ELTchat summary (14/05/14) – “Intercultural awareness: what our students need to know”

#ELTchat discussions take place once a week, on Wednesdays, at 12.00 or 21.00 each week, on a rotating basis. (To find out more about #ELTchat and these weekly discussions, please visit the #ELTchat site.) On the 14th May the chat took place at 21.00 BST (22.00 CET – yawwwn!) and the topic was ‘Intercultural Awareness: what do our students need to know?

What a can of worm! :-)

What a can of worm! 🙂

It quickly became apparent that the answer to this question was a) definition-dependent b) context-dependent and c) the usual can of worms job!

To summarise this discussion, I have decided to go with the following structure:

  • Definition(s) – defining the topic
  • Context – need to knows/teaching ideas and issues
  • Context – need to knows/teaching ideas and issues
  • Context – need to knows/teaching ideas and issues
  • Activities/approaches we could use across contexts
  • Resources/Links
  • Conclusion

Here we go then…


Well, looking back over the talk, we picked at the issue of definition a bit but didn’t really come to any firm conclusions. To me, this mirrors how complex culture is – something that is further complicated by the fact that English is used as an international language and as a lingua franca. There is tension between ‘English as associated with western culture’ and ‘English as not belonging to any particular culture’, the relationship between language and culture in general, and the role of the English language teacher within this. Of course context and needs are very important – like so many other ELT issues, there is no one size fits all answer to be found with regards to this topic.

Topic is  huge methinks – we could only tackle aspects of it – e,g, topics, culturally loaded materials, even approach to teaching (@marisa_constantinides)

So does it mean teaching the culture of the language or teaching culture in a wider sense? Or both? (@theteacherjames)

…or adapting teaching to cultural contexts or awareness of differences in class (@hartle)

A culture includes behaviours, traditions, food, socialising, etc – these are all topics included in materials – could extend topics. (@marisa_constantinides)

Shouldn’t the question be whether we serve as language teachers or as ambassadors of the broader English culture as well?  (@angelos_bollas)

Depends on context – if students will mostly be speaking to native speakers or using ELF in which case need broader cultural issues. (@GemL1)

Well… in a UK context, using polite language is important in some situations (saying please, thank you, etc) (@esolcourses)

Because English is global maybe more useful to raise awareness that difference between its many users exist despite same language used. (@LizziePinard)

Depends on the student’s origin. For some, English equals western. (@angelos_bollas)

Wary of just English culture, Ss learning English will use it in China or South America too, English as way to view different world cultures. (@eilymurphy)

Isn’t it a question of context? What do the students need the language for? (@SueAnnan)

Culture is much more than grouping countries and labelling them. Many other factors involved. (@MajorieRosenbe)

From my wife’s cultural awareness studies: culture absorbs and changes language and vice versa (@ELTexperiences)

Culture isn’t static so you can’t teach it as a body of content? (@LizziePinard)

Culture even changes through generations within the same country. (@HadaLitim)

We also need to remember that within “a culture” are many subcultures. Very complex. (@LizziePinard)

So, having opened the can of worms, we discussed ways of dealing with all the worms, when it comes to our learners in our different contexts.

Context – monolingual classes 

Monolingual classes are generally associated with L2+ instruction happening in non-English-speaking countries. However, monolingual does not mean monocultural (see last tweet in the definition(s) section!) and even within these classes, intercultural awareness is important. For example, learners in these classes

Need to know behaviours, mannerisms especially in business settings, but also for classroom. (ChristineMulla)

Once we recognise that monoculture is non-existent, we can see that

Monolingual doesn’t necessarily mean mono-cultural (@HadaLitim)

Each group has a cultural mix in every individual even in monolingual classes, so by comparison of what is “normal” for each of us.. (@hartle)

Agreed – personal, family, building, neighbourhood – many different kinds. (@ChristineMulla)

That’s true. There are sub-cultures as well as national cultures. (@ELTexperiences)

Learners learning in their L1 context, who have to deal internationally with other people, for example at work, may still struggle with culturally related issues:

My sts have great difficulties on conference calls etc (@theteacherjames)

Context – multilingual classes

Multilingual classes could take place in English-speaking countries but may also take place in non-English-speaking countries. If we associate language and culture, then it is immediately obvious that in such classes there is a lot of potential for raising intercultural awareness:

How about students teaching each other about culture? Less teacher, more student interaction. In my experience they love it. (@ChristineMulla)

Of course this approach is not precluded in any other contexts, as we have already seen. It is also not without issues:

Discussed culture yesterday and an Austrian student said she felt left out because foreign students form closed groups. Different perspective. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Context – ESOL

By ESOL contexts, we mean learners who have entered an English-speaking country with the goal of settling there. This would in due course involve citizenship tests:

With ESOL learners in the UK they need to be aware of cultural aspects to pass the Citizenship test! (@languageeteach)

Yeah they also need to know loads of silly facts for no apparent reason 🙂 (@Shaunwilden)

The need to integrate distinguishes ESOL contexts from other multilingual contexts: multilingual classes are not only found in English-speaking environments (E.S.E) and, even if such a class does take place in an E.S.E., the learners in them do not necessarily have any integrative goals: they could be young learners attending a summer camp, for example. However, there is still some overlap between the two contexts in terms of cultural resources within the class.

In ESOL classes, we can assume that learners will need to speak to native speakers, though not exclusively. Therefore certain elements of language and culture may need to be taught.

The ‘unwritten rules’ of correct behaviour in one culture don’t necessarily transfer to another one…(@ESOLcourses)

Yes, and the importance of hedging language esp when asking for a favour. (@Languageeteach)

Some aspects of language, too – tag questions in particular can be confusing for learners! (@ESOLcourses)

I always cover them in small talk lessons (@SueAnnan)

Seeing students arrive in the UK and the progress they make to become more culturally aware is amazing. Good to monitor. (@ELTExperiences)

This doesn’t come without its issues:

With ESOL ls, especially mature learners, they can be reluctant or scared to assimilate into the target culture.(@Languageeteach)

A problem that I see with ESOL students is they incorporate their own culture in their home. …female ESOL students then have problems coming to class as their husband dictates when they can and can’t go.(@ELTexperiences) 

Of course, if we are thinking about immigrants spending a prolonged period of time in an English-speaking country, and potential issues they could face, we should also think of issues faced by students who study in such an environment:

An increasingly important issue is training L1 lecturers to teach an international class (@ShaunWilden)

Activities/approaches we could use across contexts

There were plenty of ideas for bringing culture into the classrooms and thoughts about how it could emerge naturally too, as well as potential issues…

I do games, activities, discussions and personal stories from me and from students (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Greetings across cultures – shake, nod, nose touch etc. (@ChristineMulla)

We use a great GTKY activity with our students to encourage cultural awareness. It prompts discussion on proxemics, etc. (@ELTexperiences)

I think these issues / topics tend to come up naturally in class either through the language forms (politeness etc) or discussions (Gem1)

Business E books often have units on intercultural awareness. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

“I tried to do it in an enjoyable way – quizzes, games, etc. So in the end yes. I teach at a public grammar school in CZE” (@HanaTicha)

I had to teach British culture to my Spanish students and it occurred to me that we could learn imperatives while making brownies (@anasainzc)

A fun activity which dealt with culture was to ask students to bring superstitions from their countries.  Fascinating. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Authentic videos are great for those who’re not sure about cultural aspects of different countries (@HadaLitim)

In my experience, I thought I learnt things from films etc but then I was very surprised when I got into trouble (@HanaTicha)

 A story of a faux pas might be a good lead-in to the topic  can elicit suggestions on how to get out of trouble! (@Philip_Saxon)

In business classes, case studies involving faux pas (or worse) can be instructive. (@Philip_Saxon)

Culture is a natural part of life – society and language based. Automatic learning if open to it  (@ChristineMulla)

I also get students to discuss the importance of colour in their culture. (@ELTexperiences)

Gestures is always a great one (@HadaLitim)

Or personal stories. They work well as well. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Creative Drama would be great for culture awareness, too. (@angelos_bollas)

You could look at idiomatic expressions from other cultures and get students to tell each other idioms or expressions. (@ELTexperiences)

Creating realistic situations in the classroom, would be a great option. (@perikleis)

If learners are in an E.S.E, you could get them to do research then go and interview people on the street to learn more – I made materials to maximise the learning in these activities… (@LizziePinard)

Challenging stereotypes can be really interesting: thrifty Scots, direct Germans etc. (@Languageeteach)

But dealing with them and trying to see beyond the stereotypes can make a good lesson too. (@dimodeca)

Role-play situations in a TBL sequence might work – ask students to act out in own lang THEN watch in L2 (@Marisa_C)

Not hard in multilingual classes. Had a Saudi student trying to convince a Mexican about the advantages of having several wives (@ditaphillips)

Did PARSNIPs this week too and Spanish students didn’t get what the big deal was till we discussed different cultures learning from same books! (@Noreen_Lam)

Can also try to get students from different backgrounds to work together in groups – they have a shared goal, after all. (@Philip_Saxon)

Should we try intercultural lessons? One class in one country connects w/ a class from another country and share experiences?

I did an exchange between teens in Brazil and S.Korea, they loved it and learnt so much, very effective (GemL1)

There are some great intercultural wiki collaborations going on as we speak (@Marisa_C)

Get sts to think about what they think is British Culture. I’ve heard a range of answers: men with top hats and walking sticks,etc. (@ELTexperiences)

Pitfall with teaching british culture, is: what is it? Danger of stereotypes.. (@hartle) [Applies perhaps as a potential pitfall for teaching about any culture.]

My school organise an international food day every 3 month. Ss and Ts make food from their country share! Yum! (@ditaphilips)

Topic of culture also allows students to be ‘experts’ on an area. Great for motivation.(@ChristineMulla)

Identifying cultural elements in films/video clips could be a class activity (@Marisa_C)

Can ask monocultural classes what advice they’d like to give to foreign students coming to their country to study. (@Philip_Saxon)

Can get students to turn local news into a BBC or CNN treatment and vice versa (@Marisa_C)

Organize an international day at school.Ss in charge of research, organization and reaching out. (@Laila_Khairat)

We can ask Ss to interview family members who have lived abroad (@Laila_Khairat)


Delta Publishing: Culture in our classrooms

ELTExperiences blog: British Culture quiz 

Why not try post-crossing: Post-crossing website

…or a virtual exchange project? – see Rose Bard’s project for inspiration!

Routledge: Language, culture and teaching: critical perspectives

Cambridge: Cambridge Intercultural Resource Pack

Kwintissential: International Business Etiquette website/app ; International Etiquette guides

Wiley: Multicultural Education: issues and perspectives

Adrian Holliday: Authenticity, communities and hidden potential – video presentation

and I would add:

Sandra MacKay: Teaching English as an International Language: rethinking goals and approaches  

Adrian Holliday: The Struggle to teach English as an International Language

Ed. Farzad Sharifian: English as an International Language: Perspectives and pedagogical issues 

Corbett (2003) An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching. 

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3  (If you have access – I no longer do but did when I was at Leeds Met!) 

 – all of which I have read and highly recommend! 


It’s all very well but..

Speaking of cross cultural communication, I wish someone would teach English L1 speakers how to talk to an international audience! (@theteacherjames)

Seriously (although in all seriousness you can’t disagree with the quote above!), it was a very interesting discussion to have with a cross-section of teachers from a multiplicity of contexts – and surely a conversation we need to keep having, issues we need to keep interrogating…

In fact, we had a different version of this discussion a few years ago, which I also summarised, called The effect of culture on teaching and learning. Might also be worth a look if you were interested by what we had to say this time around! 🙂

Looking forward to the next #ELTchat – now that I’ve cleared my summary backlog!  If you participated, let me know if I have missed anything you consider crucial or feel I have represented anything incorrectly.

IATEFL 2014: Bridging the gap between materials and the English-speaking environment

My very first IATEFL talk!

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.21.10

Date: Thursday 3rd April 2014

Time: 17.45-18.15

After introducing myself and my three invisible hats (teacher of English, learner of language/teaching, ex-student of the Leeds Met M.A. ELT/Delta – the origin of the ideas on which this talk was based), I provided the following talk outline:

  • Over to you! (A few questions…)
  • Student-led interviews (benefits and issues)
  • My materials
  • Using the framework

Attendees then discussed the following questions:

  • What context do you teach in?
  • What materials do you use?

Which led to these:

  • Do the materials exploit the rich resources of language outside the classroom?
  • Do the materials encourage students to exploit it?
  • Do materials scaffold students to exploit it?

Following this discussion, I revealed two quotes by Tomlinson (2008, 2013):

“None of the books seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere.” (Tomlinson, 2008)

“Little[No] attempt is made to encourage the learners to make use of English in their actual or virtual environments outside the classroom.” (Tomlinson, 2013)

One way in which language schools try to encourage learners to engage with the language in the out-of-classroom environment in English-speaking places is to send learners out to interview members of the public. I asked attendees to consider the benefits and potential issues with this activity, before providing some of my own:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.32.42

The question of how to guide learners across the murky waters of the potential issues to reap the possible benefits is where my materials come in. The next part of the talk discussed the influences that informed the development of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.23.56

And then revealed the basic framework I’d created using Task-Based Learning (Ellis, 2003; Willis and Willis, 2007), Language Awareness Approach (Svalberg, 2007) and the Intercultural Approach (Corbett, 2003):

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.41.48


Of course this bare frame doesn’t demonstrate how those theories were woven in, and does give rise to possible questions/issues. So at this point I predicted some possible questions that might have been forming in the audience’s mind:


  • Won’t they get bored?
  • Is it a good use of so much time?
  • What about linguistic development?
  • Isn’t it a cop out? Mucking about instead of learning language?

And then explored how I used the approaches I’d chosen, to address these issues and to maximise learning and learner engagement, and how I’d addressed issues that critics have raised with regards to the theories. The result was this framework:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.42.00

(F.L. stands for functional language and S.E. stands for students’ experiences.)


The final part of the talk dealt with using this framework and exemplified this with a task from my own materials. The initial steps of using the framework have much in common with a genre-based approach:

  • Think about how you want your ss. to use language
  • Find texts produced in that genre/those genres. (Or make your own with your colleagues!)
  • Identify common generic features (language, structure, organisation, appearance etc)

To this I add:

  • Pinpoint interesting/engaging non-linguistic outcomes.
  • Consider scaffolding.
  • Pick out linguistic and cultural dynamism.
  • Build in reflection.

Obviously the first bullet point of part 2 of the list is in keeping with TBL tenets. The second refers to how the tasks are going to feed into each other, how the activities within each task are going to feed into each other and how the whole is going to enable learners to be able to do something by the end of it. The third is in keeping with the Intercultural Approach and the Language Awareness approach. The final bullet point, opportunities for reflection, is crucial to all three approaches as well as being the key to turning experiences into learning, and connecting learning to experiences.

To exemplify this, I used the third task of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 10.03.44


I discussed how content generated by students in the second task fed into the pre-task activity, in which students collaborate and exchange information, in preparation for the main task of this third task. The main task requires learners to synthesise the information they’ve collected between them, and use it as the basis for their question preparation. They are then helped to analyse  these questions by considering cultural and pragmatic issues, before moving on in the post-task activities to engaging with input in the form of a real interview, which leads to language focus and speaking skills development. Throughout the task, learners are encouraged to reflect and connect their own experiences and knowledge with what they are learning, and to identify similarities and differences between their own culture, other learners’ cultures and the target language culture.

Being a twenty minute talk (plus ten minutes for questions), I had to bring it to an end pretty swiftly by this point, by thanking International House, Palermo, for allowing me to attend IATEFL 2014, and the Leeds Met M.A. ELT department (and especially Heather Buchanan, who was my supervisor for the dissertation project in which I made these materials) for all the guidance and support that I was given in my learning and in realising my ideas, because without the course I most definitely wouldn’t have been giving this talk today. And the final thank you, of course, to everybody who attended!

Here is a list of references for my talk:

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language Awareness and Language Learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. Cambridge Journals

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice Heinle and Heinle. Canada

Murray, N. (2012)  English as a lingua franca and the development of pragmatic competence in ELT Journal Volume 66/3 Oxford University Press

Corbett, J. (2003) An Intercultural Approach to Language Teaching Multilingual Matters. Clevedon

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press Oxford.

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press, Oxford

Tomlinson, B. (2008) English Language Learning Materials: A Critical Review Continuum London

Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (2013) Survey Review: Adult course books in ELT Journal Volume 67/2. Oxford University Press Oxford

Laila’s Story: the next instalment of my materials (listening, language focus and pronunciation) at last!

Months ago (erm, late September to be slightly more precise!), I started uploading instalments of the unit of materials I made for the assessment component of my Materials Development module at Leeds Met last year. Life, a new job, the IHCYLT and everything else took over, and I didn’t get any further than the reading section. At long last, then, here is the next instalment!

This is the listening section of the aforementioned unit and is based on a recording I made of “Laila” telling me a story about something life-changing that happened to her at school as a child and the effect she feels it had on her as a person. This instalment includes:

  • a listening sequence which uses  Vandergrift and Goh’s (2012) metacognitive approach
  • a language focus on features of spoken narrative
  • a pronunciation focus on contrastive stress

All activities draw out different elements of Laila’s story. You can find the following materials  on the Materials Page of this site:

  • Student book pages
  • Teacher’s book pages (including the transcript of the recording)
  • The recording of Laila’s story (for personal use with students only, not for reuse in other materials or websites)
  • The pronunciation tracks

If you use these materials, I would be interested to hear about how you used them and you/your students’ response to them. So, please do comment on this post or on my Materials Page and let me know! 🙂

30 things to enhance your teaching?

In honour of my recent 30th birthday (18th June this year!), I thought I’d attempt to identify 30 things that I’ve incorporated into my professional practice in the past year. 30 is quite a large number, but having spent the last year at Leeds Met, learning vast amounts through tackling my Delta and my M.A. in ELT, I thought I should be able to pinpoint any number of things and that doing so would reinforce them in my mind as well as create a record for me to look back on. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, this is just the 30 things that I’ve been most taken by – including ideas, approaches, tools and techniques. Where possible, I’ve included simple, practical ideas for incorporation of what’s on the list, to make experimentation easier for anyone who should wish to do so. (And the question mark in the post title is deliberate! 🙂 )

I thought it would also be fun for people (i.e. you!) to comment and: 

a) say how many of these already figure in your own professional practice

b) say which of these you particularly like/dislike and why

c) recommend one vital thing for me (and others?) to incorporate that you think is awesome and feel is missing from this list!

So, here goes (in no particular order):

1. Reflective Practice.  This is when, instead of teaching a lesson, then forgetting about it and moving on to teach another lesson, you reflect on the lesson: You think about what went well, what went less well, and why; you think about what you could do differently next time and the effect this might have. You look for the holes in your lesson plan, but you also make a note of any particularly fine moments that you hadn’t anticipated and think about how they came about. You do this systematically, and over time you identify recurring patterns, both good and bad, and make action plans to minimise the latter.

Practical idea for trying this out: You could do what I plan to do this summer, an idea that I had as a result of participating in the #Eltchat discussion on “Learning from your Failures” – at the end of each lesson that you teach, make a note of what you think the 3 best things and 3 worst things about it were. Once a week or fortnight, depending on what suits you the best, get out your notes and reflect on them. Look for patterns, identify weaknesses to address, anything that could be done more effectively, and decide how you are going to address them. This might be a case of making tiny adjustments, doesn’t have to mean massive changes. In subsequent reflections, try to identify if these changes have made any noticeable impact on the best and worst things that you note down.


2. Audacity. This amazing tool can be used to make listening recordings to use in class. You can record your own voice or you can import sound files – perhaps recordings you’ve made on a dictaphone or similar, or a podcast. You can adjust the speed of the recording if you feel it’s too fast, or insert pauses in it. You can choose from a selection of sound effects to add in. For detailed instructions that tell you how to do all these things, visit http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/audacity1/index.html 

Practical idea for trying Audacity out: Use Audacity to make a recording that consists entirely of sound effects and use this in class by getting your learners to create a story that incorporates all of these sound effects. You could build this into a lesson on developing speaking sub-skills. (For more on skills development, see no. 28 below.)


3. Concordances and concordancing: Building and analysing a concordance places learners in the role of researcher.  It is often associated with use of corpora, or collections of spoken or written texts, and computers. The ability to notice patterns in language, that analysing a concordance requires, is useful for a language learner to possess, particularly a higher level learner with access to a lot of target language input outside the classroom,  but does not come automatically by dint of studying a language.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: You can help learners to develop this skill by providing scaffolding to guide them through the process. Early on, it is useful to guide learners to make very small concordances, using written texts or transcripts of spoken texts, and prompt them to notice features of it. As time passes, learners can be encouraged to make larger concordances from multiple texts and scaffolding can be gradually removed. Later on, learners could be introduced to larger corpora, such as the British National Corpus, and guided to make use of this – first with scaffolding, then increasingly unsupported. Ultimately, the goal is for the learner to be able to slip into the role of researcher, and use this process of creation and analysis of concordances, independently.

(Adapted from the teachers guide to the set of materials I produced for my Materials Development module)


4. Awareness of ELF/EIL: English as a Lingua Franca and English as an International language have both been the subject of much debate over the last decade. (However, before I did my M.A. I was completely unaware of this!) Jenkins (2000) advocates for a shift away from imitation of native speakers in pronunciation teaching and towards a focus on intelligibility, identifying a lingua franca core of features which are of importance for this. If you are interested in this, I recommend reading Jenkins (1998), an ELTJ article in which she makes the case for questioning the appropriacy of Native Speaker models in a world where English is widely used as a means of communication between non-native speakers of English. However, ELF is no longer only discussed in academic circles, as illustrated by the recent #Eltchat discussion about it (summary here), which also makes good reading for anyone interested in this subject. For a summary of features of ELF pronunciation, you may also like to read Walker (2001) 

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: I would highly recommend sourcing Walker (2010), as this contains a wealth of ideas for adopting an ELF approach to pronunciation in the classroom, as well as an audio CD with samples of speech by ELF speakers. You will then have no shortage of practical ideas for use in the classroom! 🙂


5. Metacognition: I discovered the idea of metacognition through reading Vandergrift and Goh (2012). The idea behind developing this in learners is that the more aware learners are of the cognitive processes they use in language learning, the more able they will be to deploy these effectively. Thus, instead of learners blindly following what the teacher tells them to do, learners are encouraged to think about and discuss *why* they are doing things and what benefits may be had in doing them. Over time, learners can be encouraged to reflect on their progress and identify areas to work on. Developing metacognitive awareness in learners goes hand in hand with developing their ability to learn independently.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: After learners complete an activity from their course book, or of your own making, ask learners to think about and discuss what they gained from doing it, what they think the purpose behind it was and whether they can think of any ways in which it could be done more effectively in future lessons. (For a fuller treatment of Metacognition and ideas of how to bring it into your classroom, please visit my post entitled Bringing Metacognition into the Classroom – or if you are especially keen on this idea, you may like to read Vandergrift and Goh, 2012 – a wealth of practical ideas can be found therein!)


6. Language Awareness approach This approach to language learning is based on the following 5 principles described by Borg, as quoted in Svalberg (1997:290-291):

  1. It involves an ONGOING INVESTIGATION of language as a dynamic phenomenon rather than awareness of a fixed body of established facts.
  2. It involves learners in TALKING ANALYTICALLY about language, often to each other.
  3. It considers essential the INVOLVEMENT of learners in exploration and discovery.
  4. It aims to develop not only the learners’ knowledge about and understanding of language but also their LEARNING SKILLS, thus promoting learner independence.
  5. The aim is to involve learners on both a COGNITIVE and AFFECTIVE level.

This encapsulates a holistic, discovery approach to language learning, which can easily be used alongside other methodological approaches such as CLT or TBLT. Rather than presenting linguistic features, create tasks that enable learners to discover these. (For a more detailed exploration of the Language Awareness Approach, take a look at this post of mine)

Practical idea for incorporating a Language Awareness approach: Draw learners’ attention to a feature of language within a text that they have already engaged with at meaning level. Get learners to think about how else the idea encapsulated in that form could be expressed. What effect would the different ways of expressing it have on the text? Why has the writer chosen this form? What might be the intended effect on the audience? What effect does it have on them as an audience?


7. Consciousness-Raising approach: Ellis (2003: 163) describes the Consciousness-Raising Approach as ““a kind of puzzle which when solved enables learners to discover for themselves how a linguistic feature works”. Like the LA approach, discovery of and discussion about language are important, as is cognitive engagement. Within Task-Based Learning, a CR task could be used as the main task, as learners talk about a linguistic feature but are not compelled to use it. The non-linguistic outcome would be the observations generated. (For a more detailed exploration of the Consciousness-Raising Approach, take a look at this post of mine)

Practical idea for using Consciousness-Raising in the classroom: Identify a structure that you want learners to focus on. Create a set of sentences using the structure – this will be the data that learners use to extrapolate information about the feature in question. Prompt learners to notice how the structure is used and to formulate a rule for expressing this.


8. Collocations: If words commonly occur together, it stands to reason that it would be helpful for learners to learn them together. Collocations can be divided into lexical collocations (e.g. noun-noun, verb-noun, adjective-noun) and grammatical collocations (e.g. verb and particle collocation). Some collocations are very strong: If I say what goes with “rancid”, you are likely to say “butter” but many are medium-strength and according to Hill (2000:64), “The main learning load for all language users is not at the strong or weak ends of the collocational spectrum, but in the middle – those many thousands of collocations which make up a large part of what we say and write.” The more aware learners become of the company words keep, the better able they will be to produce natural-sounding spoken and written language.

Practical idea for using collocations in the classroom: When you introduce new vocabulary, think about the company it keeps. If forms part of any common collocations, introduce these as well. Encourage learners to record common collocations rather than individual words. You could also create groups of sentences with a word common to all of them blanked out. See if the learners can identify what the word is through looking at the words around the gap.


9. Phonology esp. the effect of connected speech on listening: “I can’t understand, they are speaking too fast” is a common complaint amongst learners in listening lessons the world over. In fact, often it is not the speed that is the issue but the effect that connected speech has on individual sounds in individual words. Whether it’s weak forms of functional words or elisions and assimilations of sounds at word boundaries, or simply the lack of the clear delineation of one word from another that is typical of written language, there is often a big gap between what is taught (dictionary pronunciation of isolated words) and what is heard in the speech stream (connected speech). Raising learners’ awareness of features of connected speech can help them understand what it is they are finding difficult about understanding the stream of speech, rather than feeling a general sense of failure. (I did my Delta LSA3 on Phonology, specifically helping learners with connected speech and found it a fascinating area of study.)

Practical idea for raising learners’ awareness of connected speech: When learners have already engaged with a text at meaning level, pick out phrases which showcase elision or assimilation or any given feature that you want to focus on, and use them as the basis for a task that helps learners discover how sounds change in connected speech.


10. Spoken grammar: This was a particularly interesting discovery for me. There is a lot of difference between the way we speak and the way we write, yet we tend to expect learners to speak written English. Of course, it may not be relevant for learners to learn how to produce features of native speaker spoken grammar, but for others learning about this at least on a receptive level could be very helpful in making spoken language less opaque. Spoken grammar is closely linked with how language in conversation is co-constructed and context-dependent. An interesting example of  spoken grammar is the use of “though”. In written English, you may find sentences such as “Though the use of English as a Lingua Franca is increasing exponentially, many learners world-wide are compelled to approximate a Native Speaker model, whether or not this is relevant to their needs.” However, in spoken English it is often used as part of an exchange, e.g: S1: Mmm, lovely food! S2: Bit spicy though. Sometimes it is not even necessary for S1 to produce the first part of the exchange, if it is implicitly understood by both speakers. (After I learnt about how “though” is used in spoken language, from Dr. Timmis, I listened out for use of it, both mine and others’, and found it really interesting because until then I never knew I used it or heard it so often!)

Practical ideas for use in class: Re-write a course book dialogue so that it includes features of spoken grammar, so that learners can compare it with the original and identify the differences. Whether or not learners will then want to experiment with production of such features will depend on context and needs. (If you are interested in this area of language, I recommend reading Timmis (2005, 2012) and McCarthy and Carter (1995).)


11. Features of casual conversation e.g. storytelling: Analysis of casual conversation is another fascinating area of study (and I would thoroughly recommend reading Eggins and Slade (1997) and/or Thornbury and Slade (2006) – even if you don’t want to use their theory in your teaching, it just makes interesting reading!). Storytelling is a very common feature of casual conversation, used for building and maintaining relationships and constructing identity. Eggins and Slade (1997) divide this genre into 4 sub-genres: narrative, anecdote, exemplum and recount, each of which exhibits different mixtures of Labov’s (1972) six possible narrative stages (abstract, orientation, complication,  evaluation, resolution and coda). Of these sub-genres, anecdotes are the most commonly told. Often forgotten but very important in storytelling is the role of the listener: this involves responding to what is being recounted through use of supportive noises or language called back-channels and evaluating what is heard. We can help learners by teaching them structural features of anecdotes and the chunks of language typically used to realise this, the importance of evaluative language and non-linguistic devices (e.g. gesture, intonation, pace) as well as how to listen supportively.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Jones (2001) describes a very useful activity for helping learners with storytelling. This involves producing two versions of an anecdote, one version should be bare of all structural language, evaluative devices and listener interaction, while the other should include these. Learners can be guided to notice the differences between the two versions and discuss the effect that these features have on a story. Useful chunks can be identified and recorded, and activities devised to enable learners to try using these.


12. Storyboards: Online storyboarding software offers interesting possibilities for project work with learners. Using software such as www.wevideo.com (which you can access via Google Drive if you have a Gmail email account or register directly on the site), learners can combine images, film, text and audio (including voice recordings) in a single video clip.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Instead of culminating a project with a presentation, get learners to use storyboarding software to present their findings using a combination of images, film, text and audio. (Don’t forget to teach them how to source creative commons images using Google Advanced search or resources such as Eltpics ) You could also take this a step further and embed learners’ creations on a class wiki. 


13. Learner autonomy: Learner Autonomy is one of those ELT buzzwords which everyone bandies about glibly. However, when you scratch beneath the surface, it’s not as simple as you might like. A range of theoretical perspectives on learner autonomy exist, and even once you’ve chosen which one(s) you agree with, you have to decide what kind of methodological approach you are going to use with it. Different perspectives and methodological approaches will suit different contexts and learning needs, and it is important to be sensitive to these factors. Personally, I’m a fan of the social constructivist theory of learning. Within this theory, learning involves forming connections between prior experience and new information,  and is achieved through collaboration with others. The sociocultural approach to learner autonomy is well-suited to this theory. The goal of autonomy within this approach is participation in a community, and great value is placed on mediated learning. In terms of methodology, I prefer Smith’s (2003) strong methodology, where the teacher works with learners to identify the autonomous learning strategies best suited to their individual needs, rather than transmitting  a set of behaviours in the assumption that learners are deficient in this respect. (For more information about these theories and approaches, see Oxford, 2003 and Smith, 2003)

Practical Ideas for developing learner autonomy: 

(Of course, this may be better suited to learners in an English-speaking environment, unless a specific community of practice has been identified, to which the learners want access.) An idea I’m developing in my dissertation project is a module of materials that equips learners to use the English outside the classroom, by guiding them through the process of researching, designing questionnaires, piloting these and then using them as well as analysing and presenting the data that they yield. The point here is that for learners to learn successfully outside of the classroom, they need to be prepared to do this in the classroom. This might be as simple as setting aside time each week for discussion of out-of-class activities that have been done, problems that have been faced and out-of-class work plans for the following week. Using tools like wikis and blogs is also likely to be more successful if their use is integrated into the in-class programme.


14. Task-based language teaching: This is a strong form of Communicative Language Teaching, in which the task is the main unit of syllabus organisation. Definitions of task abound, but proponents all seem to agree that the main focus of a task should be meaning (rather than form) and that the main task needs to yield a non-linguistic outcome. The task cycle generally consists of a pre-task phase, the main task and a post-task phase, with the pre-task phase and post-task phase being optional. Willis and Willis (2007) argue that focus on form should only come in the post-task phase, though focus on language (which is learner-driven) can occur at any point. Ellis (2003) suggests that a Consciousness-Raising approach goes well with TBLT, and that a CR task can form the main task of the cycle because learners are not compelled to use a particular structure in order to complete the task – they are only required to discuss it, using language and structures of their own choosing.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Turn an activity that you are planning to use with your learners into a task by adjusting it to ensure that it meets task criteria e.g. a focus on meaning, no explicit focus on form (if there is focus on form, learners should be unaware of this), yields a non-linguistic outcome. For example, instead of getting learners to read a text, turn it into a jigsaw reading, where the text is divided up between learners, who must collaborate, without showing their portion of the text to any classmates, in order to gain the whole story.


15. Intercultural Approach: Rather than teaching culture as a fixed body of facts, Corbett (2003) recommends developing intercultural awareness and competence through a process approach to culture. Instead of treating the target language culture as a model, learners are encouraged to explore it and use it as a point of comparison with their own and other cultures, and helped to develop skills that can help them with this.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Whenever possible, factor in reflective activities that encourage learners to compare how English is used to make meaning, and the cultural reasons behind this, with their L1/culture. This can often easily be integrated into whatever is being learnt linguistically. Discussing their own L1/culture heightens learners’ awareness of the influence this has on them and comparison with the target language/culture, as well as that of classmates in multilingual classes, increases sensitivity to difference.


16. Constructivism and Social Constructivism in language learning: This approach to learning, which I am particularly fond of, is a humanistic model of learning. Beatty (2011:99) describes it as “a process by which learners construct new ideas or concepts by making use of their own knowledge and experiences”. Rather than being an empty page or a blob of clay to be moulded, as in Behaviourist approaches, the learner is considered rich with background knowledge and experience, which should be drawn upon in the classroom. When the learner meets new information, previous knowledge is restructured to accommodate it. The role of the teacher is to facilitate this. Social constructivism adds to this the importance of collaboration in learning, in the belief that learners can achieve more through interaction, with each other and/or with the teacher than they can individually. Vygotsky’s theories on this, including about the Zone of Proximal Development, which is “the idea that the potential for cognitive development is limited to a certain gap, which he calls the ZPD” (ibid:104), which learners cannot reach alone, have been influential.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Think about how you can facilitate learning rather than simply presenting learners with new information. Cognitively engaging collaborative activity represents a means of enabling this. So, incorporating a consciousness-raising task (see no. 7 above) or a language-awareness task (see no. 6 above) offers a means of experimenting with this. Another way is to exploit learners’ experiences and background knowledge in the activities you ask them to do. (See no. 22 below).


17. Cognitive engagement and affective engagement: To engage learners cognitively is to challenge them mentally by increasing the depth of processing necessary to complete an activity. Some activities require greater cognitive engagement than others. Those that require greater cognitive engagement are those that stimulate use of higher order thinking skills. (See Penny Ur’s IATEFL seminar on this topic, which will be available soon on the IATEFL website members area). To engage learners affectively is to stimulate an emotional or personal response to what is being learnt. This stimulates different areas of the brain and proponents believe that this kind of stimulation is important for effective language learning.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: When planning a lesson, consider what types of engagement your sequence of activities is stimulating. See if there is a balance of cognitive and affective engagement being facilitated. If there isn’t, think about ways that you could adjust the sequence to allow for greater cognitive or affective engagement.


18. Cuisenaire Rods: I did my Delta Experimental Practice on Cuisenaire Rods – I had met them during my CELTA course and they had intrigued me, but I had never got round to using them in the classroom. Cuisenaire Rods originated in the primary maths classroom, but were introduced into ELT by Caleb Gattegno, through a method known as “The Silent Way”. The rods come in a range of sizes, all multiples of the smallest, and each size is a different colour. They are very useful in eliciting language and ideas from learners and can represent anything from word stress to a scene in a story.

Ideas for use in the classroom: My favourite way of using Cuisenaire Rods, which I used as the basis of my Experimental Practice lesson plan, is to get learners to use them as a storytelling aid. I modelled this process first, eliciting a story from the learners, and then had the learners use the rods to tell the stories depicted in the newspaper articles that they read at the start of the lesson. One thing I learnt from doing this Experimental Practice is the importance of having a clear reason for using the rods and a clear idea of the balance between accuracy and fluency within the classroom (see no. 30 below). Underhill (2005) contains ideas for using rods to help learners with pronunciation and Neil (2006) offers a variety of activities that can be done using rods.


19. The history of Methods in ELT and Principled Eclecticism: ELT has a rich history of methods, based on various theories of language, teaching and learning and influenced also by theories of psychology. While we often pooh-pooh old methods from our comfortably superior super-modern position, it’s worth bearing in mind that each of them offers valuable elements that can be incorporated into our teaching. So, for example, from the Grammar-Translation method, we might take on board the value of using translation as a learning tool – perhaps as a means of contrasting the target language with learners’ L1 (see no. 29 below). From Audiolingualism, we might incorporate the odd bit of drilling, to give learners a chance to get their mouths around new bits of language. And so it goes on… (For a full account of method in ELT and what the good bits of each might be considered to be, I highly recommend watching @chiasuan’s webinar on the topic) 

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Pick a method and research it. Try to identify if you use any of its techniques in your teaching already and what principles the method is using them to embody. See if there are any other techniques associated with it that you could try out. For example, you might look at the Silent Way and decide to experiment with using Cuisnenaire rods (for ideas of how to do this see no. 18 above.)


20. The Text-driven Approach: This approach is most heavily associated with Brian Tomlinson (E.g. see Tomlinson, 2008) and draws on an experiential approach to learning. It is based on the idea that for language learning to be most effective, all areas of the brain should be stimulated during the learning process. Thus affective engagement is as important as cognitive engagement. (See no. 17 above for more on cognitive engagement and affective engagement) Materials which embody this approach ask learners to do activities which generate a multidimensional representation of the text in their brains. For example, learners may be asked to visualise, to draw, to share their visualisations/drawings, to develop these in further activities, to respond to the text creatively, and finally to consider the language used in the text. Activities are designed to help learners approach the text in the way that they might if they were reading or listening in their L1.

Practical idea for using the Text-driven Approach: Use a fictional extract or a poem in the classroom, and ask learners to read/listen to it and imagine how they would feel if they were the main character. Get them to imagine a conversation between characters. Ask them to draw up a list of interview questions for the main character and imagine the responses. Get them to imagine the sights/sounds/smells that characters in the extract/poem might be seeing/hearing/smelling. Identify a feature of language and get learners to create a concordance of the occurrences of this within the text. They can use this to look for patterns. (For more on concordancing, see no. 3 above)


21. Principled use of Multimedia tools: With the proliferation of multimedia tools that can be used in the ELT classroom, the decisions of whether or not to use them and how best to use them if you choose to become very important. There is a need for absolute clarity regarding the pedagogical benefits of use and the requirements – is it a tool learners are familiar with from out-of-school use or is it brand new to them, in which case using it AND learning English through using it may create an overly large cognitive load. If you want learners to use it outside of the classroom, how are you going to ensure that they are able to do this effectively? If you are going to use it in class, is the time that will be spent on it worth the gains that will be had from using it? Could what you are doing with it be done more efficiently without it? If you are interested in how multimedia and theories of learning/language relate, Beatty (2010) is worth reading. (There’s certainly a lot more to consider than I was aware of before I did my Multimedia and Independent Learning module at Leeds Met!)

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Next time you decide to use a multimedia tool, ask yourself the questions in 21. and make sure you are clear on your reasons for use, the potential benefits and drawbacks, and how you will maximise the former and minimise the latter.


22. The importance of schema and schemata activation:  This is related to the Constructivist theory of learning (see no. 16 above). Schemata are like mental mind maps, which we continually adjust, update, add to and delete from, as we take in new experiences and information. Thus, it is a rich resource to tap. If a learner is going to listen to or read a text, it is likely that they will be much better able to do this if they have first activated any background knowledge they have on the topic. This enables them to make more effective predictions about what they will read or hear, and what vocabulary they might encounter in the process.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom:  Use visual stimuli or verbal/written prompts to encourage discussion around the topic upon which the reading or listening text that you are planning to do with your class is based. Give learners the opening of the text and get them to predict what might come next. Get learners to predict what vocabulary they might see or hear. Learners can then check their ideas and predictions against what they see or hear. New information and language can then be connected to existing knowledge. (For more about schema theory, Beatty, 2010 gives a useful summary)


23. Effective scaffolding – within a task, within a lesson, within a course of materials: For me, the question at the root of this is “How am I going to help learners to do this better?” Whether this is reading/listening to a text, telling a story, understanding a feature of language, it will be more effective if the answer to this question is clear. Providing effective scaffolding is  a way of helping learners work in their Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky), where what they are able to do is greater than it would be without the mediation of a more experienced other. Over the length of a course, it may benefit learners to be given gradually less scaffolding, as they gain in confidence and proficiency, as the less scaffolding there is, the more independent learners need to be in carrying out whichever activity it is, which will benefit them outside of the classroom.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: It’s as simple as: When planning a lesson, think about and answer the question, “How am I helping learners to do this better?” and make sure that whatever you are planning does help learners do something better  in some way.  (I will confess to not considering this clearly until my Delta LSA2 tutor recommended that I do! Since then, it is has become an integral part of my planning.)


24. Different methods of error correction: Who knew there were so many?! The most straightforward one is to provide the correct answer when a learner makes a mistake – be it grammatical, lexical, phonological or an answer to an activity question. However, this may not be the most effective in terms of potential learning yield. If you are told something, it is very easy to forget again. Guiding learners to the correct answer, rather than simply providing it, increases their cognitive engagement and makes the learning more memorable. Of course, which method to use depends on the type of error, the context in which its made, the focus of the lesson phase during which it is made (see no. 30 below) how much time you consider it worth spending on that error and so on.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Instead of simply providing the correct answer, give the learner a chance to self-correct (learners often can – and it also gives you time to think about how best to deal with the error if they are not able to!) and then throw it open to the rest of the class, to see if they are able to peer correct. Use elicitation questions to help nudge learners towards the correction. For example, if learners stress a word wrongly, get them to repeat the word and see if they pronounce it correctly this time. Then ask the rest of the class how they think it is pronounced. If they still can’t get it, provide another word that is stressed similarly. Ask them how many syllables it has and where the stress is, and get them to apply this to the original word.


25. Classroom-based research: This is, or can be, related to reflective practice (see no. 1 above) and refers to systematic experimentation within the classroom. You might want to find out what is causing a particular pattern of behaviour in your classroom, why things are or aren’t happening and try out different ways of doing things that may or may not turn out to be more effective with your learners. You follow a cycle of identifying what it is you want to investigate, perhaps seeing what’s written about it in the literature, decide what you are going to try doing, then collect your data (through observation, eliciting learner feedback, getting colleagues to observe you etc) and analyse it and then reflect on your findings and what they might mean. From this you identify whether or not what you tried was successful/worth doing again and you identify other areas of interest to follow up, and from here you return to the literature to continue the cycle. (I’ve seen it represented visually as a spiralling cycle.)

Practical idea for use in the classroom:   Well I suppose this is obvious enough! – Try out the above process and see what you can find out!


26. Teaching listening rather than testing listening: Field (2008) suggests that listening lessons are often a test of listening rather than an opportunity for listening skill development. Listening in a second language is a complex business, so it stands to reason that it would be more helpful to teach learners how to do it better rather than simply testing what they are currently able to do. The benefits for learners would include understanding their difficulties and being better able to tackle these, rather than simply finding it difficult and assuming they are incapable. (Prior to doing my LSA 2 on listening, during which process I read Field (2008) amongst other things, I confess that this was yet something else I had no idea about – I just did the usual listening lesson, which consists more of testing than teaching.)

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Rather than simply getting learners to listen to a recording and answer the questions, then providing them with the answers and moving on, try this: Use ideas from Tomlinson’s text-driven approach (see no. 20 above) to encourage learners to use their whole brain in listening to the recording, deploying all their background and contextual knowledge too. Then, after they answer the set questions, have them discuss their answers in pairs and listen again to resolve any disagreements.  Once you’ve finished with the set questions, let learners look at the transcript and check their answers. Then, you can do some work with the transcript – perhaps some awareness-raising for features of connected speech (see no. 9 above), for example. You could also get learners to analyse the problems they’ve had, which can be scaffolded by providing them with a set of problems to choose from and apply to what they weren’t able to understand of the recording. Finally, get learners to discuss this process that you have taken them through. Ask them to reflect on what they’ve learnt, how it benefitted them during this class and how it could benefit them outside of the class. For further ways of helping learners with listening, see Field (2008) and Vandergrift and Goh (2012), from which I learnt about these approaches to teaching listening.


27. Evernote: This is a brilliant tool – for teachers as well as learners! It is essentially a curation tool. For teachers, it is a handy way of saving anything you come across online – journal articles, website links, magazine/newspaper articles etc – or create offline – word documents, powerpoint presentations etc – that could come in handy later on, for use in lessons or as a reference. For learners, the same applies, which could be useful for project work, for example,  but in addition learners can use it as a repository for their work – an e-portfolio (this idea I heard mentioned at a talk at IATEFL 2013, but I can’t remember which – if it was yours, please let me know so I can attribute it!). You can divide things up by creating extra notebooks and index things through use of tags, which makes it very easy to organise what is collected or produced so that it is very easy to navigate.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Get learners to create their own Evernote account and use it as described above, putting in anything they feel worth holding on to. You could get them to create notebooks for different things, including one or more for their own work. Periodically you could encourage them to look over what they have done and reflect on their progress. You could also create a class account, for project work. Each group could have their own notebook and use it for collaboration. They could use the note-writing facility to communicate with each other.


28. Skill development: How can we help learners develop skills? As mentioned above (see no. 26) Field (2008) suggests that listening lessons are often a test of listening rather than an opportunity for listening skill development. In many course books, speaking activities provide opportunity for oral production of a particular structure or opportunity for personalisation of a topic, but what about skill development? One way of incorporating skill development into a lesson is to break something down into its constituent sub-skills and devise ways of helping learners manage these better. Another way is to raise metacognitive awareness (see no. 5 above) of sub-skills. On a simpler level, classroom management can also be used to benefit skill development.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Rather than just making learners listen/read/speak/write, provide them with tasks that scaffold the process (see no. 23 above for more about scaffolding) and raise their awareness of the sub-skills and processes that listening/reading/speaking/writing require. For example, instead of just getting learners to tell a story, using the narrative tenses you’ve been focusing on in class, help them develop the sub-skills for effective storytelling, e.g. use of evaluative language, structural language, supportive listening, paralinguistic devices and so on. Get them to compare these with how they are realised in L1. Or, instead of just getting learners to read and answer questions, teach them techniques for dealing with unknown words. 


29. The use of L1 in the classroom: For a long time, use of L1 was frowned upon because it meant less opportunity for use of L2. However, translation is always happening in the classroom – inside learners heads – and it can be put to good use. L1 can be used as a point of comparison with the L2: comparing how different speech acts are realised in the L1 as vs. the L2, for example, can be very useful for raising learners’ awareness of both similarities and differences. This enables more positive transfer, where relevant, and minimises negative transfer.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: After working with a text, or doing a task, get learners to translate some of the language used into their L1 and then compare this with how they would really express those concepts in L1. How much difference is there? Then have them translate the product of that exercise back into English. How different is this from the original English? What effect do the differences have?


30. Fluency/Accuracy/Complexity: At any given point in a lesson, activities may be geared towards developing learners’ accuracy, or increasing their fluency or promoting complexity of language use, or some combination of these. Factors such as how much cognitive load the activity places on learners, and how much performance stress there is, affect the level of attention learners can direct at each. All requirement development, so it is useful to consider when planning what the focus of each activity planned is, and whether overall there is a good balance of activities.Task repetition may be used to develop fluency and complexity, because these can increase as the cognitive load of the activity decreases through familiarity with content. Being aware of the focus at any given stage in the lesson will also influence error correction (see no. 24 above) – during an accuracy phase, error correction will often be explicit and immediate, whereas during a fluency phase, error correction may be delayed. (This may seem so obvious, but before I learnt about this during the Delta, my error correction was very unsystematic, as I hadn’t considered the relationship between lesson focus and treatment of errors. There may be no hard and fast rules, but I have found it useful guidance.)

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: When planning a lesson, think about the fluency/accuracy/complexity goals of each activity and how this might influence how it is carried out in class. Think about how the activities/tasks/exercises could be tweaked to make it easier for learners to achieve the desired focus. Think about the balance of activities you have planned and make sure you are happy with the amount of focus on each component (fluency/accuracy/complexity).



Beatty, (2010) Teaching and Researching Computer-Assisted Language Learning. 2nd Edition. Pearson Education Limited. Harlow.

Eggins and Slade: Analysing Casual Conversation. Continuum. London. 1997.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task Based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press

Field, J. (2008) Listening in the Language Classroom Cambridge University Press.

Hill, J. (April 1999) Collocational Competence in English Teaching Professional Issue 11, pp.3-7. Pavilion.

Jenkins, J. (1998) Which pronunciation norms and models for English as an International Language? ELTJ vol. 52/2

Jones, R. (2001) A consciousness-raising approach to the teaching of conversational storytelling in ELTJ volume 55/2. Oxford University Press.

McCarthy and Carter (1995) Spoken Grammar: What is it and how can we teach it? in ELTJ vol. 49/3 Oxford University Press.

Neil, J. (2006) Chameleons of the Classroom. English Teaching Professional • Issue 45 •

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Ed Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. Palgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Ed Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

Svalberg, A. (1997) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Thornbury S. and Slade D. Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Timmis, I. (2005) Towards a framework for teaching spoken grammar in ELTJ vol. 59/2 Oxford University Press.

Timmis, I. (2012) Spoken language research and ELT: Where are we now? in ELTJ vol. 66/4 Oxford University Press

Tomlinson, B.(2003) Developing Materials for English Language Teaching  Continuum.

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Macmillan. Oxford.

Vandergrift L. and Goh, C (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening.Routledge.

Walker, R. (2010) Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca Oxford University Press

Summary of #ELTchat discussion: “The effect of culture on teaching and learning”

It is that time of the week again, the day after the #ELTchat discussion. Thanks to my runaway enthusiasm, it finds me with a lengthy transcript and the task of turning it into something coherent. It was, as usual, a mind-bender of a discussion, so this task is a far from unpleasant one for me!

The transcript divides itself quite neatly, amongst the chaos, into three distinctive areas of interest: defining culture, how culture affects teachers and how culture affects learning as well as learners. I have structured this summary along these lines. I have also included a few of my own thoughts, which are demarcated by the use of [square brackets] and hope no one will be offended by this authorial intervention!!

Without any further ado, then:

Defining Culture

To start us off, then, @Sjhannam noted, a lot of people use the term “culture” without definition. This issue was duly dealt with in a flurry of tweets (a chorus of tweets? a cacophany of tweets? what *is* the collective for a group of tweets?) as we all put forward potential meanings as well as raising issues, and set about defining this multi-faceted term.

One definition that was given many supportive retweets came from @rilberni who postulated that culture is the set of ‘norms’ that are adhered to by a particular society e.g. punctuality. @JoHart’s attempt to define culture also attracted its share of retweets and went thus: “Culture is the mores and conventions by which a societal group lives and interacts, usually to avoid conflict.

@Sjhannam suggested that as we define culture, we need to be clear if we are talking about culture in the wider sense or in terms of cultural difference (as it is often used) while @barbsaka quite rightly pointed out that “Big Culture with a “C” (art etc) doesn’t usually affect a class: it is culture with a little “c” that trips up classes.

@LizziePinard opined that language is part of culture, which gained a few retweets and was built upon by @pjgallantry who gave us the examples of naval terms in British English, as well as idioms, and reminded us that the English language is also informed by the number of different cultures it has interacted with, which is apparent in “borrowed words” amongst other things. Meanwhile, @FarnhamCastle flipped it around and said culture is part of language.

This perspective was balanced by @rilberni who agreed that language is part of culture but believes that English language is not, in some ways and @JoeMcVeigh who put forward his view that we cannot say culture IS language and vice-versa, only that they are important parts of each other and closely related. @Lizziepinard hazarded an expansion of @rilberni’s comment, as follows: “so English as part of English culture but also as part of the cultures that have absorbed it and made all different englishes out of it?”, while @sjhannam volunteered the view that “English can be seen as pan-cultural”, in that it is “used by many for their own purposes and they bring to it what they will in terms of their own cultural reference.” She likes Pennycook’s idea of “transcultural flow” in this context, which assumes people use English to create meaning of their own – as well as in their various mother tongues.

The Effect of Culture on Teaching

@JoeMcVeigh starts us off nicely in this section by asking, “how do you see intercultural differences helping/hindering your teaching?”. @Barbsaka put forward a couple of practical examples of this, such as knowing that her students do not show readiness to start class by making eye contact helps her teach and that awareness of cultural norms such as students not willing to sit on the floor or next to someone of the opposite gender is necessary for the class not to be derailed.

@theteacherjames championed a culture-neutral approach by saying that while bringing culture into the classroom is not inherently an imposition, if it is not led by students’ needs or curiosity, then it might have some unfortunate overtones. This seems to link with @timjulian60’s view that it is essential to understand students’ reasons for learning English, as ESP students may not want to learn about Guy Fawkes or Christmas in the UK while others might. When @OUPELT questioned whether one can learn English successfully and not care for the English-speaking countries, @theteacherjames responded to this by sharing his belief that, English no longer being the domain of the native-speaking countries, this should be entirely possible.

@barbsaka threw us all a curve ball when she suggested that we were talking about three different facets of culture in the classroom at this point: artefacts, norms and language-influence. @sjhannam posited that this confusion was the essence of the problem: we were using “cultural” in a multitude of ways simultaneously. [Author comment: this issue is not something that makes summarising any easier, let me tell you!] @Barbsaka explained that by cultural artefacts she means, for example, when we have a holiday party, bring in L2 artefacts, or ask students to teach us about their culture (in English). Norms, as we discussed earlier, lie at the root of “cultural differences” and come out in both teacher and student behaviour and may also impact what and how we teach. Language-influence would seem to refer to how culture affects English, how this affects our teaching of English and the impact of English on other cultures as well as the emergence of International English and related issues.

Heretofore, then, we have barely scratched the surface. Time to add some more detail to our sub-categories of Artefacts, Norms and Language-Influence.


Bringing culture into the classroom. @Yitzha_sarwono put forward that, “when learning some phrases, we are engaging in the culture itself, because they have history in them. This was expanded upon by @Lizziepinard who mentioned idioms, metaphors, proverbs and fairytales as examples of where we engage with culture as we engage with language. This angle of things was found worrying by @theteacherjames who said that as a Briton, he is always concerned about committing cultural imperialism by stealth. On a lighter note, @JoeMcVeigh suggested that literature and film can be valuable tools for exploring culture in the classroom, which was built upon by @Vimpela recommending using The Simpsons as a great way to explore US culture, with humour. Meanwhile, we must consider the other slant on this, which was nicely put by @marekandrews: “If the culture of the learners is accessed and activated in a lesson, it will usually be an advantage for the ‘success’ of the lesson.” As well as bringing our own culture into the classroom, we must not be afraid to activate the wealth of culture we find already there waiting for us! This all ties in with @Lizziepinard’s comment that culture is one of many vehicles that we can use to transport language to our students.


@Marekandrew postulates that what is key is how to help students negotiate cultural misunderstandings, as you can never eliminate them. This, then, is the territory of cultural differences and their role in the classroom. JoeMcVeigh reminds us of the importance of teaching students about non-verbal communication e.g. eye contact, standing distance, firmness of handshake, gestures, with @JoHart highlighting the overlap between language and culture here. @Mkfoab described how their students often sound ‘rude’ in English, illustrating this with the classic “I want” instead of “I’d like to” and nominated this as an appropriate time to teach students about the culture of the language.

As well as what we teach, equally important, as ever, is what we learn. @Yitzha_sarwono recommends that we use awareness of host country culture norms to our advantage, giving the example of politeness being part of Indonesian culture and therefore awareness helping to nurture better terms between students and teachers. @Rilberni raises the importance of remembering cultural issues when dealing with things like how students approach writing (with @JoeMcVeigh offering contrastive rhetoric research by Kaplan and Connor as an illustratrion of this) or their use of register and forms of address. @harrisonmike reminds us that we must be careful in dealing with plagiarism too, in some cultures it is not considered a bad thing, backed up by @timjulian60 who observed that Italians often have a very relaxed attitude to what a Briton would call “cheating”. From the heights of theory, we must also be aware of the simple things, such as the effect of culture students’ attitudes towards making and correcting mistakes or more simply still, how they indicate “yes” and “no” – as pointed out by @harrisonmike, for example, Sri Lankans nod for “no” and shake their heads for “yes”! These differences, as @Lizziepinard said, might be very important in business classes, if the students intend to embark on cross-cultural business negotiations.


@Barbsaka, once again, offers us a concrete example of this and the effect in the classroom: In Japan, a different way of viewing position and location makes it a challenge to teach prepositions. As sjhannam says, “a teacher’s ‘culture’ is central to the way they teach and understand their students” and @teacherjames believes that despite the global nature of English, it still strongly reflects US and UK values. At the same time, language relates to one’s every-day realities, pointed out @cherrymp, so students can come up asking for English equivalents of the things that they see around them, which in the EFL sector are often rooted in their own language and culture. Often, as @Barbsaka, responded, there is no equivalent in English.

Meanwhile, @rliberni mentions she and colleagues having been told that they should adapt their language to international standards, which she found insulting, and that she had read in a few articles that native speakers should be taught “International English” (as distinct from other varieties). Sjhannam questioned the possibility of one international variety or one variety of British English, as language is too dynamic for this and @JoHart was of the opinion that International English is “a bit sterile, lacking in idioms etc”.

[Thus, we seem to have tensions between what students carry with them into the classroom, through their own L1, what culture English as L2 does or does not, should or should not, carry with it into the classroom and what culture the teacher of English as L2 carries with them into the classroom. Or perhaps this can be seen in a positive light: All this interplay between language and language, culture and culture, must surely make for a “never a dull moment” scenario, provided it is accompanied by awareness and sensitivity.

Is your head spinning yet? If not, dear readers, do read on! Time, now, to return to the final main section of the body of this summary!]

The Effect of Culture on Learning and Learners

Moving on, then, to the perspective of the learner and their learning. @OUPELTGlobal enquired whether appreciating the culture is necessary to successfully learn the language, to which mkofab responded with their belief that it is necessary and can be a very powerful motivator while @barbsaka put forth that knowing the culture is more important than appreciating it. @Cherrymp thinks appreciating the culture helps because “in a way, language is very much part of the culture”.

[Perhaps one of the underlying difficulties of all of this is that multiple countries and cultures claim English as their L1 and it has grown up and absorbed a number of cultures, so the “culture of English” is perhaps a more slippery thing to get our fingers (and minds) around than, for example, the “culture of Japanese”. I wonder if the “culture of Spanish” or “the culture of Portuguese” might be similarly slippery, but that is for another discussion!]

As has already been noted above, learners bring their L1 culture into the classroom and this can be activated to enhance language learning. This is exemplified by @CoffeeAdictMe, who said, “we try to use as much Turkish as we can. For instance, if we teach directions, we use a map of the city we live in.” @OUPELTGlobal liked this approach of “using local culture in the lessons, such as place names, students’ names, local traditions and holidays.” @Cherrymp describes it as “bid goodbye to Tom and Mary – usher in local names”. Meanwhile, Marekandrews postulated that the major task for language learners, when it comes to culture, is to define for themselves a ‘third place’ between cultures and to feel comfortable operating there.

One aspect of the effect of culture on learners and learning, that sparked off great debate quite late on in the session, was introduced by an innocuous question offered to us by @pjgallantry: “What do you think about some students adopting English names?” The general response involved words and phrases such as “imposition”, “terrible!”, “offensive”, “losing their identity”, and “rude”. @theteacherjames found odd and inpalatable the idea that students should have to adopt a new persona to speak the language. Apparently, however, according to @breathyvowel, “adopting English names is big in Korea”, backed up @Shaunwilden who said “a lot of Asian students do this, but they choose odd names”. @JoHart pointed out that in some cultures, adopting English names has religious significance, especially for students of Catholic faith and @rilberni added to this by saying that in others, there are “official names, family names, friend names etc”.

The general consensus on the issue of English names seemed to be that under no circumstances should teachers inflict this on their students but if their students choose or have chosen to adopt English names, we must accept that. @Sjhannam identified the importance of trying to learn students’ names as they are, not a changed version. @Cherrymp wondered about mispronunciation causing embarrassment, which @OUPELTglobal downplayed, saying that learning to pronounce students’ names correctly is a first step to another’s culture. This was widely re-tweeted! As @CoffeeAddictMe put it, “our attempts may not be perfect but it is important to make the effort” otherwise we are saying, “their real names are not ‘good enough’.” @OUPELTglobal added further to this by suggesting that learning the students’ names is a great way to interact with them and reverse roles, so that they become the teacher, making a great cultural connection in the process. Being teachers, of course, we should “celebrate students’ identities, not to try to squash them”, as was pointed out by @pysproblem81.

In conclusion then… [“at long last!!” I hear you say!], what do we take away from Wednesday’s 12.00 British time (18.00 Indonesian time!) discussion on the effect of culture? I think if I had to sum it up in a single sentence, I would use @cherrymp’s: “Culture is a tool, not a trap”. When we relate culture to language learning, we should be aware, as sjhannam points out, that we all use the term “culture” differently so we need to ‘check’ how others are using it. Once beyond the issue of slippery definitions, it is easy to see that this multifaceted monster, or angel, depending on your point of view, is very much present in the arena of language learning. If we are aware of this and handle it sensitively, culture is an important part of learning – when it helps our students to communicate better. The key is, it would seem, as @ELTBakery said, “bringing culture [into the classroom] is not an imposition if you listen, accept and respect students’ opinions.” As long as we bear this in mind, then culture is there, in all its richness, to be embraced as appropriate, in a plethora of ways, by both teacher and learner.

That is all for today, folks! See you next week, same time and same place: #ELTchat!!!


Appendix 1: Links proffered in the course of this discussion:
New York Times on the advantages of bilingualism.
@Cybraryman’s “Culture Page” of links.
“How culture matters” from Barbara’s blog Teaching Village.
“When being a Native Speaker isn’t good enough” from English Attack blog.
TESOL 2010 presentation on 10 Techniques for Teaching Culture on slideshare by @JoeMcVeigh.
Hofstede’s dimensions of culture.
More detail on Hofstede.
Series of blog posts on culture by @Barrytomalin.
Online quiz on (some funny) idioms.
Fun Youtube clip on Ethiopian /US courting.
Summary for #eltchat on International Englishes.
Katan, David ‘Translating Cultures’.
Culture: the 5th language skill.
Cultural aspects in ELT.
Tips for Teaching Culture: Practical Approaches to Intercultural Communication.

…Phew, more than I remembered appearing as the chat progressed!! A wealth of top quality stuff in terms of both information and humour… Enjoy!