Weekend Traffic Lights

An earlier post looked at learner language and ways it can be used most effectively in-class as a learning tool. However, for a teacher to use Learner Language as a tool for Language Input, the learners actually need to produce some language. The underlying prerequisite to emergent language is that learners be put in a Communicative Situation, so that they can produce language.

However, getting learners to talk at length about a topic while giving them free reign over what language they choose to use to express themselves is perhaps easier said than done. Not all topics engage all learners, and the ones which do are all often too sensitive or cause divisions, such as politics or religion.

That said, there is one topic which learners are usually willing to talk about at length: the weekend. From the previous post you have 5 ideas for what to do with learner language, so this post will look at a simple classroom activity to get learners communicating and producing some language for you to later feed back on.  Continue reading

Positive Reinforcement in Language Learning

The year 1967 saw the the USA and the USSR perform nuclear tests, the Beatles released Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, and L.G. Alexander published what is said to be the best-selling book in ELT First Things First.

Scott Thornbury mentions the book in his 2016 Plenary at IATEFL, saying it was so popular that you could even purchase a copy at kiosks! In the plenary, he also quotes the author saying “the student should be trained to learn by making as few mistakes as possible.” good-1122969_640

An idea born out of earlier methods, such as the Direct Method and Audiolingualism, the focus on accuracy over fluency was the pinnacle of the pre-communicative era in ELT. There was a general fear of encouraging mistakes by letting them slip, and ultimately allowing them to become fossilized.

Decades later, learners are now very much encouraged to prioritize fluency, to make mistakes and to learn from them. As a result, lessons nowadays often culminate in a Delayed Error Correction stage, where learners are given corrective feedback on the mistakes they made during the lesson.

However, has this shift in focus from accuracy to fluency been a wholly positive development in English Language Teaching, or have we created a new problem by resolving another? Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading

Conversation Classes

There’s a post on WanderingELT which looks at what seems to be a fairly common conundrum in English Language Teaching. Basically, a learner comes to a language school traumitized by the experience of learning English through a Structural Syllabus in the state sector. In the words of Giulia Brazzale, such learners have had enough of grammar and they want “to learn to speak.”minions-363019_640

So, these learners sign up for Conversational Classes, or one-to-one lessons with a conversational focus. From the perspective of the teacher, like Giulia, this raises a number of questions:

  1. Why do learners end up in this situation?
  2. Are conversation classes the solution?
  3. Can good teaching happen solely through the conversation?

This post will take a look at these questions one by one and it will try to offer some answers. Keep reading to find out what they are. Continue reading

Product, Process and Learner Writing

Most schools have a clear policy on writing. Many require learners to submit a certain number of writing tasks before the end of the semester. Some plan within the syllabus for a writing task to be completed every month.Others let the teacher decide what and when learners should do writing.

A piece of my own free writing in Spanish
A piece of my own free writing in Spanish

Whatever policy a school or teacher might follow, the task at hand remains the same: the learners have to produce cohesive written texts. In English Language Teaching there are two main schools of thought on this topic: the Product Approach and the Process Approach.

This post is going to look at these two approaches and also at a third one which I am suggesting to get our learners writing not only more but more effectively. Keep reading to kind out more…

Continue reading

Doing Writing In Class

Recording Microphone

Anyone who has heard me speaking about Skills or read any of my lesson plans on Writing will be fully aware of the fact that I am a big advocator of doing writing in class and not at home.

I often get asked why I think this, especially since setting writing to do at home is:

  1. Logical – it seems the most obvious way not to waste precious class time
  2. Common – just about every course, teacher and school sets writing tasks as homework

While the logic behind this approach seems sound, it overlooks a very salient feature of writing – namely that is a skill. You would not expect your learners to develop their other skills solely at home, so why would you do expect this with writing?

In this talk, I explain my take on writing and I also try to explain why writing has ended up being the dreaded homework task that it has become.

Any thoughts, ideas or comments would be welcome – get in touch below or send me an e-mail.

Developing Speaking Skills in the Classroom

Speaking is one of the four Macro Skills. More specifically, it is one of the two Productive Skills – the other being writing. However, unlike in writing, time-constraints are a defining feature of speaking – WordItOut-word-cloud-851807you have very little time to process and decode the incoming signals, think up a response and then encode your response. This entire process needs to be achieved within milliseconds. Luckily, learners will be used to doing this with their L1 – that means they need to be encouraged to transfer this ability from their L1 to their L2.

When it comes to developing speaking skills in the classroom, very often coursebooks and teachers focus mainly on developing a specific item of language, i.e. linguistic accuracy. For example: the lesson is largely focused on the use of Present Perfect and as a follow-up the teacher asks the learners to “talk about some experiences you have had with your partner.” This, if anything, is simply controlled practice of the target language – it is not the development of speaking skills.

So, what does it really mean to develop speaking skills?

Continue reading

Developing Speaking Skills: Paxman-Brand Interview

Effective speaking skills lessons are difficult. This is not only because it is a skill, which means a lot of the development is down to the individual themself, but also like most skills lessons it can be hard to imagine almost a quarter of the lesson time is spent on developing a single skill.

You can read more about the theory and practice of what goes into an effective Speaking Skills development lesson here.

The Lesson

This lesson is designed for Upper-Intermediate learners. It doesn’t focus on any particular functional language per se but it does require the learners to think about and practise back-channelling devices and body language as well as the opportunity to practise question formation.


There isn’t a Lesson Plan as the PowerPoint Presentation serves as this. You might have to alter this slightly so it suits your learners, which you can find here:

PowerPoint: Speaking Skills Interview

The lesson is based on the first 3 minutes of the Paxman-Brand interview from BBC Newsnight, which you can find here if the codex in the PowerPoint doesn’t work:

Don’t worry if you think your learners won’t know who Paxman or Brand are. The lesson has been designed so they do a little bit of background reading and generate some ideas about these two people. The reading text can be found here:

Worksheet: Speaking Skills Interview


If you try this lesson out, I would love to hear from you. I think there is quite a challenge to designing lessons and materials which can be used by others. If you could share any thoughts or opinions on the design of the materials and the lesson plan (the PowerPoint) as well as how the lesson itself went, I would be very grateful. I look forward to your comments.