DipTESOL tips

Acoustic blur, soundshapes, speech streams

I’ve been thinking about an interaction I had in class last week. I’ve transcribed it roughly below. For a bit of context, the language point was going to for future plans, and the language had been presented through a listening. This was a controlled practice stage.

Here’s how things played out (well, with real student names obviously!)…

Student A : (quite slowly) What are you going to do after class?

Student B : (quite carefully) I’m going to meet my friends

Me: OK, cool. That’s fine…. *thinks*. OK, Student A – woye.gunne.doowaf.teclass?

Student A: Er…I’m going to eat

Me: weye.gunneet?

Student A: Sorry?

Me: weye.gunneet?

Student A: I don’t… understand

Me: That’s ok. What might I ask you? You said that you’re going to eat…

Student A: Maybe… where?

Me: weye.guneet?

Student A: Oh! Where are you going to eat?

Me: weye.guneet?

Student A: Maybe… Sizzler

Me: Nice. Good steak. (To Student B) Ask me.

Student B: What are you going to /

Me: woye.gunne.doowaf.teclass?

Student B: *laughs* woye…gunnerrr

Me: it’s OK. Try this instead: watcher

Student B: watcher

Me: watcher.gunner


I find myself doing things like this more and more in class. I mean, if you were to pick this interaction apart, it’s not particularly good teaching to be fair. The whole interaction is staggered and unnatural, I’m modelling pronunciation with simple repetition, I’m leading the exchanges here too. But hey, I’m being honest about what happens in my class sometimes, I’m not gonna lie. (more…)

Subject knowledge, jargon, learners

This is a post aimed at candidates about to take a diploma course, but is still relevant to all. It also loosely connects to Sandy’s recent post about mistakes you’ve made in class (click here).

There’s a good line in the introduction of Dalton and Seidlhofer’s book, Pronunciation (1994):

‘What teachers need to know is not necessarily what learners need to learn.’

This should be a motto for diploma trainees. It’s far too easy to get bound up in terminology and jargon, or simply so interested in it, that lessons can become very technical and not learner-friendly. What’s more, just because you’ve covered something in an input session on the course, that doesn’t mean you should rush straight into the classroom and try it out. It might not suit your context.

While I was studying for my DipTESOL I fell into a couple of traps related to my classroom practice.

The smug teacher

Looking back, some of the corrections I used to make were cringe-worthy. I can’t remember saying this, but knowing me I probably did…

‘Hmmm, actually I think you’ll find that’s a phrasal-prepositional verb’

No, I couldn’t have. Surely…

The yawn marathon

You suddenly know all the usage rules for the definite, indefinite and zero articles. Like, ALL of them, including every possible country/group of countries that begin with the word ‘The’. Your learners definitely need to know all of these right now! I advise scheduling about 40 mins for a teacher input stage to cover EVERY rule. Just you talking. To complete beginners.

Jargony McJargonface

Progressive and regressive assimilation? Juncture and catenation? Epenthesis? All pretty cool words/phrases if you’re into phonology, and also really good things to chuck into a) something like a phonology interview on your course if they’re relevant, b) conversations with other teachers to make you sound smart. But the learners? Well, teach those terms if you want – I prefer to teach the concepts when relevant and just refer to them in a simpler way. Back in my diploma days though, well…

And you’ve done that because…?

Colleague: What are you teaching today, Pete?

Pete: I’m veering away from the syllabus a bit. I’m gonna teach some binominals

Colleague: Bi…? I can’t remember what they…

Pete: Just, you know, two or more words, linked by a conjunction. Usually fixed. ‘sick and tired, ‘pros and cons’, stuff like that

Colleague: Oh yeah. Cool. So, why?

Pete: What do you mean?

Colleague: Why? I mean… are they relevant to anything you’ve covered recently? Or… I mean, are the phrases connected in any way or something? Or…

Pete: Look, I learnt about them on my course. If I don’t teach them, I’ll probably forget what they are

Colleague: OK… Pete, look. Your students are taking their IELTS exam in 3 days, so maybe you should…

Pete: Teach them about binominals. The speaking examiner will love it.


I’ve already dealt with questions from new trainees related to the situations above. Here are examples…


In my language analysis I have referred to the word ‘There’ in the structure ‘There is/are..’ as being a dummy subject, and mentioned (as Parrott does) that this is a type of existential clause. Should I tell my learners this?


I recently learnt that verbs can be transitive/intransitive/ditransitive/copula/etc. Should I tell my learners about this every time I teach a new verb?


I write words in phonemic script on the board, but learners can’t read it. Should I teach the script to them in the few hours we have together each week?


My answer is pretty much the same every time:

How do you think your learners would react?

Sure, developing subject knowledge is an important, and necessary, part of the course. You need a pretty good level of subject knowledge to pass the exam and interview, plus you will need to show you understand what you’re teaching through a language analysis (like the ones on the CELTA). But ultimately, you’re learning all this to improve your practice, which you’re doing in order to benefit your learners. Don’t do what I did by letting all this new knowledge go to your head. Always keep your learners in mind. Teach what is relevant, when it is relevant, and in a way that is relevant to them. As always, right?

Aside from that, make sure you bank all this new jargon for a years’ time. They’ll be a whole new set of trainees by then, and it’s great fun to scare them with terms like ‘regressive assimilation’.

(Feature image: Shutterstock)

DipTESOL: introduction to the phonemic chart

This is an introductory session on the phonemic chart for trainees taking the DipTESOL. I’ve designed this to supplement input given via distance learning courses, to be run in-house. It’s meant to help trainees give a basic explanation of the phonemic chart – something I was asked to do during my DipTESOL phonology interview.

The first question I was asked in my DipTESOL phonology interview was (along the lines of…):

Can you give me a brief description of the phonemic chart, and how it might benefit learners of English?

Gulp. Where do I start?

If I were a DipTESOL tutor the first thing I would do is get the chart into play. I think the phonology part of the course is what many trainees fear, so let’s nip that in the bud straight away… This session isn’t about jumping straight in and learning all the sounds, sound symbols, place and manner of articulation and all that scary stuff. It’s about exploring the idea of the chart and helping trainees become more confident discussing it rather than using it.

Disclaimer: my flipcharts don’t look good 😦

Session time: about an hour

I encountered the phonemic chart on my CELTA course, so I’m guessing others will have too. I’d guess also that many teachers know more about it that than they think, so let’s start with a discussion: (more…)

General ideas for teaching pronunciation

(This is a follow-up to my post on phonology-based activities. I’m sharing it now because some of our teachers are about to begin training for the Trinity DipTESOL. Phonology/pronunciation features quite a bit on that course, so I want to offer our teachers an ideas bank to help them explore this area in class)

Here are a load of random pronunciation activities to try out in class. These activities have pretty worked well for me with students aged 9-16. This is a work in progress! I’ll add more to this list when I get more time or try new things.

Note: there are not many activities here that focus on connected speech. That’s because most of my CS activities come from Marks and Bowen (2013) and I don’t want to do them a disservice by plagiarising their whole book! Buy it – it’s great!

If you find something useful then please share your own ideas in the comments! Sharing is caring 🙂

Use GIFs / images / actions

Use whatever you can to associate sounds with a particular object or action. If it’s /æ/ mime a cat, /ɪ/ then mime kicking a football. Keep it active. GIFs are pretty memorable too.

Mime games

The best thing about assigning actions to phonemes is miming games! Say, for example, you’ve taught certain sounds like /d/ (act like a dog), /b/ (throw a ball), /æ/ (act like a cat). You can play a ‘backs to the board game’ where each word includes only sounds that have been taught (bad, dad, etc). The students describing the words can’t say anything, they can only mime the action for the corresponding sounds. Great fun!

Fly swat games

You’ve introduced a set of phonemes. Display them on the board. Organise the class into teams, give each with a fly swat. They line up at the board. Say a word which includes one of the sounds (best to prepare a list of words beforehand). The first team to swat the correct sound wins a point.


Add more challenge. With the above sounds you can say either ‘vowel’ or ‘consonant’ before you say the word.


Teacher says: ‘vowel, butter’. Students must swat /ʌ/

Teacher says: ‘consonant, butter’. Students must swat either /b/ or /t/, or both in order if you’re feeling particularly cruel. Some of my students go mad for this! (more…)

Writing pronunciation activities – 5 things to consider

I’ve written quite a few pronunciation activities this year for a regional product (Asia). Here are a few random thoughts on the process…

Pronunciation for… what?

As Laura Patsko mentions in this interesting Pedagogy Pop-up, pronunciation is important for all skills, not just speaking.

A lot of the pronunciation stages in our materials focus on connected speech. The aim of these activities (IMO) is more to help learners decode natural speech rather than to produce a certain pronunciation feature accurately themselves. Of course, it would be nice if they could do both…

If the purpose of a pronunciation activity isn’t clearly communicated to teachers (and to learners) then this could lead to either having the wrong expectations. There is always a production element in our pronunciation activities, but accurate production of a certain feature might not be the primary aim of an activity.

What problems do the learners have?

This year I’ve been writing a regional product. I’ve taught in 3 of the 15 or so countries where the materials are used. I’ve found it’s pretty tough to address the needs of every learner with a regional product. Resources like Swan’s Learner English have been really useful for understanding common pronunciation problems faced by learners across a region. It’s always worth asking other teachers too – I’m pretty sure that our teachers have taught across the whole region between them.

Of course, it’s worth asking the learners themselves what difficulties they have, but there are practical issues. It might be hard to do this across a whole region, plus they might not actually know what they have difficulties with! (more…)

My TEFL articles

I’ve just uploaded a few of my articles to Scribd. Hopefully I’ll have more to add in the future… Click here for advice on writing for ELT magazines.

Here’s an article I wrote in July 2015 for ETp on error correction. It’s based on a series of observations I undertook for a DipTESOL assignment.

ETp again, November 2015. This was based on my independent research project for the DipTESOL. I designed my own supplementary materials based around various Google products.

ETp, May 2016. An article about my blog. Might be useful if you’re thinking of setting up your own ELT blog.


Q+A: Reading and listening texts for DipTESOL teaching practice

Someone contacted me on this blog asking a question about the DipTESOL.

Q: Where/how did you find good listening and reading materials for the teaching practice?

My answer:

a) I recorded my own

b) I sourced authentic materials on the net and adapted them

A bit more explanation: (more…)