The role of research in TEFL

I’ve been thinking about the role of research in TEFL recently. This was prompted by Dr Paula Rebolledo’s closing plenary on Day 2 of the Teaching for Success online conference, titled ‘How could research inform EFL practice?’ You can watch it here. The talk reminded me of a few things I’ve read by Penny Ur, including this Guardian article in which she questions whether research is directly relevant to pedagogical issues.

Here’s a summary of points made in Paula’s plenary (I hope she doesn’t mind this blow by blow account but it was a really engaging talk):

  • According to her poll, most attendees felt that experience informed their decision making above research (and other resources)

poll from the talk by Dr. Paula Rebolledo

  • Research is often inaccessible to teachers (i.e. restricted access journals, costly, etc)
  • A lot of research is incomprehensible – it’s full of jargon and there are different discourses used among researchers and academics compared with teachers
  • Research findings aren’t always relevant to teachers (mentioned by Ur and others)
  • Teachers have different routes to research – engagement WITH research (i.e. reading it) or engagement IN research (doing it). NB: on the latter point – big up our Quircle!
  • Some authors (e.g. Ellis, Ur) have suggested that ‘mediators’ may be useful in helping teachers access, understand and facilitate teacher engagement in research
  • Huw Jarvis did a bit of self-promo in the chat box saying he was such a mediator. His site looks interesting
  • There could be a power imbalance between teachers and researchers. Teachers are seen as being on the receiving end of knowledge. We should rethink this. Perhaps researchers need to better understand teaching, as many may have been out of the classroom for a long time and more used to observing
  • Teachers may benefit from undertaking research or working with researchers in many ways, like these:

slide from the talk by Dr Paula Rebolledo

  • The idea of ‘teacher as researcher’ needs to be a ‘bottom up, teacher-led enterprise
  • There are practical issues for teachers engaging in research – lack of time, the need for support from schools and society as a whole, etc.


Breaktime games

Does anyone have any good suggestions for break time games? I have an interactive whiteboard and I’ve started to leave a game on the board (if I can trust the class with the equipment!).

I prefer using things like Quizlet as I can make vocabulary review games like the Scattergram one – I’ve posted this example before. Sporcle’s alright but you often need a designated typer so it’s a bit limited.

For random word games I use some variations on a similar theme. There’s Word Shake from the British Council:


That’s always fun. I used to play Text Twist online a lot, that was similar.

I like Multipopword a lot, you need to go in the easy room though otherwise it can get quite hard.


So, any ideas? It doesn’t have to be interactive, as long as students can get on with it themselves. Well, the students that want to claw themselves away from their apps anyway…!


DipTESOL Phonology Interview

I don’t have much to add when it comes to the DipTESOL phonology interview. You can find two great overviews about it from Gemma Lunn and Dave Dodgson. Both mention the example videos by Oxford TEFL, which I think are done by the tutors there.

All I can really add are some concrete examples, and a bit about my experience of doing the interview itself.

Just for context, I got a Distinction for the DipTESOL. I scored 82 for my assignments – you can read a summary of one here and find the others in English Teaching Professional (see ‘About me’). I got 83 (I think) for the phonology interview, 81 for the teaching practice and 73 for the exam. However, I’m not a Dip examiner or tutor, so I can only share my subjective views…


I presented about activities I use to raise awareness of contrastive stress. I mentioned:

  • a specific group of learners
  • WHY this was an important or relevant skill for them to practice
  • how I got students to notice contrastive stress
  • how I got them to practice it
  • how I encouraged them to produce this feature in a freer context



Evaluating course books – checklists

I’m currently studying a module in Materials Development through NILE online. It’s a really worthwhile course so far!

Unit two talked about evaluating materials, specifically course books. We were introduced to a range of checklists that could be used for evaluating a course book, and discussed the pros and cons of each. I can’t imagine everyone would find this topic interesting, but it was really topical for me – in the same week I was given a checklist to evaluate our new course book for teen classes. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on our own evaluation process and suggest some changes if necessary…

What makes a good checklist?

We looked at about six different checklists that were listed in McGrath (2002). In some of my jobs I’ve completed evaluations like this one from Harmer (1991:281) (more…)

Recent whiteboard work

I mentioned a few whiteboard tips this time last year. I should probably follow my own advice, because my recent whiteboard work has been a bit shoddy.

I’ve been taking some pictures of my recent boards. I won’t post them up in full – I’m embarrassed that I actually make quite a few spelling mistakes. I’m working on that.

Here’s a snippet of one though… this made me chuckle. It must have been an interesting gap year this student was having…



Among the abundance of scribbles and poor organisation, I have come across a few useful things. Obviously, if you’re taking pictures of your own board then you consciously try to make things neat or clear – some of these are recent things I’ve tried out so do let me know if you think they’re a bit rubbish!

Marking opposites

I’m surprised I didn’t mention this in my first post. I do this quite a lot though.



I observed a teacher years ago who used that ‘not equal to’ sign to show opposites. I’m not sure it’s right but I’m now in the habit of doing it and students know what I mean!!!

Marking affixation

I normally do this to raise awareness of word building patterns. What do you think?



I’m getting better. Paul Millard would be pleased.


Please share any tips you have, I’m always looking to improve my whiteboard work🙂

For more tips, check out this awesome board from Anthony Ash.

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.

Classroom games – Dobble!

Dobble is a great card game for quick thinking and bit of new vocabulary. I trialled it during a ‘fun and games’ social club last week and it went down well. Actually, the students enjoyed it so much that they invented their own variation of the rules!

The game looks like this:


It’s just a load of cards. However, each card always shares a matching symbol with any other card. Here’s one way to set the game up (for 4 players). See if you can notice the matching symbol on each card:


There are plenty of ways to play the game, but all involve either trying to get the most cards or losing all of your cards. You must call out the matching symbol before you win (or give away) a card. Of course, a flaw in the game is that you could easily lie as it’s fast-paced, but who would do that…?!

Our social club is quite relaxed. The students just looked through the cards and identified symbols they couldn’t explain. I taught what was needed…


We played 3 or 4 variations of the game which were lots of fun, although the students kept ganging up on me! Then the group decided that they could think of some more interesting rules. These slowed the game down, but led to plenty more language use as first they had to explain the rules to me, then we needed some process language rather than just the name of each object:

A: Have you got a clover?

B: No, I haven’t…


A: I think you’ve got….


(pronunciation of weak forms and contractions was a good point to come from this)

Overall this was a fun game for the classroom, the students definitely got something out of it. There are 55 cards so you could easily break things up into smaller games between teams in a young learner class. It would be a good reward or break time game (if your students aren’t still glued to Pokemon Go).

Link to Dobble on Amazon – no, I’m not on commission!

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.


Planning tasks for young learners

To an experienced YL teacher this post is just stating the obvious. To me it’s not, because I’m new to teaching primary aged learners.

I’ve got in the habit of tweaking almost every activity to try and make it fun. I enjoy getting my planning hat on and making things more engaging for YLs. Things like the spelling races and the travel quiz I spoke about last week are the recent additions to my toolkit.

Things to consider

A few general tips for tweaking tasks to make them more YL friendly:

  • How do things look? Changing fonts, adding images, colour… these can all make your activities look more engaging
  • Can I make my tasks more ‘multisensory’? Sorry, I’m not buying into the VAK neuromyth with this! I’m just suggesting that varying tasks in general can lead to more interest and engagement
  • How long are my activities? Short activities are better. I try and keep most stages under 10 minutes, but of course it depends what you’re doing!
  • Where does the activity fit in the lesson? What comes before and after it? It’s good to have a balance of ‘stirrers’ (get students up and active) and ‘settlers’ (calm down, focus, etc)
  • Can I add an element of competition? I guess this depends on whether you want to… My students respond well to competition. I like that a competition element often promotes teamwork and collaboration, but students do come to expect a game element a bit too much sometimes…
  • Do I need to differentiate the task? You probably will, so how can you make sure that you meet the individual needs of each learner?

Se at TalkTEFL is a brilliant teacher of young learners. I know he has tonnes of posts lined up on YLs, so I’ll leave this topic to the expert. However, I will share one example of a tweak I tried which has gone down well:

Hiding words for matching tasks. Instead of giving learners a set of words and meanings for a vocab matching tasks, I just hide the target words around the room. Everywhere – stuck on the projector, on the underside of skirting boards, in the middle of the dictionary… They have to find the words and write them (correctly) in their books before I give them the meanings to match. They go MAD for this for some reason!

Feature image:

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.