How to get a CELTA Pass A

I passed the CELTA with a grade A. There’s my certificate…

There are already some good posts around on how to get a Pass A – see CELTA Helper for an example. However, I’ve been contacted a lot since I mentioned my Pass A grade in a previous post. People genuinely want to know how I achieved it and how they can do the same.

Here’s the first of a few posts with my take on things. Feel free to comment if you have any questions – I’ll respond to everyone. However, if you want expert advice rather than my opinion, talk to a CELTA course tutor!

Full disclosure: none of the links in this post are affiliate links.

The path towards a Pass A…

Just as CELTA Helper says, read the CELTA assessment criteria carefully. The criteria for a Pass A is basically that you can…

  • analyse target language thoroughly
  • plan effectively with minimal guidance
  • select appropriate resources for skills development
  • deliver effective lessons using a wide range of effective techniques
  • show very good awareness of learners and respond to them
  • reflect on strengths and weaknesses – use those reflections to help develop your skills

Overall: show excellent understanding of English teaching and learning processes.

Sounds easy, right?! If you can achieve all of that within the one-month intensive course then you’re a far better trainee than me! Preparation was the key to my success…

Understand the course

I read a lot about the course beforehand. I read through the online CELTA syllabus and made sure I understood everything the course entailed. I click-holed my way through tonnes of CELTA posts – Sandy Millin’s Useful links for the CELTA means you can do that far more easily these days. A word of warning though, a lot of blog posts (like my one here) are just opinion-based.

Personally, one thing I wouldn’t advise is to pay for advice (unless it’s cheap!). I’ve seen one site from a CELTA Pass A graduate offering detailed advice on the course for what I’d consider to be a hefty fee. Instead of paying over the odds, hunt down blogs from tutors – there are a lot of free ones and they know what they’re talking about. The Ultimate Guide to CELTA wasn’t around when I took the course, but that’s one site I’d go to now if I were taking the course again.

If you’re interested in more tips from me just scroll through the CELTA section on the blog.

Get a feel for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)

The most useful thing I did before the course was contact a (fairly) local EFL school and ask to observe some classes. I observed some classes at Oxford International in Greenwich, which gave me a good insight into how things I was reading actually work in practice. If you have the chance to do the same then grab it with both arms!

Which key reading?

I mentioned reading about the CELTA itself, but you need to read more generally about TEFL too. CELTA courses will provide a key reading list, and either Harmer or Scrivener are likely to feature.

If you have the choice, go with Scrivener. I find it clearer and easier to read. My personal choice though? Tricia Hedge – Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom.  It’s older, but overall it stands the test of time. I’d go for that, then Scrivener’s Classroom Management Techniques or Teaching English Grammar as a bundle. Great introductory texts.

Develop your subject knowledge

I’ll focus primarily on grammar and pronunciation here as they seem to be the areas people ask me about the most. Regarding vocabulary, you can see an example of analysing vocabulary in the assignment I shared in this other post.

Grammar

You’ll need to know a bit about English grammar in order to effectively analyse the language you introduce to learners. I recommend reading a couple of books on this before the course.

Many other CELTA bloggers recommend buying a good grammar reference book such as Grammar for English Language Teachers or reference/practice book like Murphy’s English Language in Use. I don’t, simply because:

  • they’re a bit boring
  • there’s bound to be a reference book knocking about the staffroom at your CELTA training centre, so save your money as you won’t actually use it too much on the course

I’d recommend buying ‘Rediscover Grammar’ by David Crystal because it’s a quick read and accessible. In reality, you’ll only teach a little bit of grammar on the CELTA course so don’t get too obsessed with it.

The best tip I can give you for developing your knowledge of grammar is this: buy a popular English Language Teaching (ELT) coursebook. You can find older copies of these online for dirt cheap. They usually have a grammar reference section in them. This should give you an idea of the depth of understanding you’ll need to teach this point to the learners (on the CELTA at least). It won’t go overboard and explain all the nuances of a grammar point – that’s good because you won’t need to bombard learners with these anyway!

We used the coursebook Cutting Edge on our course, but there are plenty of other coursebooks to choose from.

Pronunciation

One often neglected/understated aspect of analysing language is pronunciation. In my opinion, knowledge and application of effective pronunciation techniques during your CELTA teaching practice looks VERY good to the tutors. I confess to having an ulterior motive here – I want to see more teachers develop their knowledge of pronunciation early in their practice so they don’t come to neglect this later on.

I familiarised myself with the phonemic chart before starting the CELTA (good links here, here, and here – also look for study sets on Quizlet). I used it to help correct a learner error during one lesson, and the feedback on this from tutors was very positive. I’m not saying you should do that if it’s not relevant, but it’s really worth learning a bit about pronunciation (and how to teach it) before you start the course.

Sound Foundations by Underhill is commonly cited as a good intro book for pronunciation. I have my personal favourites though. The book I read before the CELTA that helped me hit the ground running with pronunciation was An Introduction to the Phonology of English for Teachers of ESOL (Parker and Graham). However, the same thing I said about grammar reference books applies to pronunciation. I find pronunciation interesting so I could list plenty more favourite books, but to others they might seem dry. A good way to develop an interest in teaching pronunciation is to watch a few videos on it. Underhill’s videos are worth looking at. Also, I’ve just reviewed an online training site called Language Fuel -it would be worth signing up for their free trial to check out their introductory pronunciation videos.

‘Effective planning’

I received some great guidance on planning during my CELTA course (IH Budapest, look them up!). The most useful thing they shared throughout the whole course was their ‘cheat sheet’ of lesson frameworks. I adapted that into a blog post and it’s viewed quite a bit, so others must find it useful.

Experienced teachers will probably hate me for saying this, but the most effective approach to teaching a grammar lesson on the CELTA would be PPP: Presentation, Practice, Production. For a vocabulary lesson, Test-Teach-Test is effective. Note: I am not suggesting that these methods are necessarily best in a real classroom beyond the course. However, for the course itself the are straightforward, a good fit for the short observed lessons (they won’t feel short while you’re teaching them), and just generally ‘safe’. There’s nothing wrong with safe – doing the simple things well is exactly what you need to demonstrate.

I mentioned Teaching English Grammar before – the ideas in this book all go for a PPP approach.

Huh? PPP? ELT? Test-Teach-Test? Aargh my head is already exploding!

I know. There’s a lot of terminology on and around the course. Try and hit the ground running with this too. Keep a good TEFL Glossary like this one to hand during the input sessions. Try and use some of these technical terms in your essays.

This post is dragging a bit… That’s a bit of advice mainly to prepare for planning lessons and analysing language. I’ll write a follow up soon to cover the next few points. In the meantime, feel free to ask if you have any questions.

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4 comments

  1. That all looks like solid advice, and thanks for mentioning my post.
    One caveat I would always give though: don’t stress yourself out by trying to get a Pass A. Only about 5% of the people who take the course get one, around 30% get a Pass B, around 5% fail and everyone else gets a straight Pass, which is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. The CELTA is a challenging course (far more so than people who haven’t done it ever seem to realise), and anyone who can get through the full course without running away screaming has achieved something they should be very proud of, regardless of their final grade.
    Having said that, all of the things you’ve mentioned will stand teachers in good stead for their future job and future career too, so they’re worth doing at some point even if it’s not before the CELTA!
    Good luck to everyone who reads this,
    Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is all really clear and practical advice Peter.

    The CELTA intensive course (4 weeks) is JUST THAT so in my experience (as a trainer) candidates who arrive on the course with little knowledge of language systems, are really making life difficult for themselves.
    You just can’t learn ABOUT the language as well as how to teach it, all in the same 4-week course.
    So do all you can to be familiar with the language systems and terminology before you begin.
    Jo Gakonga’s online Language Awareness course is excellent and she has a range of really useful webinars which you can subscribe to.

    Good luck
    Nicky

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Nicky! My post above is still subjective but I’m glad you thought some of it rang true in your experience. I’ve never seen the Jo Gakonga course, I’ll hunt it down. Sounds great! How’s Leeds going?

      Like

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