The ongoing mentoring experiment experience

A couple of months ago I put out a call on Twitter to say that I was interested in mentoring teachers who thought they might benefit from it. To be utterly transparent, I was interested in the conversation between a less/differently experienced teacher and me, the grizzled journeyman. I was not disappointed.

A whiteboard with several clarification questions written on it.

I won’t say my mentee’s name here, but I will say that they are far too modest about their experience and knowledge. They have a first degree in TESOL and unlike arrogant/ignorant younger me who thought teaching in a foreign country would be a lark and finance my novel writing, they are volunteering to build experience before seeking paid work. And still they want to get better at what they do.

So far we have chatted about giving learners more responsibility and taking a bit more agency in selecting what parts of the class materials are used, not used, and how this can still be cohesive and assure student parents and managers of the organizational that everything is educationally sound.

We have also wondered about online teaching of older children and teens and how to engage them more than just going through the motions, which is probably quite a lot more complex than it seems.

Anyhow, I look forward to our next meeting and email. I get the chance to reflect about things that I haven’t really considered at a deep level for some time. Hopefully I have shown a bit of a possible route ahead.

Pronunciation Resource Roundup Thing

Thanks to @ClareBurkeELT for suggesting this might be a useful post.

ugly man with a beard pronuncing the /a/ sound, with badly drawn IPA symbol overlaid.

ELF Pron: – a really useful blog about English as a Lingua Franca and pronunciation.

Pron Bites: – Marina’s blog is full of good stuff!

Pron SIG: website – The Pronunciation SIG of IATEFL.

Richard Cauldwell’s Speech in Action: Lots about pronunciation, more about listening.

Hancock Mcdonald website: Home of the best IPA chart for teachers and learners, in my opinion.

Seeing Speech: Does what it says. Click an IPA chart symbol and see an ultrasound or MRI video with sound.

And here’s a word from me below to demonstrate how I might demonstrate stress in tone units.

Other pronunciation posts from me.

If you have anything else you think I’ve missed, that’s what the comments are for.

Structuring Task Stages for Students – Resource

These sheets are both two-page PDFs that I have used to help students structure task-based lesson stages, especially the courses detailed in my series of posts on my role-playing game-structured courses. I also used transcription as homework as per York’s (2019) Kotoba Rollers framework.

Basically, there is planning, doing, and reflecting. The sheet shouldn’t be used in the doing stage. After the reflection, the review sheet can be used a few weeks later (I used three reviews in a 14 or 15 week course).


York, J. (2019). “Kotoba Rollers” walkthrough: Board games, TBLT, and player progression in a university EFL classroom

Resource: Rapid Reading Student Resource

This is the student resource for a course I am teaching this semester. It’s an OER. You need to source your own texts to use but this should give your students a bit more of an idea about text organisation and discourse analysis to hopefully read a text a bit faster.

I’d appreciate it if you gave me feedback on it if you use it. Feel free to adapt it as you need!

Who’s Paying?

Everyone I know seems to be teaching online right now. It’s not exactly a surprise: nobody wants to miss work, and nobody wants their students to miss out on learning.

This is all very nice because it means that we get some sense of normality. However, in among all this, have we further normalised the use of our own belongings for work? I am paid for my time, in that I am salaried, but most jobs don’t provide laptops or WiFi for their teachers. My main job has provided me with a tablet-laptop hybrid, which is – as far as I am aware – unusual for people on a teaching only contract.

Are all these institutions providing the infrastructure or equipment needed for online teaching, or just saying “Get on Zoom and teach a full timetable”?

New Project: The ELT Manual or How to Teach English like a Pop Star

I have started a new project, which I hope will be as fun (more fun?) and informative as the usual Freelance Teacher Self Development posts and resources. It’s going to run over on my new Patreon page, with other resources to come available, and with FTSD content available earlier than this site because webhosting and children’s shoes are expensive.

Teach Like A Pop Star – The ELT Manual

In 1988, The KLF released a book, The Manual: How to have a number one the easy way. It reduces the way to have a number one hit single to a formula and a series of actions.

ELT can work in exactly this way. People like predictable rhythms and catchy melodies. Your students like that, too. It doesn’t matter about teaching virtuosity or musical virtuosity. Hook them with a hit, they’ll be interested in your other songs, or lessons in our case.

The ELT Manual or How to Teach English like a Pop Star will reduce the variables in lesson planning and preparation for you and give you better reviews in those student surveys.

Become a Patron and get full access to the ELT Manual posts as they become available.

Demystifying Task-Based Language Teaching

One of the hundreds of things that annoys me about language teaching1 is the use of jargon to the exclusion of all else when explaining how something works in a relatively simple way. Sometimes it’s not all that simple, but what could happen if we take the approach of keeping things simple and explaining everything as we go? Perhaps people will stop saying that the alternatives to the status quo in language teaching in general and English language teaching in particular are unworkable.

Image: Night of the Living Dead, Public Domain.

With this in mind, I decided to write a book about Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) to demystify it and make it accessible to ordinary teachers who would like to try it but got put off it by the complexity and the density of the research literature. Then I put it off because my colleague in SLB Co-op, Neil McMillan, told me about his and Geoffrey Jordan’s plan for an online course to make TBLT a bit more viable. He then asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I jumped at the chance.

I’ve wanted to make TBLT less of a messy learning process since I had a messy learning process with it myself during my DipTESOL. It is with hindsight that I realised it really should not have been that way. If I had a mentor to guide me through the contradictory information regarding different task-based models (and there are some different ones, which I’ll look at below), and talk about how to sequence lessons and what the prerequisite work is before you even start teaching, I am sure that my stress levels would have been lower and my students might have had a couple of more straightforward lessons.

Generally speaking there are three main ‘task-based’ approaches.

1. The Nunan (2004) model, which uses tasks but really is just a Present-Practice-Produce lesson done as Produce-Practice-Present because the teacher has preset plans for focus on language items.

1a. The Willis & Willis (2007) model, which does pretty much the same as the Nunan model (in my opinion) but uses a task cycle and greater reflection but still with the focus on language items but advocating more focus on lexis.

2. The Ellis (2003) model, which mixes ‘real-world’ tasks with tasks that exist solely for pedagogy, using what Skehan (1998) calls “structure-oriented tasks” (Skehan, 1998. p. 122-123). Essentially, there will be tasks that are only there to induce use of certain grammar, vocabulary or functions. However, there is more room for Focus on Form (looking at language that learners have shown they need, rather than what the teacher presumes they need).

3. The Long (2014) model. The syllabus is created by needs analysis, and the typical language used to do it is sourced by an “analysis of discourse” (Long, 2014. p.??) Put simply, find out what learners need to do with the language and how it would normally be done. There is no looking at language just to shoehorn a language point into the lesson. Instead, there is only Focus on Form, again focusing on language learners have displayed a need for in their output (bits of speaking or writing that are not quite what would be considered an appropriate way to communicate within the group of people one intends to communicate with) or displayed a lack of understanding of in their input (i.e. bits of reading or listening that have not been understood).

SLB Co-op prefer the Long model, but acknowledge that it can be somewhat difficult for teachers without a university department full of applied linguists supporting them. This is why we are going to look at how we make TBLT workable in the real world.

The course, created by Neil McMillan, Geoffrey Jordan and I with guest contributions from Mike Long and Roger Gilabert, starts next year. To be a part of it you can find out more here.

1. Actually there probably are hundreds but there are thousands of things that I love – but anyway, I digress


Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

Long, M. (2014). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Nunan, D. (2004) Task-Based Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP.

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: OUP.

Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007) Doing Task-Based Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

New pre-print on corpus-informed teaching

I put up a new pre-print on SocArxiv:

Creating a small corpus to inform materials design in an ongoing English for Specialist Purposes (ESP) course for Orthodontists and Orthodontic Assistants

In my work as a language teacher to a group of orthodontists and orthodontic treatment assistants, I wanted an analysis of orthodontic practitioner-to-patient discourse. Because access to authentic spoken discourse was too difficult to attain due to ethical considerations, a small corpus was constructed in order to facilitate better informed form-focused instruction. Details of the typical forms found in the corpus are given, as is an overview of the corpus construction.

Whose Cared A Lesson In? excitELT Tokyo 2018 hangout summary

Well, hello. This is a summary of my hangout at excitELT 2018 at Rikkyo University’s Ikebukuro Campus. It was really good fun and the best thing was just nattering to people I know from Twitter and meeting new people!


My slides are here, but because it was a ‘hangout’, there was audience participation, and this is what I am going to put in this post.

What’s missing from materials for listening?

Michael Griffin

  • A range of speakers: kids, seniors, non-native speakers.
  • A variety of subjects, especially interesting/useful subjects.

Matt Shannon

  • Natural language, especially at a low enough level for junior high and high school students.
  • Clear intonation patterns.

What are some activities we could use to teach/practice bottom-up listening?

Matt Shannon

  • Spelling bee.

There was also the discussion that listening can be taught with a reactive focus on something students have found difficult rather than “something pulled out of your arse” (Jones, 2018)¹.
Also, it was discussed, especially with Matt Shannon and Ruthie Iida, that some teachers in Japan are teaching English using kana, thus making it ‘easier’ for students to pronounce words, though this might render them less intelligible than if they were taught standard pronunciation of, especially vowels such as /ɜː/, /ɔː/ and /ʌ/ which can be important for contrasts, which might make the differences between Japanese and English phonological categories clearer. I said also my dream would be having enough time on the curriculum for children to be taught pronunciation using the IPA without stressing parents, teachers and kids that they can’t pick it up. However, I’ve changed my mind about this, and teaching absolute beginners without orthography might be a good idea based upon Mathieu (2016), until there is a critical mass of vocabulary or evidence of contrastive phonemes having been learned.
Comments, are more than welcome.


Jones, M. (2018) Whose Cared A Lesson In. (‘Hangout’ Presentation) excitELT Tokyo, May 6th 2018.

Mathieu, L. (2016) The influence of foreign scripts on the acquisition of a second language phonological contrast. Second Language Research, 32(2) 145–170. DOI: 10.1177/0267658315601882 (Open access)


1. I said, “I could mince my words, but I don’t think I will.” Listening and pronunciation can make you angry, I tell you.

The fabled 40-hour week

When I worked in a language school, I worked my contracted 30 hours a week. In exchange I got a decent starting salary. What nobody tells you from the company is that the salary only goes up a tiny bit and there’s rarely any real career progression.
That’s why I don’t work for language schools anymore. I went with agency work teaching business English and a junior high school. The agency also sent me to teach at a university. I was teaching PPP lessons, mostly with no planning to speak of (being able to wing it through a double-page coursebook spread is not very demanding). I was working about 35 hours a week, not including travelling between several workplaces in a day.
I did my DipTESOL, had my eyes opened to second language acquisition (SLA) and task-based language teaching (TBLT). This is language teaching and learning with purpose and evidence-based foundations, I thought. My planning time went up. It was a bit of a learning curve. My working hours went up to about 45 hours a week, not including travel between jobs.
Between my DipTESOL and my MA, I started working direct hire for universities and reduced my agency work as the agencies seemed to be reducing hourly rates and only get contracts in inconvenient places. With more university work and more ideas about how to support learners, I decided on portfolio assessments. I gave myself tons of marking. I decided to eschew coursebooks. I made my own materials because I couldn’t find anything decent or just what I needed. My working hours went up to about 50 hours a week, not including travel between jobs. Sometimes it’s more.
This new year, I decided to work less. Work what I need to do. I’m not compromising my principles by using stupid materials or going back to only PPP. I may change the portfolio assessments to something less demanding for me, so I am aiming for working about 40 hours a week, not including travelling about between jobs. Other professions do it, so why not us?
If you liked this, you will probably find TAWSIG interesting, too.