CELTA tip: guided discovery

I got an A in my CELTA, but I had some teaching experience before the course. I find one of the hardest things about teaching is actually standing up and doing it. I am a really nervous person, and this trait has plagued me for a long time. Without some experience of being in front of people and presenting information I would have really struggled, but this wasn’t much of a concern for the less neurotic people on the course!

Anyhow, teaching experience was not the only contributing factor to my A grade. If I could pinpoint the exact moment that my trainers gave me that mark, I’d say it was Tuesday, Week 4, about 12pm, just after Teaching Practice 7. I’d just finished a class on the present perfect continuous, which makes my CELTA grade all the more special as teaching grammar remains my biggest weakness.

What made that lesson so effective? Well it wasn’t the best I taught during the course, but it really showed that I’d listened to the tutors and tried hard to put one of the input sessions into practice.

We were using Cutting Edge as a class textbook on the CELTA. After learning how to design a text-based presentation a few days before, I decided to scrap the textbook and make my own text to introduce the aforementioned grammar point.

On the ‘lesson frameworks’ page in my training booklet, I saw this tip for making lessons more student-centred:

‘Use a guided discovery worksheet, containing questions about meaning, form and pronunciation. This works well with text-based presentation lessons’ (tip copyright IH Budapest)

Well, that sounded like a challenge…

What is guided discovery?

Here’s a quote from the British Council website:

‘Guided discovery, also known as an inductive approach, is a technique where a teacher provides examples of a language item and helps the learners to find the rules themselves’

This approach is the CELTA through and through really. The way we are taught to clarify vocabulary and grammar is very inductive. We are not taught to tell students a rule, give examples of use, then get students to practice it. Quite the opposite. On the CELTA you normally present new language items in context (not isolated), focus on the meaning first and get students to notice what the rules are. You use concept checking questions to see if they understand the meaning, then move on to how to form the language items, etc. Guided discovery tasks are a way of making this whole inductive process more student driven. Rather than the teacher introducing everything themselves, they can give students tasks to complete individually or in collaboration, and let the learners explore the target language. Obviously, the teacher can intervene at any point when students don’t understand, but students have a lot of freedom to work things out on their own. GD tasks usually lead in to controlled practice and freer practice activities as normal.

What’s so good about guided discovery?

These types of activity are student-centred, so the learners often invest a lot more in them. But let’s think about the CELTA trainee for a moment! How can these activities benefit us?

A) less teacher-centred lessons means a bit less pressure on you in SOME ways. You’re not preaching at the front of the class, eyes aren’t on you as much. Giving students more investment in an activity can give you a bit more thinking time – if things go to plan that is.

B) You will require other teaching skills if you use a guided discovery worksheet. Maybe you will need to micro-teach (maybe teach to a small group within the class). You will need to monitor carefully to check students are on task. You might need to learn when to take control back as the teacher. These are great skills to show your CELTA trainer. Well, I guess they would be anyway!

How do you make a guided discovery task?

This is only the gist of it – your CELTA trainers will do an input session on it so trust their word more than me! I’ll talk about it from the perspective of using a text-based presentation

  1. Think about the language point you’re teaching and consider a suitable context for it

My example: a good context for the present perfect continuous is seeing an old friend

A: Oh my god! I haven’t seen you in ages! What have you been doing?

B: I’ve been working in Hollywood!

  1. Build a text around the grammar point. Here’s mine:


  1. REMEMBER: this is a text. You need the students to show some general understanding of it. Make a gist task for it:

Dave and Susan are old friends. They haven’t seen each other for a long time.

 Read their conversation. Was Dave right to lie?

  1. Draw out the important language from the text – i.e. the language focus. In this case, the present perfect continuous. Make some concept checking questions around it. You can maybe add tasks like a ‘timeline matching’ activity, especially is the grammar point has a few different meanings:


  1. That should cover ‘meaning’. Now get students to construct the form
  1. Give students a controlled practice task (e.g. sentence formation)
  1. Give students freer practice of the language focus. Think of a relevant context (for the present perfect continuous, I used a high school reunion).

I’ve attached an example of the resource I used for this lesson. I’ve also attached the lesson plan that went with it.

lesson plan

lesson activities

By trying your hand at an activity like this, you’ve covered a lot of bases:

  • You’ve created your own resources from scratch
  • You’ve used a text-based presentation
  • You’ve tried making a guided discovery task
  • You’ve shown willingness to make activities student-centred
  • You’ve practised classroom management skills such as monitoring and micro-teaching


Warning: I am not saying that this activity gets you a good CELTA grade. I’m just saying that your willingness to engage in what you’re doing and give what you’ve learnt a go can only be positive. Your CELTA trainers will no doubt give you loads of help if you wanted to try this sort of thing. But if you’re not confident, no worries. Get the basics right. You’ve got a lifetime of teaching in which to try this sort of thing. Here’s another guided discovery I made last year. My boss (Martin Sketchley) was the subject of it – he is a CELTA expert by the way, check out his blog.

Categories: CELTA tips

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. Thank u for your tips…. I am studying to access at a Celta course… Your are really a motivator… 🙂


  2. Very interesting.


  3. I really got hooked on your blog! Great tips I can read throughout! I am also studying in IH Budapest! 🙂 Finishing my part time course in May. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for posting this.


  5. This was so so so so great! I love the way you write!


  6. This is really so good and I know my students will love this.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was wondering if you could point out any literature discussing this type of grammar teaching including the design choices of the tasks you’ve made. The only books I found which mention GD are Scrivener (2011) and Thornbury (1999) which discuss the approach but not how to design it, specifically what to include to make it an effective activity.
    Thanks a lot in advance!


    • Hi Sebastian, thanks for the comment
      Hmmm, that’s a good point. I created those resources a while back so can’t remember if I referred to any specific literature – most likely I was following a similar example activity plus getting advice from my tutors. Now you mention it, I can’t think of a resource off hand that lists the suggested stages of this approach but no doubt there is one. I’ll have a rummage in the staffroom bookcase and see if I can find anything. In the meantime, Thornbury’s post here does mention some more links related to the topic https://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/g-is-for-guided-discovery/


  8. Hi Peter, thanks for the reply. Yes, Thornbury’s blog page was very helpful indeed. I haven’t found anything which specifically describes a suggested structure or layout for these types of GD worksheets. Just as you, I designed mine during the Celta after examples we’d received and my tutor’s advice. Now I had to justify my design of that worksheet during further studies, and I basically just drew on literature discussing inductive learning approaches, noticing tasks, CCQs for guiding students, etc. After having a closer look I think these might also be the sources that Celta instructors draw on, unless I missed something which specifically suggests and justifies this kind of design. Thanks again for your help and in case you’re able to find anything, I’d be very interested to know.


  9. I can relate with your fear of being on stage. As much I enjoy teaching, the fact I am being judged always gets to me! This post is amazing. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pete,
    This is such a wonderful post. Very much appreciated, and congratulations on your A CELTA.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. This might get you a good CELTA mark: guided discovery | Toni M Lee
  2. CELTA Lesson Frameworks | elt planning
  3. How to get a CELTA Pass A | ELT planning
  4. Writing lessons: the Englishin3d approach – Englishin3D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: