Battle the Status Quo in Your Classroom

This is not a ‘smash the system’ post but more to do with dissatisfaction at work. I’m sure everybody has had the feeling of dread that comes of another work day rolling around. For me it was having to repeat the same rubbish based on rubbish books upon which rubbish syllabi were based and imposed on me and my learners (by people with no experience of teaching language). You might not have this problem. For you it might be behavioural issues in the classroom, an incompetent or unsupportive boss, lack of support, or something else entirely.

What can you do?

I think the first step is analysis. What exactly is the problem? Probe this until you get to the root. For me, the books were awful because half the topics were stupid and irrelevant to my life and my students’ lives yet to use the book without the carrier topics often made no sense.
Next you need to brainstorm solutions. Don’t worry about practicalities at this stage, just generate ideas. Once you have enough, shortlist them and try them out (more than just a couple of times if it’s feasible). Document it and be systematic because it might be useful for other teachers (if so blog it, present it or see if your local teachers’ association will publish it). Even small-scale research is research. Try your other ideas, too. I thought about how I could use the books as little as possible. I’d heard about Dogme but it wasn’t until I started my DipTESOL that I came to Task Based Language Teaching, which gave me the option of a different framework within which to use ‘the book’ and ideas about how language might be assessed formatively, that is for planning further learning instead of to put a number on somebody. I still need to pay lip service to some pointless grammar syllabi my students have covered in previous school settings but I don’t do it for the whole lesson in those situations. Anyway, you need to try things to see what works for you, why it works, and even if it works whether it’s the best solution.
If you can’t get around your problem and you can’t solve it you might want to start looking for a new job. First, think about whether your problem is a gripe or a big deal, though. I parted company with s couple of places because I realised they weren’t right for me. Sometimes you can’t do it immediately. Grit your teeth, learn something new and let people know you’re looking for something new. You might also be open to teaching in new settings.
If you have other ideas for fighting the rot, leave them in the comments, please.

Accessing Research When You Aren't At University

One of my (many) bugbears is that rank-and-file teachers don’t often have access to research or academic documents when they aren’t enrolled or teaching at universities. Seriously, if SLA researchers and education researchers were keen to improve the lot of teachers on the front line then their findings would be made available to read, at least cheaply, instead of in the walled garden (hi Elsevier) that charges a fortune for a 48-hour reading period.
That said, there are little holes in the wall. Anthony Schmidt, Claire Maas and Mura Nava set up ELT Research Bites. There is superb stuff on here from a range of people. Also, Anthony has a lot of Research Bites on his personal site. A lot of academics are putting up papers on sites like and Not only that, but some people have publications on their own website or their university sites.


Simon Borg – hat tip to Patrick Andrews.
Vivian Cook – Thanks Geoffrey Jordan
Zoltan Dörnyeí
Jim Flege – Phonetics and Phonology
Glen Fulcher – thanks Geoffrey Jordan
Stephen D Krashen
B. Kumaravadivelu
Roy Lyster
Paul Meara – thanks Marisa Constantinides
Paul Nation – thanks Jane Sabey
Norbert Schmitt – thanks Jane Sabey
Ian Wilson – Phoneticist

University content

University of Hawaii TBLT presentations – Once again, thanks Geoffrey Jordan

Open Access Journals/Publications

English Language Teaching World Online – thanks Peter Watkins
Faculty of Language – an academic blog, again, thanks to Geoffrey Jordan
Humanising Language Teaching magazine. Not exactly a journal but not exactly a magazine. Very readable and not written in an ivory-tower style.
International CLIL Research Journal.
JALT Journal. Japan Association for Language Teaching’s main journal.
Journal of Second Language Teaching & Research.
The Language Teacher. Japan Association for Language Teaching’s magazine with some short research articles by members.
Ludic Language Pedagogy –  A new journal about games and play in language teaching and learning.
TESL-EJ – Thanks Geoffrey Jordan

Read more

This article by Jake Orlowitz points to even more resources.
This is Mura Nava’s list of repositories. He also says Sci Hub is useful.
This by Florentina Taylor on ELTJam.

Opening Phases

Ooh, no sooner do I open the library and email account for my MA in Applied Linguistics & TESOL course than Teaching Practice for the DipTESOL finally starts! I have already passed the written exam, and now just have to pass the TP, 3 written assignments (all started; one perhaps even finished) and phonology presentation.
Because of this, service might be a bit hit and miss. Or I might be living on the internet asking for help all the time. Who knows?
I should be in bed but I am not in bed yet.
Anybody else studying for the DipTESOL might want to look at this blog about it and this one which goes through it and has other cool stuff, too

First #tokyolessonjam Done

I took part in the first ever (and hopefully not last ever!) Tokyo Lesson Jam this morning.
Before I get back to the real world of shopping, laundry and cooking, some stuff that wasn’t directly related to jamming but that stuck with me.

  • Collocation games
  • Subzin movie quote search engine.
  • Excel can be useful for word bank-based templates. (Thanks David).
  • Group narratives ease the pressure. (Thanks Olya).

The Constraints of the Syllabus, the Restraints of the Teacher

I’m on holidays. Wooh!  Rather, a busman’s holiday but it’s an enjoyable one. I’ve been watching webinars and TOBELTA webinars. Some of what follows is about things I’ve seen, things I’ve read, things I have to deal with and just… things.

Action Research and Ordinary Classroom Teachers

Divya Madhavan gave a webinar on ITDi about action research, about our own practices, about what we can do to develop as teachers. She had everybody think about what research is and who can do research. In my opinion the whole ivory tower-ness of research is basically because ordinary rank-and-file teachers don’t share their own research. You just need to have a bit of curiosity about what happens in your class (either learning or teaching or both) and ask a question, think of something to test over a period of time (because we all have flukey classes that go far better than we have any right to expect and awful classes where things just go awry from the get-go). This gets us into a situation where we can share ideas about what works in our situation (or not), why it might (not) work, and further ideas for research.

Syllabi and the Constraints they put on us and Control!

Luke Meddings gave two webinars in one day on both ITDi and TOBELTA. One was about how we teach and how learners learn in the classroom (or learner-centredness) and one about tests and the changing roles of teachers.
I’ve been thinking about coursebooks, grammar/linguistic syllabi, word lists and so on for the last year at least. The coursebook becomes a syllabus (either top down or by insinuation due to how easy it is), whether grammar-based or lexis-based. We ‘need’ to cover the things in the syllabus, getting through all the vocabulary and then we have a car-crash situation where the learners have not taken on what has been taught except in a very superficial way. In Meddings’ ITDi webinar, there was an interesting slide: Teachers are at the side and the learners are in the centre. We need to welcome them in with the things they want to talk about. I’d say that also the teacher needs to watch out for domination by one learner, but if the learners are coming in with something to say (in L1 you could facilitate it being taught in English) you can run with it and negotiate your syllabus.
In the second webinar for TOBELTA, he advocated for 50-FREE, or 50% of class time devoted to non-syllabus learning. I am a big fan of lip-service to syllabi. I cover what has to be covered as quickly as possible then get onto tasks that will allow learners to express what is on the syllabus but maybe not with the grammar on there (because linguistic syllabi don’t necessarily result in learners learning the linguistic items so why not teach something useful). I still have a syllabus, but it’s fluid and I try to link things as far as possible to students’ interests. I’m also willing to give control to learners and just have them using the language with me able to go around, differentiating teaching according to conversation groups, bringing emergent language that corresponds with the set syllabus to the whole class.

Word Lists

I’ve been thinking about word lists as well. Things like the New General Service List and how, when we get a list, we get bogged down because we have so much to get through. Something like the NGSL gives teachers a tool to ensure the most frequent words are ‘covered’ and the possibility to check for recycling in class. What we don’t usually do is give learners a checklist based on this about how often they encounter these words outside the classroom, or how often they use them. We could, but we don’t. Why? Probably because we know that lists become dominating forces and then will probably turn off students. So , should we systematically teach vocabulary, try to have vocabulary systematically ‘noticed’ or used? I’m not sure I could agree with that. How word lists might be better used is as a diagnostic tool, with learners highlighting what they know at first, then at a second milestone highlighting in a different colour, and different colours for further milestones. Of course this is not a test, it’s highly subjective but it might be an alternative to the pressure cooker state of language teaching for standardised tests that a lot of us hate.

Tokyo Lesson Jam

I have already set up a Tokyo Lesson Jam site for the first (and hopefully not last!) Tokyo Lesson Jam on Thursday 14th August.