IATEFL 2014 day 1: Thank goodness for MaW SIG!!

My IATEFL 2014 has begun! I arrived at the conference centre in Harrogate – *finally* – soon before 5 and was happy to be able to register and go on in – live, finally, rather than just online!


Admittedly, having been travelling since 06.45 this morning, I was perhaps not the most with it that I’ve ever been, but Hugh Dellar (@hughdellar)’s tweet that I saw subsequently really sums it all up:

“If you’ve never attended #iatefl, imagine being propelled round a human pinball machine containing everyone you’ve ever met in ELT”

Laden down with 3 bags and rucksack by this point, I walked through to the exhibition room (my overriding impression of the conference centre so far is “labyrinth”!) and walked round it once. I think it was the final break of the day and there were TEFLers everywhere! I felt both overwhelmed and daunted – then I bumped into Ela Wassell (@elawassell), who welcomed me with a big smile and suddenly I felt a little better! Not long after that I bumped into @Marisa_C. By this time, I was trying to find my way to Harewood to find the MaW SIG gang – it seemed the only logical thing to do! It took a lot of getting lost in the labyrinth before I got there, so I missed the beginning of the talk  but I think I got most of it and it was very interesting. Really glad I managed to find the room – I think the alternative was turning tail and slinking off to find (read get even more lost on the way to) my hotel and this was the much better option!

So what does that involve? K Woodward et al. (et al. is Liz, in this case)

I was too dazed to make notes during it, I had a pounding headache, but listening to Kate and Liz talk made the day melt away and by the time it finished I felt so much better. I jotted down some notes afterwards, while waiting for the MaW SIG Open Forum to start, and essentially it was about the complex issue of selecting vocabulary to teach intermediate learners. Making word lists. The fact that the words that we automatically teach related to various topics are all well and good, but we tend to forget the more “general” words that we used to talk about them. So, we were shown some Wordles related to a few topics, and they threw up some general words that are less “expected” in association with the topic but very useful.

For example, taking the topic of jobs, something like “Oh, what does that involve?” is something we might say when we know what someone’s job is like but want to know what it is they actually do. And that’s another question we might use: “What is it that you actually do?”. Or, if we look at the topic of eating out, vocabulary is usually around menus, bills, ordering etc but something like “Oh, I haven’t decided yet!” in answer to what you’re going to get, when looking at the menu, is important but generally overlooked. We also saw the topic of personality, and Kate/Liz (I forget which!) advocated teaching things like “He’s always + ….” e.g. “He’s always talking” – as a negative description, or “He never + ….”, for a similar effect. Or for higher levels, “He tends to…”

They told us about a project they’ve been working on which involves lists of most commonly used words in other languages being translated into English, to influence what we teach as well, because for example “earthquake” doesn’t make the 6000 most commonly used words in English – but probably does in places with less stable tectonic plates! (It was more complex than that, but that was the general idea). They also mentioned Felicity O’Dell’s criteria for choosing what vocabulary to teach, and pointed out that the criteria might conflict with each other, so that there’s a lot to consider in vocabulary teaching.

After a short break, in which an extremely welcome cup of Cava came my way, it was time for:

MaW SIG Open Forum!

Nick Robinson got things started by reminding us of MaW SIG’s mission statement, which is promoting best practice in ELT materials writing (including in terms of teachers making materials for their own use, not just in the publishing world)  introducing the rest of the committee (Rachael, Lyn, Sophie, Karen and someone who was absent whose name I can’t remember) and then talking about what the SIG has been up to since being born.

It set out with 5 objectives for its first year:

  • Find the best committee for the job
  • Run a stand-alone event
  • Publish a newsletter
  • Run an IATEFL Pre-Conference Event
  • Make a website

It’s done all of those (in spades!) except make a website (and so far the Facebook page is fulfilling that role) and in addition has brought us a webinar too – you may remember John Hughes spoke a few months ago.

The stand-alone event involved 4 panels and lots of discussion generally about New Directions in ELT; the P.C.E. focused in depth on Writing for Digital; the newsletter is beautiful and will soon be downloadable – the need to get it published before IATEFL to avoid delay was the priority but .pdf format etc will follow.

Nick also mentioned that there will be four webinars in May! Very exciting. There is also likely to be a blog set up at some point. Meanwhile, the topic for next year’s P.C.E. has to be decided by this Friday!

Once Nick had finished telling us about MaW SIG, past present and future, there was some time for questions and answers. Here is some of what was discussed (paraphrased…!)

Q. Do you help people towards being published?

A. Would like to think we help people – our mission is to promote best practice in ELT. Will be interesting to see how it works for experienced people vs. newcomers, as needs are very different. Interested in bringing in inexperienced people and helping them develop. There were publishers at the January event, who got new writers: MaW SIG collected business cards, made a collation of information, and gave it to publishers e.g. Pearson. Attending events does give an opportunity to meet people.

Q. How about a discussion forum?

A: Will it become a ghost town? Onus is on members to take part, if we do make one!  [There was a lot of discussion around the pros and cons of such a discussion board, and it will be further discussed in the committee meeting tomorrow]

Q. How about writing workshops at weekend?

A: Absolutely, we are looking at different formats for future events. There is definitely potential for this. Maybe a virtual writing group online, working together on projects?

Q: How about writing “retreats” (with yoga involved)

A: A bit of a stretch for the second year perhaps? GIve us some time! Once the membership grows (and there is huge demand it seems) – if we can fill up a venue for two days, we’ll do it! 2 days max for the next year though.

Q: How about access to emails of people in the same location?

A: Not allowed to share this information – data protection – but there is Karen’s google map on Facebook where everybody was invited to share their location. We want to go where there are members who will attend events. Get in touch – tell me “I think you should do an event in <this town> and here’s why! We’ll consider it if you convince us!

The End (and the beginning…)

Finally there was a raffle and three lucky winners of their choice of ELTTeacher-to-Writer ebooks and more Cava-aided discussion.

I finally met Lyn, who I’ve had a lot of contact with in relation to the beautiful newsletter, which I contributed an article to, and Sophie, who was responsible for making it beautiful, and Rachael, who so kindly looked at and commented on my materials a few months ago, and Karen with the many hats – though I’ve yet to have a proper chat with her. Lots of super friendly people, and I came away from the Open Forum meeting feeling very positive and excited about the future of MaW SIG, as well as lucky to have met a bunch of lovely people! A far cry from the frazzled, daunted wreck that I had arrived in the room as! Thank you, MaW SIG, for existing! 🙂

Getting lost has become a key feature of this conference for me so far, hopefully tomorrow I’ll begin to get to know my way about. (Especially, it would be useful to be able to find my room at 17.45 tomorrow!!) So far, following much walking, some with lots of bags, I have located my hotel room and a supermarket – a good start!

Looking forward to tomorrow, seeing lots of talks and giving one. (I may be slightly terrified!) It’s a different IATEFL this year, as I’m going it alone, no hotel-mates (yet) etc. However, luckily everybody is so friendly that it doesn’t matter too much! 🙂  Here’s to the days to come!

5 thoughts on “IATEFL 2014 day 1: Thank goodness for MaW SIG!!

  1. A very authentic reflection on the first day of IATEFL. Great. enjoyed reading.”Getting lost has become a key feature of this conference!” On the last day, it will be “Rediscovering myself was a key feature of this conference”

  2. Pingback: IATEFL 2014: Bringing all my posts together in one place! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more, Lizzie. A labyrinth it was, till one got the hang of it! And then the loads of walking one had to do. But so well worth it!!

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