Research in brief: Critique of BICS and CALP

BICS and CALP in a nutshell

BICS and CALP was an idea first proposed by Prof Jim Cummins in the early 1980s. BICS stands for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, and CALP is Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. Here’s what they are:

‘BICS refers to conversational fluency in a language while CALP refers to students’ ability to understand and express, in both oral and written modes, concepts and ideas that are relevant to success in school’ (Cummins 2008: 108).


Making it up as you go along…

I had a brief chat with TalkTEFL after class about how some activities we make up during class work better than the things we plan! Today was a prime example.

My teen class were really lacking a bit of get up and go. We were doing a few activities based on this vocabulary (Beyond A2+, page 80):


They had to underline the words (in bold) related to study and circle those related to work. Then they listened to definitions and matched these to the words. We did a bit of group work (backs to the board-esque) to practise these words/meanings, but they just weren’t buying into it. Energy levels were really low. I needed a stirrer and FAST. Come on, Pete – think like a student! What might be fun? (more…)

TEFL sniglets – ‘tiglets’

sniglet (noun): any word that should be in the dictionary, but isn’t. (Hall, 1983).

I’ve been watching some old sniglet sketches from Not Necessarily the News recently. This one is by far my favourite (sorry for lack of quality):

Call me a bit TEFL-obsessed, but I figured that somebody somewhere must’ve already made a list of TEFL-related sniglets, (tiglets, perhaps?). I’m sure there’s a list out there. I couldn’t find it, although I did stumble across a preview of an article for using sniglets in class…

Anyway, here are a few tiglets I came up with today during a whole morning of tech problems in the staffroom. This is the best use of my planning time this year…

aimbiguous = unclear lesson aims

clinical approach = the tendency to teach all new vocab/grammar using clines, whether appropriate or not. A variant, the inclinical approach, includes lines which steadily move up the board, normally due to poor control of the whiteboard marker

critteria = a bug on an assessment rubric

gistage = an unexpectedly long amount of time for a first listening task

ICQs = lines of teachers waiting outside a conference centre for the doors to open, normally in Siberia/Canada

morment = the sudden realisation during planning/teaching that you haven’t conveyed and checked meaning before highlighting form

PPP = starting a class in the knowledge that you need the toilet

rubricon /ˈru:brɪkɒn/ = assessment criteria for tasks about Italian rivers

rubricon /ru:bˈraɪkɒn/ = an icon in the world of writing assessment criteria

SLAting = criticising certain theorists, e.g. Krashen

subsi-diaries = a daily log book of all a teacher’s sub-aims used during the year

TEFAL = An English for Specific Purposes course for chefs.

Please share a sniglet, sorry, tiglet or two in the comments. If we start now we’ll have a whole Tiglets Annual by Christmas J

Planning tasks for young learners

To an experienced YL teacher this post is just stating the obvious. To me it’s not, because I’m new to teaching primary aged learners.

I’ve got in the habit of tweaking almost every activity to try and make it fun. I enjoy getting my planning hat on and making things more engaging for YLs. Things like the spelling races and the travel quiz I spoke about last week are the recent additions to my toolkit.

Things to consider

A few general tips for tweaking tasks to make them more YL friendly:

  • How do things look? Changing fonts, adding images, colour… these can all make your activities look more engaging
  • Can I make my tasks more ‘multisensory’? Sorry, I’m not buying into the VAK neuromyth with this! I’m just suggesting that varying tasks in general can lead to more interest and engagement
  • How long are my activities? Short activities are better. I try and keep most stages under 10 minutes, but of course it depends what you’re doing!
  • Where does the activity fit in the lesson? What comes before and after it? It’s good to have a balance of ‘stirrers’ (get students up and active) and ‘settlers’ (calm down, focus, etc)
  • Can I add an element of competition? I guess this depends on whether you want to… My students respond well to competition. I like that a competition element often promotes teamwork and collaboration, but students do come to expect a game element a bit too much sometimes…
  • Do I need to differentiate the task? You probably will, so how can you make sure that you meet the individual needs of each learner?

Se at TalkTEFL is a brilliant teacher of young learners. I know he has tonnes of posts lined up on YLs, so I’ll leave this topic to the expert. However, I will share one example of a tweak I tried which has gone down well:

Hiding words for matching tasks. Instead of giving learners a set of words and meanings for a vocab matching tasks, I just hide the target words around the room. Everywhere – stuck on the projector, on the underside of skirting boards, in the middle of the dictionary… They have to find the words and write them (correctly) in their books before I give them the meanings to match. They go MAD for this for some reason!

Feature image:

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.

DipTESOL observed practice – evaluate and reflect!

This is my first blog on the Trinity College London DipTESOL. It might seem like I’m jumping ahead a bit by talking about the final observations, especially if you’re new to the course. But if you’re anything like me, the observed practice will be what you’re most worried about.

Obviously I can’t make a fair comparison between observations on the Dip vs DELTA, as I’ve only taken one of the courses. However, from various conversations I’ve had with DELTA students (who of course may be exaggerating), I can tell you that the following are not true of the Diploma observations:

You are NOT going to fail if… (more…)