Twenty things in twenty years part seven: input is more important than output

To say that the CTEFLA that was my gateway into the world of English Language Teaching encouraged me to be output-focused would be an understatement. Like many teachers who’ve come through the British ELT system, with its roots firmly in that bare minimum of twenty days of training, and teaching practice from day two of your course, I had bred into me a deep fear of Teacher Talking Time (I can’t be the only one, for example, that was intimidated with lunatic Mathematics along the lines of ‘70% of the talk time should be theirs, leaving you with only 30%!’). This quite naturally engendered a desire to ensure that my students were kept talking at any cost. Indeed, so desperate was I to ensure that I managed to keep my students talking that for at least a year early on, this particular tome was my Bible:


It’s basically a recipe book full of activities designed to do what it says on the tin – keep student talking – and until tonight, I’d not looked at if for at least fifteen years. However, dusting my dog-eared copy down from the shelves, I see that I’ve highlighted several old favourites. There’s the aptly named MAD DISCUSSION for starters, which I believe I used to know as pizza or Paris, and which involves splitting the class into two teams, asking one member from each team to come forward and then have them talk about why their topic – picked at random from a bag – is better than that of their opponent. Pizzas or Paris, plastic spoons or zips, the wheel or detective novels, and so on. Then there was MAGIC SHOP, which involved each student getting three slips of paper, every one containing a different positive human quality (honesty, health, humility, adaptability, and so on). Students decide which qualities to keep and which to barter with others. They then get ten minutes’ bartering time before reporting back on which qualities they’ve ended up with and how happy this has made them! I could go on, but the urge to invent a time machine and go back and inflict serious damage on my younger self would start to become overwhelming.

Now, given the fact that a four-week course is never going to teach even the most remarkable trainee to really be able to do anything other than fake it, I suspect that much of the reason behind the relentless emphasis on STUDENT talking time is simply a fear that the novice teacher will start spouting rubbish given half a chance. I know for sure that I did, repeatedly, and I’ve seen plenty of other young teachers do the same, if not worse!

Instead, far better, the logic runs, to train the teacher to be some kind of all-singing, all-dancing entertainer who can magic fun out of anything available and who may not know much about language, but who sure knows how to get the party started. And once it starts ebbing, how to rekindle it and keep it burning all lesson long!


However, in reality, the fact that novices may well spout nonsense is actually an argument for introducing longer, more comprehensive and more language-focused teacher training courses for those entering the profession, or – at the very minimum – an argument for more serious discussion of what KINDS of teacher talk may be valid and what be more problematic, and why – rather than an argument in favour of endless activities and talking for its own sake.

Another argument put forward in support of an output-dominated pedagogy is the notion that if not here, then where? In other words, if students don’t practise in class, then where will they ever get the chance to do so? Interestingly, even more recent critiques of the state of affairs we’ve gotten ourselves into such as the Demand High idea propagated by Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill still seems more focused on methodology and on what we as teachers can do in terms of classroom techniques to encourage our students to produce more and to stretch and expand their output.

The result has long been, continues to be and sadly will probably continue to be, for as long as CELTAs are still regarded as serious gateways into the profession, classrooms full of clowns with their bags of tricks, recipes, fun in large neon lights, and loads of hot air. Signifying very little indeed.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way at all, you know! It took me a while to work this out, but once I did, the blinding obviousness of the revelation almost . . . um . . . well, blinded me, I suppose. Anyway, here’s the secret. It’s this: students don’t actually learn language by chatting away using the language they already have, now matter how much fun they may have in the process. They actually learn language from language. Not images. Not blank spaces in coursebooks left in to lighten the visual load on a page. Not from running round the classroom in a  frenzy. But from language.

Whilst it’s possible that some of the interaction students engage in with other students during a lesson may expose them to new input or encourage them to produce for themselves things that had hitherto remained stuck in the receptive parts of the brain, we need to accept that it also may NOT. This isn’t to say that there are no good reasons for still doing pair work: there are obviously plenty. It’s simply to state that linguistic development and enrichment are NOT among the activity’s prime functions!

To really get over the Intermediate hump and to progress anywhere near to Advanced level, students not only to practise again saying what they’ve already learned to say. They need to take on board large amounts – huge amounts even – of new language. They need to tighten up on their ability to use grammar, sure, but basically they need a ton of lexis: collocations, chunks, fixed and semi-fixed expressions, and so on. They need to meet these things repeatedly, they need to have certain salient features of them brought to their attention somehow and they need to do something – possibly, actually, they need to do almost anything – with them. Given that the teacher alone cannot be expected – or, of course, in most cases (my own included, I hasten to add!) be trusted – to provide sufficient relevant input themselves, via correction and teacher talk, then the issue of INPUT becomes perhaps the most pressing one that teachers have to think about.

Given that we seem to be living through the days of increasingly shrill rhetoric about flipped classrooms and that we’re constantly being told that technology now facilities exposure to English 24-7-365, many might argue that now more than ever the classroom should be output focused, but I would turn this on its head – or flip it, if you prefer (see what I did there!) – and ask if not in class, then where – and, more crucially, when?! The fact remains that for the vast majority of students, class is the one place where they have a hope of getting input pitched roughly at their level, which can then be mediated, explained, expanded upon, explored and revised by a professional – that’s us, kids – and that’s because most students who wind up in EFL classes, especially those who come as adults, are essentially failures in varying degrees. The lucky few, those who can learn a foreign language via interaction, are skipping class in favour of going out there and learning language through interaction! The rest of us miserable wretches all know what we ought to do if we really want to learn a foreign language well, but Lord knows that doing right is the hardest work there is on God’s own earth – and that it ain’t nowhere near as much fun as doing wrong.

If you’re honest, you know that most students don’t do much outside of class to push on from where they’re at. They do what we all do – take easy options and short cuts. They may well do some interactive stuff online, which is fine, but it’s not tackling new input; they may well try and tackle some insanely optimistically graded text of some kind – The Guardian, perhaps, or a two-hour movie that contains accents and language even native-speakers may well struggle with in places; but what all but the most motivated and focused few won’t do is read graded readers, do an hour (or even half an hour) a day from decent self-study vocabulary books, and so on. It’s too much like hard work.

And the fact that we not only have such an expression in English, but that it’s such common currency says much about the age in which we live, I fear!

Anyway, to wrap up for tonight, this is where the choice of material becomes crucial. Material we select for classroom use needs to take the weight of all these issues on its shoulders. It needs to amuse and entertain, for sure, but also it needs to push and stretch as well. On top of that, it needs to guide and shape awareness both of how language works and also of what needs to be done to get to the next rung on the ladder of linguistic competence. It needs, in short, to demand more of its users. And if we as teachers are serious about demanding high, then making sure our classes are focused first and foremost on input rather than output is not simply an option, but a must.

47 responses

  1. Somehow right posts seem to happen at the right time. Last week my Ss shared their thoughts via end-of-the-year feedback forms, and quite many things I read there find their echo in this post here. In a nutshell, my Ss asked for stricter correction, more difficult vocabulary, more listening and believe it or not, some even said “games are fine but they won’t help us enough”
    Thank you for another rich and relevant post.

    1. Hi Sirja –
      Thanks for taking the time to post.

      It’s interesting to see that students in other contexts also feel that this is an issue of concern to them.

      It’s obviously not unreasonable that students who’ve paid good money for a course come with an expectation that they will be taught new language – and plenty of it – but it’s amazing how often such expectations are either overlooked or downplayed by professionals in the ELT field!

  2. I worry a little, though, about all this input-centred stuff morphing into endless teacher talk, which can just send students to sleep. There has to be some *interaction* between the input and the students; there has to be some *processing* on behalf of the students, otherwise all we have is passive students who may – or may not – be paying attention to the teacher and the teacher droning on endlessly at the front of the classroom.
    During recent feedback sessions, I have tried (hopefully with a modicum of success) to keep my students engaged by offering feedback like this:
    I repeat something a student may have said, but – rather than writing everything on the board, because that is sometimes just too time-consuming, especially when a lesson is drawing to a close and everyone wants to leave on time – use a little “click” noise to indicate the missing word I want to hear. This can be one half of a collocation, for example, or the preposition, anything really.
    It might sound a little odd, but it seemed to keep the students attention focused, rather than just saying stuff AT them, they were being asked to do something at the same time. With one group I tried this with, this seemed to be a popular approach.

    1. Hi again Amanda –
      Lovely to see you back again!

      I’m obviously not advocating endless TTT that drones on and on at the expense of students’ interest, interaction or lifeblood!

      In many ways, actually, the input I was thinking of was less to do with TTT (though that can obviously play at least some kind of role) and more in the shape of decently graded reading and listening texts that have exercises connected to them which exploit some of the more useful, reusable language contained therein. I just think there’s generally too little of this kind of work in classes that I see (and ones I’ve taught myself in the past!) as teachers obsess far too much on getting students to talk instead. Material rich in input that’s at least potentially useful to students does, as you say, still need to be mediated between teacher and class, which will involve all manner of interactions, and students do need to do stuff with the input to stand at least a chance of proceduralizing it.

      In terms of what you’re talking about, where you’re giving little verbal signals to let students know that something needs changing or adding to in what they’re saying, that makes perfect sense to me and is a nice, concise, relatively unobtrusive way of seeing if students are able to tweak their own output before you step in and tweak it for them.

  3. In fact, the idea of clicking my tongue for the missing word was actually just a variation on your idea of putting up gapped sentences on the board, by the way. I didn’t consciously think of it in that way, but the idea is the same: to engage the students in some kind of cognitive processing, rather than just passively consume content.

    1. I think I do something similar both when trying to elicit words on the board that have been gapped in a sentence and which I’ve paraphrased or simply words which i think students should know and which I want to see if they can come up with. I usually just say MMM for each missing syllable, so maybe a short exchange will go something like this:

      Student: Tonight I suppose I go meet my friend, but I don’t want to now.
      Me: Tonight I?
      Student: Tonight I suppose I . . .
      Me: Tonight I’m MMM-MMM-MMM MMM meeting a friend of mine, but I don’t feel like it anymore. Anyone?
      Student 2: supposed to be
      Me: yeah, OK. I’m supposed to be meeting a friend of mine . . . again.
      Student: I’m supposed to be meeting a friend of mine . . .

      and so on.

      I’m sure many many teachers have developed similar techniques intuitively.
      They’re a convenient condensed aural shorthand.

  4. […] just read a blog by Hugh Dellar that quoted a warmer exercise lifted from Keep Talking by F. […]

  5. I think there are several things often missed about language practice. The first is that, in general, practice has been under-researched and poorly defined. The only book I have come across dedicated to this area is ‘Practice’ , edited by DeKeyser. This indicates that we don’t really know enough about the impact of practice linked to input and output on acquisition and there needs to be a lot more research about it. The second thing is that when students themselves are asked about language practice (rather than activities which promote speaking in general and for which they don’t really get feedback), in my experience, they tend to be in favour of it and see it as a rehearsal for real-world application where they can get feedback – something they are not likely to get outside the classroom. The last thing is that I think the value of asking students to discuss language (what it means, how it compares to the L1 etc) is often neglected but is itself a useful form of speaking task and is giving students practice in developing noticing skills.

    1. Hi Chris –
      Thanks for posting.

      I have to say, I think ‘practice’ dignifies the kind of nonsensical rabbiting I used to get my students to engage in, unless you want to term ‘any talking whatsoever for the purpose of simply filling up classroom time with student talk’ as something very loose and vague like speaking practice! I find that far too little of the talking students are asked / forced to engage in during lessons is actually specific practice of something in particular that has been taught, and where it is, it’s almost always slightly weird practice of discrete grammar structures – along the What would you do if . . . (you woke up and realised you were being burgled? etc.) lines.

      I’m all for practice of things students may at some point need to do outside of the classroom, though usually these are conversations of some kind, rather than use of one structure in isolation or a few individual words. Just as practising parking, say, involves doing several things at once – using the mirror, reversing, using the pedals, etc. – so too conversations involve using grammar, using lexis, using gambits, pronunciation, etc.

      So don’t get me wrong here: I wish more classes spent more time providing more input designed specifically to help students produce better conversations.
      Sadly, though, there’s far too much talk for the sake of talking and if there is practice, it’s all part of PPP-based lessons!

    2. Hi Chris,
      I liked this comment here:

      I totally agree!!! It would appear that *any* activity which engages learners and addresses *their* agenda is going to enhance the learning process. Therefore I can well imagine that if you picked out a particular chunk or sentence stem that is frequently used in normal interaction in English and asked students to just discuss it, you might get some interesting insights as a teacher, plus it would definitely draw students’ attention to that expression and make them think about it and notice it more in future.

      Talking *about* English – in whatever way that comes up – seems to me to be just as valid as talking *in* English. If the students are interested in the subject, then why not?

      1. Not sure which comment you’re writing in response to Amanda, as it doesn’t seem to have transferred over.
        I’m guessing it was the ‘talk about English part, yes?
        I’m with you both if that’s the case.

        As I’ve blogged about before, I’m a big fan of translation and using L1 / L2 comparisons to help students notice the gaps a bit more. Obviously works best – but not exclusively – if done by a bilingual teacher who shares a language with a monolingual group.

        But yes, also just getting students to talk about, for example, which of ten lexical items they most like and want to use most – and why . . . or if they have any experience of any of the items (when? what happened?) . . . or which items they associate with their life now, their life in the past and their life in the future, etc. can all be beneficial.

        I disagree, though, that talking about English is AS VALID AS talking in English simply because it’s possible to do one in L1, but not the other!
        I once spent a week in japan watching countless high-school teachers talking about English – and getting their students to do the same – but hardly heard a word of actual talk IN English the whole time.

        Knowing meta-language isn’t a problem per se, but we need to recognise that students are quite capable of learning the language to a high degree without really knowing much meta-language at all.
        After all, that’s what natives do, isn’t it.

      2. I didn’t express myself properly in one of the things I wrote earlier, Hugh. Sorry. I just want to clarify that I did NOT mean that students should talk in their first language about English, but actually, that talking ABOUT English IN English could be just as valid as doing a task-based activity in English.
        There is enough talking about English in languages other than English happening around the world, that’s for sure!
        No, what I meant was that it would be a perfectly valid activity for students to be given the task, for example, to choose some phrases which had come up during the course of a class – say, the stuff that has appeared on the board, or in a text – and that the students discuss together which five or ten phrases they like best, or which they dislike, which they would like to learn and why, that sort of thing. The object of the activity would be, one, to have some kind of discussion, but also to get the students to engage more actively with the vocabulary that had come up and to share their perspectives. I think if students choose their lexical lists themselves, rather than the teacher saying, “Learn page X of the book by next Tuesday”, that this might result in the students being able to remember their vocabulary better. Other students might point out an area of use for a phrase, for example, that another student hadn’t thought of, or one might point out that they didn’t need to learn word X because it sounded similar to a word in their own language and so on.
        I can imagine this being an activity that would work well in a multilingual class where one student might find a particular phrase/word particularly difficult or odd because of some connection to their first language (those odd false friends, for example, like the Spanish word that sounds like the English word “embarrassed”, but means ‘pregnant’, that sort of thing), whereas another might point out a different phrase for a different reason.
        I can also imagine that it might be nice for the students to have a few minutes to air their – possible – frustrations with learning or with English, and generate a bit of group solidarity, “We’re all in the same boat”, and bolster the feeling of belonging to a group where the members of the group offer each other support.
        That was the kind of scenario I had in mind.

      3. Hi again Amanda –
        Thanks for taking time to clarify what you meant before.
        I’m totally with you on the kind of exercises you outline above.
        I think in a sense it’s simply making explicit the reality of what occurs anyway as students generally tend to mainly learn what they feel – whether consciously or unconsciously – will be of most use to them in the future. Getting students to think abut and to explain what they most want to take away fro the class is great.
        I have a sneaking suspicion that I may well have first encountered this idea in Mario Rinvolucri’s sometimes exasperating and eccentric, sometimes utterly inspired VOCABULARY book for the OUP Resource Books for Teachers series, which contains plenty of other similar ideas as well.

  6. couldn’t agree more!!!

    1. Well, that’s nice to know.
      Glad you enjoyed it Maria.

  7. Hugh- I agree of course that aimless speaking tasks with no feedback or outcome are likely to have little value. And I would agree that some contrived practice tasks which focus only on a structure are also highly limited. I would be very happy never to see a ‘what would you do if you won the lottery?’ type exercise again! I think discourse competence (spoken or written ) should be what we are aiming for and that will involve a lot of different types of language. I think though that you are a little tough on PPP as a framework and slightly misrepresent it. The first thing is that it doesn’t have to be used for grammatical structures – there are a few lesson ideas in Implementing the Lexical Approach which show how it can be adapted to use with a lexical focus, for example. The second thing is that I am not sure it is widely used as is sometimes suggested. In Japan, to give an example, a lot of state school teaching I have seen is really just grammar translation – no context, no awareness raising and certainly no practice. In this case PPP would be a radical improvement! The third thing is that I think while PPP may give beginner teachers confidence, it can also give lower level learners confidence, at least for a short time.The last thing is that despite the bashing it has had, there is very little research evidence that other methods, frameworks or approaches are better in terms of acquisition or that PPP is better either. If we take TBLT as an example, nobody (to my knowledge) has done a real comparison of this with PPP or another approach, or of OHE with TBLT etc. As mentioned, there is a need for more of this type of research. None of this is to say i think it is the best framework to use or the one which should always be used – I definitely don’t!

    1. Hi again Chris –
      Looks like we have plenty of common ground here then!
      I agree, by the way, that PPP doesn’t have to be used exclusively for grammatical structures, but would suggest that in actuality this IS what it’s mainly used for.
      It’s certainly what most novice teachers are taught to do with it on CELTAs and the like, and in none of my own training and development was it ever suggested that it could subverted or used in a different way!
      It’s widely used still by teachers coming from that initial training set-up anyway.
      And it’s also still the basis of many huge-selling coursebooks along the Headway, English File lines.

      In terms of it being a sort of model that can be used in a broader sense, I kind of hear you. I guess it could (but very rarely is, I’d venture) also be a way of presenting chunks and bits of lexis, getting students to practice them and then produce them, but I’d suggest that it’s not best suited to vocab as what does the presentation stage involve if you do things this way? The teacher simply giving examples of words in context and explaining them? Not convinced – or even really sure what a PPP lesson for vocabulary would really look like. Got any ideas or examples?

      As for PPP being better than the kind of grammar translation students all too often still get given in japan, that’s as maybe, but it’s bit like saying a badly bruised arm is better than a broken one. Ideally, you want a fully functioning arm, surely!

      It may well be that lower level learners find PPP comforting, but I just don’t see the point in offering false comfort.
      Why foster an enthusiasm for something so clearly innately flawed?
      Why not work out instead what else might work better and how students at lower levels could be made to feel secure studying THAT instead?

  8. Hugh,

    Leaving the input / output debate aside I wanted to mention my experience of hiring teachers for a large bi national institute in Santiago. Of the native speaking teachers I met and interviewed I’d say only about 10% had a qualification that could be compared to a CELTA. Most had ‘online’ certificates, of varying length and quality. Sometimes, when I asked about if they had considered other courses, they said yes, but price and duration really dictated their decision. A month was too long!

    For people who imagine they will be teaching English for a year or so it seems most unlikely they will sign up for anything even approaching the length and cost of a CELTA, let alone anything else.

    Perhaps the thing to do would be to change the content of the CELTA, rather than ditching it completely.

    I did a CELTA way back when. I know where you are coming from. The Communication Games Compendium was the most dog-eared book in the IH staff room. I still think, however, that it was better to have done it than not done it. Of course now, 12 years later and bogged down in an MSc I can pick big holes in it, but it did help at the time (a bit).

    1. Hi Kevin –
      Yeah, obviously if the choice is a CELTA or nothing or a CELTA versus some dodgy online thing that took two days to complete then there’s no competition.
      And obviously the CELTA is not totally useless.
      It was also my starting point and seems to have provided at least some kind of bedrock for me to build upon subsequently.

      I know all the arguments in favour of its existence, market realities being prime among them, but still feel that if Cambridge willed it to be so, they could tomorrow decide to double the size of the thing and make eight weeks the minimum entrance bar to the profession. As long as we have an official body saying you’re ready to roll after what in many cases is only nineteen days of study, we have no hope of ever really being taken that seriously as a profession.

      I’d also obviously like to see the content rejigged and rethought as well, yes.

      As for those trying to get into the industry on the back of Mickey Mouse qualifications, it happens here too. I had to recently send out a generic rebuttal to an cold caller saying that we only employed folk with DELTAs and got an outraged email back telling me they didn’t want to do teacher training, just teach! If anyone seriously thinks they can pass themselves off as a teacher after anything LESS than a CELTA, they need a profound reality check.

      Or, as I guess the market dictates, a 35-hour-week at less than minimum wage!!!

  9. Hi Hugh

    The essence of your argument is this: To progress anywhere near to Advanced level, students not only to practise again saying what they’ve already learned to say. They need to take on board huge amounts of new language. They need a ton of lexis: collocations, chunks, fixed and semi-fixed expressions, and so on. They need to meet these things repeatedly, they need to have certain salient features of them brought to their attention somehow and they need to do something – possibly, actually, they need to do almost anything – with them. So the issue of INPUT becomes perhaps the most pressing one that teachers have to think about.

    How do they get this ton of lexis? Why do they need it? What salient features of them need brought to their attention? And what, more precisely, do they need to do with them? Even supposing you could sharpen up these general terms, I wonder where you get this general argument from. SLA research in the last 15 years would question it. I recommend Ritchie and Bhatia (eds) (2009) The New Handbook of SLA, and, in particular, Hawkins’ Chapter 10 “SLA of Morphosyntax”; Gor and Long’s Chapter 19 “Input and Second Language Processing”; and Pica’s Chapter 20 “SLA in the Instructural Environment”.

    Hawkins argues that the relationship between performance and the underlying representation of the L2 speaker’s knowledge of morphosyntax is the key to pushing leaners beyond what he calls the steady state grammar they use. He says research suggests that one essential matter is that the feature values of functional categories are L1 influenced.

    Gor and Long argue that the best way to push learners beyond the intermediate level is by elaboration of the basic vocabulary and syntax; by interaction during TBL activities where negative feedback (particularly recasts) is vital; and by paying attention to the fragile elements of the language which I referred to in my talk. Connecting input to processing is the key in their opinion.

    Pica suggests that recasts, modified input (even at advanced levels), form-focused instruction, processing instruction, output, learner readiness (The Teachability Hypothesis) and better-constructed tasks are keys.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think tons of input, concentrating on lexical chunks and the like, is a sufficient condition for progressing beyond an intermediate level.

    1. Hi Geoff –
      Thanks as ever for this.
      I do think, though, that you’ve neatly summarised the limitations of SLA research personally!

      You’re entirely correct in your summary of my argument, yes.

      To put it in even more of a nutshell, it’s this: the real difference between Intermediate and Advanced learners is the latter know a lot more language.
      As such, one of the major roles of the teacher of students between these levels is to provide input that will hopefully be of utility to them.

      The extra questions you then ask are obviously all valid and I’ll try to pen a few thoughts in response to them.

      How do they get this ton of lexis?
      By doing a LOT of vocabulary exercises, by being trained to notice better and to keep better vocabulary records, by learning how to revise and recycle these records and by reading lots of texts around or slightly above their current level, through loads of listening to texts around or slightly above their current level. Though a lot of this will need to happen outside of class, much of it can also be done in class, and the in-class work can feed into and inform the out-of-class work.

      Why do they need it?
      Because without it, they do not get to become Advanced. It’s surely not controversial to suggest that advanced learners know more language than lower-level learners, is it?
      Look at the exams that test proficiency, such as FCE and CPE. One of the most glaringly obvious differences between them is that the latter contains a LOT more language that students need to be able to process quickly in order to do well. Look at the writing or speech of fluent users compared to Intermediate ones, and note the vast gulf between the two in terms of lexical resources, use of collocations, turns of phrase, naturalness and so on.

      What salient features do they need to notice?
      Well, it depends on the items, doesn’t it. If the word is responsible, for example, they need to notice that in English it’s not a noun like it may be in their own L1, and that we don’t say I am the responsible of . . . as they might in L1, but I’m responsible for. They need to notice that this may well be followed by an -ing form as in I’m responsible for hiring and firing. There’s endless stuff like this that’s item-specific and that needs to somehow be taken on board if students are ever going to produce it accurately. Unless you simply abandon teaching and trust acquisition somehow!

      What do they need to do with them?
      In short, learn them! How they do this is dependent on many factors, but can / will / should involve revising and recycling, testing, rote learning, translating, meeting again over time and so on.

      I haven’t read the Ritchie and Bhatia book you mention, so am aware that my comments here are entirely speculative, but it’s interesting how grammar-focused the stuff you mention sounds.
      The Hawkins sounds like it’s essentially interested in how learners fine-tune their own underlying notion of grammar changes over time!
      Pica insists of yet more focus on form, which presumably means grammatical form.
      Where do they suggest the lexis needed to step up gets learned or appears from? Solely from recasting?

      And Gor, Long et al seem to be suggesting that the Intermediate – Advanced classroom consists of little more than talking and recasting -and that all learning and improvement can only stem from input directly connecting to previous output. Anyone who’s been in a classroom over time will know this is wishful thinking at best. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for talking plus recasting being part and parcel of a day’s teaching, and do plenty of it myself, but many students remain resistant to taking corrections / recasts on board, no matter how salient they may appear to be; at the same time, other students rote learn or study items not immediately connected to what they are trying to say, either in class or in their own time at home, and absorb and are able to re-use much of this.

      In the end, the problem with the talk-plus-recast model is it leads straight to Dogme, which I’ve discussed my problems with elsewhere at great length.
      the bottom line is the teacher needs to fill the classroom time in ways that seem most likely to lead to the students taking on more language, as there’s a hell of a lot of language out there that needs to be learned. It seems a profoundly simplistic and naive notion to place the whole weight of this provision onto the teacher’s shoulders, and to insist it can only happen in response to output.

      Finally, for the record, I’m not saying that tons of input, concentrating on lexical chunks and the like is the ONLY route to development past Intermediate.
      Just that it is logical to assume the road forward must tend towards this direction if greater competence is to be achieved.
      This isn’t to deny the importance of output or feedback or focus on grammatical forms; simply to insist they cannot be the main focus.

  10. Thanks for the comments Hugh.
    An example of a PPP lesson on lexis could be something such as the picture story with ‘get’ collocations (‘My friend John’s bad day’) in Implementing the Lexical Approach. Students hear the story and order pictures, match with collocates used (P), teacher checks meaning of and elicits collocates and drills them, students repeat story (P), students make their own story with collocates plus extras if needed. The ‘present’ bit here is inductive and in essence guided discovery. I think again a mis-characterisation of PPP (by Lewis and others)is that the presentation has to be teacher-centred and deductive. That’s a useful way of setting it up to knock it down and he produces no evidence for the success of OHE, despite its attraction. I hope CELTAs and the Cert TESOLs don’t still over-emphasise that this is ‘the way’ to teach grammar or can only be used with grammar but that may happen in some instances I guess.
    What I was saying about Japan that actually there PPP would be a small step forward and though not the answer, would be better than the current state of things. Believe me, in that context I would really favour a lexical/functional syllabus with teaching which tried to develop real communicative competence but I cannot see that happening there anytime soon, at least not in the state sector.
    As for the likes of Headway etc – I am no fan but I think the biggest issue is the structural syllabus and the obsession with tense and aspect that is the real issue, rather than the frameworks they use. This does fly in the face of all the evidence from corpus linguistics which shows that much language is formulaic and how important lexis and lexico-grammar are in building communicative competence.

    1. Hi again Chris –
      Thanks for taking the time to explain more about how you see PPP as applying to lexis.

      I guess you could call that kind of story presentation with a receptive processing task followed by a more productive stage some sort of PPP, yeah.

      Obviously, though, it differs from the classic grammar structure PPP lessons in that the initial language is simply conveyed to students as a story and they do something with it BEFORE it’s checked, clarified and expanded upon, whereas for grammar lessons the target sentence is the starting point and is explained, checked and drilled before students do anything meaningful with it.

      I absolutely agree that the fundamental problem with Headway and all the subsequent generations of mini-mes that have followed in its wake, keen to pick up sales in its vast wake, is the insistence on the slow unfolding on discrete grammar structures, but would argue that PPP remains the dominant methodology through which this is carried out and has thus become the main way in the majority of teachers, who become conditioned by the methodology suggested to them by the books they use, think about how not only grammar should be taught, but even more perniciously how language actually IS. And that’s why it’s harder for students to use the language they’re studying with any real degree of competence – and why it’s harder for writers and teachers who don’t buy into this vision of learning and teaching to get other possible ways of doing things out there into the wider world.

      Of course, this needs to be countered first and foremost by focusing on how the vision of language in such books is a misrepresentation (or gross oversimplification for (supposed) pedagogic purposes, if you prefer) of how language is actually used, and the reality of language use is more subtle and, as you note, rooted in chunks and the formulaic and in lexico-granmmar.

      Oh, and I’m certainly not suggesting that simply replacing PPP with OHE would sort out anything much, and share your skepticism about it as a framework.

      Finally the pretty grim picture of Japanese ELT that you paint does very much match my experience of seeing it in action, and I too hold out little hope of much major change there in the foreseeable future.
      Very rarely has so much effort been expended and so many hopes and enthusiasms dashed so repeatedly with such little end product to show!

      1. I wouldn’t want to suggest that all ELT in Japan is bad – there are loads of good non-native and native teachers at all levels in all sectors. It’s just that in the state system, teachers are pressured to follow a prescribed syllabus which is based on a grammatical syllabus. There is lots of talk about communication and CLT but often only a vague notion of how to teach communicatively. In this context PPP would be a radical step forward!
        I don’t see PPP as a ‘methodology’, just one way of organising the stages of a language lesson and I’m not sure the way you and I may have had it demonstrated to us at pre-service level still remains. Certainly, a pictorial presntation of the type you describe (and Scrivener reviewed at IATEFL last year, I think) would probably be seen as a novelty by trainees I teach! I would also hope that learning to adapt textbook material and teach the students and not the book is part of every pre-service training course.Perhaps the issue is with the word ‘presentation’ to some degree? This can imply a teacher-fronted, sentence-based explanation, whilst it should really be a form of contextualisation and involve looking at language at a text level.
        Regarding OHE and PPP, a research student of mine has just completed a study comparing these two ways of teaching chunks, actually. She wanted to test out Lewis’ quite bold claims for OHE and contrasted with PPP as he is so negative about it. She found (using receptive and productive tests at pre, post and delayed stages) that both were effective for teaching chunks, with PPP slightly more effective for receptive and productive knowledge but not enough to be statistically significant. She also foiund a lot of interesting data by interviewing learners and finding out what they though about each framework and practice in general. Hopefully some of the results will get published and presented so I’ll let you know when that happens.
        Just on the ‘may/might’ issue mewntioned below, I am not that surpised about this. Corpora show that modality is often expressed in spoken language in ways which do not involve the use of modal verbs – with chunks containing adverbs such as ‘porbably’ and ‘possibly.

      2. Hi again Chris –
        I am sure you’re right about the fact that there must be plenty of great teaching going on in Japan.
        Same must apply to pretty much anywhere, I’d imagine.
        The stuff I went over to observe WAS state sector, though, and as you said, it was very very rigid, very grammar focused and actually almost always delivered in L1!

        Just to clarify, I don’t see PPP as ‘a methodology’ either.
        It’s more just a way of getting grammar to students and one that I still think is more common than you’re suggesting.
        Partly this is simply due to the fact that so many coursebooks are, as I said before, essentially based on it.
        Obviously, it IS possible to use these books and adapt them, but when you have the slow unfolding of atomistic structures so completely at the core of a series, it’s bloody hard to really subvert it into anything else. far better, I feel, to simply rip it all up and start again!

        Oh, and it’s not presenting per se that I have an issue with.
        It’s WHAT the teacher is presenting – and why.

        Do keep me posted, by the way, on that research you referred to.
        Sounds interesting.

  11. Dear Hugh,

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    1. Hi Liza –
      Thanks for this.
      I’m happy to publish the comment, though I should add that until I’ve had a proper look at the site myself, I would also like to clarify here that it’s not in any way – yet – recommended by me.
      I’m wary in general about allowing the site to become a space for advertising, even of the soft variety such of this post.
      Hope you understand.
      Of course, it may well be that the site is excellent – you certainly make it sound good.
      It’s just that I’ve learned it’s wise to take such publicity with a pinch of salt until I’ve had sufficient time and energy to digest things further.

  12. Hi Hugh,

    Well you’re right about 1 thing: SLA research has no definitive answers to the question of how to push students beyond the intermediate level!

    And your answers to my questions are helpful and, IMHO, have a lot to recommend them.

    I gave a very bad summary of the 3 articles I mentioned, and your intelligent response addresses more my bad summary than their work.

    All I’m saying is (a tired cliche that I most often use with my daughter in pointless arguments!) the problem is complex and involves the development of an interlanguage. If we can accept that the interlanguage involves more than just lexis, that it involves more than input, that fragile parts of the target language don’t get noticed unless attention is drawn to them, that transfer from the L1 continues to play a big part in learner errors, that recasts during participation in suitable communicative activities (where new vocab. is introduced) are important, and that “tons” of lexis needs to be better-defined, using needs analysis, for example, then I think we’ll, as usual, largely agree.

    I had a student up here the other day, who has passed the Cambridge Proficiency exam (which, BTW, is absurdly culturally-biased and includes tons of lexis nobody needs to know) and I asked him what he was going to do at the weekend. While his reply was fluent, confident and informative, he didn’t use “may” or “might” (We may do this, we might do that) once. That’s just one example of how students get stuck with their own repertoire and manage very well with it. I personally don’t see the use of “may” as a lexical affair, but maybe you do.

    I applaud your continual -and continuous 🙂 – attempts to make us think about what we’re doing, and the very accessible and engaging way you go about it. Good on you sport ,as Michael Lewis suggests saying when in Sydney.

    1. Hi again Geoff –
      I fear one of the issues with SLA, much as I’m interested in it and keep a keen eye on things, whenever I can find time to, is partly that there are simply too many variables in language learning to ever really be able to verify anything much with any degree of certainty; partly, in addition, there’s the fact that often SLA research ends up answering the question it sets out to explore, irrespective of whether or not that might have been the best question to seek answers to in the circumstances.

      My gut feeling is that this will be one of the gripes about things like the Hawkins work you mentioned. It sounds to me as if what Hawkins has done is ask how students’ underlying representation of morpho-syntax changes as they progress from Intermediate to Advanced, and has then extrapolated the findings out into some kind of broader theory of progressions. I’d suggest a more interesting question would’ve been “In what ways does the language use of an Advanced speaker of English differ from that of an Intermediate student? And what does this suggest about what occurs – and thus what needs to occur – as learners move from one stage to the next?”

      Anyway, glad my answers at least clarified my own feelings on these issues, if nothing else.

      As for all that you are saying, I think we’re in broad agreement. Only a fool would suggest progression ONLY involves one thing or another.
      In fact, I suspect that what you’re calling the ‘fragile features’ of language are basically very similar to the kinds of thing I’m suggesting students need to notice – and to be helped to notice better – when learning lexis in combination with grammar and co-text, in context.

      I also agree that the ‘tons of lexis’ does need defining.
      One of the things we’ve tried our darndest to focus on as writers is starred words in the key learner dictionaries, words in particular than fall into the ‘among the 5000 most frequent words’ bracket.
      This is obviously not the ONLY criteria of value when deciding on lexical input, but it’s a bloody good starting point and reference.

      As for the student who’d become very fluent whilst still side-stepping may / might (presumably by doing what many of my higher level students do – saying I think I will or Perhaps I will instead) . . . well, the interesting thing is that you CAN get to CPE without having this on board because essentially it doesn’t get in the way of communicating. The student must at the same time have had a broad range of other language available to them that allowed them to express all manner of ideas and concepts. It also cannot be down to lack of exposure or chances to notice that this had not been absorbed yet – and quite possibly no amount of recasting (a teacher saying I MIGHT every time they heard I THINK I WILL) would dislodge this habit. Perhaps the real crux of the matter is – and this is another reason why I say SLA still sees grammar as more important than maybe it is – that ultimately it really doesn’t matter much which of these ways of expressing uncertainty is used as all do the job! Perhaps fretting about MAY, MIGHT or I THINK I WILL at this level is a distraction and perhaps real competence lies elsewhere. Also, one final perhaps . . . perhaps it’s mainly only natives who care whether someone uses one possible grammatical choice or another!

      Curious, by the way, to see some examples of what you’d regard as the cultural bias of CPE.

  13. SLA research is not only concerned with grammar, Hugh; nor even does it constitute the focus of most articles and books on the subject.

    A quick list of things that SLA research has concerned itself with in the last few years:

    . Critical period
    – Pronunciation
    . Classroom instruction
    . Syllabus Design
    . Testing
    . Error correction
    – Language variation
    . Sociocultural approaches to SL ability
    . The lexicon
    . Pragmatics
    . Individual differences
    . Affective factors
    . New learning contexts

    There are many variables in any study of any phenomenon. Good research tries to operationalise the constructs needed to isolate this variable and to begin with a hypothesis which can be empirically tested.

    You might think that most SLA research ends up answering the question it sets out to explore, irrespective of whether or not that might have been the best question to seek answers to in the circumstances. While answering the question you set out to explore is surely a “good thing”, it is not the case that most SLA research comes up with the answers it “wanted” (i.e. the data supports the hypothesis) and nor is it the case that the questions are usually the wrong ones – tho that is certainly sometimes the case, and there’s a lot of very bad stuff that gets published. REplication studies, for example, are a vital part of any serious study in any field, and their use in SLA research has played a very important role – see the history of morpheme studies, for example.

    I’m afraid you’ve got Hawkins’ argument quite wrong, which is entirely my fault.

    As for the cultural bias in CFE, I’ve had look at 2012 papers and can’t find anything to bitch about. The last time I was an examiner for this exam was in, gulp, 1987! I gather that now you don’t have to wear a gown to enter the exam room, that you don’t have to write your answers in green ink with a Parker 51, and that in the oral exam you don’t have to put 5 plums in your mouth before you go in. My, my, I really must pay attention to what’s going on outside my own little world. Tell me: Do you still, as I do, use Pears Cyclopaedia (1897) for quick general reference?

    1. Thanks, as ever, for this Geoff.

      Glad to see that CPE emerged relatively unscathed from your brief inspection of it.
      I think it’s a very very god exam indeed and genuinely rewards those with real competence in the language.
      The only real issue for me is that it’s the current end point for the Cambridge suite of exams, whereas in reality there’s a huge amount of language still out there post-CPE.

      Back to SLA . . . I obviously didn’t wish to imply that SLA research was exclusively concerned with grammar, and apologise if that’s how it came across.
      Just that the research you outlined, and admittedly, I only have your word for it, seemed that way inclined.

  14. Hi Hugh,
    I’m a newcomer to this blog and have found it immensely lucid, informative and entertaining. Really great stuff.
    I can’t help feeling that this post though is less about the input / output issue and more about giving the CELTA a right good kicking. I think your main criticism is right; that 4 weeks is a risible amount of training and does not prepare candidates sufficiently for the rigours of teaching English on a daily basis. I do think, however, that you are unduly harsh in some of your comments, e.g. “a four-week course is never going to teach even the most remarkable trainee to really be able to do anything other than fake it”. While it may certainly be true for the majority of candidates, in my experience each course throws up one or two teachers with a genuine gift for teaching, an inherent interest in language (that this quality is so rare is a little worrying), and a desire to try new things out in the classroom in order to assess their impact on learning. I imagine it is these candidates who go on to make a career of teaching, become trainers and start writing blogs, rather than using it as a means to earn some money while travelling (or increasingly in the UK, misguidedly see it as a short cut to a public sector teaching career). Of course, these candidates have yet to worship at the altar of Michael Lewis, or are yet to see that most of their language knowledge will be deconstructed later down the line but they are not faking it; even at this early stage they do have the ability to enthuse their students and teach them something of value.
    So what is to be done about this woefully insufficient training? Well, you’ve answered that. It is “longer, more comprehensive and more language-focused teacher training courses”, not unlike the degrees and masters you run at your institution I suppose. But until the market rewards such programmes, it’s difficult to see their practical value. Do a masters in EFL in the UK and what awaits you at the end of it? A cleaner’s salary at the Garden of Eden School of English or perhaps the hallowed turf of an FE College where you’ll actually be remunerated at the same level as a mainstream teacher but never be able to teach any of the stuff you’ve learnt because you won’t be doing anything other than basic literacy and crowd control.
    To take the tired old analogy so beloved of CELTA trainers, the qualification is like a driving license (it may be an analogy that says more about the paucity of driving instruction than teaching). At the end of it, candidates can be allowed into a classroom but it doesn’t mean they’ll be any good. Now, this may not be an ideal state of affairs, but as you said in a response to an earlier comment, it is ‘market forces’ that sadly dictate this and those candidates I mentioned earlier, with a genuine flair for teaching, will find their own way. They will take their training further, they’ll read blogs like this, they’ll attend conferences and they’ll think about how language is used and how it can be taught most effectively. They will always be a minority until the market changes because while all around the world there are millions of people queuing up to attend language classes, the demand for English teachers will outstrip the rate at which the sausage factories can churn them out.
    Having said all that, your suggestion that Cambridge “double the size of the thing and make eight weeks the minimum entrance bar to the profession” is a great one and one which I believe most ELT professionals would embrace. So perhaps, essentially, we’re saying the same thing.
    Once again, thanks for a fascinating blog.

    1. Hi Jon –
      Firstly, I guess I should really welcome you to the site and to thank you for taking the trouble to not only find me here, but to read and respond as well!
      It really does make the effort of blogging worthwhile when folk stumble upon my ramblings and enjoy them!

      As far as your accusation goes that this post is more about CELTA courses than about the input / output issue, there’s obviously a grain of truth in that, but I guyess I’d say it was about both, really, and particularly about the way in which the former impacts upon the latter in, as I see it, profoundly damaging ways.

      I take your point about my use of the phrase ‘faking it’, though, and accept it’s little harsh.
      Clearly, as someone who was once myself the product of a four-week CELTA course and who’s gone on to forge some kind of decent career in the field, I’d be mad to argue against you.
      I was thinking about a TV show we had here a few years called Faking It, which would take, say, a public schoolboy from Eton and in the space of a month train him how to pass himself off as a doorman at a rough East End bar. It was amazing how many learned to fake it, and of course given time many of these folk could have gone on to develop careers in their new fields, had they wanted to, and they were all clearly able to do whatever it was they’d been trained to with at least some degrees of skills. It’\s just that all to often they’d learn the exterior codes and mannerisms without really understand why they were doing what they were doing, and that’s the same for CELTA graduates, I feel.

      If we’re saying it’s better than nothing and that from these small seeds, greater trees can grow etc then of course that’s all true.

      I hear you loud and clear on the arguments against lengthening the initial entry courses into EFL.
      These are the same arguments Cambridge puts forward when it’s suggested to them that one month is paltry.
      It’s a chicken and egg situation in excelsis, and obviously JUST introducing longer courses isn’t going to automatically lead to better p;ay, conditions or employment prospects . . . certainly not in the immediate future especially. However, it would send a unilateral message that Cambridge expect more and take the profession more seriously, which may have longer term benefits. I may well be incredibly naive here, of course. I was, after all a teenage CND member who believed that the first step towards world peace was for someone to put down their weapons and given that no-one else seemed keen to do it, maybe we should lead by example. It’s one everyone has to make their own mind up on, but change will never come until the first person is big enough to step forward and change!

  15. […] ensure my classes were filled with ‘fun stuff’ for my students to do, ideally – as previously stated – stuff that kept students on a potentially endless riff of […]

  16. Hi Hugh, I came across your post via a blogpost that was shortlisted for the British council blog award, in which your post was mentioned, though in the comments you pointed out that you weren’t endorsing the activity in question. Anyway, all in all my curiosity was aroused, particularly as I saw you talk at IATEFL this year, and so I decided to have a look.

    It’s an interesting post, equally interesting are all the comments. In your one just above, you say “It’s just that all to often they’d learn the exterior codes and mannerisms without really understand why they were doing what they were doing, and that’s the same for CELTA graduates, I feel.” – I think this is spot on. Certainly it’s how it was for me when I graduated from CELTA – although I did make every effort to continue learning as much as possible beyond the course. Having now done a DELTA and nearly an M.A., I’m beginning to understand the “why” a lot better. I think the CELTA is a basic classroom survival qualification, really.

    Anyway, I shall look forward to reading more of your blog posts.


    1. Hi Lizzie –
      Many thanks for finding me here.
      You certainly sound like you took a bit of a scenic route on your way to this place!

      Was the post that lead you here something about games?
      I have a vague memory of writing something scathing somewhere about them!

      Anyway, hope you’ll find a fair few other posts to pique your interest as well.
      There’s plenty around the whole Dogme theme, as you’ll notice, which is what spurred the talk I did at IATEFL into life this year.

      Oh, and your comments about how you felt after having done a CELTA echo how so many of us felt, I know. It took me at least five years of being in the classroom every day and reading a hell of a lot, talking about teaching a hell of a lot, and just generally scratching my head to get to any kind of principles behind what it was I thought I was doing! And then maybe another five for the principles to really solidify and to start to inform real pedagogical practice, so fear not. You sound as though you’re advancing well along the trajectory all self-respecting teachers must follow!

      1. Hi Hugh,
        Definitely a scenic route – I wonder how I haven’t managed to find your blog before, it must have slipped through my net. Yes, it was about games and it was rather scathing! In fact, I was almost nervous you’d bite my head off if I replied here… however, quite the opposite – your post is very reassuring: you see, one of the main things I’ve learnt in doing my courses (the Delta was integrated into the M.A.) over the past year is just how little I know and how much there is to learn, and my confidence is rather low at the moment, so it’s nice to hear someone admit to it taking time for things to really settle in to place. Thanks for the link to the Dogme stuff – it looks really useful. I suspect your blog is definitely going to be part of my further learning! I’m glad to have found it.
        Thank you :-),

      2. Hi again Lizzie –
        Glad you’ve found that the welcome here wasn’t quite as scathing and terrifying as perhaps I may have led you to expect! Barks and bites and all that!

        As for the learning curve, yeah . . . we’ve all been through or it.
        Or are going through it now.
        Or ought to get ourselves on to it sometime soon!!

        As I may have said before, looking back on it, I think that by the time I ENDED my DELTA I was really only just starting to develop a sense of self as a teacher and get to grips with some basic principles that I felt I wanted to teach by, but it still took me another three or four years before this all really coalesced into something approaching a serious pedagogy.

        Anyway, looking forward to having you around here and to seeing more comments in the future.


      3. Hi Hugh,
        I would have responded sooner – because once again this latest comment of yours was very, very reassuring at a time when my confidence was mega-low – but been hectic busy and then was away for the last ten days. I think I am exactly the same – just starting to develop a sense of self as a teacher and get to grips with stuff. The good news is, I just got my Delta results and got distinctions in all 3 modules. But (see here for me what it really means is I just at least feel well equipped to get learning properly now. So I’ve progressed from super-low confidence only to now being cautiously optimistic about all the learning to come and hopeful that in time things will begin to settle and I might get a bit of confidence in time.
        You will definitely see more comments from me in future – once I’ve had time to read more of your stuff. I started watching the video clip on your post about the Lexical Conference and *still* haven’t had time to finish but am very interested to do so. But once my dissertation is in (13th Sept), I will suddenly have a lot more freedom in choosing what to read and do in my “spare time”! And there’s such a lot of interesting stuff to choose from, and so much to learn… I love it! 🙂
        Best wishes,

      4. Hi again Lizzie –
        Wow! Congratulations on your Dip results.
        That’s no mean feat.
        You must be very pleased with that.

        I’ve often felt that it’s actually the most self-punishing / self-critical teachers who are the ones with the most potential to develop and grow, and worry much more when I meet young teachers who think everything’s hunky dory than I do when they’re reflective and hard on themselves, so it doesn’t surprise to me to see that low self-esteem and self-doubt goes hand-in-hand with such excellent scores and performance.

        Anyway, good luck with the rest of the work – and looking forward to seeing you post more around here in the future.

        But for God’s sake make sure you cut yourself some kind of slack sometime soon and get some well deserved R&R in!

      5. Hi Hugh,
        Yup, I can still hardly believe it! I had reached the point of just hoping beyond hope that I had passed everything so that I wouldn’t have to resubmit anything! And I didn’t think I would do well in module 2 because although I did well internally, the final LSA was quite traumatic because half the upper int class hadn’t shown up (the better ones) and so a bunch of intermediates had been added to the class, none of whom I knew/had taught before. So the lesson was not the right level for the class, so I had to change my aims on the hoof, so that I could teach the learners rather than the plan…So it wasn’t what you would call a smooth lesson!
        Still, all’s well that ends well I suppose. Now at least I can get on with getting to grips with what I’ve learnt and adding to it. Phew!
        As for R&R, today is the one day this month that I am at home, don’t have to go anywhere, don’t have to see anybody and don’t have to do anything (other than work on my dissertation and housework-y sorting-y stuff). Bliss! Things will perhaps ease slightly at the end of August when I finish the current job and have a few weeks before I start my next one.
        So, realistically, I probably won’t have time to read/watch stuff on your blog till September! Still, it’s something for me to look forward to. And, scarily enough, September is not far away…

      6. September is so not far away that we’re already in it and I’m only just getting round to posting a response to this, Lizzie, for which my apologies.
        August passed in a blur of summer school and ten glorious days’ holiday in Denmark!
        Am now slowly gearing up for the coming term, which promises to be mad busy as ever!

        Your TP sounds eminently sensible and I suspect simply being able to show that you’re aware of the way in which the changed demographic of the class alters where you needed to take things stood you in excellent stead from the off, to be honest. It’s a rare student, even at DELTA level, that can make those kind of on-the-hoof snap judgements, and make them well.

        Hope you’ve managed some more R&R over the last few weeks – and look forward to having you around here in the coming months.

        Must get my arse in gear to write another post sometime soon!

      7. Hi Hugh,
        Yes, so not far away that it’s nearly over! Ooops…
        I submitted my dissertation on the 12th and ever since have been rushing about seeing people prior to departing for Italy for my next teaching adventure! I leave on Tuesday. No rest for the wicked…
        I still haven’t had time to read your blog – but I will. Now that I have finally finished studying and meeting endless deadlines, I can start reading what I want to read when I want to read it rather than speed reading to do assignments etc. At least when I start my job, I’ll have actual weekends off and everything!
        See you around here soon!

  17. Hi Hugh, I actually landed on your blog when reading about the MAD discussion which I’ve just written a post about – It seems you need no book to keep teachers talking about methodology!
    Whilst I agree to a point about the inadequacies of the celta, I think we should remember that there are many teachers without this, who have simply done a weekend attendance course, or in some cases not even this. In my experience the celta gave me the confidence I could stand in a classroom and hold my own, although within a month I discovered that this confidence was false; that we’d really only looked at the tip of the iceberg. Now i’m reading about all areas I can to develop my understanding of why we do what we do. Any suggestions for a teacher entering their second year?

    1. Hi there –
      Thanks for the comment.
      I take your point about CELTAs being better than nothing, or better than a weekend-long course, obviously.
      This doesn’t negate the fact, though, that one month is a woefully short period of time to train anyone to do any kind of serious job to any real degree of competence and in particular, it’s nowhere near long enough to really get to grips with language and how it works, which is after all what we all end up being employed to deal with!
      It’s obviously great if it gives people confidence and helps them get started. My concern would be what then happens and how language teachers then develop.
      At present, it all seems very haphazard and down to the luck of the draw in terms of where you end up teaching, as well as down to the individual searching things out.

      My suggestions for a teacher entering the second year of their teaching would be, I guess:
      (a) stop thinking about lessons as strings of activities to do (if you are, of course!) and instead think of them as being time during which you need to teach students to be better able to do something worthwhile. This means starting by thinking about where you want them to be at the end of their time with you, and then thinking first and foremost about what language you’ll need to teach them to get them there.
      (b) stop thinking about development in terms of acquiring more tricks, routines, recipes, games, etc (if you have been, of course) and instead think of it more in terms of deepening your understanding of how language works
      (c) read as much of the literature of the field as you can, and not just blogs and social media, but the real serious greats of the field: Michael Hoey, Michael Lewis, Michael Swan, etc.

      Hope those pointers make some sense and are of some use – and hope to see you here again.
      The TWENTY THINGS IN TWENTY YEARS posts I’m slowly working though may be of interest, as they’re an attempt to condense down into bitesized portions what I wish I’d know then, but ended up learning the hard way!

      1. Thanks Hugh, I agree it is a very short time to learn a profession. Useful pointers, (a) is a corner I feel I turned in the past few weeks but (b) i’m guilty of and (c) I need to read more generally.

      2. Good luck with it!
        If you’ve got A sorted, then you’re on the way!

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