This two-part post is a summary of some of the dilemmas I have faced as an observer since 1994, when I sat in on another teacher's lesson for the first time. My intention is to raise a few (hopefully) relevant questions without necessarily proposing any easy - or complex - answers or solutions. I will use the pronoun you to invite you to either wear your observer's hat or put yourself in an observer's shoes. For the sake of reader-friendliness, I will alternate between he and she when referring...

Most of us like to use authentic, non-coursebook, hot-off-the-press texts in class from time to time. This entails not only choosing interesting, level-appropriate material, but also devising tasks that will enable students to get as much out of the text as possible. Writing good comprehension questions is trickier than meets the eye, though. Here are three pitfalls to be on the lookout for: 1. Questions that students can answer using background knowledge alone Some students tend to operate on a minimum-effort basis. Left to their own devices, they will read as little as humanly possible...

1. Why is noticing even a buzzword, anyway? Noticing in language learning is perhaps ELT’s most user-friendly buzzword. To have a vague understanding of what it is, you don’t need to delve into the works of Rod Ellis, Peter Skehan or even Richard Schmidt, whose 1990 study essentially put the term on the map. Perhaps a simple dictionary definition will do: [caption id="attachment_4760" align="alignnone" width="597"] Taken from dictionary.com[/caption]   The noticing hypothesis is conceptually intuitive, too. To put it in the simplest of terms: Students learn the language items they pay attention to, as...

There have been a lot of pendulum swings in our profession since the early 90s, but the teaching of writing seems to be a bit of an exception. Compared to, for example, the sibling rivalry between PPP vs. task-based learning, the half-hearted nod of approval translation’s finally starting to get or, say, the recent comeback of formulaic language, the principles underlying the teaching of writing have remained relatively unscathed from ELT’s constant quest for the latest craze. We owe this, to a certain extent at least, to Ron White’s and...

This post is a short account of two lessons I taught in 2002 which helped me to make sense of something I’d read about in the late 90s, but couldn’t get my head around. Not until then anyway. If you’ve been following me for some time, you know that I’m a big believer in experiential learning (i.e., moving from concrete experience to abstract conceptualization rather than the other way around), so let me begin by describing the lessons first. That way you'll be better able to grasp the theory...

For the past six months I've been teaching a close friend of mine once a week, on a one-to-one basis. He's what most people would refer to as an elementary learner, but in many important ways he's anything but your typical A2. And that's partly because he's highly intuitive. The more I teach him, the more I wonder whether all the syllabus-based grammar work that we do in class is of any use at all. Last week, for example, with a little help from me, he was able to say...

In the 70s and early 80s, when functional syllabuses and communicative language teaching gained prominence in ELT, our profession was a relatively gap-fill-free zone. For controlled and semi-controlled practice, students were usually asked to engage in A-B exchanges, role-plays or any other activity types that included some degree of choice, information / context gap, personalization and unpredictability. Even certain types of contextualized oral drills were considered more mainstream than "Fill in the blanks with...

I don’t think I have ever taught or observed an advanced lesson that went seriously wrong. I mean cringe-worthy wrong. Which shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, advanced students have been in the game long enough and know enough English to ensure that most of our lessons run - at worst - relatively smoothly. Except perhaps for those all-too-familiar “How do you say X?” questions (X = a word YOU don't know), which they seem to pluck out of nowhere, at the worst possible moments. Yes, the ones that...