#ELTChat Summary for 18-09-2013: How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday, casual conversation?

For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #Eltchat is a Twitter hashtag which offers Twitter-based discussions that take place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the ELT industry, are listed on the  #Eltchat website, together with some background reading, a few days in advance of the discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.

On 18.09.2013, the 21.00 BST discussion was on the topic “How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday casual conversation”. (I was busy finishing my dissertation at the time, so couldn’t take part, but volunteered to do the summary when it was offered on the #ELTChat Facebook page!)

The suggestions were many and varied. (I’ve divided them into categories and expanded abbreviations to make it easier to process!):

Authenticity and Input

  • Authentic materials help a lot!  I use “Real Lives, Real Listening” series a lot. (North Star ELT -now Collins) (@elawassell)
  • I encourage watching soap operas – in English – lots of natural exposure, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (@elawassell)
  • The thing that needs to be most authentic is the reason for their communication – it has to mean something to them. (@theteacherjames
  • By using listening that contains natural talk rather than ‘model dialogues’ (@Marisa_C)
  • Get involved in social media communication…find real friends to speak English with. (@HanaTicha)
  • Role of input via listening also quite important #eltchat and types of activities which focus on chunks of language (@Marisa_C)
  • Ask sts to repeat what you’ve just said now and then.  See if they’re noticing these natural language chunks. (@ljp2010)
  • Use typescripts etc for them to identify useful chunks. (@Shaunwilden)
  • Teach them discourse analysis i.e. do  conversational analysis – moves, politeness rules, coherence etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Record an authentic conversation on video and use @dotsub to transcribe and share with Ss. Using authentic models are helpful (@ESLhiphop)


  • Acting out whether playacting (rehearsing) or roleplaying (producing more freely) can help  (@Marisa_C)
  • We’ve been using scenarios for our students..Today is Thurs..your essay should be in by Fri..you are not ready..you have to chat with your tutor.. (@shaznosel)
  • One activity I have used with monolingual classes – act out scenario in L1 then listen in L2 and compare – language/attitudes, style.  Have them prep their improvisations in groups or pairs – act out THEN listen or watch video – it’s fascinating to watch. Often they don’t [end up with similar things] – which is interesting – the cultural element is interesting as this raises awareness of that. (@Marisa_C)  I do something similar by asking students to look at video with no sound and working out conversation from gestures (@Shaunwilden)
  • For freer activities I keep a set of situations which Ss improvise as a skit and class spots roles, setting, relationship etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Drama can include relaxation, trust building and fun, can lead to role-plays and that… with less anxiety (@Marisa_C)


  • I’ve seen the suggestion that the use of masks can help learners become more uninhibited – they adopt the character of the mask (@pjgallantary)
  • What about props? small things to lend credibility to the new identity?  (@Marisa_C)

Small Talk

  • I think small talk starts with the teacher. It can settle a class and it produces natural language (@SueAnnan)
  • It’s really important to engage students in normal conversations outside of class time, while waiting, break time etc. Helps them relax (@theteacherjames)
  • Finding out about students usually produces natural speech too (@SueAnnan)
  • @sandymillin shared her lesson on #smalltalk here:http://t.co/Yg205gQlGv my Ss found it useful (@Ela_Wassell)

Methodology, Approaches and Techniques 

  • Rehearse and then revisit, all too quickly teachers move on (@Shaunwilden)
  •  How about some good old-fashioned drilling then? (@ljp2010) yes why not? Not necessarily old fashioned but well conducted, snappy oral practice can help a LOT! (@Marisa_C)
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. ALM is not “stylish” today, but it has its merits (@ESLhiphop)
  • Speaking’s like tennis practice: you need to intensively practice a single stroke, but you also learn by playing games. You need both. (@ESLhiphop)
  • As a variation sometimes you could ask Ss to define the topic and stage manage a CLL lesson where they learn and eventually record new chunks (@Marisa_C)
  • How about getting them to create their own personalised phrasebooks – with functional headings (@Marisa_C) Or a voice memo one should they wish to hear it instead? (ljp2010). Nice idea, phones help with that too as they can record the pronunciation (@Shaunwilden) or make their own recordings on something like Vocaroo and email it to themselves
  • Learning a language again: what sparks our classes are topics we care about, then we make effort even with minimum vocabulary (@annabooklover)

Some potential pitfalls were also identified:

  • When I lived in Brazil, everyone told me watching soap operas was a good way. I’d prefer not to learn the language!! (@theteacherjames)
  • If someone asked me to wear a mask I’d feel about 10x more self conscious! (@theteacherjames)
  • The problem students have with natural talk is ‘performance anxiety’ – in sports parlance, some sudents end up ‘choking’ (@pjgallantary)
  • I think it [new identity] can go too far, e.g. giving Chinese students Western names (@pjgallantary)

Meanwhile emerged some other questions that need to be pondered:

  • It does raise issue of what is ‘identity’ – many students feel like different person when speaking in English. (pjgallantary)
  • Personally I have observed that lack of fluency in any given area is often caused through the teacher’s reluctance to ask students to rehearse (@marisa_c)
  • Do you think teaching language chunks more could help? I think it’s important for fluency (@elawassell)
  • I’m not keen on the new identity, but being forced to temporarily be someone else can be useful (@theteacherjames)
  • But here’s a question: do you feel like a different version of ‘you’ when speaking in different languages? I do! (@pjgallantary)
  • The question is how to scaffold a speaking activity…  (@marisa_c)
  • Does improvisation work that well esp. at lower levels? (@Shaunwilden)
  • Control vs freedom always a worry but teachers need to intervene when needed – either facilitating or providing language needed (@Marisa_C)
  • How do you raise awareness of what is natural and what isn’t? (@Marisa_C)  Aye this is quite tricky, was thinking that listening to people in London today, nothing like we expose students to (@Shaunwilden)
  • Can drama activities help? (@Marisa_C)
  • What do confident,fluent, but not necessarily accurate speakers do that grammatically accurate but reticent speakers don’t? I suspect that confident,but inaccurate,speakers actually don’t give a stuff for the lang. ‘target’ and get lost in the performance (@pjgallantary)
  • How else can one practise a variety of language functions unless some kind or role activity – new ID or self in other contexts? (@Marisa_C)

So plenty of ideas and plenty of food for thought – what more could you ask from an #Eltchat?! 🙂

Summary of the 12/10/2011 #eltchat on “Detailed paper-based lesson planning: pros and cons”

Welcome to this week’s summary of the 12.00 BST #eltchat! The topic this week was “Detailed paper-based lesson planning: pros and cons.”

(For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #eltchat is a Twitter-based discussion that takes place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the EFL industry, are nominated and voted upon by participants prior to discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.)

The first issue to be considered was that of establishing a working definition. What exactly do we mean by detailed? @Naomishema suggested that it “probably means with full objectives, times, full description of activities and what to do if there is time left” while @Shaunwilden proposed that it refers to “the sort of plans you’re expected to produce on TT courses”. These both stuck and the discussion started to refer to “CELTA-type plans”, questioning how useful they are to the trainees using them, to less experienced post-qualification teachers and to the long-term servers of the industry.

Here are some of the opinions tweeters offered, regarding the usefulness of “CELTA-type plans”:

I think  those CELTA plans were useful as a learning tool, but I certainly don’t do them now! (@theteacherjames)

Useful to help with the process of working it all out I think. Not a model for daily teaching. (@teflerinha)

Planning is good, having 2 write it all down over several pages is a waste of time- EXCEPT if being observed or if new 2 teaching.  (@michelle worgan)

It would be almost impossible to do them in a full-time job. (@Shaunwilden)

I always told CELTA trainees not to expect to be able to do it! (@teflerinha)

Long and detailed lesson plan can hinder more than help! (@michelleworgan)

It is a v. good training tool. Makes you think about the structure of the lesson in an analytical way (@theteacherjames)

The discussion moved on to consider the benefits of any kind of planning done prior to teaching a class. What is most beneficial? Do lesson plans help or hinder the teaching process? Should we follow them to the letter or deviate wildly from them? What format should they take? The variety of opinions that issued forth brought to mind the old “to each, his own” saying: In this case, perhaps, “to each teacher,  his/her own method of planning” !

Here are some of the points put forward by various tweeters, as they considered the benefits (or lack of them!) of pre-class planning:

[Planning is] useful for yourself to think through lessons but not necessarily on paper. (@michelleworgan)

If teachers repeat classes, then lesson plans can become an archive. (@barbsaka)

He who fails to plan, plans to fail. (@cybraryman1)

I think that for collaborating, written lesson plans are essential 🙂 (@barbsaka)

I don’t always need a plan, but I’m always prepared. (@theteacherjames)

For me 10 mins of hard thinking about class, 2 mins scribbling on back of envelope suffices. But it’s the thinking that’s important. (@timjulian60)

Also really useful to keep notes on lesson plans (or post-its) about what worked and didn’t. (@barbsaka)

I think a list of points/stages with objectives and any useful information  you may need should be your lesson plan. (@michelleworgan)

With the talk of lesson plans becoming an archive and the possibility of their usefulness in terms of collaboration, it was almost inevitable that someone would raise the following question:

If someone else wrote lesson plans for you, would it save you time or cramp your style?

Tweeters seemed to find themselves largely in agreement that the latter was more likely to be the case…

Definitely cramp my style. (@OUPELTglobal)

Cramp! 🙂 (@Nickkiley)

Cramp. (@RGMontgomery)

Personally can’t ever teach someone else’s plan- its how their mind works, not mine. (@Naomishema)

Another turn that this interesting discussion of lesson plans took was looking at how school policy can affect lesson planning. The general consensus seemed to be that schools do not affect planning in a positive way…

Are any of you required to post lesson plans on a website? I’m waiting until we have to put ours on renweb. UGH. Hope not. (@RGMontgomery) Yuck, why would people make you do that  – plans are for the person. (@Shaunwilden)

For accreditation, we have to keep lesson plans on file. (@RGMontgomery)

In my former school, I had to send my weekly lesson plans in adv. What a waste of time that was. Never read, filed away. (@theteacherjames)

My school asks us to keep a notebook with out lesson plans (no particular format), but they rarely check them. (@escocesa_madrid)

Most FE Colleges in UK do [expect teachers to produce written plans].  Pages of it. One of reasons I got out as I spent more time on plan than materials. (@teflerinha)

I think there can be too much paperwork, leaving less time for Ts to do their job, esp in UK state education. (@michelleworgan)

There was a lot of interest in the question of what makes for a good lesson plan:

 I always describe it as road map, so the essentials are the things you think you need for the journey. (@Shaunwilden)

Essentials: 1. objectives 2. methodology 3. materials 4. tangents 5. supplemental work/differentiation. (@TyKendall)

Essentials of lesson plans are clear purpose, variety of activities & ensuring all individuals & learning styles covered. (@3ty3)

Don’t forget the part” if extra time do this” sometimes activities progress faster than you expect! (@naomishema)

A very pertinent point was raised by (@theteacherjames):

“We need to differentiate between having a plan & being prepared. First can be more rigid, 2nd more open.”

This raised the question of how rigid plans have to be and the role that flexibility plays in the process of bringing the plan to the classroom.

Never have to stick to the plan! (@RGMontgomery)

Plans are made to be changed! V uncreative not to 🙂 (@rliberni)

I’ve even thrown plans out the window entirely, a plan doesn’t have to be a straitjacket! (@TyKendall)

Having a plan is good. But you can go slow or fast, depending on the Ss level! (@juanalejandro26)

Inevitably, the discussion moved on to considering the cons of planning:

Sticking to it rigidly? Overplanning so rushing sudents thru things? Putting material over students? (@shaunwilden)

The problem is – having a written plan often prevents me from seeing/hearing/feeling my ss well at the beginning of a lesson. (@Michelleworgan)

What about students? Where do they fit in to this whole equation? Is it important for them to see evidence of teacher planning?

Important to appear prepared, but not sure that paper lesson plans always show that 🙂 (@barbsaka)

Even if students can tell u haven’t prepared, do they mind? Or do they prefer the class to flow naturally?(@michelle worgan)

You know that when some students see you looking at lesson plan they are thinking “does he really know, why does he need to read that?” (@naomishema)

For my students, it’s essential as it’s part of the value for their investment. (@rliberni)

I think it’s imp for students to see you know what you’re doing, that you have an aim – transmits a sense of credibility. (@OUPELTglobal)

It was suggested that, at the end of the lesson, teachers should ask their students what they perceived the aims of the lesson to be. If students wrote the plan at the end of the lesson, would it tally with yours? The focus on students was maintained as the discussion explored the differences between planning for teenagers and adults.

For teens and adults there tend to be fewer activities, and they vary more.  For YLs there’s more routine. (@escocesa_madrid)

I would definitely not group adolescent with adult with very mature age as learning preferences are all very different. (@JoHart)

I think age controls lesson plans , with young learners u need to plan more creativity. (@PrettyButWise)

All in all, it seemed to be agreed that lesson plans are a useful tool when used judiciously. What constitutes judicious use, of course, largely boils down to personal preference. Above everything else, I would propose that this #eltchat has served the very useful purpose of encouraging us all to think outside of our own personal-preference boxes and consider all of the other alternative horses running about on all the courses out there in this big, wide world of EFL in which we all merrily co-exist.

Look forward to seeing you all in the next discussion! Do not forget: Wednesday 1200 and 2100 BST! Be there or be square…. (Can’t say fairer–or indeed cheesier!!–than that!)