We are three months from the next exam and nine months from the one after that. I am often asked by teachers given the proximity of exam day what the right balance between exam practice and general language and skills development work should be. What I suspect lies behind this question is that teachers know that learners will keenly set about anything in this period given an exam practice label – keen as they are to see how close they are to getting over the line or achieving their target goal – but teachers know for sound pedagogic reasons and probably from years of experience that slavish exam practice does not make perfect and, that there must be more effective ways to optimise learning before taking the test.  In this article, we will outline a broader framework for channelling teacher and learner energies in exam preparation classes.

Bob Obee, Professional Support Leader Cambridge Exams SE Europe

Our focus here too is the productive papers: Speaking and Writing -which more than the receptive papers- when ready on-the-page processes and means of managing outcomes seem at hand, give teachers pause to think about effective preparation strategies. There are practical and time constraints in giving individual pairs of learners, quality Speaking test practice time, and similar limitations to the extent that teachers can set individual writing task plans and provide qualitative feedback for individual learners on their writing. These practical obstacles can make quick-fix solutions such as giving ‘useful phrases’ lists for candidates to use in the different parts of the Speaking Test or for different task types in the Writing paper seem attractive. Again, however, making optimum use of learning time available involves taking a broader strategic view and one that embraces the range of assessment criteria relating to each paper.
So, how can we envision an exam preparation teaching framework that makes the most of the limited time available to us? Well, for me, it involves three distinct types of activity:
- purposeful and well-targeted exam practice
- exam training
- exam awareness- raising  
with the middle category [exam training] giving us the most scope to engage with more generic language and skills development work too. Below, we will sketch what each distinct type of classroom activity looks like, giving practical suggestions for Cambridge English: First for Schools and Cambridge English: Proficiency – with reference to Cambridge English: Advanced - along the way and hope to highlight that keeping the distinction between the three types of target lesson activity clearly in mind is vital for teachers to ensure the right blend and prioritisation of focuses in readying learners with different needs for the exam.  

Exam Practice

When selecting exam practice material to use in class, teachers are keenly aware of a need to choose exam practice material that is authentic and  rightly so. They require that test material reflect the full specification of the test in terms of target skill focus, task or question focus, range of item difficulty as well as more prosaic features such as exact rubrics, text lengths and timings. Authenticity in this sense is important. But just because material is presented like it is in the test does not mean that doing it like a test is the best way to prepare candidates or nurture the skills for success in the relevant exam. Let’s take, for example, the First for schools Speaking Test. This is a test made up of four parts, each one involving a different type of interaction pattern and designed to elicit different types of discourse. Practising all four parts of the test together all the time, does not allow teachers and learners to focus in depth on particular strategies for performing successfully in the different parts of the test. Strategies that learners need to work on, for example, to do well in Part 1 include:
giving effective short answers
consider how much more learners set themselves up to ‘expand’,  if rather than answer with a perfunctory ‘yes’ or ‘no’ their opening take on a question is something like: ‘it depends’ or ‘not as much as I’d like’..  
expanding effectively on short answers
Consider how much more candidates give themselves to say if they give an answer both from their perspective  and the perspective of someone else e.g. their parents, sibling, teacher etc…
      ‘My parents would probably say ….. but I …
- referring to your partner’s answers in your own answers..
consider how much more effective it is to answer a question taking into account what has been heard before in the discourse rather than  ignoring it…
I’m not as keen as Georgios but ….
Practising even just one of such strategies could easily take up a whole lesson so teachers need to use authentic exam material to focus on and practice something in a targeted way. 
We should also consider the interaction frameworks we use for practising in class. While with a task like Part 2 of the Cambridge English First for Schools Speaking Test [the long turn] it seems a bit pointless not to practise this in pairs or small groups [perhaps with listening learners completing feedback forms or notes], all other Parts of the test can be usefully practised in a whole group framework.  For example, with FCEfs Speaking Part 4, when we open up the question activity to a guided whole class framework, everyone can learn from observing how other learners answer questions and from comments made about these answers. A teacher – a bit like the conductor of an orchestra – can direct attention to different members of the group and with a look, a gesture or a follow-up prompt [just as an examiner would do in the exam] elicit responses to what has been said from actively listening to learners. To structure such activity even more tightly, the teacher can introduce a range of turn-linking prompts - placed either on the board, held up by the teacher or given to groups of learners – so that the task can come to focus on the strategy of expanding on and developing a partner’s answer.  
For example, where one candidate is asked a question like: 
Why  do some people prefer using the internet to shop? 
and answers:   I think to save time. Someone sits at home and just chooses what they want on their screen  …
listening learners are then prompted to use/choose a prompt like … 
but that’s not always true .. for example …
Using such classroom management techniques skilfully, a teacher can get a number of learners [making a different point each time] to practise connecting what they say to the initial comment with the prompt and the whole class gets to observe and comment on the effectiveness of the strategy in action.
As with Speaking, so with Writing :
Why have learners just working on exam practice tasks in isolation. One of the four criteria in assessing learners’ writing, for example, is Organisation. For Cambridge English Proficiency Writing Tasks 1 and Task 2, what is particularly important in scoring well in this category is that an answer exhibits a good overall level of organisation and developmental flow. Why not use class time to plan both tasks [the plan to exhibit sophisticated organisation] in class and then have learners write the two pieces within a time limit at home? The aim in class would be for groups to come up with a plan and the opening line of each section.  Groups could then swap their sets of opening lines and comment to each other on what they think is going to be developed in each section and how this might be made more sophisticated organisationally. What is being practised here is the need to come up quickly with an effective organisational map before writing: a key exam skill.

Exam Training

What typically distinguishes Exam Training from Exam Practice is that the exam task at hand will usually be modified in some way so as to better enable teachers to focus learners on a particular discreet skill implied by a test task and provide a class platform that allows current learner strategies in dealing with tasks to be explored and improved on. With a skill like Writing, it is possible to conceive of exam training tasks both in pre-writing and post-writing lesson phases. Let’s consider the guided essay Writing FCEfs Part 1 task.  A pre-task focus might isolate one paragraph which would relate to one of the two main content points to be covered. To the board the teacher can elicit a range of topic sentence ideas and add a few pre- prepared ones.  Groups of learners around the room are then tasked with writing an exemplification of some of the ideas and an explanation of others. This modified writing task focuses learners on the key skill of development of ideas [Organisation] and gives scope for teachers to look at the quality of learner language produced in terms of task register [Communicative Achievement] or range of complexity [Language]. Similarly, at a post-writing feedback task, a teacher can isolate to the board a range of sentences from learners’ written answers and suggest an alternative way of beginning each sentence – perhaps more in sympathy with essay register – for learners to rewrite. Again this modified checking task gives teachers opportunities to focus learners on a key discrete skill implied by the test.
A way to work in a similar exam training vein with parts of the Speaking Test is to project the photographs {Part 2] or the written prompts [Part 3] to the board.  With the Cambridge English First for Schools Part 2 task, for example, one of the key skills in keeping going in talking about the photographs is not just to describe observable details but to situate these details in terms of the wider context of the situation i.e. speculating as to what lies behind the picture. With the photographs projected to the board ask one learner to mention something the images clearly show e.g. in the first picture there is a large group of children waiting for a ski-lift, then indicate another learner who has to make some kind of speculation about this detail e.g. it’s probably a school skiing trip because they all look the same age. Then move around the room and indicate another learner to mention an observable detail and the next a speculation about this detail …and so on. After five or six goes of this ask one student to put everything they have heard together and speak for a minute. Exam training: modifying actual tasks to focus learners in on task sub-skills and effective task strategies 

Exam Awareness-Raising

Exam awareness-raising targets developing in learners’ deeper awareness of the test and test day processes which could considerably impact on a candidate’s success. Things such as: completing mark sheets, using/ allocating time, assessment and weighting, awareness of question shape, awareness of question focus and effective and less effective on-the-day strategies for questions.  While the first is not an issue for candidates in the Speaking and Writing papers, all the others are.  
In the Writing papers of Cambridge English First for Schools, Advanced  and Proficiency, for example,  – three tests in which there is now much clearer overlap in  skills progression through the setting of similar tasks -  CONTENT is one of the four assessment criteria. As a key exam awareness task, take a number of candidate scripts downloadable from Cambridge English Handbooks and ask learners to assess what mark they think they were awarded in terms of CONTENT.  Learners should realise from this activity that obtaining a Band 5 [top mark] is pretty straight-forward provided they cover the points in the question and do not deviate. It should also become clear that marks are easily given away in this respect where learners avoid covering the question.
Another way in which teachers can raise learner awareness in terms of what is required by the Writing Papers in these exams is to constantly give feedback to learners in terms of Cambridge English assessment criteria.  Consider adding pens of three other colours to your stock of red pens and rather than just underlining things to be considered in terms of accuracy [errors], highlight [in different colours]  points in learners’ writing both positive and negative in terms of the four assessment criteria; that is to say, points of : Content, Communicative Achievement, Organisation and Language . At the end of each piece of writing you could also consider adding a comments box related to each criteria that summarised your views. This technique used consistently will inculcate learners into a broader conversation with you and amongst themselves about what they are aiming to achieve in their exam writing.
In terms of the Speaking Paper, the area where candidate awareness perhaps needs raising to the greatest extent is in the tasks that require candidates to negotiate around prompts (First for SchoolsPart 3 / Proficiency Part 2) .  Candidates particularly need to think about strategies that allow them to comment flexibly on what their partner says rather than rushing in to agree or disagree at every turn and dashing off to deal with another prompt e.g. strategies like extending a partner’s point with something like  …. and  [expanding on a partner’s point] ….  or but  [adding a cautionary note to a partner’s point]. Avoiding the rush to consensus or conclusion is particularly important so that candidates give themselves plenty to say in the time and because the second phase of the task will ask them to reach consensus/a conclusion in some way and they do not want to pre-empt this part of the task by having agreed on everything already. A type of awareness-raising task that is useful in this respect is to have one group of learners given a task and told to agree/disagree on/with everything the other person says and another group given a task where they are told they can’t explicitly agree/disagree. Learners gain a lot of useful insight here as to how to comment and respond more flexibly.

Final Thoughts

Learners generally come to exam classes with clear goals in mind and high levels of instrumental motivation to succeed. As teachers we have a clear responsibility to frame expectations and sketch the roadmap – warning of      the dangers of imagined short-cuts - of the work ahead.  One part of this responsibility should be to help learners frame realistic goals given their  other commitments and in this, I am always surprised that more learners are not directed in 18-month or two-year post-B2 programmes towards Cambridge Advanced given its high level of recognition for higher education study purposes and by international companies and organisations around the world. Our broader responsibility though is a pedagogic one and will involve nurturing learner motivation and bringing learners to the point of readiness  for the exam -  a much more sophisticated, multi-dimensional and strategy development-oriented process than a term like exam practice can hope to cover.

The age-old adage of not judging a book by its cover is hopeful in its intent; in reality, however, “covers” create first impressions, and first impressions count. How a person dresses sets a tone, an image, and others react to this. In a classroom, the teacher’s attire can largely impact the students’ opinions and create either a negative or positive type of educational climate. Understanding and practicing proper attire for the classroom can affect a teacher’s relationship with students, her ability to serve as a role model and authoritative figure, and even her daily outlook.

Written by Brian D. Hadfield

If a school district dictates a dress code for its employees, then choice-of-wardrobe is not difficult. Many districts, however, have a much looser policy, and teachers are left to decide on their own what is appropriate. Over the decades, dress-code in the work place has become increasingly casual. Teachers in some middle and high schools can dress in a way that hardly distinguishes them from their students. While the actual items of clothing worn by teachers may not determine what or how students learn, they can significantly impact the level of respect that students develop for that individual.
There is a reason that weekends and “days off” are associated with sweatpants, t-shirts and other types of comfortable clothing. The more relaxed a person’s attire, the more laid-back they tend to feel and act. In a classroom, a teacher dressed in this manner projects a more easygoing demeanor. This can have a positive effect when it allows students to feel at ease, but it can also be a detriment when it encourages relaxed, less-disciplined behaviors. A teacher wearing clothing that is either extremely casual (e.g., sweats, ripped jeans or baggy shirts) or age-inappropriate (e.g., t-shirts with slogans or funny sayings, tight-fitting clothing, or short skirts) might “connect” with the students on a personal level, but unfortunately much of the sense of authority and control over the classroom can be lost.
Teachers can establish a certain amount of that “connection” with their class while still dressing in ways that convey a more business-like persona. One middle-school teacher wears dress pants and a button-down dress shirt each day. He personalizes his wardrobe, however, with hundreds of fun, unique ties. The students look forward to seeing an eclectic mix of holiday, subject-themed, crazy ties over the course of the school year. This introduces an element of fun and creates a way for student and teacher to interact on a personal level while maintaining a certain tone of formality.
Female teachers can likewise bring their unique interests and personality into their classroom attire. Skirts, dresses, blouses and nice slacks can be accessorized with jewelry and scarves that give a familiar flair. A teacher who loves frogs might have pins, bracelets, watches and earrings in the shape of her favorite critter. She creates a bond with the students by letting them know a little bit about herself. One high-school English teacher amuses her students by showing up every day in December wearing a different holiday-themed sweater. Again, this creates a connection and a sense of familiarity without sacrificing standards of formality or modesty.
Not only does this mode of dress affect how the students view the teacher, but it influences the teacher’s own daily outlook. When it’s time for that final check in the mirror before leaving the house, an individual establishes an attitude based on his own reflection, and this self-image carries over into the workplace.  A teacher feeling “put-together” as he enters the classroom will convey that organized and in-control attitude with the students. Dressing and behaving in a way that emphasizes his position as an authority figure and a role model, he establishes a professional approach to his career not only in the students’ eyes, but in his own mind. This confidence creates a successful teacher and, consequently, a successful classroom.
Ideally, books should not be judged by their covers. Whether right or wrong though, in reality impressions are often based on appearances. Reactions and attitudes are developed according to how a person looks, and in a setting like the classroom, the type of reaction students have to their teacher is crucial to their success. By simply considering the image they wish to project, a teacher can dress in a way that is best-suited for an effective learning environment.
first publised in www.uscranton.com

Part of being an effective instructor involves understanding how adults learn best. Compared to children and teens, adults have special needs and requirements as learners. Despite the apparent truth, adult learning is a relatively new area of study. The field of adult learning was pioneered by Malcom Knowles. He identified the following characteristics of adult learners:
• Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They need to be free to direct themselves. Their teachers must actively involve adult participants in the learning process and serve as facilitators for them. Specifically, they must get participants’ perspectives about what topics to cover and let them work on projects that reflect their interests. They should allow the participants to assume responsibility for presentations and group leadership. They have to be sure to act as facilitators, guiding participants to their own knowledge rather than supplying them with facts. Finally, they must show participants how the class will help them reach their goals (e.g., via a personal goals sheet).
Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect learning to this knowledge/experience base. To help them do so, they should draw out participants’ experience and knowledge which is relevant to the topic. They must relate theories and concepts to the participants and recognize the value of experience in learning.
Adults are goal-oriented. Upon enrolling in a course, they usually know what goal they want to attain. They, therefore, appreciate an educational programme that is organized and has clearly defined elements. Instructors must show participants how this class will help them attain their goals. This classification of goals and course objectives must be done early in the course.
• Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something. Learning has to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities to be of value to them. Therefore, instructors must identify objectives for adult participants before the course begins. This means, also, that theories and concepts must be related to a setting familiar to participants. This need can be fulfilled by letting participants choose projects that reflect their own interests.
• Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work. They may not be interested in knowledge for its own sake. Instructors must tell participants explicitly how the lesson will be useful to them on the job.
• As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. Instructors must acknowledge the wealth of experiences that adult participants bring to the classroom. These adults should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge and allowed to voice their opinions freely in class.
Motivating Adult Learners

Researched by Annie Manders, EFL Teacher 

Another aspect of adult learning is motivation. At least six factors serve as sources of motivation for adult learning: 

• Social relationships: to make new friends, to meet a need for associations and friendships.
• External expectations: to comply with instructions from someone else; to fulfil the expectations or recommendations of someone with formal authority.
• Personal advancement: to achieve higher status in a job, secure professional advancement, and stay abreast of competitors.
• Escape/Stimulation: to relieve boredom, provide a break in the routine of home or work, and provide a contrast to other exacting details of life.
• Cognitive interest: to learn for the sake of learning, seek knowledge for its own sake, and to satisfy an inquiring mind.

Barriers and Motivation

Unlike children and teenagers, adults have many responsibilities that they must balance against the demands of learning. Because of these responsibilities, adults have barriers against participating in learning. Some of these barriers include lack of time, money, confidence, or interest, lack of information about opportunities to learn, scheduling problems, “red tape”, and problems with child care and transportation.

Motivation factors can also be a barrier. What motivates adult learners? Typical motivations include a requirement for competence or licensing, an expected (or realized) promotion, job enrichment, a need to maintain old skills or learn new ones, a need to adapt to job changes, or the need to learn in order to comply with company directives.

The best way to motivate adult learners is simply to enhance their reasons for enrolling and decrease the barriers. Instructors must learn why their students are enrolled (the motivators); they have to discover what is keeping them from learning. Then the instructors must plan their motivating strategies. A successful strategy includes showing adult learners the relationship between training and an expected promotion.
Learning Tips for Effective Instructors

Educators must remember that learning occurs within each individual as a continual process throughout life. People learn at different speeds, so it is natural for them to be anxious or nervous when faced with a learning situation. Positive reinforcement by the instructor can enhance learning, as can proper timing of the instruction.

There are four critical elements of learning that must be addressed to ensure that participants learn. These elements are:
1. motivation
2. reinforcement
3. retention
4. transference


If the participant does not recognize the need for the information (or has been offended or intimidated), all of the instructor’s effort to assist the participant to learn will be in vain. The instructor must establish rapport with participants and prepare them for learning; this provides motivation. Instructors can motivate students via several means:
• Set a feeling or tone for the lesson. Instructors should try to establish a friendly, open atmosphere that shows the participants they will help them learn.
• Set an appropriate level of concern. The level of tension must be adjusted to meet the level of importance of the objective. If the material has a high level of importance, a higher level of tension/stress should be established in the class. However, people learn best under low to moderate stress; if the stress is too high, it becomes a barrier to learning.
• Set an appropriate level of difficulty. The degree of difficulty should be set high enough to challenge participants but not so high that they become frustrated by information overload. The instruction should predict and reward participation, culminating in success.
In addition, participants need specific knowledge of their learning results (feedback ). Feedback must be specific, not general. Participants must also see a reward for learning. Finally, the participant must be interested in the subject. Interest is directly related to reward. Adults must see the benefit of learning in order to motivate themselves to learn the subject.


Reinforcement should be part of the teaching-learning process to ensure correct behaviour. Instructors need to use it on a frequent and regular basis early in the process to help the students retain what they have learned. Then, they should use reinforcement only to maintain consistent, positive behaviour.
Students must retain information from classes in order to benefit from the learning. The instructors’ jobs are not finished until they have assisted the learner in retaining the information. In order for participants to retain the information taught, they must see a meaning or purpose for that information. The must also understand and be able to interpret and apply the information. This understanding includes their ability to assign the correct degree of importance to the material.
The amount of retention will be directly affected by the degree of original learning. Simply stated, if the participants did not learn the material well initially, they will not retain it well either.
Retention by the participants is directly affected by their amount of practice during the learning. Instructors should emphasize retention and application. After the students demonstrate correct (desired) performance, they should be urged to practice to maintain the desired performance.


• Transfer of learning is the result of training -it is the ability to use the information taught in the course but in a new setting.
Transference is most likely to occur in the following situations:
• Association - participants can associate the new information with something that they already know.
• Similarity - the information is similar to material that participants already know; that is, it revisits a logical framework or pattern.
• Degree of original learning – participant’s degree of original learning was high.
• Critical attribute element - the information learned contains elements that are extremely beneficial (critical) on the job.

Although adult learning is relatively new as field of study, it is just as substantial as traditional education and carries and potential for greater success. Of course, the heightened success requires a greater responsibility on the part of the teacher. Additionally, the learners come to the course with precisely defined expectations. Unfortunately, there are barriers to their learning. The best motivators for adult learners are interest and selfish benefit. If they can be shown that the course benefits them pragmatically, they will perform better, and the benefits will be longer lasting.

As a novice teacher you are full of dreams. You have the knowledge and command of the language and you know that you can disseminate information. But theory is often worlds apart from the real world. Walking into a classroom full of children for the first time can often be a stressful experience. Here are some tips that will help you ease your way into the world of teaching.

The Lesson Plan is your friend

Being prepared will definitely help you plan your lesson constructively. Lessons that are well planned are more likely to help your students and yourself. It will avoid frustrations and unpleasant surprises and allow you to stay on track and achieve your objectives. A lesson will not always go according to plan but a well-defined plan is important as it prevents unnecessary problems from occurring.

Ask for help

If you work at a language school then you will have plenty support from the owner and other teachers, as long as you ask. Nobody expects from a novice teacher to be perfect or inspire a class like Robin Williams in “Dead poets society”. Ask other teachers for teaching tips or details about your students if they have taught them in the past. You can also consult the owner of the school or the director of studies on how they want a lesson to be. 
If you start off with private lessons you can ask fellow teachers for advice. You can even join all those Facebook groups for teachers and get tons of advice from other teachers.

Mistakes are unavoidable

We all make mistakes and so will you. Don't worry about it. You'll not only survive them, you'll learn from them and if you reflect on them honestly, you'll become a better teacher. Learn from them and try to avoid them in the future. Mistakes are a natural part of learning. If you never make mistakes, you're not trying hard enough or taking necessary risks to become the teacher you deserve to be.

Be friendly but not a friend

You want your students to like you and therefore hesitate to discipline students accordingly. This is probably the most common mistake new teachers make. Believe it or not, students want boundaries. Let students know immediately what your rules or guidelines are and what the consequences are. Then, enforce them fairly, firmly, and consistently. Many beginning teachers fall into the trap of becoming overly relaxed with students. You can however be open to students while still maintaining a position of authority. Regardless of age or gender, in order to maintain control of the class and to keep students focused on learning, you have to be mindful of your role as leader.

Have a clear set of rules or guidelines

This should be one of your first priorities. Create (or allow your students to create) a set of classroom rules or behavior expectations. Post these in the room. At the beginning of the year, go over each rule or expectation with your students. Give students examples and non-examples of following the rules. Make sure students know what the consequences are for not following the rules. Remember to be firm, fair, and consistent when enforcing the rules.

Do not talk 

Students are in your classroom to learn to speak English and not to listen to you speak English. You are not doing it on purpose of course but because all of us feel uncomfortable around silence or long pauses, or because you are over-enthusiastic to share your knowledge. 
As a general rule of thumb, students should speak for 70% of the class time, while teachers speak for the remaining 30%. These percentages could be tweaked in cases where students are absolute beginners (50-50), or at the other end of the spectrum, very advanced learners in need of intensive speaking practice (90-10). This means that in most cases, your participation should be limited to giving instructions and explaining essential points, but above all to eliciting response from students and facilitating all types of speaking activities.

Only follow the book

Sometimes teachers follow into the trap of teaching everything directly for the coursebook. This is not only boring but also counterproductive. Because they are learning a language, students need a lot of opportunities to practice and experiment with their new skills. A coursebook is a guide and can provide many ideas about the order of topics and the structure to follow. Be sure that you are connecting your activities to the book but do not do everything from there.

“Scaffolding” describes a performance enhancement procedure which can make teaching composition meaningful and support learners.

However, despite teachers’ and students’ good efforts, EFL composition writing still remains a very demanding task which more often than not surrounds a great deal of disappointment and frustration.

The crucial question “Is there anything else to be done?” is often repeated.

As an EFL teacher, I have found myself in this unpleasant position many times. I keep wondering though, whether my expectations from my students (especially these of lower levels) are realistic or not!

Why don’t we take a second to think of the cognitive profile of a “very good’ student in our EFL composition class?

To start with, we should realize what elements effective EFL composition writers consist of.

They are the ones who combine a great variety of presupposed knowledge which Hyland (2003, p. 27) divides into “content knowledge” (knowledge of the topic), “system knowledge” (knowledge of syntax and vocabulary – spelling and meaning), “process knowledge” (knowledge of planning and organization of writing) and “genre knowledge” (knowledge of the genre and its principles).

The communicative purpose of the text and the information students intend to convey as well as other relevant texts form another kind of knowledge (“context knowledge”) (ibid.).

Consequently, a student who is not good enough at any of these aspects of writing inevitably faces difficulties in composition.

Vasiliki Lismani Efl Teacher, Bed., Ma (Special Education)

I assume that it has already been clear that composition writing is a multi – disciplinary, multi- tasking procedure.

L2 students are assessed for the production of texts that ‘their previous learning experiences may not have adequately prepared” (Hyland, 2003, p. 40).

This is particularly true for younger students and for students of lower levels alike, who, for example, are asked to write formal application letters or e-mails but they rarely write ones in their native language.

Cultural issues are also stated to interfere into students’ piece of writing in a decisive way (Hyland, 2003; Al – Khatib, 2001 in Rivers, 2011) and quite often EFL writing contains errors due to different “cultural thought patterns” (ibid) between native (L1) language and L2.

At this point, I would like to focus on what I referred to as “system knowledge”. A general demand to an EFL class is to have pupils being able to think and express themselves in English effectively while being in the process of learning the language which is actually something very demanding and challenging (Villalobos, 2011).

Unlike to L1 (native language) writing, students of EFL are taught new grammatical structures and, almost simultaneously, are asked to create productive writing exploiting the newly acquired knowledge.

“Largely because of this developmental aspect of language learning, research frequently finds texts written by L2 students to be less effective than those of native English – speaking peers” (Silva, 1997 in Hyland, 2003, p. 34).

In other words, EFL learners have difficulties with their productive writing tasks because they do not have the time to assimilate the new knowledge and put it in their writing in a way that would convey their ideas effectively (ibid). Obviously, L2 learners differentiate “not only in the speed of acquisition but also in their ultimate level of achievement” (Ellis, 2006, p. 525).

To deal with the obstacles derived from the inadequate assimilation of “system knowledge”, students confront to their mother tongue translating directly from L1 into L2 and adopting syntax patterns/structures of the Greek language to their English texts.

Thus, they resort to a familiar means of expression to draw assistance for their writing tasks. Unfortunately, this does not always help either and teachers often comment negatively on mother tongue interference to their students compositions. In this case, the phrase “it’s Greek to me!” is not always metaphorical!

The reason is that students tend to translate their Greek thought into English without adapting their expression to the principles of the English language because they have not assimilated these principles yet.

This results in reoccurring mistakes which are mostly expected to be made by most of our Greek students.

For example, some of the most common mistakes include the correct use of Present Perfect Simple (because for some of its uses either Past or Present tense is equivalent in Greek) and the word order in a sentence (subject – verb – object – adverbs) since Greek syntax is much more flexible than English. Consequently, a vicious circle of mistakes is unavoidable.

In a nutshell, the key to my argument is that we should start setting more achievable goals to our students according to their EFL acquisition level.

To put it differently, the fact that they have been taught all past tenses and practiced their use in “fill in the gaps with the verb in the correct form” exercises, do not necessarily mean that all of them are able to use these tenses in a text where they have to prove their knowledge on a number of different aspects of the language.

Otherwise, our students will keep on using their native language as a helping hand and we will experience more frustration dealing with them.

Ellis, R. (2006). Individual Differences in Second Language Learning In: Davies, A., Elder, C. (eds) (2006) The Handbook of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing.
Hyland, K. (2003). Second Language Writing (online). Cambridge Language Education. Available via Google Books.
Rivers, D. (2011). A short review of three articles concerning the teaching of L2 writing across cultural contexts. Available at: www.developingteachers.com.
Villalobos, N. (2011). How can we help our students think in English? Available via NNEST Interest Section Blog


It might well be that my selling skills are rusty but in the four years I have been running Input on Education, there is one service that school owners favour the least and this is the topic of this month’s column: observations and how we can use them as a tool for development and not as a means of intimidation. 
By Maria Sachpazian   
Why on earth do we need observations?
Indeed, why? Looking at them from up close, observations feature an array of faults. For one thing, they are too objective. If we assembled a panel of experts and asked them to design a template for observations, they would definitely include some standard items but for the best part their templates would differ. If the same experts observed lessons led by the same teachers, they would draw different conclusions and pick on different issues. Let us be honest, though, if two different teachers were asked to grade the same composition, they too would come up with comments which will not be identical. This has not led us to abolish writing! 
Secondly, observations are difficult to organize and if carried out properly they can be time-consuming. In the present situation when most school owners teach a full programme, freeing up time for them to go around classes and observe teachers can be challenging. Last but not least, there are a lot of issues which are open to discussion. For example, should teachers know when they will be observed or should the school owner barge in at any time? Personally, I feel that all the players of this game should be well informed and fair warning must be given for preparation to the teachers who will be observed. When I mention that, though, the reply I get is that then observations are a staged performance and not the ‘’real thing’’.  Let us get one thing straight: no observation will ever give us a clear picture of what exactly goes on in that classroom. Observations can only give us indications of what is weak and needs strengthening and what needs to be left as it is. This happens because every class is a group with its own private socio-dynamic balance which is upset once an extraneous body (an observer) is added to the group. This phenomenon is called ‘’observer pollution’’ and can destroy the findings of any observation if the observer does not consciously try to limit his/her presence.  
The reality about observations 
Observations are one of the tools we have in schools to monitor the quality of the teaching provided within school units. Through observations we can ensure that the school continues to function on the same main principles, which need to be common and respected by all members of staff. As far as Continuous Professional Development is concerned observations play a key role in helping us identify the training needs of our staff. Based on the findings of observations and the Teachers’ Portfolio we can ensure the progress of each member of our staff, which in turn ensures the progress of our school. 
Thinking of observation under this light one has to wonder why they have developed such bad reputation. 

Three ways to use observations effectively 

1 Involve the staff in the process 

As the school year starts, set out to design an observation programme and ask the staff to contribute ideas as to when it would be best to hold these rounds of observations. If decisions are made within the staff, they are more likely to be respected by all. Needless to say, teachers should be given time to build some rapport with their classes, especially if they are dealing with new groups or if they are newly-hired teachers.  
Another interesting idea is to involve the staff in the process of observing as well. Peer observations are a great way to encourage teachers to work in pairs or teams; they are unofficial and therefore less stressful. The findings of peer observations are discussed only between the two teachers but in order to promote bonding between teachers and to ensure that peer observations are always geared towards identifying the best in the other person’s teaching, we can ask the observers to share just one positive feature of their colleague’s lesson. Peer observations might also encourage teachers to keep a journal of their teaching, so they can become the first step towards more introspective and reflective teaching. 

2 Do not use observations as a means of intimidation 

If observations follow right after complaints have been made by parents or emerge after some disappointing exam results or even worse are announced at the expiration of the school year with the distinct comment that those whose teaching is not satisfactory will be fired, there is a great chance that what we will observe will not be conducive to us drawing useful conclusions. 
Observations should be held regularly, but not too often, and they should not always be aimed at the same teachers. Holding observations twice a year is enough, with a third circle left as an option in case there are teachers who need or want to be re-observed. These two rounds should be aimed at different aspects of teaching or they could concern different levels. This will help reduce the workload of the teachers as well as their stress.  Finally, observations need to be a transparent process. Teachers need to know what they are observed on and on which criteria. Much like we familiarise our students with oral exam routines and marking schemes we ought to do the same for teachers as well. 

3 Use the findings creatively

Based on the findings of the observations, school owners are in a position to decide how the teaching material works, how the teachers have developed it and which teachers need to work together to maximise their potential and that of the school. Observations can help a school owner decide on the training needs of the staff but they can also show which teachers have grown too comfortable at the level they are teaching and are not trying to expand their range of teaching. Identifying all these areas in advance will give the school owner enough material to work on in anticipation of the new school year, thus ensuring an unbreakable quality circle. 
A final word of warning needs to be added. When observing, beware of holding a very strong magnifying glass too close to what you are observing. Ultimately, observations need to be confidence boosters not mechanisms of destruction. 


Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons)  is the Academic and Managing Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools. She is also an educational management specialist who has worked as a teacher trainer and materials’ developer. Maria works as an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools
www.input.edu.gr // This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.     

Two TESOL Greece members awarded the 2013 IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG scholarship

If you thought that Greece is far behind in learning technologies compared to other countries, maybe you should reconsider.

Chryssanthe Sotiriou and Dimitris Primalis won the “Diane Eastment scholarship” and presented, on April 10th, at the 2013 IATEFL conference, their work titled “Literature strikes back! Teaching Literature with Technology”.

Paul Sweeney of the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group introduced the speakers pointing out that their proposal showed a different approach to using technology in class.

Following a holistic approach, Dimitris and Chryssanthe believe that technology and literature are not foes but they can complement each other.

Technology can cater for different learning styles, it can be used initially to stimulate learners’ interest in literature and later on become the medium to create and produce language based on the literature the learners have read.

In the first part of their presentation, the Greek speakers raised awareness about the difference in genres and the way younger generations see long texts.

They both stressed the necessity to use technology as a Trojan horse in order to initiate students into the magic world of literature and lexis.

In the second part of the workshop, the participants were shown how familiar techniques can be used successfully in class with the aid of free material available on the internet.

Sequences of sounds, jigsaw activities with students working in groups of listeners and viewers according to their strengths can create real information gaps that stimulate their imagination,spark discussion and urge them to produce written and spoken language in anticipation of the plot and characters.

Literature and reading books need not be passive or individual tasks but can involve all the class in most creative and challenging tasks.

The social media and safe platforms like Edmodo can become a springboard for projects for teenagers while Web2.0 tools like Tagxedo and lino.it can stimulate project work for primary school pupils.

Dimitris and Chryssanthe shared their experience of how electronic books and videos can be fully exploited (an example of flipped classroom process). 

In the third part, the attendants exchanged ideas and experience.

They all agreed that a technology-rich environment based on a well-structured methodology background can facilitate the reading experience and help students meet challenging standards while addressing essential questions that bring meaning to learning.

The teacher’s role in the EFL or ESL classroom has seen a great many changes over the past century as different theories and methods - often contradictory- have evolved. Traditional approaches to learning viewed teachers as authorities whose main role was to pass on knowledge to students, whereas cooperative learning was discouraged in favour of teacher-led instruction. Progressively, at the turn of the 21st century, more innovative educational curricula all over the world stress the importance of learner autonomy and consider the teacher as being a mediator of communication (development of the communicative, task-based and strategy-based approaches) among learners, as a guide and facilitator of learning. At the same time, the use of ICT in the classroom has certainly enabled teachers to make the necessary link of the ‘closed’ structure of the classroom with the ‘outside world’ and society in general.

First published: ELT NEWS // November 2015 // by Chrissa Papadimitriou

     All the above make me wonder what really happens in the EFL classroom, when learners interact on an almost daily basis. Things may be said to be rather straightforward; all learners share a common goal; that is to learn a foreign language, being English in this case (either for general or specific purposes). But the real question is: What does the teacher really know about one’s learners?  What I mean to say is that an often overlooked matter is possessing information about learners’ linguistic and cultural background. Needless to say, one might assume that this issue is rather straightforward or not so complex in a predominantly monolingual country such as Greece. Actually, this might have been true, more or less, twenty years ago, but reality has evidently proved that this is no longer the case, due to immigration, globalisation and the general mobility of the population. Greece has always

attracted hordes of tourists for obvious reasons, nevertheless the number of people working and living in Greece, has evidently increased. The number of students whose parent(s) are not of Greek origin has increased, this being more obvious in the capital and Greek coastal areas rather than the mainland or the periphery of Greece.

     The reason for this introduction is not in vain. So, let me get down to the crux of the matter. The question is: How does one go about teaching in a classroom where there are, let’s say, 7 Greek students, 3 Albanian students, 2 Russian students, 1 Philippine student, 1 Chinese student , 1 French student and 2 Bulgarian students? One might again counter argue by stating that this is the value of learning English as a lingua franca and an international language, allowing people from around the globe to communicate through a common language: English. This may be truer for adults in occupational contexts, but what about young or adolescent learners who may share the Greek language at school but who may simultaneously speak and learn their native language (L1) at home with their parents or relatives? In this case is English the L2 or L3 for them? And what about bilingual or multilingual Greek or non-Greek learners learning a second or third language either in or out of school (i.e. French, German, Italian and so on)? Finally, apart from this apparent linguistic diversity, what about the cultural diversity present in such teaching contexts? How does the teacher effectively cater for all this diversity of learner backgrounds?

Can English become the means of bridging the gap that exists within each student linguistically or culturally? Does it make sense in this case to treat the L1 (the Greek language) as the language of comparison of the similarities and differences with the L2 (the English language)? Whose truth are teachers going to cater for?

     Research into language learning and Contrastive Analysis (James & Garett, 1991; Taylor, 1993) has proved that awareness of L1/L2 differences and similarities may facilitate learners’ comprehension of the structures of the mother tongue and the foreign language, thus enhancing language acquisition. As suggested in Ayakli (1992), overt comparisons between the two languages may be exploited in the classroom, as opposed to covert contrastive analysis. Nevertheless, in diverse linguistic contexts, can all this be applied? Could the teacher provide the opportunity for such reflection by providing students the opportunity to study and work out the similarities and differences, by allowing them to select their preferred languages for this comparison? In this case, the Greek language would be the language selected for overt contrastive analysis for Greek students, whereas the Albanian language would be chosen by Albanian students. I would even suggest a wider range of options depending on the number of languages spoken by the learners in each teaching context. For instance, a Greek student could compare and contrast the similarities and differences between Greek (L1), English (L2) and French (L3), supposing that he or she simultaneously were learning these languages.

This point will be demonstrated through a specific activity or task that could be given to students in the classroom. This task could be thematically related to a certain topic, e.g. jobs/occupations, friendship and so on, as the opportunity arises.

Task Procedure:

 The teacher invites learners to work in pairs or groups and come up with various idioms or similes in the Greek language and to think of the equivalent ones in English, French, Albanian e.t.c., depending on one’s learners’ backgrounds.

Alternative version: The teacher hands out the Greek and English/French e.t.c. versions of various idioms or similes to different pairs or groups. Students work together match/find the Greek and English/French e.t.c. equivalents.


English  à ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’.

Greek  à ‘Η πολλή δουλειά τρώει το αφέντη’.

French à‘Trop de travail rend malade’


This sort of reflection could be encouraged in and out of class, as group-work or homework assignment respectively. A note to be made here is that the teacher could and should investigate learners’ backgrounds and beliefs or attitudes towards English and other foreign languages or their mother tongue through a questionnaire or through informal discussion or interviews with students. This will provide useful information concerning the linguistic and cultural profile of each student (Pre-course or In-course Needs Analysis). An example is given below: 

A. Objective Needs – Learners’ linguistic background

(For questions 1-7, tick Pthe answer that is true for you.)

1. How long have you been learning English?

a. 1-2 years                            b. 3-4 years                      c. 5-6 years       

2. You are learning English:

a. at school


b. at school and a private evening language 

    school[1] (frontisterio)


c. at school and at home



3. Which other languages are you learning at school?

a. French                                                b. German      

4. You are learning the second optional foreign language:

a. Only at school                     b. At school and at the frontisterio     

5. Do you speak or are you learning any other language?

a. Yes            (if so, which one? ________________________)        b. No

 Investigating Learners’ views

6. Do you think the English language is:

a.  Very useful


b.  A little useful


c.  Not at all useful



7. Do you think English is:

a.  An easy language


b.  A fairly difficult language


c.  A difficult language


1. In Greece private evening language schools are called ‘frontisteria’.


      Just as there are as many ‘world Englishes’ as the people who speak it, the same applies for the language and culture promoted in class. Whose culture and language does one depict and adopt in class? The answer here lies in accepting all learners’ backgrounds and knowledge, by melding and accommodating all views in ways that are relevant to them as individuals. This presupposes making an effort to understand the similarities and differences that exist and enriching the English language lesson through the presentation of each learner’s identity (cultural and linguistic). English thus becomes the link or common point of reference for students as in the Multicultural Awareness Through English (MATE) paradigm promoted by Fay & al. (2010).

In the table below practical suggestions are given of ways in which a multicultural and multilingual environment may be created in the EFL classroom.  A cross-curricular approach

is adopted, as well as an experiential one, as they are relevant to learners’ school and life experiences, as well as to their age and cognitive level of development. A final comment to be made is that this kind of approach also takes into account all types of learning styles (i.e. visual, kinesthetic, auditory, analytic learners and so on. - Weaver & Cohen, 1997).


School Subjects



Students can compare:

Ø  vocabulary loans across their languages (e.g. supermarket, democracy, piano etc.).

Ø  jokes

Ø  idioms /sayings/proverbs/similes

Students can present:

Ø   songs from their countries or find common points of reference among languages. E.g. ‘Twinkle - twinkle little star’ vs. ‘Φεγγαράκιμουλαμπρό’.

    ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ vs.  

          ‘Χαρωπά τα δυο μου χέρια τα χτυπώ’.

Ø  musical instruments from their country



Students can:

Ø   write and perform plays based on cultural elements derived from each country, trying to avoid the stereotypical depiction of certain nationalities or ethnic minorities.

Ø  read/learn poems related to their country

Ø  see films related to their country

Students can present:

Ø  the greatest monuments of their country

Ø   the myths/legends of their country

Ø  the national flags and traditional costumes of their country


Physical Education


Students can present:

Ø  traditional dances/games

popular sports of their country

Students can:

Ø  Search the Internet and find information and visuals about their countries and present their findings to their classmates.à Value of  the use of authentic material

Environmental Studies


Students can present:

Ø  the customs, celebrations, habits and traditional cuisine of their country


Students can present:

Ø  Their country’s greatest works of art (paintings/sculptures)



Ayakli, C. (1992). Is There a Role for the Mother Tongue in the Teaching of Grammar in        

     State Schools? Aspects, 30: 14-20.

Fay, R., Lytra, V. & Ntavaliagkou, M. (2010). ‘Multicultural awareness through English: a

     potential contribution of TESOL in Greek schools’. Intercultural Education, Vol.21, Issue


 James, C. & Garett, P. (1991). Language Awareness in the Classroom. New York: Longman.

 Taylor, J. R. (1993). ‘Some Pedagogical Implications of Cognitive Linguistics.’, pp. 201-

     223. In Geiger, R. A. & Rudzka-Ostyn, B. (eds). Conceptualisations and Mental

     Processing in Language.Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Weaver, S. J. & Cohen, A. D. (1997). Strategies-Based Instruction: A Teacher-Training

     Manual. CARLA Working Papers Series #7. University of Minnesota., Minneapolis:

     Centre for Advanced research on Language Acquisition. 

The enormous amount of existing materials for the teaching of English to young learners might lead us to think that everything has been invented and nothing is left to be discovered in EFL. But when you are in a real classroom working with children you realise that not all existing materials are equally successful in the class. Why is that? Why do children seem to like some of the materials straight away but do not pay attention to some others? It is obvious that only successful materials meet the children’s interests and take into account their psychological characteristics. Then, the question is: what are children like and what are the main practical implications in terms of materials for the EFL class?

Young learners are:

• very receptive


Children usually welcome whatever the teacher has to offer them. Unlike older learners, children are open to new ideas, activities and materials. Therefore lots of different materials and different activities related to them can be used in class, but it will be absolutely important to choose only those that are adequate for each particular class situation.

• curious

Anything that is new attracts children’s attention, because children are curious by nature. Any novelty in terms of materials used in class will arise curiosity and interest. Very often very simple new material can lead to the most lovely activities and can generate lots of meaningful contexts for using the target language.

• motivated

Learning English is something that the children’s parents respect. It is also something that older brothers and sisters do at school. They “want” to do the same.
It is the teacher’s responsibility to use the best approach and the best materials in order to foster the motivation that young learners bring to class.

• able to pick up new sounds accurately

This is a great advantage when learning the target language, since in further stages, learners will find it more difficult to cope with sounds that do not exist in their L1
phonological repertoire. Besides, children are great imitators: they find pleasure in repeating sentences, words and in imitating sounds. It is highly advisable that the materials used in class take this important issue into account.

• spontaneous and willing to participate

Children are less inhibited than older learners. They volunteer to participate in activities and they enjoy using the language in activities such as acting out roles, singing songs, reciting poems, etc. That means that they are ready to use the target language in dialogues, games, act outs, storytelling and other situations presented in class. Using the language this way fosters fixing the language used.

• physically active

Physical movement is part of children’s nature. Children are full of energy to be spent and they tend to move in class anyway. Therefore, activities that involve physical movement are always welcome by children. By using the language in activities that involve movement, mind and body become a single unit that help the children experience the language and internalise it .

• interested on themselves and on what is “here now”

Children are able to deal with situations, objects and things that are close to them and that are related to them. They are not interested in issues that do not belong to their near world. Real objects and familiar situations must be used in class.

• deeply involved in the world of fantasy and imagination

The real world around the children and the fantasy world that they can easy build are part of themselves and difficult to separate at certain stages in their development. Stories and situations where fantasy plays an important role will be successful in class.

• highly linked to the teacher

The younger the children are the closer to the teacher they feel: they seek the teacher’s attention, his/her approval to the work done, they try to explain things that happened out of the classroom -at home, in the street, etc- to the teacher. Those situations constitute great opportunities for using the target language as much as possible: for appraisal, asking easy questions, agreeing or disagreeing, etc. in very real and contextualised situations.

•developing their personality

Children attending our classes are all different. Each of them has a potential in the different intelligences that needs to be developed: musical, mathematical, spatial,etc. It is the teacher’s responsibility, our responsibility, to make the best of that potential, to make the children grow personally through the activities, materials and situations presented in class. We must never forget that personal growth at this
stage is much more important than just learning a foreign language or any other isolated subject.

Apart from the characteristics stated above, it is also very important to remember that children:

• learn by doing
All kinds of activities and materials such as arts and crafts, “making” things, etc. must be part of our teaching. We do not know how the acquisition of the language takes place, but experience shows that children who use the language for doing or making something, seem to fix the language more easily.

In this sense, though, it is important to find the balance between the amount of time devoted to the activity proposed and the amount of language that such activity generates. For example it would be wrong to devote an important part of the teaching time to drawing, cutting out, etc. if no language or only very little language is involved in the activity.

• can’t concentrate for a long time

Therefore the materials presented have to be varied and they must be changed often within one class. Otherwise the children will get tired and will not be able to follow.

• do not analyse the language
Any materials focusing on the analysis of the language have few possibilities of succeeding in a class of young learners: children look for meaning when learning the language.

• are happier with different materials depending on the natural baggage they have on the different intelligences

The teacher must cater for those differences and preferences and present the language in a variety of ways, using different materials, in order to make the language accessible to the different types of learners in a particular group class. Visuals, audio material, etc. will help different children to understand and use the language presented much more easily.

• can’t remember things for a long time if they are not recycled

So, the materials used in class must reuse the language in different situations at short intervals. This implies that the teacher should never think that a particular topic has been ”covered”. The same language used in that topic should be used again in the near future in a different situation. 

The materials chosen for a particular lesson, unit, term or school year must be varied, attractive, interesting, accessible, challenging, encouraging, surprising and, ideally, they must lead the children to achieve some kind of outcome.

We could summarize and say that ANY materials can be used successfully in class as long as they are carefully chosen and used with a clear purpose. Among the most successful materials and activities with young learners we should mention: Total Physical Response activities, stories, games, songs, chants, rhymes and poems, puppets, arts and crafts, computers, magic, drama activities, puzzles and problem solving activities, and . . .any other material that at a certain stage can make the learning of English a motivating memorable experience.

It is desirable that the materials used in the EFL class are presented in the form of teaching units in class, not as isolated activities. Within a teaching unit, the activities and materials mentioned above must be nicely linked and one activity must lead into the next so softly that children will not even notice.

Researched by Annie Manders, EFL Teacher



In my previous article I looked at the basic concepts in designing a course for adults. This article analyses the steps followed during this process and offers suggestions for each of those steps.

The design process starts with an initial needs analysis followed by goal and objective setting, material selection, specification of the tasks to be used so that learners can achieve their language goals. Instruction and course monitoring and evaluation, which are related to the design of a course will be discussed in forthcoming articles.

It needs to be stressed, though, that the process outlined above is not in fact simply linear, with one stage following the previous one, but rather circular as well. In general, the design and the implementation of foreign language programmes can be described as a complex system of parts [the steps presented above] that interact with each other. A change in one part of the system will most certainly influence other parts. In the case of adult learners this is even more common, mainly because of the changing nature of their needs.

By Maroussa Pavli*

Needs Analysis: This was analysed in a previous article which examined the basic concepts in course design. However, I’d like to emphasise now that the more information the teacher manages to collect about the learner, the more accurate the analysis of their needs will be. A detailed learner profile can then assist the tutor in setting goals and objectives and selecting the appropriate teaching material. Combining a variety of need analysis methods is recommended.

What I do is asking my learners to complete a form with questions about their education, professional context, foreign language learner experiences, reasons they would like to study English for, learner style and habits, even their views on aspects of language teaching and learning and their expectations from the course. The form includes both multiple choice and open-ended questions, so I can also evaluate their writing skills. I give them plenty of time to complete the form, because their replies will actually shape the course. I then ask them to talk to me through the form and in that way I can evaluate their speaking skills.

First published in ELT NEWS - January 2015 - Interested in receiving the magazine? Click here

Goal setting: Using the information collected from the needs analysis, teachers should realistically think about their teaching situation and the specific learner, examine the constraints under which they and their learner may be working and draw learner attention to those constraints. If this is done, both sides will be able to look at the desired goals in a realistic way. Ideally, goals should come from learner needs, but they can also be externally enforced. An example of this is when the company that the learner works for would like them to improve their speaking skills, while they would like to focus on their reading skills. In this case, negotiation with all parties involved should take place.

After reaching an agreement about the general goals, the teacher needs to produce specific objectives related to learner goals through the use of types of skills or/ and tasks. The objectives can be described in the form of can-do statements or functions and this can later be used as a checklist by the teacher for judging effectiveness of the learning process and by the learner for self-evaluation purposes. All this should be recorded and be easily accessed by both teacher and learner when the need arises.

A general rule of thumb in order to decide about objectives and skills development is to think about what the learner should be able to do, in what kind of context, who the receiver of the message would be, when they would need to interact, how they need to interact [e.g. emails, Skype, face-to-face communication] and why they would need to do it.

The development of the following skills can also be some of the goals set, as they lead to more effective learner study habits and foster independent learning/ learner autonomy: in and outside of class use of resources, speed reading, oral presentations, vocabulary recording, introduction to independent study resources, time management and setting their own objectives.

Content selection – At this stage all available resources should be utilised and learner suggestions are needed. Initially, an adult learner may argue that it is the teacher’s exclusive responsibility to choose materials, but when teachers explain the reasons that learner involvement is needed and are encouraging and supportive, learners will understand the benefits of their contribution and feel in control of their learning. They can be asked to bring in documents and other resources used in their workplace and think about situations in which they need to use English [both current professional needs and post-course communication needs].

Using a coursebook is a good idea, but is not mandatory. After all, it usually needs to be supplemented by extra material. The truth is that nothing beats a tailor-made language programme designed to cover the communication needs of specific individuals. This is the case especially in teaching specific/ academic English to professionals or university students. Individual needs and language level can guide teachers to the appropriate kind of materials and tasks. Tasks can focus on grammar [e.g. forming the past form of regular verbs], functions [e.g. expressing certainty], macro-skills [e.g. listening to the main ideas of a presentation], learning skills [e.g. creating spidergrams with word derivatives], cognition [e.g. using information from a spoken text in order to produce a title], culture [e.g. comparing the concept of punctuality in various countries] and topic [e.g. reading about speed trains in Europe and Asia]. Teaching materials and tasks should provide a clear link between the lesson and the wider world, ensure learner active involvement, be easily available, meet the learners’ expressed needs and express clear pedagogical objectives. The key question that teachers need to ask is whether their learner will need to perform the same task in a real communication situation beyond the classroom and how to help them do that in a successful way.

Throughout this article the importance of learner contribution has been shown very clearly. Their active involvement in needs analysis, goal-setting and content selection is of utmost importance for the reasons already explained. Convincing adult learners to become involved can be a challenge that a teacher has to face, but then, again, is that the only one?

*Maroussa has a BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Athens and an MA in Applied and TESOL from the University of Leicester, UK. She has taught EFL for 20 years, working with learners of all ages and levels. She worked as a Tutor of English for Specific Purposes at Private institutes of Vocational Training and Harokopio University of Athens. Maroussa has also taught English for Specific Purposes to a large number of professionals from the sectors of Business, Marketing and Advertising, Information Technology, Banking and Hospitality. For the last five years she’s been teaching General as well as Academic English to undergraduate students at IST College in Moschato, Greece. Since 1997 she has also worked as a Tutor in English for Academic Purposes and Study Skills on Pre-sessional courses for international students at various universities in the UK. Her interests are in the fields of adult learning, English for Academic and Specific Purposes, age, motivation and psychology in EFL. Maroussa has been a member of TESOL Greece for more than 17 years, was a Board member for the period of 2007 -2010 and is currently the coordinator of the EAP/ ESP SIG, the TESOL Greece Special Interest Group which focuses on adult language teaching [e.g. for professionals, tertiary education students, etc]. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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