New Year, Same You? 5 Ways to be the Best Teacher you can be in 2018

The new year is nearly here and with it comes the expectation to make resolutions to change something in your life; to become the best possible version of you. Or at least to make a list of the characteristics that the best possible version of you would have. Whether you will spend less time on Facebook, go swimming more often, and clean the juicer straight after using it, only you will know — but deciding to be the best possible teacher you can be will bring you joy, benefits to your students and to your career. 

Here are a handful of activities and habits that you can put into practice straight away to make you an even better professional.

1. Take a Course

While there may not be such a wide variety of courses for English teachers to take, there are some out there which are held in high regard and that will furnish you with ideas and inspiration that you can take with you for years to come. Some of the most well-known are run by Cambridge Assessment. TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test) is exactly what is says — a knowledge test that will bolster your CV. The DELTA is considered the main stepping stone after the CELTA. It is at master’s level, and for teachers who have been teaching for a few years. It is theoretical and practical and there is increasingly more flexibility in how you can take the modules. For something more specialised there is the Business Certificates (BEC) also from Cambridge which is divided into Preliminary, Vantage, and Higher.


Aside from these formal certifications there are online courses that you can do to support your development as an English-language teacher. For instance, Coursea and Future Learn offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are designed as tasters to promote certain universities and their courses but nonetheless can have great content. With these you will not gain a qualification that you can necessarily put on your CV but you may well learn something useful and enjoy participating within the community of learners that attend the online courses.

2. Read Articles and Blogs

English teachers are often avid readers, and many of then are writers too. Sometimes at the end of a long day teaching a teacher would like to escape into the other-worldliness of a great novel. But putting aside some time to read around topics which interest you in teaching and learning can be equally engaging and can bring benefits to your teaching too. There are lots of academic articles and current research papers which can offer insights into what is happening now in the field of ELT and could help you to overcome issues you might be having with your own teaching.

Google Scholar is a good place to start for searching for articles on topics that interest you and institutions like The Linguistic Society of America offer insights and links to articles and here is a great website which offers lots of links to free articles on linguistics and teaching. If the day has been too chaotic for you to possibly read a full-length academic article then why not browse some of the many ELT blogs in cyberspace that have the right balance of light reading and deep insights? Check out this list of ELT Blogs to follow in 2018. And if you have something to say — why not create your own blog?

3. Join the Community

Being a part of something bigger and communicating with others about what you do can be reassuring and can offer much needed support. There are tons of different groups on social media where you can interact, share, and gain information. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ all offer something slightly different so take a look, join some groups and get involved! Additionally there are forums where you can chat about specific questions such as at TEFL.net and ESL Base.

Quora is a relatively new phenomenon which is somewhere between a forum and social media. It is a place to ask and answer questions, gain knowledge, and comment. There are not so many English teachers on there, but you can change that!

4. Self Appraise and Create a Training Plan

Reflection is a necessary step in effective learning, according to Kolb’s Learning Cycle. As teachers we might be too busy teaching to be learning because we might not have enough opportunity to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well in any given day. Setting aside some time for this and creating a learning path for yourself can give more confidence to your teaching, enable you to see what you have done in the past, and to make plans about how you want to develop in the future.

Self-appraisal is the start of this process. It can done as a simple list of Strengths and Weaknesses featuring what you know you are good at, and what you could do better. From there you can form personal objectives based on the areas you want to improve. You can plan how you will meet the objectives: will it be through peer observations? Reading contemporary research on the subject, or even carrying out your own small-scale research? Taking an extra qualification or attending a seminar? Any of the items in this post could serve as instruments for improvement, the important thing is to articulate what you want to do and follow through as best you can. If you would like a template for a teacher training plan you can contact me and I will send one to you.

5. Attend Conferences

From the plethora of conferences in the TEFL world we can see the dedication and vibrancy in the industry. There are conferences, large and small, across almost every continent, every month. Conferences serve multiple functions. The first of those is educational. When you attend you can prioritise the topics and speakers that mean the most to you. The speakers may be giants of the field or complete newbies giving their first presentation. The second benefit of attending conferences is meeting like-minded people. A lot is made in today’s world of social capital and networking but if that isn’t your thing then simply meeting people and having fun with TEFL professionals is a good enough reason to be there! And that brings us to the third point which is that conferences are exciting and fun. The vibrancy is tangible and it’s revitalising to mix with people who work in your field and with it comes a sense of community and mutual support.

These are some ways you can grow as a teacher but good habits, like dogs, are not just for Christmas; they are long-term investments in yourself that will pay dividends for a long time to come. But why wait till 2018!? There is time to do these things now!

If you have any other suggestions, then leave them in the comments below. Otherwise, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

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Read: Making Friends with Corpora

Read: Plato’s iPad: The Latest Trends in ELT

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Acronyms are everywhere in English-language teaching. They describe what we do, how we do it, and to whom. But is the myriad of acronyms necessary? Can we streamline and agree on a single solution for the English-teaching sector?

As I look for social media groups to join, websites to search for jobs, and blogs to read, I never know which keywords to start from: English Teaching? Teaching English? TEFL? TESL? TESOL? ELT? ESL? EFL..?

My preference is for ELT because it includes, to my mind, everything I want to talk about: Teaching, learning, and English; and Scott Thornbury uses it!

But, alas, not for the first time most of the world doesn’t agree with me. Instead, according to Google, they favour in this order:

1. ESL
2. ELT

These acronyms are not strictly interchangeable but in reality they do not individually carry a specific meaning — each acronym is simply more popular in certain regions of the world, and ultimately are all used to talk in general about English-language teaching and learning.

Let’s have a quick look at what they stand for and where they are used.


ESL: English as a Second Language

In theory for English taught in English-speaking countries. Did you get that from the acronym or the actual words? I didn’t. And apparently neither did Dave from Dave’s ESL Cafe, who created the online jobs board and forum for English teachers abroad.

Most popular: Almost all the world, including the USA, Australia, and Canada.


EFL: English as a Foreign Language

Here the implication is that we are teaching learners in their home country, in which English is a ‘foreign’ language. Not too clear or helpful either.

Most popular: Eastern Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana.


ELT: English Language Teaching

Teaching English!

Most popular: Cambodia, Turkey, Peru, Colombia, and Ethiopia.


TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
As EFL but with ‘teaching’ in front of it. Widely used for the teaching qualification.

Most popular: China, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Ireland.


TESOL: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
In theory all-encompassing, as with ELT. Used often for conferences.

Most popular: China and Australia


TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
As with ESL.

Most popular: Not really popular but used mostly in Canada.


In an era of English-language teaching in which we celebrate diversity and avoid labels, could it be time to define more clearly what we mean when we say we are teaching learners who are learning English as a ‘second’ or a ‘foreign’ language?

Firstly, we cannot easily label people anymore in this way. People move, live in countries where English is used for bureaucracy, used for gaming online, they spend some time in English-speaking countries, then move, they learn on-the-go, online, and fluidly. We can not pin some down to being an ‘S’ or ‘F’ learner.

There is a further debate here because we can argue that, in fact, someone who is learning English in rural China needs to be considered in a different way from someone who is learning English while living in central London. But this of a degree not binary.

Of course the learner in China will need to be taught in a different way and will need different skills than someone who is living in London and uses English on a daily basis; but this is what teaching is about — adapting to the learner in front of us and finding strategies to facilitate effective learning.

I favour ELT because it does not walk on the increasing rickety path of differentiating between ‘types’ of English, it is clear, simple, and I understand it. But, it is not up to me, it is up to us. And we don’t have to choose one over the other, but we do need to be careful about the words we use; we are language teachers after all.

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Making Friends with Corpora

We teach what is in the course book, or we teach what we know. We draw upon our own highly personal experience and assume that we are teaching English as it is used every day. What if it isn’t? What if we are teaching  grammar structures or lexical items which are actually not used in the way we are telling students they are used? What if what we are teaching doesn’t accurately reflect the English of the ‘real world’?

I recently wrote about ‘The Latest Trends in ELT‘ and ‘The Future of English-language Teaching and Learning‘ and among the hyperbolic and prophetic statements I mentioned the use of language corpora in aiding English-language teaching.

The problem, I realised, is that very few of us really understand the possible impact language corpora and concordancers might have on ELT and additionally, most of us are unable to use them!

A Corpus

A language corpus (corpora as a plural) is a collection of samples of real-world language. Usually they contain millions of examples and may be from spoken or written sources, or a combination of both. The corpus serves as the basis for analysis of how language is used.

A Concordancer

A concordancer is a computer program tool, which can be accessed online. It is used in conjunction with a language corpus to analyse the language examples. Essentially, the corpus is the data (language samples) and the concordancer is the tool used to analsye that data.

International House Journal has a good article here on how teachers can use corpora and concordancers, and the British Council has a good post here on concordancers.

Corpus Linguistics

Khojasteh and Shokrpour (2014) wrote about the wider implications for teaching and learning from the field of Corpus Linguistics, which is the academic field which employs language corpora for research.

The literature review threw up some startling insights. For example, although we often teach that any is usually used for negative statements or for questions, it was found that in fact in between 42 – 51% of cases it is actually used in positive structures.

The paper offered several other examples of instances when what appears in text books and what we teach are not faithful descriptions of how language is really used.

What We Do Now

Corpus Linguistics is concerned about the inconsistencies in how language is used and what we teach.

According to the research paper traditional course books are ‘often largely based on the personal judgements of the materials writers’, while Scott Thornbury said that many course book creators are ‘still largely base content selection on intuition and they neglect the important and frequent features of the language spoken or written by real language users’ (Thornbury, 2004).

Although materials creators are usually skilled, experienced, and dedicated to what they do, they are not supercomputers or all-knowing beings, and so their  ‘personal judgements’ are not going to accurately reflect authentic English usage. Because of this many researchers have recommended ‘the use of corpus-based findings to inform material writers’.

It makes sense that the people who create books are basing the content on something other than their intuition.

Would we be so forgiving if our doctor, dentist, or electrician relied entirely on his or her intuition when carrying out his or her daily tasks?

Science-free Zone

When we consider that over 1,000,000,000 people are currently learning English it is quite shocking to think we are basing the education of these 1 billion people on what a handful of predominantly Western men and women think English is.

It has been accepted that course creators and textbook writers use their intuition rather than actual data when deciding what content to create because previously there was nothing else to go on.

The Four Insights

There are four areas in which corpora can help us [to become better teachers] – Khojasteh and Shokrpour, 2014


Using a corpus we can see how often words occur in relation to others. Research suggests (for example Kennedy, 1998, Conad, 2000) that teaching words which occur more frequently is advantageous for the language learner. It allows the learner to learn first the words which are central to the language, and helps the teacher decide which words to put more emphasis on when teaching.

For example, when you teach modal verbs, which do you teach first? Which do you put most emphasis on? According to four English language corpora the most commonly occurring modal verbs in descending order are:

will, would, can, and could

Will knowing this drastically change the way you approach teaching modals in the future? Probably not. But for the people who write course books it can be a valuable insight which can help them to decide which modal verbs to give greater importance to when creating the content.

Register Variation

In linguistics the type of English which is used in any given situation is called the register. As English teachers, we often draw our student’s attention to the register in terms of formal or informal, or speaking or writing. These factors influence the grammatical structures employed, the vocabulary, and even the pronunciation. These are, no doubt, all things we are aware of as teachers.

By using a corpus it is possible to see accurately what type of English is used in a given situation. It can tell us how often the connectives however and therefore are used in academic writing compared to but and so, for example; and shed light on the appropriacy of certain words and grammatical constructions in certain instances. This could make English for Specific Purposes and Academic English teaching much more effective.

Reliability and Scope

Corpora can be used to help us see how generalisable a word is and how much scope it has. In this sense, scope is ‘the amount of times a rule is applied’.

An example of this is our use of ‘s‘ to form a plural. It is a very reliable rule and has a large scope for application.

This information can be useful because we can prioritise the learning of rules which have a broad scope. This will enable our learners to gather momentum faster and will get them interacting in English quicker. Of course there is a time for rules which throw up a lot of irregularities, but these can be presented after those with strong reliability and broad scope.


To my mind, this is where corpora and the concordancers come into their own and can offer a practical use for learners and teachers. Collocations are the words which are most often used with other words.

If you see: ____ a deal you will probably mentally fill in the blank with make. This is a strong collocation. Language corpora can help us out with identifying some of the most regular collocations but also serving as a reliable source when asked by a student (or even another teacher!) questions such as: Do you have or take a shower? 

Of course we can use either of those but with a corpus to hand we can give a definitive answer as to which is the more commonly used.


I might sound like I am selling English-language corpora for a living. In fact, I find them difficult to use, and I have doubts about whether we should be teaching just the highest frequency words because then words become self-perpetuating and fads become mainstream for longer.

Imagine a slang word that might be highly used and therefore is taught to students more often. Instead of being a funny word which passes through the language after a year it gets taught, memorised, used, and passed on; inadvertently cementing the funny slang word in the language for years to come. Sick.

In conclusion, corpus linguistics and the tools it uses are a way we can refine our teaching to better reflect the way in which English is used. It can provide us with a more realistic and reliable source of how language is used. It can provide shortcuts for learners and teachers. But, for this to happen, language corpora and concordancers need to be adapted so they can be easily accessed and effectively employed.

If, as they are for me, these ideas and the tools associated with corpus linguistics are tricky then that should not stop us trying to understand their relevance and application in language teaching. This a relatively new area of linguistics and an unfolding aspect of teaching. But to start, materials creators have a responsibility to consult with language corpora before designing courses and text books for our learners, who ultimately deserve to be taught with considered, effective, and authentic teaching resources. For our learners we need to make friends with the corpora.

The full research paper which I drew the majority of this information from is freely available here.

Plato’s iPad: The Latest Trends in ELT

The DoS Within: Being a Director of Studies

The Future of English-language Teaching and Learning

Is There a Need for Course Books in ELT?

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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in Challenges for ELT, Corpus Linguistics, ELT, Teaching Practice, technology

Plato’s iPad: The Latest Trends in ELT

Teaching is a timeless profession; the Greeks were doing it, Jesus was apt, and even Einstein wanted a piece of the action, but it’s difficult to see at first what has fundamentally changed in the way we teach since Plato was expounding his theory of Forms. 

Image Credit

But Plato didn’t have an iPad. Or Twitter. And he didn’t have access to an online language corpora with millions examples of language to compare. So what advantage do we really have now compared to our sandaled friends?

There are four aspects to this: the school, the methods, the teacher, and the student.

The School

The trend with English-language schools is towards the personalised and the informal.

In general, they are moving towards creating more of an environment which replicates the environment in which language is used outside. In other words: out with the rows of plastic and metal chairs in lines and in with bright comfy armchairs arranged in casual circles. Not only does this make the language school a more appealing place to go to learn and provide an a more realistic setting, but the informal decor helps lower students affective filter, putting the students at ease and therefore facilitating language use.

The Method

Although an ancient Greek philosopher might be at home with a communicative approach to learning he or she might not be quite as at home with task-based and project-based learning.

Although these methodologies are yet to be brought wholesale into our schools and classrooms they are undoubtedly making waves in various areas of education and there is a lot to be said for them. Essentially, these approaches advocate for a personalised and participatory approach to learning, which fits well with a communicative approach.

Task-based and project-based teaching and learning rely on the teacher carefully planning tasks and projects for students which will bring the learner into contact with language. One example might be setting a project for a group of students to work together designing a new city. It will require the students to negotiate (in English), become emotionally involved and invested in the outcome, and allow them choice over the final results. It gives power to the learners and increases engagement.

The Teacher

Today’s English-language teacher has a lot of resources to hand to help him or her in being the best teacher he or she can be.

There are plenty of online resources especially created for the busy teacher, as well as online courses and platforms for English teachers to chat and share ideas about teaching. One significant resource that some English teachers are starting to use is an English language corpus. The power of the internet has enabled us to collect and make available millions of examples of authentic English-language usage searchable. This sounds like a small thing but it is not just a collection of words and sentences.

By using a concordancer in concert with language corpura we can see which words commonly collocate or how often a word or phrased it used. This is bringing science to English-language teaching in the best possible way. It means we can actually check how often people say ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ before teaching it as required English, or which qualifier usually precedes exodus. We can show students examples from real texts from written or spoken sources. Using these tools is not easy, and just how to make the best of them so they don’t slow us down completely is still to be seen, but their potential for aiding the teaching of English is great.

The Student

Arguably though, the technological advancements we have made in the last few decades favour the language learner even more than the language teacher.

First of all there are all the (free!) resources available to students as increasingly companies find themselves giving away content that they used to charge for, for instance English File and Headway. As for teachers, there are plenty of chat rooms, Facebook groups, and Youtube videos for learners. Additionally there are also ways to connect directly with learners through sites like italki and Verbling and apps such as Hellotalk. These offer cheap or free interaction with English teachers, directly from the learner’s phone or computer.

All this technology means nothing if it is not being put to good effect but this is not just technology for technology’s sake; it actually provides something much more valuable than grammar exercises or access to an English teacher. It provides the freedom for the learner to learn when and how she or he wants. It empowers learners to reflect on their learning and ultimately it promotes independent and lifelong learning. This technology provides the degree of personalisation that has often been missing for anyone involved in education. If Plato could see us now, I think he’d be pretty chuffed.

The Future of English-language Teaching and Learning

The DoS Within

Is There a Need for Coursebooks in ELT?

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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in Challenges for ELT, ELT, Teaching Practice, technology