teacher development

Pronunciation articles for DipTESOL students

I’m trying to persuade our DipTESOL students to engage with some pronunciation-related research. I’ve hand-picked these five articles for their relevance to our context (well, the last one is more general), and I’ll be sharing them with our candidates this week. Thought I’d chuck them on the blog as well, as others might be interested in them. I’ve left in the reasons why I’ve chosen them for the candidates here – you might find they connect similarly to your own context.

Darcy (2018)Powerful and effective pronunciation instruction: how can we achieve it?

This offers a nice summary on teacher attitudes to teaching pronunciation (14 respondents, teaching an intensive program at Indiana University). Check out the section ‘What’s holding teachers back?’ for some interesting opinions on the value of pronunciation instruction –are these true in your own context? Also, skip to page 30 to view the ‘central aspects of a pronunciation curriculum’ – would you agree with these?

Relevance to our context: the article highlights a mismatch between how much teachers feel that learners value pronunciation (a lot) yet how much they teach it (a little). We have pronunciation stages in every lesson – do you value these, and do you think the learners do?

Thompson (1995)Intonation on question forms

Thompson provides evidence from small scale research suggesting that intonation forms for questions vary depending on communicative intention. There is a tendency for teachers and teaching materials to simplify/generalise pronunciation rules to make certain pronunciation points “teachable’’. Thompson highlights that such generalisations are unreliable, and suggests an alternative approach.

Relevance to our context: there are 12 lessons in our pre-intermediate syllabus that teach intonation patterns for questions. Each opts for the general rule of falling intonation for Wh- questions and rising for YES/NO questions. Have you ever thought that this pattern seems a bit… contrived? (more…)


I really like the #ObserveMe movement (see Robert Kaplinsky’s post here or the hashtag). However, I’m going to have to tweak things to make it work.

Gone are the days of LTC Eastbourne. My two years at that school were highly collaborative and peer observation was commonplace. It wasn’t an open doors policy, but a fair few teachers were happy for me to drop in and observe at short notice, some extending the open invitation (like Sketch who blogs here). There was a time at LTC (admittedly when I had more time myself) when I’d observe another teacher at least once, often twice a week. Teachers welcomed feedback but, unlike much of the #ObserveMe tweets I’ve seen, I was rarely directed to focus on a specific feature or skill – ‘i.e. how do I vary interaction patterns?/How can I do a better job of keeping learners engaged?’ etc.

The ‘free-for-all’ approach had its perks for me – I could focus on whatever I wanted. I often focused on how teachers gave instructions and also on the correction techniques they used – that’s really interesting to observe in a language classroom. Whiteboard work was also a favourite! For the teachers I observed, I guess the feedback topic was a lottery. It’s not the most effective/focused way of doing things but hey, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of observing experienced teachers. Post-observation feedback still led to some interesting discussions – it was sometimes just good to download about issues that emerged during the lesson!

Fast-forward three years and my experience of observations has changed a lot. My two observed lessons per year (one developmental, one evaluative) are thorough and quite stressful. They are fairly by the book (i.e. this book!) and my performance is now linked to my pay, so giving the observer what they want is the priority, rather than giving the learners what the need. Sniff. I’ve frequently been the observed teacher in my current job rather than the observer. In my first year I was observed either formally or through drop ins about 12 times (!) by line managers, trainers and sometimes sales staff getting to know the products. Most observations were top down, which is sad. The only teacher who asked to observe me (rather than a manager who told me they were observing) has moved on, and I’m really lacking someone to bounce ideas off and who I trust to offer objective and informative feedback.

I want to change this, and to do so I think I need to change our teachers’ perception of observations. Given the formality and rigidity of our current observations, my approach here is the opposite. Complete freedom – no guidance, no specific focus (which I would have liked for my own benefit), nothing but allowing other teachers to come in, observe and comment. Breaking the invisible barrier between colleagues and just getting the dialogue going. It doesn’t matter what about to begin with, just… tell me what you think of my teaching and we can take the discussion from there!

Here’s the poster I’ve put up on my door. I hope someone pops in. *Anyone but the boss, ANYONE BUT THE BOSS!*

Feature image: TonyCrabbe

Tip: A planning matrix for research (Cohen et al, 2005)

I’ve been doing some research as part of my dissertation through NILE. I came across an awesome book by Cohen et al called ‘Research Methods in Education’. It wasn’t on our key reading list but I’d thoroughly recommend it.

If you’re looking for guidance on where to start when it comes to devising your own research project, Chapter 3 is what you’re looking for. It offers an overview of research styles and types of statistics. It then has this awesome ‘planning matrix for research’. It’s a series of 30 questions which cover orienting decisions, research design and methodology, data analysis and reporting results. Working your way through these questions will probably cover most bases when it comes to research design. It turns out that there was so much I didn’t pay attention to, but these questions helped me plan in far more depth. Here’s an example of the first few orienting questions…

As you can see, each question gives you quite a lot to think about. Anyhow, if you’re stuck for ideas and you need to think a project through in more detail, I’d go with this! Check out this link to the Routledge Companion Site and scroll down to Box 3.3.

feature image: pexels

Teaching functional language

A newly-qualified CELTA teacher has asked me for advice about how to deal with functional language. So… this is one of my approaches to teaching functional language! The example is from a lesson I did last weekend about the World Cup. The target language was phrases for making suggestions/giving advice, along with agreeing and disagreeing with the advice.

Disclaimer: This type of thing works for me. If you’re fresh off the CELTA and looking for a route into dealing with functional language then it might be worth trying, but I am speaking only from experience, not from authority…

Step 1: Find out what language the learners already know…

After a general World Cup chat, do a short roleplay task…

Post-task feedback, board any target language that learners already use…

Step 2: Task model

Students listen to a real example of the convo they just tried. I say ‘real’ – it’s normally a recording I’ve made with another teacher! We try not to grade things too much or make things too contrived, but you know how these things can go in practice…

Do a few gist/detail comprehension tasks. Stuff like: Did they offer the same advice as you? Did they give good advice? Maybe some True/False questions….

(extract from the listening I did)


Training: Improve your whiteboard work

I’ve written a training session about whiteboard work designed for our CELTA level teachers. After the last round of teacher observations we established that boarding new/emergent vocabulary was an area for development. This session includes some tips to help teachers develop their technique. It’s primarily aimed a less-experienced teachers – I remember this topic being covered on the CELTA but it’s something that’s easy to let slip (in my opinion!).

What you need for the session:

Each pair/group of teachers will need to work with a whiteboard. It is possible to get 3 standalone whiteboards in our classrooms, but that might not be practical for you. Alternatives might be using mini-whiteboards (if big enough) or A3 paper. The paper might be a nice record for after the session. Teachers will also need a set of coloured whiteboard pens (coloured pens if using paper). Two or three colours should be enough.

The flipchart slides need a projector/IWB.


STAGE 1 – Lead in

The section starts with a chat about teachers’ current practice…

  1. How would you rate your board work skills?
  2. What are you good/bad at?
  3. What are you like at boarding emergent language?
  4. What information might you add to the board when you teach a new word?

The next stage is sort of diagnostic, done as a game. Teachers work in pairs/threes. A ‘new word’ is displayed on the flipchart. Teachers write this on their board and display any info related to the word that they think is useful/necessary for the learners.

Allow 1 minute then move the box on the flipchart to remove an example of how the word could be displayed on the board.


1000 words on… Correcting spoken errors

This is an interesting topic I’ve been revisiting this week. I wrote about it during my diploma (see here) and I like how relevant and applicable this topic is to my classroom practice.

Lyster and Ranta (1997) suggest that there are six common correction techniques used by teachers. That is, when they are correcting spoken errors. These techniques are:

Technique Description Example
Explicit correction clearly indicating that the learner’s utterance is wrong and correcting them. Student: *He’s a sinGER  

Teacher: No, it’s SINGer. He’s a SINGer.

Recast not directly indicating that the learner was incorrect, but reformulating the error to provide correction. Student: *I go to London yesterday

Teacher: Ah, you went to London yesterday

Student: … er, yeah.

Clarification The teacher indicates that the learner’s utterance was incorrect in some way through phrases like ‘sorry?’, ‘What was that?’ etc. This prompts learner to reformulate Student: *I don’t do many mistakes

Teacher: Sorry?

Student: I don’t do…

Teacher: Huh? What was that?

Student: Make! I don’t make many mistakes

Metalinguistic clues Without providing the correct form, the teacher asks questions or provides comments

related to the formation of the learner’s utterance

Student: *He work in an office most days

Teacher: Is that the correct form of the verb? Do we say ‘He work?’

Elicitation Teacher elicits correct form from learner As with above example, something like…

 Teacher: I work, you work, he/she ….?

Student: works

Repetition Teacher repeats the error, using voice/intonation etc to show that an error has been made and prompt reformulation Student: *He not like football

Teacher: He NOT like football?

Student: doesn’t! He doesn’t

Note: some of my descriptions above are from a great overview from Tedick and de Gortari (1998). More on that in a sec… (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…)