CPD - another ELT acronym!

Uncategorized Apr 19, 2016

I am now back in Canada after attending IATEFL’s 50th Conference in England.  There were about 3,000 teachers from all over the world in attendance.  Although I would have liked to have met more teachers, the sessions/workshops were insightful and interesting.  I think what really struck me when I spoke to teachers or attended sessions is that as English language teachers, we share a love of learning and passion for teaching.  

One of the conference highlights was a presentation by David Crystal.  He talked about how the English language has changed over the past 50 years.  Yes – he has been in the ELT field for that long!  I also attended a session by Andrew Wright on the final day. He has also been teaching for more than 50 years and still continues to teach!  (For free recordings of many sessions, click here http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org)

It is hard to imagine teaching for 50 years however what I have learned about English...

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TESL Student Feedback

Uncategorized Apr 10, 2016

This blog posting appeared in the most recent issue of iTDI.pro http://itdi.pro/blog/2016/04/10/feedback/

In my role as a TESL trainer, I believe that the most important aspect of practicum observation is for students to mentally prepare themselves for feedback. I tell students BEFORE they start teaching that my feedback is given in the spirit of professionalism with the goal to help them develop their teaching skills. I also make sure that they understand that feedback is based on their teaching skills only and is not a reflection of them as people. These are two very different things.

In my experience, the majority of teacher-trainees have responded well to feedback and are actually grateful for advice on how to improve their teaching skills. Unfortunately, a small number have viewed feedback as negative and/or as criticism.

Here are two good examples from former TESL students enrolled in the same course:

Student A 

“I feel there is so much to remember in a lesson...

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Why is an ESL Teacher Writing about Diabetes?

Uncategorized Apr 07, 2016

You might be wondering why an ESL teacher (me) would be interested in writing about diabetes (I hope after reading this post, you will be interested too).  

Here is my story.

Five years ago, when my son was 13, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  I knew almost nothing about diabetes so I started reading everything I could about the disease.  What I discovered both shocked and compelled me to take action as an ESL teacher.  

What I learned is that immigrants from South Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa have a 2 to 3 times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than Western European or North American populations.  When I thought of my ESL students, the majority were from these parts of the world.  I felt that I needed to share this information with them.

The first thing I did was search the Internet for a lesson plan. Unfortunately I could not find anything that was appropriate for ESL learners and certainly...

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Why Teachers Need a "Bag of Tricks"

new teachers Apr 02, 2016

A "Bag of Tricks" is essential for all teachers.  This is probably not something that you were taught in your TESL/TESOL course so what exactly is a teacher's "Bag of Tricks"?  It is basically a bag (backpack, tote bag, rucksack or any of type of bag) that contains everything you think you might need during your lesson(s).  Think of your own "Bag of Tricks" as a portable mini-classroom.

Maybe you are asking why do I need my own "Bag of Tricks"?  Here are a few reasons:

1. Many new teachers start out as supply teachers. You may end up facing a class full of students that you do not know (e.g. language level, personalities, prior learning). It is different to plan an effective lesson when you really don't know the learners.  Having a "Bag of Tricks" may help you adjust your lesson, if necessary and help you get through what could be a long day.

2. If you are new to the school, you may not have any idea where the supplies and/or...

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What I Learned from Watching my Son Play Basketball (for 10 years)



My son just finished his last season of playing basketball.  Next year, he will be away at university so it is unlikely that I will be able to watch him play his favourite sport again. It is also my favourite sport as well and I have loved watching him play and develop his skills during the past 10 years.

Reflecting back on hundreds of hours of practices and games, there are a few things that I have learned that relates to sports and life off the basketball court.  

Here are a few insights:

1. You can’t pick your coach or teammates. You also can’t pick your boss or your colleagues so it is important to learn how to get along with many different personalities.  Participating in team sports provides an opportunity to do this. 

2. If you want to develop and improve a skill (and not just basketball skills), it requires hard work, hours of practice, and grit. I remember in the early years, the kids were always bunched up under the net with...

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How Students Define Inspiring Teachers and Teaching Excellence

“Just be yourself”.  What does that mean in the context of teaching?  When I was in my TESL program many years ago, there was a very outgoing, guitar-playing young man in the course.  He was vibrant, fun and obviously musically –talented.  I thought that he was “cool” and imagined what a great teacher he would be. 

Instead of looking at what I had to offer as a teacher, I started thinking about what I didn’t have to offer.  In hindsight, I wanted to be something that I was not.  I recently told my TESL students that story.  At the end I said “you just need to be yourself”.  They loved the story and were grateful for this advice.

What I am trying to say is that we can only be who we are.  After one of my teaching practicums many years ago, the mentor teacher said that I was like a “warm blanket”.  I never understood what that meant until years later.  I was just...

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The Super Hero Pose - Fact or Fiction?

The night before my TESL course was to begin I had serious doubts as to whether or not I would actually make it to the first class.  The thought of standing up in front of a classroom full of people just seemed too frightening.  I know I am not alone as the fear of public speaking – or glossophobia – is ranked as the number one fear.  Glossophobia has its roots in social phobia, and comes from the fear of being judged (which stems from all of the attention that people place on us when we are speaking). 

I obviously made it to the first class and completed my course mainly because a TESL graduate/friend was teaching in Greece.  The lure of international travel was just too enticing.  

When I finally started teaching, I wrote absolutely EVERYTHING on my lesson plan. And I mean everything!  “Good morning class.  How are you today?  How was your weekend”?  It looked more like a movie script than a lesson...

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A Teacher is Also a Student

teachers are students Mar 06, 2016

This week my blog post ended up being two posts - the one below and also The 5 W's for Using Photos in the ESL/EFL Classroom.

Last weekend, my blog post in Wisdom from 20 Years in the TESL Trenches was inspired by my current class of impressive TESL students.  Just as I was to post my blog for this week,  I realized that something was missing. (A good teacher always reflects so I thought more about the 4 hours that I spent with these teachers-in-training).

Even after 20 years, I still have things to learn about teaching.  I may have "wisdom" because of my knowledge and teaching experience, but it doesn't mean that I don't have anything else to learn.  It certainly doesn't mean that I can't learn from my students (one teacher in particular but you will have to read the whole blog post below for the details). A special thanks to the students in TESL005 for teaching me an important lesson.  

"A teacher is also a student".  


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The 5 W’s for Using Photos in the ESL/EFL Classroom

Most ESL/EFL teachers have one thing in common.  It is our penchant for saving everything.  I have always loved collecting photos, images, posters and anything visual.  (Many of my photos are still in perfect condition because I laminated them while working in Hong Kong years ago).

Here are the 5 W’s for using photos in your teaching:


Using visuals in ESL/EFL classrooms makes sense because these aids can improve long term memory and comprehension to name a few benefits.  Dr. Lynnell Burmark suggests that “unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information… Images on the other hand go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched”.


The list below includes 10 ideas however I am sure that there are many more.


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The Top 5 Mistakes that New ESL/EFL Teachers Make

Last Saturday, I spent half a day with 8 energetic and passionate TESL trainees assessing their teaching skills.  Each TESL student was required to teach a mini-lesson which included a grammar point.

As as TESL trainer, I have assessed many teachers-in-training but I was very impressed with the attention to detail, the creative handouts and interactive activities demonstrated by this group.  However one of the things that I have noticed consistently over the years are 5 mistakes that almost all new teachers or teacher trainees make.  Although these mistakes might seem trivial, I believe that if they are avoided or eliminated, teachers can be more effective and therefore significantly contribute to their students’ learning.

Mistake 1 – Check Understanding

This does not mean saying to students “Everyone knows what they are doing now, right?” but more specifically it means checking the instructions that you just gave by saying “Who can tell...

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