Blue(15-18); and Red(Adults). The initial simplification into key words is in grey, and the final collective themes are in orange.

In this way, I can look at the question, find the age group, and see the main themes easily. Then, I can follow these themes to their source for finer details. The pink nodes are other themes that were mentioned rarely, but that I might like to explore.

Here is a link to the Popplet if you are interested in navigating around the data.



First of all, it is quite easy to see general differences and similarities between the age groups. The word ‘fun’ featured quite heavily in both teenage groups (Black and Blue), but was absent in the admittedly smaller adult group. In the adult group and the older teenagers (Red and Blue) there were mentions of the lesson being ‘useful’ or mention of specific language skills and systems practice. This could indicate that a larger proportion of the younger teenagers (Black) were more intrinsically motivated by the lesson. On the other hand, comments on usefulness could be interpreted as identified and/or externally regulated motivation for the older teens and adults (Red and Blue).

This is not a game

One individual in the 13-15 age group mentioned that despite being fun they studied less. This is interesting because the actual activities were the same as those in a ‘normal’ lesson. In this specific case, the perception of the VW as being fun lowered the perception of being involved in study, or perhaps working. On the other end of the spectrum, one adult learner had a very negative perception of the lesson with reference to the term gamification. It is difficult to know how the learner interprets the word gamification, but I also hold gamification in a certain amount of contempt, especially if it is the use of game elements to motivate people in other contexts, such as work or school. Funnily enough, I specifically avoided game elements and mechanics in this little research project. In fact, there was no game in this experiment, just a virtual space instead of a classroom. It would appear that quite a few people equate VWs with games which can either lead to behaviour and feelings that are conducive to learning or the opposite.


For evidence of language use and potential learning I have to refer to my field notes. I found myself monitoring to help students use the VW, share their screens in Zoom, and deal with other technical difficulties. This made it difficult to note down as much language use as I would have liked. I did get some good examples of functional language, such as speculating, giving opinions, expressing preferences with the younger group. With the older group of teenagers I noted use of more complex grammatical structures, a wider range of lexis, and language for interaction. All of these elements are part of the FCE criteria for which the students are preparing. On the negative side, I noticed the younger group would slip into L1 to help with technical issues, and that utterances were shorter with some in order to explore the space more quickly. This was also the case with some of the adult learners, but most interestingly the adults were clearly less engaged by the VW and needed prompting to extend utterances, something that had never happened with this group before.


One of the reasons I wanted to use VWs this year was to compensate for the 2D environment Zoom and other teleconferencing applications provide. I thought that it might provide some relief and even joy for students who are stuck in front of 2D images all day, without the option to move around. However, there really wasn’t much mention of freedom of movement within the space. That said, one teenager in the older group did comment positively on the ability to ‘move into’ the space, and a student in the younger group mentioned difficulty with movement. The adults didn’t mention movement, but in my field notes I noted one student running around the space rather than doing the tasks.

Technical concerns

Helping students with technical issues is a language learning opportunity, so it might be good to pre-teach useful language for helping out to avoid use of L1 by learners. If the responsibility to help is with the teacher it makes it difficult to monitor and provide effective feedback. Artsteps works on tablets too with point and click controls. At one point with the adults the web site crashed, luckily we had almost finished. There are opportunities for description activities and giving directions without screen sharing.


I went for very open questions and I did not collect any specific biodata on the students. The next stage would be to refine the data collection tools, maybe add some more questions based on the findings here, and then use the space again. As I am doing this out of curiosity rather than as part of a course of study or formal research, I would prefer to use this experience to inform research on second language learning in the context of a different VW. Artsteps is on the very limits of what I would call a VW, and as such it lacks many of the affordances discussed in my first post on VWs. One of these is embodiment; there are no avatars in Artsteps and no way to see each other, thus no sense of presence or opportunities for identity creation. There are also very limited opportunities to interact with the environment, and the environments are very small and dull. I would like to look into Modzilla Hubs and/or Minecraft next.

Tentative conclusions

I cannot make any bold claims from such a small sample size and no control group, but I can say that, within this specific study the VW had a generally positive effect on motivation with the teenage groups and consequently the range of language use. This was less true for the small adult group although they did report on the usefulness of the experience. I can also say that, as the lesson procedure was identical to what can be done in a classroom, it could be argued that it is no less effective than a lesson in a physical space. We often compare digital technologies to non-digital tools and environments, but it is probably better to think of them as just different.

Posted in EFL

Stepping into Virtual Worlds


This is the third post on exploring virtual worlds (VWs) for second language learning (SLL). The first is a general discussion on the topic and can be found here. The second is a more recent review of VWs in 2021, here. This post will discuss my first attempt at using Artsteps, a virtual galley maker. It does not fulfil all the requirements for a VW, in that you cannot really interact with, or see, other visitors. That said, you can add your own text, images, video, audio, and 3D objects to a space (fig.1).

Figure 1


I used Artsteps with B2.2 English language learners from two different classes. Both are preparing for the Cambridge First Certificate. The students (Ss) are Italian, 8 male and 13 female, and ages range from 15 to 18.


The lesson was completely online, through Zoom. Before the lesson, I used learner-generated content to adorn the walls of the gallery. All content was gathered from student blogs and a google drive folder. I placed images on the walls with text hidden in them. I also created a quiz for the gallery using Google forms. First, Ss had to discuss 3 general questions while looking at the various images/text. Ss walked around the gallery and discussed the questions using Zoom. After this, Ss were directed to a Google form link within the gallery with 10 comprehension questions. Ss had to find the answers in the gallery working as a team.

Note: Due to a fire at Artsteps, the content from the gallery is missing. Hopefully it will be back soon. Here is a sample of one of the quizzes though.

Data collection

When the lesson had finished, Ss completed a questionnaire anonymously with two open questions. 1. What did you think of this lesson? Give details. 2. Do you have any ideas for how to use this space? I also took field notes while teaching. I am interested in the affordances of VWs for SLL but I wanted to keep my questions open to allow for emerging themes/ideas. The two questions above will hopefully give some insight into student perceptions of the affordances of Artsteps at least. This might then guide the next experiment with other VWs, such as Mozilla Hubs, Minecraft.

Data analysis

Field notes from the lessons were added to a word document and organised into technical considerations, language use, and other. Data from the questionnaire has been divided by question and group and added to a mind map on Popplet (fig.2). Each comment has been added in its entirety, but the mind map could expand into sub-sections if needs be. I feel that with a small sample size and no control group qualitative analysis will be more generative. I will start by looking for common themes and categorising, but I intend to keep this light. The reason is that the data should inform the next experiment were refinements can be made. At this point I do not feel the need for CAQDAS, but the option is there in the back of my mind.

Figure 2

Initial reflections

Without getting into details, I can definitely say that the response to using a virtual gallery was overwhelmingly positive. There were comments on its usefulness for exam practice and on the fact that the lesson was fun and better than ‘normal’ lessons. There were also concerns about the technological requirements to run the software, and the sense that it might not be as ‘serious’ as ‘normal’ lessons. A lot of this will depend on the design of the activities rather than, or as well as, the virtual museum. This is where I will need to be careful in interpreting responses and/or designed questions for the next experiment.


Just to make my life more difficult I did the same experiment with a small group of adults in a corporate English context. My first impression is that they were less engaged in the activities and generally finished quite quickly. Feedback on the survey was also quite succinct. I might try to find similar themes between the age groups in the first two experiments and this.

Posted in Education, EFL, English Teaching, TEFL, Virtual worlds

Virtual Worlds Revisited

A year on Zoom

Since last March, my English teaching and CELTA training sessions have taken place on Zoom. Despite all the things you might hear on the news, there are actually quite a few advantages over face-to-face (F2F) teaching/training. For example, It’s given me the chance to further explore Web 2.0 tools, such as Google Docs, Forms, Jamboards, Blogs, Padlet, Quizlet, Mindomo, Ayoa, Popplet, and PBWorks. But, I still feel like there is more to be done in order to transform second language learning (SLL) online.

Something more transformative

Back in 2015, I attended a handful of tutorials, and parties, in a virtual world (VW). No, it wasn’t Second Life, it was Small Worlds. You can find out my experience here. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I immediately tried to incorporate it into my teaching, but found students unwilling to meet up for live events online between F2F lessons. Now though, after a year of Web 2.0 tools and Zoom, I’ve been left wondering whether the time is ripe for VWs. Let’s start with some questions…

Why do I want to use VWs?

Apart from the affordances of Web 2.0 tools for SLL, such as opportunities for collaboration, creativity, co-construction of knowledge, and all the other obvious stuff, the first thing that comes to mind in these apocalyptic times is the desire for exploration, and need for social interaction with other people. VW can provide feelings of embodiment, presence and identity which can help students build relationships, take on roles and give more meaning to actions. Unlike the classroom, which is somewhat removed from reality, language practice can be set in the context of the VW. Students can also explore a second language (L2) identity, encouraging more risk taking without losing face with their ‘real self’. See that hyperlink above to understand where all the quotation marks are coming from.

What kind of VW am I looking for?

Well, a 2D or 3D virtual environment in which a student can move around, either in first or third person. Ideally, they should share this space with other students and be able to see and interact with them. Students should also be able to interact with the environment. The VW needs to be customisable for specific activities with options to embed media content and/or hyper links. Last but not least, teachers need the option to set up private spaces within the VW (See below for the reasons for this Last point).

Who do I want to use VWs with?

I would like to use VWs with all ages and language levels, but with young learners (YLs) the VW will need to be approved. At the moment, I have classes of adults and YLs around B2 level (CEFR).

What are the barriers to their use?

One issue for adults might be the expectations and perception of what SLL is. These perceptions might not be an issue for YLs, who likely have high expectations of VWs used in educational contexts. On the other hand, there is a risk these expectations lead to disappointment due to badly designed edutainment. With this in mind, the approach schools sometimes impose on teachers and students could stifle any transformative affordances of VWs. Another issue could be the time it takes to plan for activities in these VWs, and/or the experience of teachers with this technology. Then we have the importance of student and teacher access to adequate devices and WIFI connections. Finally, there is the openness of some VWs, meaning your lesson might get high jacked by random nutters with butterfly wings, as happened to me once.

Which VWs?

So, here is a tentative list of VWs that could be exploited for SLL.

  1. Artsteps

You can set up and save browser-based spaces and add your own content. However, there are no avatars and one the gallery has been made you cannot change it as a visitor.

2. Hubs

Highly interactive browser-based environments with avatars. Create your space and invite others with a link. Not sure if you can save spaces with the free version though.

3. Minecraft for Education

This one is a bit of a mystery, as you can only access it if you have a school, I think…

4. Minecraft Classic

A very primitive form of the game with clumsy controls. That said, it is browser-based and allows for a total of 10 participants.

If you know of others, please give me a hand in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!


Chalk, J. 18/2/2021 Photo of cardboard VR glasses.

SoroniatiE, Artsteps video retrieved 18/2/2021 from

Hubs video retrieved 18/2/2021 from

OMGcraft – How to play Minecraft classic/Minecraft Tips & Tutorials! Minecraft for Education retrieved 18/2/2021 from

Posted in Alternate Reality Games, Education, EFL, Research

Gamefully Designed Language Learning

Image from the game

Please find a link below to my dissertation for the MA in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching at the University of Nottingham. It brings together various themes covered on the MA and in this blog, such as game-based learning, creative writing, and course design. It may be of interest to anyone exploring the following: potential shifts in language learning pedagogy; research methods; and motivation in relation to games, narrative, and make-believe.

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 they are correct or not. If a sentence is 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 realities of the digital 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. At this point of my training I tend to over-complicate and micro-stage input sessions. Apart from the increased planning time this requires, complex input sessions and session plans can be difficult for colleagues to follow. That said, this might depend on the content of the input session. For example, in this session there was a lot of information to discuss and the use of worksheets was probably the best way to go. At the end of the day, it was a well designed guided discovery combined with a classic jigsaw reading task.

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.


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Focus on the Learner


The session I observed was designed to prepare trainees for Assignment 3 on the CELTA course. For this assignment trainees need to conduct a needs analysis for one of their students. They also need to suggest materials for the learner based on their findings. The 750-1000 word report is divided into 4 sections:

  1. A brief description of the student’s age, level, experience, motivations, and participation.
  2. Two strengths and two areas to improve on in relation to skills and systems.
  3. Two specific suggestions to aid development of identified weaknesses.
  4. Five student errors in context from an interview and one suggested activity to correct one of the errors.

Trainees need to demonstrate awareness on how their chosen student’s background, experience, and learning style affect their learning. They also need to: identify language/skills needs; use terminology related to language systems and skills; select appropriate material; provide rationale for activities; select and reference material.

Needs analysis

The session began with a learner styles quiz to help trainees identify their learning styles. Although there is little evidence for learning styles, it provides useful classification/belief to ensure a variety of activities in class. The three styles explored were Visual, Auditory, and Kinaesthetic (VAK).

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After discussing the need to cater for a range of learning styles, trainees brainstormed other important information about their students that might be useful in providing instruction. Here are the ideas they came up with.

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Preparing interviews

At this point the trainees were divided into four groups and each given a different area to focus on: Learning background; Motivation; Problems with English; Learning Style. Each group brainstormed questions for student interviews for their area then rotated three times to share ideas.

My reflection

This was a useful session to prepare for Assignment 3 and help trainees see beyond the lesson plan to the individuals they are teaching. It will be interesting to see how the trainees deal with this task and how it affects their future lessons on the course. My reaction to the use of learning styles made me think about how I might change this session. On the one hand, rules of thumb are very useful for different stages of development and I still use VAK and multiple intelligences in my stage plans/procedures. On the other hand, the ‘truth’ might be more interesting and inspiring for the trainees. First of all though, I need to reflect on what the alternatives might be… (For another post).

Here is an interesting video on the dangers of believing in learning styles by Robert Bjork (2015).


VAK image

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Observation and Feedback



As of next week, I will be trying my hand at some teaching practice (TP) observation and feedback. During observations the tutor needs to record the stages of the lesson with a running commentary and complete an overall feedback sheet with strengths and areas to improve on. After the observation the tutor conducts a session with the trainee teachers.


I have observed a couple of these feedback sessions and noted the stages the tutor usually goes through. Here is a rough outline of the stages:

  1. Trainees are given self-reflection sheets to complete.
  2. (Optional) Trainees pair up and give feedback to each other.
  3. As a group the trainees write up key words on good and bad points in the TPs.
  4. The tutor goes through the boarded key words with the group.
  5. Comments are elicited from the group about one of the TPs.
  6. Then the trainee responsible for the TP comments on their own lesson.
  7. The tutor summarises the lesson and things to think about.
  8. The tutor comments on what has been achieved.
  9. Repeat of stages 4 to 7.
  10. The tutor recaps the important points to take away and boards key words.

In stage 5, the tutor may ask the trainee to sum up their TP in a couple of words. This summary is then explored using follow-up questions, such as ‘Why did you do that?’, ‘What did you do next?’, ‘How could you have done it differently?’. In stage 6, the tutor uses their notes made in the running commentary to structure feedback. Then in stage 7, the good/bad points form is used to comment on achievements in general.

My Reflection

Although this can be challenging for the trainees, a group approach to TP feedback better enable trainees to self-evaluate and learn from their peers. If trainees are able to notice their own areas for improvement, they may be more open to constructive criticism and advice. In fact, self-awareness is seen as a sign of progress in the CELTA and can make the difference between a pass and a fail in TPs. One of the most difficult things about giving feedback must be having to give negative feedback and/or failing students. However, this can be eased by giving the students a chance to spot their own difficulties, as facilitated by the procedure above, rather then just lecturing them.


Retrieved 18/1/18 from



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Trainer-in-training portfolio


A CELTA trainer-in- training is required to keep a record of their progress throughout their training, hence his blog. However, it’s gradually dawning on me that there is quite a lot more to be done. So, as we venture into week 2 of the CELTA I think it’s time to get organised.

The coursework for the teacher in training can be divided into three sections: Pre-CELTA; During the CELTA; and Post-CELTA coursework.

Pre-CELTA coursework

  • Introduction to CELTA training
  • Preparation for CELTA training
  • The course programme
  • Interviewing and selecting candidates
  • Looking at the pre-course task

CELTA coursework

Involvement in:

  • The selection procedure
  • Programme design
  • Materials and session design
  • Session delivery
  • Teaching practice and feedback
  • Observation of experienced teachers and peer observation
  • Marking of writing assignments
  • Monitoring progress

Post-CELTA coursework

Completion and submission of a portfolio. Containing:

  • CV and trainer-in-training profile
  • Trainer-in-training programme and schedule
  • Course timetable
  • Completed tasks set by the training supervisor
  • Input session plans and accompanying handouts for sessions given
  • Copy of feedback from tutor who observed the sessions
  • Written feedback sheets for any teaching practice led by the trainer-in-training together with the candidate’s lesson plan and self-evaluation, supervisors written feedback to the trainee and to the trainer-in-training.
  • Feedback from the supervisor on the marking of assignments
  • Progress reports from the training supervisor
  • Outline plans for two sessions in addition to those delivered during the training programme
  • An evaluative piece of up to 1,500 words on the process of undergoing training, commenting on strengths and weaknesses as a prospective tutor. This is based on a journal, daily log sheets, observations, and notes.
  • Bibliography of works consulted during the course


To be honest this list looks quite daunting, even if on this part-time CELTA I have more time to work on the portfolio. The first step I have made is to put together a folder with the various sections labelled. However, I soon realised that this folder/portfolio is going to require the destruction of a small rainforest. In fact, there does seem to be a lot of paper going on in the CELTA in general. Hopefully this will improve in the future… We have actually set up an Edmodo group to share materials throughout the CELTA which might be one way to streamline paper use, but I will explore this element in another post. My focus for now is the Post-CELTA coursework list, which I will use as a kind of check list as I move ahead. Wish me luck!


CELTA Trainer Training and Induction Handbook


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Input Sessions: Controlled Practice


This is a continuing record of my experience as a teacher-in-training for the CELTA.

This input session introduced the idea and purpose of a controlled practice stage in a second language lesson. The trainees took part in three activities: a controlled practice; a freer practice; and a free practice. The first was a chain game in which a repetitive pattern was used to practice a specific grammar structure. In the second activity, trainees created a short story using a set of vocabulary items. Finally, the trainees engaged in an open discussion.


After each activity the trainees reflected on some of the following points:

  • The aim.
  • How controlled the activity was.
  • Language focus.
  • Focus on accuracy or fluency.
  • Whether to correct or not.

Key points

It was pointed out that controlled practice usually comes before freer or free practice to ensure student success in the free practice. The reasons for this include:

  • Pre-learning opportunities.
  • Increased practice of target language.
  • Opportunities for monitoring and scaffolding.
  • Rehearsal

Finally, recommendations were made for setting up activities and when to correct students. For example, controlled practice activities allow for more correction than free practice.

My Reflection

As with previous sessions, trainees experienced activities before reflecting on the reasons for doing it. This meant the aims of the session were first experienced implicitly, then elicited, and finally presented explicitly to the group on the board or on handouts. I suppose this puts trainees in a more active role, working things out for themselves rather being lectured. I noticed that some of the trainees were quite resistant to this, possibly due to previous learning experiences or differing expectations.


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Input Sessions: Receptive Skills 1


This CELTA input session focussed on developing receptive skills in a second language, namely reading and listening. The tutor did a listening skills lesson with the trainees, then asked them to reflect on the procedure/lesson stages. The stages were:

  1. Questions to activate schemata.
  2. Pre-teaching vocabulary to aid the listening tasks.
  3. The use of flash cards for a prediction task.
  4. Gist questions on anecdote for a first listening.
  5. True or false questions for a more detailed second listening task.
  6. Preparation and presentation of a personal anecdote.

Some key points

After the mini lesson, trainees tried to recall the stages and the tutor elicited the reasons for each stage. Activating schemata, pre-teaching vocabulary, and prediction are designed to better ensure successful completion of the tasks. These preliminary activities combined with the gist listening is intended to encourage learners to transfer listening strategies they would use in their first language (L1). The listening for detail task comes after gist and is obviously made easier after a general understanding of the text has been achieved. Reading and listening texts are often used as a useful model for productive tasks, or as a context for language focus.

My reflection on the session

This was a fundamental session for the trainees as most lessons involve some form of text for the reasons mentioned above. I think that asking the trainees to take on the role of second language students before reflecting on the experience is an effective way to raise awareness of various techniques implicitly. However, this approach can be challenging for trainees who might have different expectations of input sessions. As I observed the trainees, I felt that some of them were unsure of why they were doing the tasks. That said, the tutor did explain the aims of the session, and elicit the reasons behind each activity.


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Input Sessions: Language Analysis


The aims of this session were to introduce terminology for language analysis to help trainee teachers complete lesson plans. It was also important for Assignment 2, in which four language items are selected for analysis. To complete this task they need to: identify the meaning, form, and pronunciation; suggest further examples; suggest CCQs; Identify learner difficulties; and make use of reference materials.

Overview of the session

The session began with a matching activity between terminology and examples, such as ‘I’ve been to India’ matched to the present perfect. Each trainee had either an example or definition and had to find their partner. The trainees then completed a spider diagram for meaning, form, and pronunciation.

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(Completed spider diagram from session)

This was followed by an analysis of an example sentence of the causative have. The tutor first elicited the meaning, form, and pronunciation before proceeding to further example sentences, concept check questions (CCQs), and anticipated problems for second language learners. Finally, the trainees worked through the same procedure in pairs with another language point. A copy of a chapter on typical difficulties for Italian learners was provided from Learner English by Swan, M and Smith, B (2001).

My Reflection

This appeared to be quite a straightforward session, but some of the trainees seemed quite overwhelmed by the amount of terminology. However, it is important to remember that CELTA trainees are not expected to know all of these terms. Actually, in this department, non-native trainee teachers may have an advantage having studied English grammar rather than just assimilating the language in childhood. At this early stage of teaching it is more important to develop the research skills required to track down information and critically evaluate it. This is also part of the criteria for Assignment 2.


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Input sessions: Presenting Language


In this session, trainees experienced two different methods for grammar presentation: a situational presentation; and a guided discovery. The session focus was most definitely on what might be considered the first P of PPP. The Present, Practice, and Produce model of lesson stage planning.


In the situational presentation, the tutor set the context through the use of pictures on the interactive whiteboard (IWB). After eliciting sentences from the trainees, the tutor boarded examples of the target language to highlight form and drilled pronunciation.

The guided discovery also began with pictures to set the context, but instead of eliciting meaning form and pronunciation, a text with various tasks was used to teach the target language. The trainees worked in pairs to complete the tasks.

These two mini lessons were followed by noticing tasks in the form of a table to be completed with the various micro stages of each presentation.

Key points for situational presentation

  • Ask don’t tell.
  • Use student examples for grammar.
  • Use real examples.
  • Teacher takes central role.

Key points for guided discovery

  • Students complete tasks in pairs to aid scaffolding.
  • Teacher acts as guide, monitoring progress.


Although I find the guided discovery method more appealing due to its student-centred nature, I did get the impression that the trainees were more impressed by the situational presentation. I think this might be because situational presentations align with traditional perceptions of teachers as the sage on the stage. However, interaction in this approach is mainly between the teacher and students rather than among the students. I wonder what studies have been done on the effectiveness of these differing presentation methods…



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