Tech tips for new materials writers

These tips may sound simple to some, but useful to others! As a new writer I reckon you’ll have to do some of the things below, so this primer could help you hit the ground running…

note: instructions for Word based on Office 365

Tips for using Word… because we are all lazy until we actually need most of the cool functions!

Applying a template to a Word document

A publisher might send you a Word template to use and you need to upload it. Google how to do this if you don’t know, but it’s fairly straightforward (for me: Developer tab – Document template – Attach… that’s it really).

Changing the author name

Sometimes a publisher, or particularly an agent outsourcing work for a publisher, will ask you to alter author names in a document. That’s actually quite easy: File – Options – Personalise your copy… and you’ll see the options there.

Styles and the navigation pane

How often do you use Styles in Word? I’m lazy, I never used to bother….

Most materials writing I’ve done has been on Word using templates. These templates range in complexity, but the basic premise is the same as the Word Styles – it’s just applying a particular format to a body of text. Give yourself a refresher on using/changing these. Press Ctrl+F to open the navigation pane in Word. This will show you how easy it is to find your way around a document that uses Styles formatting. (more…)

Review: ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback

Lesson observations – where to start?! Jeanette Barsdell, the author of ELT Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook, was thrown in at the deep end and expected to observe a teacher on her first day as a DOS. Despite being terrified, she got some great advice, hit the ground running and developed into a competent observer. She’s written a guidance book for anyone who observes or intends to observe ELT teachers, and overall is a great resource.


Barsdell explains that the book will help you with (quote):

  • managing and setting up observations
  • decoding a lesson plan to understand and improve practice
  • understanding from teaching practice a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses
  • stating strengths and areas to work on in a constructive way
  • being comfortable giving face-to-face and written feedback.


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.


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)

10 useful terms for teachers of young learners

Teaching with Bear, what a classic!

This post is for anyone about to start a training course in teaching young learners. These 10 terms came up a lot on my YL training course so it’s worth reading up on them before you start. I’ve explained each one in brief, but you’ll also find some links for further reading. If more jargon pops up during your training I recommend this good online glossary for ELT related terms from eltnotebook.

  1. Differentiation

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, differentiation is ‘tailoring instruction to meet individual needs’. Carol has a great summary article on this on the Reading Rockets site, which you can access here.

You can differentiate in tonnes of ways – adding more support or more challenge to a task, having graded outcomes, allowing learners to choose how they demonstrate learning, adapting the learning environment, etc. Tomlinson provides a fair few examples in the aforementioned article.

Rachel Roberts is also a great source of info on differentiation. This article and this webinar are worth viewing.

If you really want to get stuck into this topic, Larry Ferlazzo’s page is probably what you’re looking for. I’d say this is a must learn phrase! Then again, it doesn’t even make the glossary of Annamaria Pinter’s ‘Teaching Young Learners’, so perhaps its losing its ‘buzzwordiness’.

  1. Scaffolding

Scaffolding is providing structured support to help learners achieve a task. The clue is in the word I guess… Personally, I used to think of scaffolding as part of differentiation, until I read this useful definition from edglossary.com. The concept of ‘scaffolding of learning’ is attributed to Jerome Bruner. One important aspect of scaffolding is how teacher support given to learners is gradually taken away as the learners become more independent. I’ve posted a few examples of scaffolding in action, here’s my favourite.

It’s worth reading about Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) if you want more context for Bruner’s ideas. (more…)

Integrating technology in the classroom

A few weeks ago I blogged about my recent experience of using edtech in class. Claudia Andrade shared an interesting response to the post:

This got me thinking about my practice and my reliance on certain forms of evaluation. Looking back at most of my reflections on this blog, it’s clear that I judge the success of new approaches or activities on two things – either self-reflection or student feedback. At best I use both.

I’ve done enough training courses that have drummed that ‘plan-do-review’ cycle into me…

A nice diagram from Youth Work Essentials

Plus, as I’ve become a more experienced practitioner I’ve improved my ability to reflect critically and (somewhat) objectively on my approach and how it works for my students. I’ve involved students far more in this reflection/evaluation process as time has gone on. Looking back, it makes me cringe a bit when I realise how little I appreciated student feedback in my early teaching days…

However, I can see there are weakness in the way I evaluate the impact of an approach or a particular resource. I don’t think I use enough tools to help guide my reflections – I could make far more use of pedagogical frameworks as a guide when evaluating my practice.

This is particularly true of my approach to edtech at times. Although I’m looking for ways to integrate technology, more often than not it seems that I trial a piece of edtech in an unprincipled or isolated way. This normally results in me using a tech tool merely as an alternative to my established approach rather than as an enhancement. (more…)

Behind the scenes – thoughts on the blog

Ages ago I was asked on Twitter to write a ‘behind the scenes’ of ELTplanning. Well, here’s one (of sorts). It’s not about the process I go through, more just my feelings on blogging.

Loads of teachers have contacted me through ELTplanning this term. Thanks so much for all the compliments. I’m really glad you’ve found some of the activities on here useful.

I started this blog to give something back (sure, a cliché ). So many teachers have helped me on my teaching journey with ideas, encouragement and support. I felt like I wanted to do the same. Naturally, as time goes on motivations change. I wrote about my blogging experiences in this article for ETPro, and mentioned some of the difficulties I’ve faced. (more…)