18 things for 2018

The first month of 2018 is already at an end (how did that happen?!) and I’ve yet to publish a single blog post! This is due to a combination of a busy week-day schedule and my no-work-at-weekends policy (something I aim for but don’t always succeed with – I gave a webinar for an EVO course a couple of weekends ago, for example.) Anyway, finally I am getting round to writing a blog post again. “18 things” is, deliberately, rather vague. Things to do? Things to remember? Things I am thinking about? Things I am putting off? Things I am looking forward to? Things I am trying to do? The answer, is a mixture of all the above!

Things to do

  • Write a 7000 word book chapter (so far, the abstract is done and submitted – all of 500 words…!)
  • Mark 48 formative assessment paragraphs (well, strictly speaking this will enter the list on Monday from 9am!)
  • Figure out how best to teach the dependent and independent clauses lesson that is scheduled for my lessons next Thursday/Friday (when I have volunteered to be observed by a CELTA trainee from the ELTC!).
  • Go to that training session about “Learning Conversations” (tutorials) that is scheduled for today.

Things to remember

  • If it’s not raining, stick waterproof trousers in the pannier anyway – it probably will be for the ride home later! NB no rain does not necessarily equal no need for waterproof trousers – the roads may still be wet from the last lot of rain and therefore you will end up being liberally covered in ‘rain from below’ (aka spray) sent up by your wheels or passing car wheels.
  • Studying Polish on Memrise is really quick, I can fit it in. Progress may be slow when doing it in such tiny increments but it is still better than nothing!
  • It’s ok not to do all the things. There are only a fixed number of hours in a day and days in a week (sadly) so the need for first, second and third-level lists of things to do is real. Some things may not make it on to any of the above and that is ok too!

Things I am thinking about

  • How cool is google docs? We have been working on main body paragraphs and cohesion and introductions/conclusions in recent lessons, and having students write them in pairs on a class google doc not only makes it so much easier for me to give feedback/suggestions as they are writing but also enables the students to redraft in successive lessons based on new input.
  • What makes a woman a woman? What is a woman? Seems like whatever definition you come up with excludes people that are also definitely women! On a related point, is being a woman but bucking stereotypes/gender roles etc similar to being ‘non-binary’ or ‘gender-queer’ or not? If not, what is the difference? (I am doing the online dating thing at the moment and have encountered a fair number of people who identify as gender queer, non-binary or androgynous, which is what has sparked this question!)
  • It’s already half way through week 4 of term – how did that happen? I have three lovely groups of students (now 16 to a class but initially were 20 to a class). Am I ready for tomorrow’s lessons? (yes) Have I sorted out all the admin-y things I need to have done at this point? (I think so…) I need to bring more teabags into work soon. Where is that training session happening again? (Errr) …Aka general teacher-y thoughts, I won’t bore you with any more!

Things I am putting off

  • Making a dental appointment. I really ought to go to the dentist for a check-up. Finding time for the initial appointment and the inevitable follow-up fix everything appointments hasn’t happened yet. This may have been on my list of things to do since about last summer…
  • Making a decision about the mountain marathon I entered last year, that will take place in July this year. This term my schedule in combination with winter doesn’t lend itself very well to running training, so my longest run for a while has been 12k. Realistically I won’t be able to run a marathon in July. But you never know…next term and the one after might be different…and the days will be lighter longer so there will be more scope for training…

Things I am looking forward to

  • I always look forward with great enthusiasm to my next meal or even snack. I suppose that is a consequence of all the exercise I do! In relation to this, also to any cooking (always in batches cos time!) and baking (see “snacks” above) I do.
  • IATEFL!! I am going this year, unlike last year. The accommodation is booked and everything.
  • Trips to Sicily to see my horse babies. Star was born 9 and half months or so ago (mid-April, apologies if my maths is incorrect!), I will be going to see him and mother Alba in late March, when he will be nearly a yearling! Also hoping to go in June and September. Haven’t been since last September. A long autumn term and that pesky thing called Christmas cause the imbalance in numbers of trips able to be made!

Things I am trying to do

  • Keep a healthy work-life balance (the “no-work-on-weekends” rule is part of this! Additionally, as my schedule involves early morning work and late afternoon work, for the most part, I am aiming to do some form of exercise on all the days in question – either swimming or bouldering, as these are most accessible from my workplace – in order to get me out of work and off my behind briefly each day in the long hours between the cycle commutes.)
  • Keep studying Polish. I have given up on all my other languages for now. (Except Italian which I keep up out of habit, ditto French) There isn’t enough time for everything. Hopefully in future I will get back to them again.
  • Get back into climbing…I used to be a keen climber until about 2010 when I went abroad to teach. Since then I have done the tiniest smattering. I’d like to get back into doing it outdoors on rock. My indoor bouldering this term is hopefully a precursor…

So, I think that’s 18 things (I counted twice but I don’t trust my maths at the best of times…) that give a snapshot of where I’m at the moment. I will endeavour to squeeze in more blogging in the coming months – at least there’s sure to be a good handful in April! 😉 I’ve just noticed the “Things I am trying to do” section is all non-work related. I’m trying to do lots of work-related and CPD-related things too though.

If anybody fancies writing their own list of 18 things, like this one, and finds the time to do so, I’d like to see your snapshots too so share a link with me in the comments here! 🙂

Belated happy new year to all of you!


Mental Health in ELT – the discussion continues…

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about mental health in ELT, sharing links to various newspaper articles that point to an increase in mental health problems within education in general, among both teachers and students, and sharing my own experience of poor mental health in the workplace. I am pleased to now share with you all the good news that the topic of mental health, which we can all agree is a very important one, will be the focus of at least one session at IATEFL.

Phil Longwell will be doing a talk about mental health, part of which will draw on the results of a survey that he has published in order to collect qualitative data relating to this subject. It would be great if as many people as possible complete the survey, as this would provide an interesting insight into the state of mental health of teachers in various ELT contexts. I encourage you all to complete the survey and look forward to hearing about the insights gained when I attend Phil’s talk next year.

IATEFL Webinar – “Research is for teachers? You must be joking!”

I have a geeky liking for research so my interest was piqued by the title of this IATEFL webinar by Richard Smith of Warwick University, so I decided to attend. It was an interesting way to spend an hour on a grey Saturday British winter’s afternoon. Here is what I managed to catch with my ears and fingers: 

Richard aims to offer positive solutions to the research – teaching gap. He wants to advance the claim that there can be research for ELT Practitioners but we need to rethink how we think about research in some ways. He wants to focus on teacher research.


There have been articles recently and last year in the ELT journal stating that research is largely irrelevant to teachers. Richard did a poll for what we think from strongly agree to strongly disagree 1-5. It can’t be denied that there are many teachers that would agree with this. R isn’t going to go over all the arguments in the articles by Medgyes and Maley. Teachers say researchers just talk to one another, research isn’t accessible to teachers, we have to pay for access to them and even then they are written in a language we can’t understand, while researchers say they need to be precise, use a precise language, hedge, show the complexity of issues. The argument can go back and forth, with quite a lot of heat. If you look at the articles to Medgyes and Maley, you will see there some good responses, some supportive and some against.

Richard thinks there is a lot of truth in the idea that a lot of research is not so relevant to teachers but there are some quite bad stereotypes regarding what research is, imagining it as positivistic and experimental, but also imagining that researchers are very far from teachers. Smith sees himself as a teacher, a teacher educator and a researcher, and this is how he has always seen his role. He feels that in his work he relates what he is doing to how he was as a teacher and how he is now as a teacher, and that other researchers do too. He thinks we need to find a middle way where we are not stereotyping or dichotomising researching and teaching.

He did a poll regarding “not all applied linguistic educational research is relevant to teachers”. Which was mostly agreed with. He said that suggests that some research IS and shifted the focus to that more positive direction. He showed us this:

In this book, Palmer was trying to set up something like applied linguistics, a research field of study that would help teachers to found their teaching or base their teaching on firmer foundations. In the book is a lot of complex jargon but also it’s an explicit attempt to link science and language teaching. 1917 is considered the beginning of a scientific period in language teaching that went for at least 50-60 years, and you could argue still continues now. How can we improve language teaching through reference to background disciplines? A past example is the audio-lingual period, based on ideas that linguistics can provide answers to language teaching in a very direct way. There were also things going on before Palmer:

Non-native speakers in France wanted to use phonetics, something from linguistics, in the classroom, as something helpful for language teaching. The indispensable foundation for language teaching according to Henry Sweet.

According to Palmer, we don’t lack method, we lack the basis for the  method. He wasn’t a dogmatic methodologist, he believed that we needed research to have a rational basis for decisions regarding what is good in different contexts. For different kinds of classes or students. Prabhu, in India, has said the same thing – that there is no one best method, we need different ways of teaching to meet different needs. However, this has not always been the case, there have been plenty of people with attachment to one particular method or another, in a quite dogmatic way. Palmer says we don’t just take from background disciplines, we have to as practitioners confirm and justify these principles by putting them to the test of actual and continual practice. As a teacher, in Belgium, he explored the possibilities of various methods, one after another, adopting and discarding one or another as the result of research and experience. He was an action researcher. In 1922 he went to Japan and founded the Institute for Research in English Teaching.

This institute involved many Japanese school and university teachers and was like a teacher association. There were annual conferences. They issued “The Bulletin”. He also put out books e.g. English through actions.

It was just one way. There were different ways, and the idea was for the teachers to pick and choose.

Michael West was another person who worked in a similar way, in Bangladesh, producing especially reading materials. He and Palmer were both active in the development of extensive reading, and reading material for teaching a foreign language language e.g. graded readers. Palmer’s materials influenced Hornby’s approach (situational language teaching).

<My internet died briefly at this point so some more information along this vein is missing. I pick up with the return of my internet below:>

1970s – there was a golden age of good links between theory and practice, in terms of applied linguistics in the UK. This was when communicative language teaching was developed. Smith says it was perhaps unfair of Maley to say there was nothing coming from research to teaching. There was a lot of good linkage but nevertheless there is a perception that the two sides have grown apart again. The ‘problems’ regarding English language teaching are now ‘bigger and wider’, maybe?

Smith says we can try to change the situation and this is the focus for the next part of the talk. He talks about a project that started in 2009, whereby British council recognised that real world concerns of practitioners not being addressed by research. So, they wanted to do a survey of ELT research. They were keen for the project to look for research that is relevant to English teachers. ELT research was defined as:

He did this with Sheila Rixon. They were interested themselves, as they didn’t know what research was going on that wold be relevant to teachers. The answer was, more than you might expect. The project has now finished, so the database is no longer updated but at the time a lot of research was going on around testing, much by Cambridge Assessment/CRELLA. There was also a lot of research being done by publishers to find out more about materials and target markets, but that isn’t published research. There was not much research into English for young learners. Which is a paradox as it is the most widely taught across the world. There was also not a lot of research into language teaching in developing countries except by visiting PhD students. Finally, there was also not a lot of teacher research published.

Positive ways for bridging the gap that Smith has seen:

  • TESOLacademic has recorded keynote speeches and made them freely available.
  • ELT research bites (E.g. Language Teaching in the past)
  • Blogs e.g. by Scott Thornbury, Geoff Jordan who mediate between research and teachers, making it more accessible.
  • There are also an increasing number of open access journals/articles/chapters.

However, there is a perception that research is still very much removed from teachers.

Smith argues that we should take the idea of ELT research further. Define it more strongly as research for ELT practitioners. He thinks it has started to happen in some ways. British council has started some research awards:

He puts forward something that sounds good in theory:

And says he has seen it in practice. E.g. researcher/teacher collaboration. Allan Waters was very keen on this idea. It doesn’t go on as much as it should but there are some positive examples. University/training college partnerships and teacher association research are other possible contexts for this. Encouraging teacher research is another form of this reconceptualisation of research.

Teacher research is:

In the context of these debates, teacher research has come up to some extent but could be addressed more. It’s quite common for teachers to say they don’t have time, researchers may look down on it. Smith doesn’t want to go into that today. Instead, he wants to share some of his own experience in introducing teachers to teacher research. He has come to see it as a useful and important way to address and solve (to some extent) problems. We need to address the images that teachers may have about research not being for them but for scientists, involving a lot of reading and report writing. We need more appropriate definitions, images and models of research.

Here are defintions that he has used with teachers:

If we use definitions like this, we can start to show teachers that research is something they carry out in their everyday lives.

This is something Smith does in his teaching fairly often:

Do we think it is research, he asks. Data is collected. Categorising is analysis of data. It’s useful for him. Does research have to be shared widely? Not necessarily? It’s also feasible for teachers to do.

Research is exploration, he puts forward. Feasible for teachers even in difficult circumstances. With a group of teachers he went through the following process: What are the problems? Turn the problems into questions. Try to answer the questions. Go away and try out some of the ideas put forward in the answers.

Exploratory action research – The Champion Teachers project in Chile. This was a more gentle introduction to action research, ensuring that the action would come from the exploration of the context. He didn’t have time to talk us through the example but you can read about it in British Council open access book about exploratory action research.

If you are interested in this topic and want to know more:

  • In January/February there is an Electronic Village online where there will be aClassroom-based research for professional development. The link to it is on the page of links here. It is free and gives you guidance on doing classroom based research. They will have 25 voluntary mentors. It takes place over five weeks from January to February.
  • There is also a Facebook group for Teacher research.
  • There is the Research SIG.

Here are some useful links that were shared in the “Links” part of the webinar platform by various people:

From the Q and A at the end:

Coming up with questions related to the situation – what is bothering you? Un-peeling the onion of the situation. Asking yourself questions and then finding the answers by collecting and analysing data. (Exploratory) Then you plan some change, try the change and analyse what happens (action research).

If it is so close to practice and what we do anyway, then why call it research? Is the word research itself the problem?

It does have the connotation of being far from teachers, reflected in the arguments that go on, Smith has been arguing that it shouldn’t be seen in that way. Research can be an empowering form of inquiry into what goes on in the classroom. ELT research can include teacher research and university researchers who work with the concerns of teachers, with a coming together in the middle. This goes back to the collaborations that he spoke of earlier. We should aim to find the middle ground.

If you attended (or are Richard!) and think I got anything down wrong, do let me know so I can edit it! Thank you Richard and IATEFL for a great webinar. 

Bite-size TD at the ELTC

Teacher development is a key part of working life at the ELTC and the team who are in charge of it this term recently rolled out a new initiative, “Bite-size TD”. The idea is to build up a collection of recordings done by teachers of short talks on a range of topics, that other teachers can watch when they have 15-20 minutes spare and fancy a bit of CPD.

I volunteered to do a whistle-stop tour of www.wordandphrase.info/academic which is a corpus tool. Without the /academic part of the web address, a general corpus of texts is analysed, with the academic part included, it analyses a corpus of academic texts from a range of disciplines. Both sites work in exactly the same way, so what I talked about today could equally be applied to the general version. My powerpoint was adapted from one that I used with my ESUS (English Skills for University Study, which has since undergone a few changes and been renamed) students last term, with the aim of introducing the site to them through the medium of guided discovery.

My talk worked in two ways: a) For teachers unfamiliar with the site, I suggested they use the pause button a bit and try to do the activities on the site as they went along, to understand better how it works. b) For teachers who were already familiar, and for the teachers in a) once they were familiar, it modelled my approach to introducing students to the site and provided some example activities that they could use with students.

I suggested that as well as using this approach in class with the students as an introduction, it’s useful to reinforce it by:

  • modelling use of it yourself in class if students ask you something about a word/phrase. (Particularly if you can project it)
  • using it in tutorials based on students’ written work, to guide error correction
  • encouraging students to use it before submitting a piece of work, to check their use of key language

Here is the powerpoint I used (click to download):

I’ll add the recording later if the link is a public one, but you should be able to follow what to do via the powerpoint, it’s step-by-step and the answers are included.

Do you use wordandphrase.info(/academic) with your students? How? Would love to hear about your approach/ideas for using it via the comments box below. 🙂

Happy weekend, all!

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (3 and 4!)

Today was the fourth session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.)

–  Yes, the fourth: the third was last week but I was buried under rather a large pile of essays so I didn’t have time to write it up. So this week is a double bill! Hurrah!

To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.


In session 3, last week, we shared the following ideas:

1. Catch-all nouns and cohesion in pairs

This is a useful review activity for students who don’t seem to be using catch-all nouns in their writing.

For those less familiar with EAP-dom, “catch-all nouns”, also sometimes called “general nouns”, are nouns that can be used to condense ideas already put forward, so that you can refer to them and give more information about them. They are general words that take on specificity through what comes before (or indeed after) them, for example problem, issue, process, approach, trend etc.

For this activity you:

  • give each student a worksheet with some examples of catch-all nouns in use, with the noun gapped out. Each student has a different set of examples.
  • get the students to take it in turns to read out a sentence to their partner, who needs to use the co-text to guess which general noun is missing. They must also decide if they need the singular “this” or the plural “these” in front of the noun.

E.g. First the cocoa beans are picked by hand and placed in the sun to dry. Then they are put in large sacks and loaded onto lorries (sounding familiar to anyone who teaches IELTS?!). ……………….. is repeated many times a day. Answer: This process.

Here is an example set of worksheets that my colleague whose idea it was gave to us:

The benefits of this activity are:

  • it makes the students think carefully about which catch-all nouns work best in which contexts.
  • it forces the students listen carefully to what their partner is saying, and in order to provide the answer they of course need to listen AND understand, so it also provides some detailed listening practice.
  • it also makes them think about whether the noun is singular or plural, and which determiner they need – this/these – to use with it. (Something our students tend to make mistakes with!)

Variation: Have students stand in a line; read out a gapped sentence; students step forward if they can think of a word + determiner that fit the gap. Actually I think it would work really nicely with mini-whiteboards too. Ahhh mini-whiteboards. Those were the days… 😉

2) Adapting a listening

This activity can be used with any listening extract where the speaker refers to data taken from a graph, where the graph has been provided in the materials for students to look at.

Instead of showing the graph to the students, get them to listen and make notes on it. Then put them in groups and get them to produce the graph based on what they have written down.

If any of you academic IELTS teachers out there are feeling keen, you could record yourselves talking about data from a graph (make it a funny graph so the activity is less dry!) and get the the students to produce the graph based on what you say. Then you could get the students to repeat the activity themselves – group them, get them, in their groups, to prepare a graph and discuss how they would present the information in it (using IELTS writing part 1 language) and then pair them up with someone from another group. Student A talks about their graph, student B listens and takes notes and then tries to draw the graph. (Or they could directly draw if you don’t want to bring note-taking skills into it!) They swap roles and repeat. Hopefully the language becomes more meaningful through being used communicatively. 

3) Speed-reading relay

The aim of this activity, as you would guess, is to work on students’ reading speed.

  • Put students in pairs or small groups.
  • Give each pair or group one copy of the text
  • Student A reads for 30 seconds, stops and makes a mark on the page where they got to and then verbally summarises what they just read for Student B.
  • Student B reads on from where Student A stopped. Another 30 seconds. Repeat as above.
  • This goes on until a pair or group gets to the end of their text. The first pair/group to do so is the winner!

You could use this activity as a way of practising different speed reading techniques: teach students a handful of different techniques (find examples here) and then use this as a fun way to practice them.

4) Variation on a debate theme

This is less of an activity and more of a variation on an activity: when you are doing a class debate, instead of dividing the class into 2 groups, half for and half against the motion, divide them into three groups and give each group a role:

  • For (pick a group of people who would naturally be in favour of the motion. E.g. if the motion were to ban video games, perhaps worried parents)
  • Against (pick a group of people who would naturally be against the motion. Following the above example, it could be video game designers)
  • Politicians (these have to prepare difficult questions to raise during the course of the debate, imagining that they have to think about what their constituents might say in response to the arguments raised)

In session 4, today, we shared the following ideas:

1. Task-based Evaluation (mine!)

  • Do a speaking ladder. Round 1:talk about the last restaurant you went to. (Rules: students  must elaborate not just say “yeah it was ok, I ate curry”!) Round 2: tell your new partner about the restaurant your old partner visited and how they felt about it. You can repeat this so that each student talks about their restaurant twice and a partner’s restaurant twice so that more language can be generated.
  • While they are doing this, collect examples of anything evaluative that they say.
  • Then students look for example evaluative language in a text and categorise it – modal verbs, adjectives, reporting verbs, adverbs.
  • Go back to the language students produced earlier and read out each example for them to put into their tables (unless you can cunningly feed it all into the computer while they are busy on one of the identification activities and then display it when they are ready! But this way they have to listen carefully so it’s still good!).
  • Repeat the speaking ladder activity with the aim of students upgrading their language from their initial effort. Give them some planning time first and if there is time, do a repetition.

My thinking behind this activity was that in day-to-day life we do evaluate, but when it comes to academic writing, students think that evaluation is this really difficult thing and it usually therefore gets omitted, so hopefully rooting it in the students’ own (meaningful) output, it will be more memorable and make more sense.

2. Bringing evaluation into synthesis

This activity is an extension of the fishbowl synthesis activity we talked about in session 2. Once students have fishbowled (yes it’s officially a verb now – at least in the USIC staffroom!) and written the summary paragraph, usually what you will find is that they have just about managed to synthesise stuff but there will be little if any evaluation. To get them to make that extra step which is needed in order for it to be a good paragraph rather than just a collection of information, elicit from them what’s missing from their paragraphs (which are now on a Google doc) – i.e. evaluation – and then brainstorm/board evaluative language that they could use. Then give them time to edit their paragraphs accordingly.

(This could be used in conjunction with my activity…gotta love the scholarship circle!)

3. Error correction scavenger hunt

  • Brainstorm, as a class, typical mistakes that students make in their writing. (If students say “grammar” or “vocabulary”, get them to be more specific!).
  • Prepare slips of paper/post-its with one error type and example per slip before the lesson and at this point hand out one to each student. Students mingle and explain their error type to the other students. (You could then put them in groups and get them to make a list of as many as they could remember and see which group remembers the most, for a bit of fun :-p )
  • Give out an error correction scavenger list like this one:

  • Put up sentences, or chunks of two or three sentences, taken from students’ work, around the classroom on the walls. Anonymise it and number each piece of paper (on which is/are the sentence(s) from one student).
  • Students walk round looking for the errors on the scavenger list, with speed obviously being of the essence. They find the mistake and write the number of the piece of paper they found it on next to the mistake  type on their scavenger list.
  • You go round and stick a post-it above each piece of paper with the error type(s) in the sentence(s) on it.
  • Students go round in their pairs and check they have the correct error type per sentence and then try to correct the sentence.
  • In groups, students compare their corrections.
  • Whole class feedback.

The idea of the lesson is to get students looking for typical error types. It also gets them up and moving, which is always a bonus in the EAP classroom! No reason why it couldn’t work with IELTS essays and the like as well! (This idea originally came from this pdf by Ken Lackman, about getting students involved in error correction, worth a look for more ideas.)

So, two great sessions, two motivation injections, and lots of ideas. 🙂 Let us know if you use any of them and how you got on!

Winning the battle against low self-esteem (A guest post by Katherine Bilsborough)

Katherine Bilsborough has worked in ELT for 30 years. These days she lives in the mountains of northern Spain where she divides her time between writing and gardening. She very kindly agreed to write this guest blog post for me to share with you all. Enjoy it! 

Kath Bilsborough

Kath Bilsborough – copyright Katherine Bilsborough, used with permission.

Winning the battle against low self-esteem

Last year I wrote a couple of journal articles and gave a BELTA webinar on the topic of self-esteem. I looked at the psychology underpinning low self-esteem and in particular, its causes and consequences. I then suggested some practical ideas for increasing self-esteem, focusing on the ELT teacher. My reasoning was that if we can find strategies to increase low self-esteem in ourselves, we’ll be equipped to help our colleagues and our students too; first by recognising the signs and then by responding in a number of ways.

My interest in self-esteem emerged from my own professional insecurities and, in particular, from conversations I had with colleagues. They found it hard to believe that behind my apparent confidence and self-assurance lay a wobbling, self-conscious doubter who felt like a fraud and was constantly questioning her ability as a teacher and her right to be standing at the front of a classroom. I might have doubted my skills as a teacher but I was, apparently, an excellent actor. I’ve come a fair way since those days but I still have spells of insecurity and vulnerability. The difference is that now I’m armed with strategies to deal with them and it helps to know that I’m not alone. Even the most experienced, ‘big name’ professionals go through wobbly patches.

For this post, I’ve researched the subject further and come up with a more comprehensive list of practical ideas to help improve self-esteem. Items on the list are sometimes specific to ELT teachers but simple tweaks can make them relevant for students too.

Recognising low self-esteem

It is perfectly normal for everyone to feel down about themselves at times and even the most self-assured people suffer from a lack of confidence from time to time. But when the feelings persist it can be an indication that you need to sit up and do something about it. Some of the most common signs of low self-esteem are:

  • Being overly critical of yourself.
  • Ignoring your strengths and accomplishments.
  • Focusing on your weaknesses.
  • Comparing yourself with other people.
  • Being unable to accept compliments when they are given.
  • Having a negative outlook on life.
  • Worrying about not doing well or not being liked.
  • Exaggerating the things you perceive as negative.

 It isn’t always easy to identify the causes of self-esteem. Things like constantly being overlooked for promotion or being bullied are clear-cut. But sometimes motives are less obvious. The good news is that self-esteem levels aren’t fixed and there are plenty of things you can try to address the problem.

Twenty tried and tested recommendations


The keys to winning that battle! (Picture by Bohman Keys, certified for non-commercial reuse with modification.)


1          Practise positive self-talk in order to build your confidence.

2         Keep a ‘positive calendar’ in which you write down three things each day that went well in class because of your efforts or actions.

3         Know your subject matter as well as you can by studying it further. CPD is an excellent way of increasing self-esteem.

4         Invest time and effort into the things you can change and try to ignore the things you can’t change.

5         Increase your understanding of the theories that underpin teaching and learning. This will make you a more confident teacher.

6         Do regular exercise. Being fit and active relieves stress and helps you feel good about yourself.

7         Do at least one thing that you enjoy every day. This doesn’t have to be something big. It can be something as simple as meeting a friend for a coffee or listening to your favourite music.

8         Make sure you are surrounded by people who are supportive, in the real world and in cyberspace.

9         Distance yourself from people who are critical. If this is difficult, try telling them how you feel and politely ask them to think before they criticise you in future.

10       Stop comparing yourself to others. We all have a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses. Everybody is good at something.

11       Don’t be too hard on yourself when you get something wrong. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

12       Get to know your students. The better you know them, the more effective your teaching (and their learning) will be.

13       Celebrate every achievement, however small.

14       Know your work context well. Make sure you know where resources are kept and how the latest technology works. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

15       Talk to a colleague (or colleagues) about problems or worries you might have with your classes. Most of the time a problem shared really is a problem halved and two heads really are better than one.

16       Take pride in your ideas and your opinions and don’t be afraid to voice them. But don’t be afraid to change your ideas too. Willingness to change is a strength, not a weakness.

17       Don’t aim for perfection, it’s unachieveable so disappointment is inevitable.

18       Have realistic expectations in the classroom. For example, if you teach in a monolingual context, don’t expect all of your students to speak English all of the time. It isn’t going to happen.

19       Try to keep a positive attitude towards teaching. Joining social media groups of ELT teachers or creating a PLN will help with this.

Above all …

20       don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Sometimes self-esteem can become severe and lead to depression. If this happens, you should speak to a doctor or a psychologist. Don’t forget that everybody is human and a cry for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s common sense.

Summer School

That, in two words, is why this blog has been so quiet… We are just coming to the end of Week 5 out of 10.

My language learning update is well overdue – but rest assured, the absence of it is not due to my having given up on the languages, but rather because I don’t have time to do it AND blog about it! 😉

There are loads of things I want to blog about but the precious non-work hours that I have are split between sleeping, eating, cycling/running, gardening and language learning, pretty much. Oh and cuddling Flora hamster. Normal service will probably resume sometime in September – most likely AFTER I have my post-summer school holiday!

I hope you are all having fantastic summers, wherever and whatever you may be doing with them. (Do comment and tell me, it would be lovely to hear!)

60 seconds...starting now! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

Can I have some more hours in the day, please?! 🙂  Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial re-use with modification