IATEFL 2017: Integrating pronunciation

I just watched a good talk from Mark McKinnon and Nicola Meldrum called ‘Making pronunciation an integral part of your classroom practice’. Here’s a link (I can’t embed the vid for some reason).

I’m a DipTESOL graduate so ‘pron’ is close to home for me. OxfordTEFL is also top of my list for places to work so I was excited about this one!

McKinnon and Meldrum started by mentioning the need to treat pronunciation as equal among language systems, and to integrate the teaching of ‘pron’ into our daily practice. ‘Sounds’ good to me.

They led with a video of one of their learners, Isabel, who was recorded completing a speaking task. As an audience we analysed some of the pronunciation problems she had. The point was to emphasise that analysing our learners’ pronunciation was important – once we know what the issues are then we can ‘begin to integrate relevant and useful pronunciation work’. True. (more…)

Metaphors for teaching materials

What are coursebooks to you? This question prompted plenty of discussion on our materials development course. We were given various metaphors to choose from – a springboard, a straitjacket, a recipe, a compass, etc. I opted for a crutch, as I felt it was something that supported the students learning (and my planning). Mind you, one coursebook I used recently felt more like a headwind. More specifically, a headwind while running on a sloping, pebbly beach in winter during a mild storm. I won’t name the book in question…!


The role of teaching materials – deficiency vs difference

I took a course on materials development recently. It was really good – plenty of input and ideas I could apply in my current context. Here’s a link to the course if you’re interested.

The role of teaching materials (as in externally produced ones like global coursebooks) is something we considered early on in the course. We came across a good article which talked about  perceptions of materials.

Allwright (1981) mentions two ways in which teaching materials are perceived. There’s the deficiency view, that ‘we need teaching materials to save learners from our deficiencies as teachers’ (ibid, pg. 6). This suggests that a writer holds expertise above the teacher – they know how to map a syllabus better or how to make sure activities are logically sequenced. Allwright points out that this leads to the idea of ‘teacher proof materials’ – it doesn’t matter how deficient you are, the quality of the teaching materials will get you through…

Alternatively, there’s the difference view. This is more respectful of both writer and teacher roles. It suggests that teaching materials are written by those with different expertise to teachers. Writers might be skilled in making principled decisions about materials design, but the teachers are equally skilled in delivering the materials effectively.

I’m not sure I’d use the term ‘deficient’ to describe myself or my teaching colleagues (!!!), but I can see what Allwright is getting at. When I was fresh off the CELTA I used to think the coursebook and its teacher’s notes were there to mask my inability to teach – I could never write anything better than what was already there. As my confidence and experience grew I began adapting coursebook materials more. I came to realise that without tweaking them to suit my context it was actually the materials that were deficient! So with experience I settled on this ‘difference’ view – someone has put together these (normally global) resources in what they feel is a principled way, but they need me to realise how they can work for my students. As the teacher I’m just as empowered as the writer…

Deficiency vs difference – what are your views?

This article is worth a read:

Allwright, R.L. ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal volume 36/1 Oct 1981

Learn English through football

Ball ball ball, footie footie footie! I’m a bit obsessed with the beautiful game, and I’ve taught plenty of students who are too! You may have come across Premier Skills English before, the British Council/Premier League site dedicated to teaching English through football. It’s full of great resources, really well-designed and well worth a visit. Premier Skills would be my first port of call for footie related ELT material, but Languagecaster.com is a new favourite of mine! (more…)

Teachers – which sea creature are you?

I wrote a post a while back comparing learners to different birds. Svetlana at ELT-cation requested more, so here I’m comparing teachers with sea creatures. Which one are you? For a quiz version of this post click here.

(Note: this is more about behaviour than looks, so don’t be offended if you’re a frogfish or something!)


The creature – a fish that gives back what it takes. They spend most of their time munching on coral. The coral then ‘reappears’ as white sand on tropical beaches. They have a weird ability to create a cocoon out of mucus at night. This stops other creatures from picking up their scent so they can rest easy!

The teacher – very well balanced. They are always happy to share resources and allow other teachers to benefit from their industrious nature. They’re seen as a really positive influence. Although their great work often goes unnoticed, the bits that managers recognise mean ‘Parrotfish’ avoid any major problems in the staffroom. (more…)

Random realia and peculiar props

I think it hit home about five minutes before the lesson:

‘Am I really going to base a 30 minute activity around this bottle of murky water? Surely this can’t work…’

Most of the activities I’ve tried from ‘Teaching Grammar Creatively’ have worked quite well. This one though… I must admit, I had my doubts.

It was supposed to be an activity for practising the present perfect (for completion). There’s a poem in the book about a ‘cosmic cocktail’… something like this:

‘I’ve blended everything nicely,

two galaxies,

several stars,

I’ve added a sprinkle of meteor dust…’


Sticking with the theme, I made the cocktail (mocktail) as a prop. It consisted of some cheap coffee, some raisins, bits of cut-up rubber… it looked awful.

Somehow, SOMEHOW most of the students bought into it. They enjoyed guessing the ingredients, reciting the poem, then making their own. It ended up a good review of a past lesson on cooking vocabulary, and was (as the book suggests) a fun, creative task.



So, what’s the strangest/most interesting object you’ve ever used in class? And… did it help?!

What I learnt from my first TESOL conference

Finally, some time to reflect on CamTESOL, which was held on 18-19 February. It was my first ever teaching conference (both attending and presenting), so thought I’d jot down a few reflections.

Presenting is tough but rewarding…

Teaching and presenting are not the same. I was really nervous about standing up and giving a short talk on using the internet for professional development. I’ve had a fear of public speaking for a long time, but I’m getting over it. I think. I co-presented with Kate Lloyd, and she was brilliant. She gave me training and tips beforehand, was very patient and supportive. Co-presenting was a really good stepping stone – I co-presented with Sarah Smith at Teaching for Success last year too and I definitely feel I’m gaining confidence.

As for the talk itself… Here are the slides

Personally, I was pleased with it. We pitched it at the right level for the conference and it seemed to go down well. There was a scramble for handouts at least…

I’m rubbish at networking…

I made some brilliant attempts to spark up conversation with other attendees, in classic Pete ‘socially awkward’ Pun fashion. These included…

  • A purposeful attempt at taking the last chocolate brownie from the tray at the same time as another participant which I thought might lead to an impromptu chat. It didn’t.
  • Sparking up a conversation with an attendee who was crocheting throughout the conference talks. We only spoke about crochet/knitting – I didn’t even find out which country she worked in
  • A weird moment when someone stared at my name badge, looked up at me, raised an eyebrow then walked off…

I managed to perfect a really good ‘gooseberry’ stance though. At one point I was chatting to a guy from a publishers (who I play football with back in BKK) and somebody rocked up, interrupted and said something that seemed to mean ‘I’m really important and you should speak to me’. I could tell that by the handshake. I wondered if I was supposed to be introduced but doubted it. I did a crab-shuffle towards the wine table, attempting to take the same glass as someone else hoping that it would spark up a conversation. It didn’t.

I should have planned ahead…

The conference programme for CamTESOL was pretty epic. Up to 25 talks happening at the same time, with 10 minute breaks in between. I should have worked out what I wanted to attend beforehand. I saw some good stuff, but missed some (possibly) interesting talks too. I also went the wrong room once, and ended up listening to a talk on teaching English humour to Japanese university students. It was interesting, it just wasn’t the most applicable for me.


A guy explaining about Japanese jokes. It was a laugh.

The best talk I attended was ‘Models of professional development’ by Peter Wells. He explained observation types (self-appraisal, student evaluation, peer observation, external inspection) and which are most beneficial. I got a photo of one of his slides along with someone’s head.


Peter Wells, interesting talk…

There are A LOT of coursebooks out there…

I forget this, just because I only use two different coursebooks. There were publisher’s stalls everywhere. Kate/Kris and I did a sweep to find the best book name. We came across a book for Young Learners called ‘Hats On Top’ – this led to a jovial five minutes imagining how the publishers arrived at this name.

I only flicked through a few books to be honest. But the Cengage range was certainly impressive, especially with the TED talk resources.

I should have made better notes…

I saw a dozen 30 minute talks during the weekend, but I don’t have many notes to show for it. I’ve got a few good handouts about grammar activities, and I jotted down some links. However, Kate clocked that when notetaking I tend to prioritise information that might appear in a pub quiz – as evidenced here…


‘What does TED stand for, and what’s the TED slogan?’… A definite pub quiz question.

Conferences can be expensive…

The conference on the whole was great for my professional development. However, I had to take unpaid leave at work in order to attend. Once you add up the cost of hotels, flights, registration fees and extras, conferences aren’t something I can afford every year. I spoke to teachers from Australia and Japan who said they received some kind of funding to attend from their organisation, so that might be something to ask at my next job interview.

Overall, I had a really good time last weekend. It was a really well organised event and I enjoyed being involved in it. Did anyone else attend?