Lesson Structures for teachers

I created this recently, for new teachers at my school. Hopefully this will serve to help newer teachers familiarise themselves with skills teaching, and for more experienced teachers to get a bit of revision!

Note – where the post says “à”, it’s where there was a directional arrow –> to show step by step progression through a class, but it didn’t paste well from the original Word document.


Possible Lesson Structures

Systems (Vocabulary, Grammar, Discourse, Pronunciation) Classes

  • PPP

Warmer à “Presentation” (language focus – part elicited, part given)à Practice (controlled) à Production (Freer)

  • I only use this for Elem / Low Pre-Int, because the target language isn’t being drawn out of context – just being presented.


  • ESA

Warmer à Engage (effectively, this is where the warmer leads to a slightly extended discussion around a topic, which can then be formalised through text or presentation, so that students gradually start to focus on specific target language) à Study (language focus and controlled practice) à Activate (produce)

  • This is similar to PPP, but with an elongated opening couple of sections. It could also be similar to language from a text, as you could introduce text in the engage stage.
  • You might not have studied this if you did a CELTA – it’s part of the syllabus for the trinity TESOL.


  • TTT

Warmer à Test existing knowledge (this could be through a task rather than a formalised “test”) àTeach (language focus, so covering meaning, pronunciation and form) à Test (again, this could be a test or just a productive activity)

  • Obviously, the danger is the students all perform fantastically on the first test stage, rendering the rest of the lesson a bit pointless, so be careful with pitching!
  • The idea is that students perform better in the final stage than in the first stage, due to the language focus. Often, you can add a “meta-cognitive” stage at the end of your lesson. All this means is that you ask them to acknowledge what they’ve learnt, and evaluate their own performance in terms of improvement within the lesson.


  • Language From a Text (Inductive)

Warmer à Text / “Language Vehicle” (so there is a reading or listening in some format, with gist / detail comprehension tasks, and the final task is for students to identify and underline specific examples of language in prep for your language focus stage) àLanguage Focus (board the examples they find and do MFP from them) à Practice (controlled) à Produce (freer)

  • This is often the course book approach – don’t make the mistake of seeing a listening / reading and thinking “this is a listening / reading lesson” – if the goal is systematic (vocab, grammar, discourse, pron) then the lesson is a systems lesson. This means not spending too long with the text / language vehicle stage
  • I think that this is by far the most effective way to teach systems, because students view and identify language in context throughout

Skills (Reading, Speaking, Listening, Writing) lessons

For skills lessons, the final part of the lesson (the goal) is for the students to be performing the skill in a more effective way than they were at the start of the lesson, whereas a systems lesson simply helps the students to put new language in to context. So, a skills lesson should end with extended reading, speaking, listening or writing (followed by a feedback stage at the end). With receptive skills (reading / listening), there isn’t a need for a controlled practice stage, and this is often (although not always) the case with productive skills (writing / speaking).

  • Task-Based Approach

Similar to a TTT lesson, but focussing on skills instead of systems.

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Task (practising the skill) à Feedback and language input (either pre-prepared, or from the errors you have noticed) à Task (practising the skill in a similar context – students do it better this time because of the language input)

How does this work with receptive skills?

With skills lessons, you’re trying to help students improve the actual mechanics of the skill. With speaking / writing, this is pretty clear, but with reading / listening, it can be more difficult to understand how students can develop. Here are some ways:

  • Skimming for gist / scanning for detail (reading)
  • Taking notes (listening)
  • Inferring meaning from context (reading / listening)
  • Summarising (reading / listening)
  • Answering specific exam tasks – eg. True / False / Not Given (reading / listening)

This means that the “input” section of a task-based lesson needs to provide students with techniques to help them improve these skills. Generally, this is done by leading the students through the actual process of the skill step by step – in a controlled way. It may be that they are simply getting the mechanics wrong. For example, a lot of students will be scan-reading by reading normally, but quickly, rather than looking up or down / side to side on the page. We can improve this! Here are a couple of lessons that work well.

  1. Reading – inferring meaning from context

Task – Students read a text with some questions focussing directly on the meaning of individual words. Teacher goes through the process of getting answers as per normal and then asks students for their techniques on getting the meaning of these words.

Input – Teacher gets a couple of examples up on the board in context, and gets students to point out linguistic / meaning clues from the context – focussing on tense to help with time concepts, adjectives/  verbs or collocations, and then gives students the chance to do a couple more in isolation, in pairs.

Task – A further reading text with meaning-based questions. I’ve often done this and put made-up words in the text for a bit of fun. Students are now focussing on the mechanics of the task, and should perform better. Ask them at the end! (When students reflect on their learning and perceive their improvement within a class, this is called meta-cognition – it’s very motivating).

  1. Listening – “Dictogloss” (note-taking skills)

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Gist – students listen to a short audio / read text, simply for gist. Notes à Students listen again and take notes, with the objective of a future complete textual reconstruction. They can compare in pairs, and the teacher can do a second repeat. Input à Once the text has been constructed, teacher focusses on note-taking. You could look at structure, organisation, or simply the words that they are noting down (grammar is not necessary, as it can be filled in retrospectively, and students may be unaware of abbreviations, for example) Listening 2 à Students do another dictation / reconstruction, using the skills that have been focussed on.

Productive Skills

With speaking, a task-based approach works very well, but there are a few variations.

  1. A transactional speaking class

This is a class where students are focussing on specific purposes for speaking, in which there are social conventions, “scripts” (things that the English listener would expect to hear) and a definite goal (the successful transaction).

Situations: In a bank, in a train station, in a restaurant etc…

Areas to focus on: Slang terms they might here, making formal / semi-formal requests, situation-based vocab – these would all form part of the input section. This is almost vocab / grammar input in to a skills class, so there is room for a traditional “systems-style” language focus / controlled practice if necessary

  1. An interactional speaking class

In this kind of class, students are looking at the skill of speaking, as a tool for general interaction. So here, the skills are slightly different. You could look at some of the following:

  • Interruption (how to signal that you would like to interrupt)
  • Agreeing / disagreeing / suggesting etc. (language points)
  • Redundancy (how to use redundant language to improve fluency – “I mean…” “like”, “y’know” etc.
  • Circumlocution (how to explain something when you’ve forgotten a word)
  • Expressing interest (how not to appear bored)





With writing, there are two good lesson structures that work, especially with academic writing.

  1. Product writing – this is a writing lesson where students focus on a linguistic convention that will aid their writing, so this will include a controlled practice
  2. Process writing – this is where students are focussing on the actual process of writing (brainstorming, drafting, editing etc)

You can have a look at simple stage explanations for these here: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/product-process-writing-a-comparison

What else?

Thinking specifically about reacting and responding to student errors, something to consider is Dogme.

Dogme gets a lot of criticism from people as laziness, but if done and prepared in the right way, students react really well to it, as it is a class that looks at errors made on the spot. Dogme is generally thought of as unplanned teaching, but this isn’t actually the case. It is going in to class with a clear lesson structure, as per normal, but with no language point as yet. The language point will become apparent at the beginning of the class. Here’s how:

  • The start of the lesson is either a general chat, or students pick a topic from a list for discussion
  • As the students are discussing (this works in pairs, with rotations), the teacher monitors and lists errors
  • Errors are boarded, and the teacher does an on-the-spot language focus
  • Controlled practice is either done live (teacher starts writing examples and the students start working on them as soon as they can see a first, completed one), or students repeat task 2 while teacher pops downstairs to copy some language-specific resources
  • Students repeat similar speaking task, focussing on linguistic accuracy. Again, teacher monitors and boards errors.

Another way to incorporate language focus is outlined by Ken Lackman here: https://www.etprofessional.com/cat_a_framework_for_dogme_83068.aspx

Dogme with receptive skills lessons / lessons that use a text

Again, the discussion part of the lesson at the beginning is necessary – this is how Dogme lessons traditionally start. Here though, the teacher starts stage 2 with a live listening (teacher tells a story on topic, with no preparation, and goes through gist, detail and language focus based on what they’ve said), or uses an app such as Zite to download and print a text based on the topic the students have been discussing, which students then do gist / detail tasks on, and then mine for vocab / grammar.

Obviously, these kinds of lessons require confidence and a lot of on-the-spot thinking on behalf of the teacher. They should also be used sparingly – I tend to go for 1 or 2 a week. However, with practice, they can become extremely effective strings to a teacher’s bow.

Demand High

Based on general best practices with regards to classroom management, and taking a lot of its ideas from The Silent Way, Demand High is basically a list of techniques you can use within the classroom to make sure that the level of challenge is kept high for all students. This is particularly useful when dealing with classes with a mix of level (so, most classes!) This includes:

  • Delaying acknowledgement of correct answers
  • Silent teaching
  • Demanding more from all student interactions (this is particularly useful for higher level students – if they offer an answer, was the answer delivered with perfect grammar? Can they repeat an answer another student gave? Can they say it again with better pron / using a synonym / using the past instead of the present?)
  • Student teaching (delegate ICQs / parts of the language focus to students)
  • One to one teaching within a group
  • And many more!

You can learn more about Demand High on the website here: https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/

And read my own research paper on Demand High teaching here:
As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions / comments! 🙂



For Teachers – a great speaking activity

Sometimes I wish I could think of more activities where students really got stuck in to a meaty task that required linguistic ability as well as critical thinking. Well, here’s a great one. http://iteslj.org/Lessons/Gibson-PuzzleActivity.html

Originally designed as a job interview task, this lesson requires reading, negotiation, discrimination between important and unimportant information, leadership, organisation, mathematics and a LOT of speaking. This is how I set it up:

1) Do some preparation before the class – typically, students take about an hour to complete it so there isn’t really time for a language focus, setup and a decent amount of feedback in the class itself (in a typical 90 minute class)

2) In the lesson before, I look at language to make suggestions, agree / disagree, negotiate, and also have a revise of conditionals.

3) Prior to the lesson, cut up the bullet point information in to individual strips, so they can be distributed to students randomly. Obviously, the task is more difficult the bigger the class is – I find it’s most effective with 8-10 students, but works well with anywhere between 5 and 14.

3) In the setup, I explain that I will be silent during the task (but I usually provide head nods and facial expressions), and that they should use the board to make their own glossary and put up basic informative notes. They aren’t allowed to show each other the strips of paper that they have, but they can read them out loud (so there’s plenty of listening practice too). I also tell them that some of the information will be there to distract them (you can draw parallels with the IELTS exam here if you have exam students)

4) Now the task begins. I read out the introduction and write the translations of the “fake” words on the board, to reinforce the way in which students need to use it. I then hand out the shuffled strips of paper, so that students have a few each. They then start the task. Don’t worry if they are pretty much silent for 5 minutes or more. It’s a confusing beginning, but eventually, someone will write something on the board and it will make sense to another student that has a connected piece of information, and the task will start moving forward. Obviously, if you spot that someone has totally misread something, or that they are wildly on the wrong track, you can give a nudge, at your discretion.

5) When they complete the task, get them to run through the information they needed once more, and then have a look at the language they used – both to do with making suggestions, and any other mistakes. I usually board a “10 of the best mistakes” and then they have to correct them together.

It’s only fair to mention the way in which you get the answer here!

A) You need to know how many working days there are in a week. There are 4, because one of them is a day of rest. Therefore, they have a maximum of 8 days to complete the task within the two week limit.

B) You need to know how many people are working on the structure – in effect, there are 7, because each team consists of 8 people, but one does no work because of religious ceremonies. Also, only one team is working at any one time.

C) You need to know how many hours in a day they work. The answer is 9, because there are 11 working hours in a day and they get 2 hours’ break.

D) You need to know how many stones the structure consists of. As the structure is a solid cube, you multiply the length, depth and width to get 52,022. The information also says that the stones are 1X1, so that’s 52,022 stones.

E) You need to know the output of the workers – it’s 108 stones per person per hour.

So, 7 people lay 108 stones each in an hour – that’s 756 stones, and then in a 9-hour day, 6804 stones. The structure has 52,022, so they take 7.6457 days to build it. In other words, they finish on the fourth day of the second week, which is called Ee’da’ne!





Diagnostics / Needs Analyses

Have a look at the General English diagnostic / needs analysis below, as well as a (brief) IELTS one – in case you get sprung with a new class and need a way to check their prior knowledge of the exam at the beginning of your first class!


Diagnostic and NA

IELTS Needs Analysis

Thinking Hats – can you present a balanced opinion?

One of the most difficult things to do in another language is think critically, evaluate a statement, and present an argument – in speaking or in writing – that is balanced. One of the skills you need to learn is the ability to think “What would someone else say about this?” and then present an idea that could be the opposite of your own. Let’s look at an example – an IELTS question I saw recently:

Increasing the price of petrol is the best way to solve growing traffic and pollution problems. To what extent do you agree or disagree? What other measures do you think might be effective?

The chances are that you look at this question and think “Yes” or “No” quite quickly. But are these the only options?

Meet Dr Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats:


The idea here is to put on a hat and deliberately think in a different way depending on the hat’s colour. Let’s try it. The easiest, and often the automatic thoughts, are yellow – positive and black – negative.

Yellow: This is a positive step. The benefits of this are that fewer people would be able to rely on petrol and would have to seek alternative modes of transport, thus decreasing traffic.

Black: This is not an appropriate solution to the problem. It will serve to widen the class gap and leave many people currently reliant on petrol-based transport unemployed.

Red: The increase in price would cause significant stress in those already struggling financially.

Green: While this is not a viable solution, the possibility of making carpool lanes more widespread would encourage people to share one vehicle, rather than all drive separately.

White: Statistics show that the amount of cars on the road is increasing year on year. However, it would be difficult to implement a sudden price rise without providing a figure related to affordability versus need.

Blue: While carpooling and financial incentive are possible, they will ultimately fail, as car ownership has become part of human consciousness, and this will be almost impossible to change.

So, you can see that you have 6 possibilities:

  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Considering emotions
  • Alternatives
  • Summary
  • Statistics – available and required

If we expand these hats a bit, there are several words that you can use as “triggers” for critical thinking. Have a look at the picture below. You may need a dictionary!


OK, now have a look at these two statements:

  1. School buildings have no future – the advances of the internet mean that all forms of education and study are now able to be done from home.
  2. Strict punishments should be put in place for the parents of children who commit crimes.

Try and write six sentences for each – one sentence for each hat.

A note for IELTS

Where can we use these hats? Think about the written exam:

White – Part 1. You can only use the white hat in part 1!
Black / Yellow – Part 2, body paragraphs. Ideally, one body paragraph should contain a black idea, and the other a yellow idea.
Blue – Part 2, conclusion. In your conclusion, you summarise the main ideas and then present your final view.
Green – A paragraph about solutions would be green. You definitely can’t use the green hat in your conclusion!
Red – A paragraph about personal experience or public reaction to an idea would be red. Don’t forget how something would make people feel, or affect them.

Now take a look at the next article, which shows how the colours fit together in an IELTS writing task: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-pI

A note for Teachers

I’ve found these work well in IELTS classes – once students have read about them and you’ve done some soft practice as a class, you can get them to either work in groups, with one hat per group, or get them to produce six sentences on their own. After that, they can share and compare. I’ve also found that an activity that works well is getting them to read out their sentences without saying which hat they were intending to use, and seeing if students can match the correct hat to the sentence.

Enjoy, and remember: email me at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com with questions, sentences etc!


What stage are you at?

Further to the CPD log post I made here http://wp.me/s2RmnE-cpd , here are the British Council stages of teaching. A couple of points:

  • You don’t have to fit entirely in to one stage – in fact, you’re probably between two.
  • Admitting to some of the “improvement areas” doesn’t make you a bad teacher. The whole point is that everyone can develop and improve.
  • Set yourself realistic goals and sensible time limits. For example: I’ve set myself a 6 month goal of becoming an accredited teacher trainer as part of my stage 5 development.

Take a look – I think they’re really helpful.


Stage 1 Teachers

Stage 2 Teachers (1)

Stage 3 Teachers

Stage 4 Teachers

Stage 5 Teachers_0

Stage 6 Teachers

Placement Testing


As part of my studies on assessing and developing critical thinking skills in the language classroom, I’ve devised and trialled a new kind of placement test for older teenagers and adults. The objectives are as follows:

  • To more accurately gauge a learner’s ability to apply, analyse, evaluate and create – rather than merely understand and remember.
  • To use the placement test to divide classes of the same level, not than by minute and discrete “levels”, but by level of ability to engage with critical questions.

The idea behind the above, in brief, is that classes where learners have a similar “level” of engagement (critically) are grouped together, ensuring that a common situation in which a very creative and analytical student is stifled within a class of other learners who have not developed these skills yet.  Secondly, a focus on critical thinking skills represents a more “western” learning model, and could be beneficial to learners who, culturally, have had very little exposure to this learning style and might therefore initially struggle to complete this placement test.

The Test

The placement test consists of the following elements:

  • A “general” test divided in to four parts – remembering (a multiple choice grammar section), understanding (a reading summary activity), applying (a set of rules for asking interview questions followed by a chance to apply these rules) and evaluating (a list of items in order of importance). The test is designed, critically speaking, to get harder (move further up the critical thinking pyramid).
  • A speaking test, consisting of two parts. Some general “level determiner” questions, followed by an analysing task – placing a series of pictures in to two columns and giving reasons for categorisation.
  • A writing task – creating – in which students have a choice of two questions.

Logistically speaking, the general test should take 35 minutes, the writing 25 minutes and the speaking 5 minutes (max) per student. The speaking can run in conjunction with the two paper-based tasks, meaning that the goal is to take an hour to get the tests finished.


During marking, a student front-sheet is filled out. This is copied and given to teachers ahead of their new students arriving in class. The front sheet includes areas for “notes” which are there to give new teachers an early idea of what their new students will need to work on. There is also space to comment on their traditional, “linguistic” performance.


  • I trialled this test on a random group of adults, who had already been placed using a different test. CEFR-speaking, the test matched their class levels with a reliability of just over 90%.
  • With the teen classes, the placement test was used in three continuous enrolment summer schools as the only method of placement. In situations where multiple classes of the same level were required, students were grouped by critical thinking abilities. The feedback from staff was that students interacted well within their classes and were able to respond to exercises on a similar level, showing that the test had “filtered” learners well.
  • Student feedback was at a very high positive level, with less than 10% of students across the three sites expressing dissatisfaction with their placed level.
  • Students completed the placement test upon arrival and then repeated it on departure. Of those who did so, every single student scored higher on critical thinking exercises, showing that teachers had not only addressed critical thinking exercises such as those outlined on other pages on this site, but also that students had responded positively.

I’ve attached the placement test, student front sheet and procedure notes. As always, please get in touch with me on my Email if you want to ask anything / share an experience, positive or negative, of using this test.

BLOOMS Answer Sheet

General Test BLOOMS

Oral Placement Test BLOOMS

Procedure Notes

Student Front Sheet

Writing BLOOMS




“Ghost” Observations – An Idea for Schools

“It’s time for a round of peer observations”

Why is it that this extremely helpful sentence always sounds like anything but? Sadly, mentoring, buddying, peer reviewing  – whatever your school calls it, often has the appearance of adding an extra layer of stress and scrutiny to an already stressful and scrutinised job. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way…

Initially designed for busy times when there is no cover available for your classes, the Ghost observation allows you to be… well, a ghost. Yes, this is an observation during which your class is not observed by anyone.


However, there are some really interesting and positive twists on a regular observation here. In brief:

  • The forms involved encourage and directly prompt reflection, but the pre-lesson form also allows for the teacher to think about the class itself before it has happened – meaning that a greater degree of objectivity can be achieved before thoughts are (often) distorted by the way that the class has gone.
  • No observer = a “normal” class. That phrase “They were far quieter / less communicative etc… because you were in the room” has no place in a ghost observation.
  • Feedback is objective – the “observer” hasn’t observed anything, so they only have your own thoughts to go on, rather than a prior knowledge of student behaviour from having taught / met them before.

Sound interesting? On to the procedure….

  1. The teacher completes this form Pre-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  2. The teacher teaches the class
  3. The teacher completes this form Post-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  4. The “ghost” observer reads both forms and organises a time to sit down and discuss these with the teacher. In the discussion – as with conventional lesson feedback – advice, tips, frustrations, joy and completely unrelated things(!) can be discussed.
  5. Everybody is happy.

With the exception of number 5, this should run like clockwork. Having had a go at this, I can say that I got an awful lot out of it – which wasn’t exactly what I expected. I strongly urge you to have a go – or talk to your manager about having a go. If you do, then please let me know how it goes!


An Introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of educational objectives, separated in to cognitive, affective and psychomotor – as below.

Bloom's Rose

(See http://iteachu.uaf.edu/develop-courses/planning-a-course/outcomes-evidence/ for more charts)

The chairman of the group of educators that conceived it was called Benjamin Bloom. The simplified pyramid below refers to the cognitive skills, and demonstrates the progression of thinking skills from lower order (remembering, understanding) to higher order (applying, analysing, evaluating, creating).

Bloom's New Pyramid

Looking at a range of controlled practice activities (eg gap fills) or reading / listening comprehension activities, they tend to focus more on remembering and understanding, which is a good start. However, if you progress directly to a creative activity, you may have jumped too far, too quickly. The pyramid provides you with the opportunity to take a step-by-step approach in the classroom, as well as clearly see areas where students excel or lack.

Example questions, based on a class about apples:

Remembering: What are the health benefits of eating apples? (Recalling facts, exhibiting knowledge)
Understanding: Compare the health benefits of eating apples v eating oranges. (Demonstrate understanding by comparing or interpreting)
Applying: What kinds of apples are best for baking a pie, and why? (Applying knowledge and facts)
Analysing: List four ways of serving foods made with apples and explain which ones have the highest health benefits. Provide references to support your statements. (Inferring, finding evidence and supporting generalisations)
Evaluating: Do you feel that serving apple pie for an after school snack for children is healthy? (Present and defend opinions)
Creating: Convert an “unhealthy” recipe for apple pie to a “healthy” recipe by replacing your choice of ingredients. Explain the health benefits of using the ingredients you chose vs. the original ones. (Remodel and combine existing information / learning to make something new)

How can I teach this in the classroom?

Through questioning. You can use and adapt the questions that you will find on the staff room wall. Through open questions, students are required to communicate, express themselves and exhibit a higher level of understanding and interaction with the language.

  • Add some critical thinking questions to your lessons after students have displayed initial comprehension, work on their responses and then give them the chance to respond again to these questions in their progress tests.
  • Differentiate your classes by responding to students that finish a task quickly with a question one ‘step’ further up the pyramid. Refer to the poster directly and record their achievement on the student achievement sheet.
  • Get some discussion going, by setting up debates, organising groupwork, looking at some problems, or using some ideas from this toolkit Challenge Toolkit– some of which are elaborated on more on this site.

I have been undertaking some studies on students’ responses to activities such as these in classrooms – have a look at some of the other links on the site for more information.


Phone / Skype Interviews

Hi. Welcome. Congratulations. You’re here, so you’ve successfully negotiated the perils of processing and the pitfalls of print layout to create a CV / cover letter that doesn’t fall foul of any of the cretinous issues mentioned in my previous article http://simonrichardsonenglish.com/2013/04/11/efl-jobs/. Now, onwards to interviews.

Job interview etiquette is well-documented on the web. Don’t be late, dress appropriately, make a positive first impression by making eye contact, shaking your prospective employer’s hand firmly and then proceed to the interview room, where you sit up straight and deliver well-prepared answers to anticipated questions with confidence and assertiveness while all the time smelling nice. Oh, and then ask some good questions youself. What could be easier?

Well, let’s think about Skype. For a start, making eye contact involves staring at the top of the computer instead of at the video, something so completely unnatural that if you do it then the person on the other end of the call has absolutely NO option but to assume you’re a serial killer and inform the local anti-terrorist unit. Hear those sirens? They’re already on their way. Erase all files and take own life by auto-asphyxiation using small household pet. There. That went well.

Clearly, there are a few differences then.

Give me a job

“You’re going to give me a job, or I’m going to find you and eat your toes”

1. Appearances

The problem with a Skype / phone interview is that you’re at home. That might sound really obvious, but I genuinely believes that it alters your behaviour.  Sure, you’ve put on a shirt and tie, but under the table you’re wearing novelty Tasmanian Devil slippers and Oh my God, is that LUBE over there, just out of shot?! On some old toast?! That’s just… that’s just foul. You aren’t taking this seriously, but the interviewer is. THEY’RE at work, you see.

  • Put on smart clothes, including smart footwear. It’ll make a difference. Do this for a phone interview too – it’ll really help you get in the mood.
  • Clear your desk of toenail clippings, and arrange it like you would a work desk – mug, papers, relevant literature etc.
  • Remove distracting items from your eye line AND the eye line of the interviewer.
  • Switch off your mobile phone.

My favourite: A very well-dressed man sat with a Justin Bieber poster in the background. “Sorry, can you repeat that please, I wasn’t paying…..”

2. The First Part

There’s nothing like saying “HELLO… HE… HELLOOOO…?” twelve times to calm the pre-interview nerves. Just remember: if the interviewer is choosing this method, then they have seen this before. You aren’t making a bad impression by having Skype problems. They aren’t writing “X – lives in area with poor internet coverage” on a piece of paper. Just stay calm, and make sure you’ve logged on in good time to do the Skype call test. If it doesn’t work, try switching off the video.

Once the call is connected and working, you are now VISIBLE. Then it really gets awkward. Do I say “Hi, nice to meet you”? (because we’re not technically “meeting”).

Something along those lines is fine. At this point it’s probably appropriate to introduce My Favourite: A man who chose “Alright mate?” as his opening line.

NB: If you’re on a phone interview, it’s still obvious if you’re looking out of the window. Remember, the interviewer can’t see you, so they place even more importance on your voice. Focus on your pitch and variation in tone. Nobody is going to be impressed if you sigh or breathe heavily. They may bar your call, but that ought not to be your goal. They also won’t give you a job if you deliver every answer in-com-plete mo-no-0tone.


3. Appearances (Again)

You’re still on camera. The interviewer can see you throughout and the answer is “No”, you can’t remain completely still and poker-faced while you slowly edge your hand towards your mouse, and “Yes”, they can hear you / tell when you start tapping in your Facebook password.

Instead of some tips, here are some cautionary tales. (Also, partly because people told me after my last article that they wanted more amusing instances of candidate idiocy).

  • A girl started talking about her previous experience, but got so comfortable that she picked her nose. OK, a surreptitious nose pick might have been forgiven, nut she pulled out a massive, green bit of nose-string that stayed attached to her finger AND nose for about 8 inches, like some kind of offering from a tiny nose-dwelling Spiderman web. Tip: TISSUES.
  • A young man who had prepared his desk well enough to have a mug of water ready for the interview. Perfect, but HIS mug had a pair of tits on it.
  • A young lady whose phone went off. Pretty poor, but then she clearly started texting under the table. I CAN SEE YOUR EYES.
  • A guy who put his chin on his hand for the majority of the interview. He looked like I was telling him a bedtime story.

Sit up straight, don’t lean on your elbows (a headset will enable you to sit further away from the screen without compromising on volume) and keep your eyes on the screen. You wouldn’t look out of the window during a face-to-face interview. What’s that? You would? Get out of my office.

4. General Interview Stuff

There is nothing more galling than devoting time to an interview for which the interviewee is unprepared. Nobody is asking that you spend days on this, but there are a few things that you really should be doing as standard.

  • Check the company website – locations, ethos, any clues as to your potential remit.
  • Be prepared to explain gaps in employment and go in to details about previous jobs. If something relevant happened a while ago, jog your memory about it BEFORE the interview, rather than choosing the midway point of your conversation as the ideal moment for a quick reminisce.
  • Try and think of a positive from each experience you mention. If you were responsible for filing, it was developmentally positive because it enhanced your organisational skills. If you made a “like-clockwork” 30-minute visit to the toilet each morning, it demonstrated both reliability AND intestinal health.
  • Be prepared to answer “competency” questions. (More on that below)
  • What are your weaknesses? This always gets asked. Try and think of something honest, but not too awful. “I need to improve my presentation skills” is OK. Anything that starts “I really hate…” is not.
  • Have some questions ready for the end of the interview. DON’T ask about salary, holidays, perks, benefits, pensions, free chocolate or where the interviewer got that lovely top. Also, don’t say “Did I get it then?”

My favourite: A candidate whose first question was “Yeah… are we nearly done, because I’m off to the cinema… I didn’t know it’d be an hour, you see” (The Email asked to allow an hour)

Special mention: Somebody who said “Nobody has ever told me I have weaknesses, so I guess I don’t have any, because feedback would have told me”. After my feedback, she was presumably unable to ever say this again.



By this, I mean questions that refer to specific situations and scenarios in which you have to make a decision. I DON’T mean the kind of questions that high-street retailers have started asking students in order to separate candidates (I know for a fact that one well-known retailer currently asks potential employees to think of an animal that they’d come back as if they could choose). Some examples:

  • Can you think of a situation in which you’ve…..
  • (PROBLEM) happens. How would you solve that?
  • (NEGATIVE EMPLOYEE TYPE THING) happens. How would you react?
  • In the event of (SITUATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR JOB), what steps / precautions etc would you take?
  • Tell me about a time when (SOMETHING) happened.

Take a look at http://www.michaelpage.co.uk/content/18002/how-to-answer-competency-questions.html and http://www.interview-skills.co.uk/competency-based-interviews-questions.aspx for a bit more.

NB: Don’t lie. I find it unlikely that anyone is going to believe that this one time, lions came out of a magic closet and started attacking inanimate objects until you strode in and overpowered them all with your bare hands while simultaneously teaching a class of 400 disabled monkeys to complete giant Rubik’s cubes made out of uranium  – something for which you received a 20p-a- year pay rise and an Employee of the Month certificate.

Remember: If you can’t think of a professional example of what the interviewer is asking, be creative. Interviewers like it when candidates can relate experience from different jobs / personal life to what they are asking. It shows intuition, ingenuity and awareness.


5. Goodbye!

I don’t have much to say here. You’ve asked some questions, the interviewer has told you that they will let you know, and you’re so desperate for the toilet that you’ve spent the last five minutes manoeuvring an empty Lucozade bottle in to position with your feet. All that remains is to say “Thank you very much for your time” / “Good to speak to you” / “I look forward to hearing from you” / “It’s been a pleasure talking to you” and you’re home and dry. So, DON’T do the following things (all of which have happened):

  • Wave
  • Hang up mid-sentence
  • “End” the call, sigh, say “Thank f*** for that” and then realise that you’ve actually just turned off the video, rather than ended the call.

As always, comments, questions and physical abuse are all welcome.

Thanks for reading!


Thank f*** that’s over… writing that was a RIGHT pain in the…Oh. You’re still there. But, I’ve got the job right? No? Oh….

Professional Development – CPD Log

This will no doubt cause irritation. CPD logs are becoming the norm. Schools have already started using them as part of appraisal programmes and are now starting to expect teachers to have existing logs.

Obviously, if you are extremely active on the development front, this will be time-consuming. On the other hand, you’re probably the kind of person who will do it. It may give you an advantage as the industry moves to heighten its standards and differentiate between part-timers and those looking to further themselves and build a career.

The log consists of:

  1. Professional development courses I have attended
  2. Conferences / workshops I have attended
  3. Journal articles I have read
  4. Books I have read
  5. Internet resources I have found useful
  6. Thoughts and ideas from colleagues and peers
  7. Reflection – my thoughts and ideas on my own teaching
  8. Action research projects
  9. Talks / workshops I have given
  10. Papers / books I intend to write

I’m not saying that employers are going to disregard you for not having been to a conference or for not planning to write a book, but keeping an active log of your professional development could well help you.

You can find the log here: CPD Log

I’m doing mine now!


Applying for Jobs – Part 1 (CV and cover letter)

I must be out of touch. In my day, CVs didn’t have photos or opening paragraphs resembling quotes about the person whose CV it is I’m reading. They weren’t written in continuous prose, poorly formatted or in Comic Sans MS. Cover letters were tailored to the specific job being applied for and addressed to the correct person, with no sense of Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V about them.

Somewhere along the way, there has been a cock-up. Or I’m out of touch. I must be – hundreds of applicants can’t be wrong… can they?

Let me tell you something that is clear AND definite. At my company, I am now the employer. It hasn’t taken me long to see an enormous range of CVs and cover letters in a massive diversity of styles. It also hasn’t taken me long to develop pet hates. Some of these are blindingly obvious, and yet they wouldn’t have become pet hates had I not received them again. And again. And again. Others may simply not occur. Either way, here are a few shoulds and shouldn’ts (from the perspective of myself, and others I have spoken to)


What was this job for again, innit?


1. Don’t make spelling mistakes!

You know that job you’re applying for? The one where you have to have a complete mastery of the language? Make a spelling mistake in your cover letter / CV and you can guarantee not getting an interview.

My favourite: Under “skills”, someone wrote “atention to detail”. Priceless.

2. Pictures on CVs

The general consensus in my office is that they are a bad idea. Imagine a scenario in which, before a potential employer has even read your CV, they’ve called a mate over with the sentence “You’ve got to see this! This guy looks exactly like…..”. Laughter ensues, but not in a good way. The attention has been drawn.  If you feel you simply have to do it, at least follow these instructions:

  • Blank background
  • Professional attire
  • NORMAL smile
  • No props
  • Not huge
  • Black and white

My favourite: A young lady whose CV photo was her, in a pub, holding a pint.

3. The “introductory paragraph”

I say scrap it, personally. It should be on your cover letter and tailored, so that the comments about your personality directly correspond to the skillset required for the job. Because of this, I’ll return to it in the cover letter section (below)

Note: I have been told that some people do like this, but the above points still apply. Third-person commentary and flowery vagueries are not welcome – you should check the job description and then write this part.

My favourite: Somebody who had created a column especially for quotes about themselves. The CV looked like a holiday brochure. Ultimately, I want a teacher, not a person I can “stay in” (so to speak)

4. Formatting

Don’t go over the top. Everybody knows where the “format” button is.

  • Choose a sensible font like Arial or Verdana.
  • Bear in mind that offices all have different versions of Word, so put your CV in a .pdf so that it doesn’t look any different on another person’s screen. Dont send .odt, .jpg, .gif, .png or .IDIOT versions of your CV.
  • Use bolded headings and bullet points – they make it very easy for reference purposes
  • 2 pages! A third could be acceptable if it’s reference info or interests

My favourite: I was sent a CV a few weeks ago in an Excel spreadsheet. Yes, that’s right. An Excel spreadsheet. Just in case you’re still pinching yourself, here’s a picture of an Excel spreadsheet:


I have a degree in Call of Duty

5. Content

It’s pretty standard. Let’s go for four sections:

  • Personal info – Name, address, phone number, Email. You DON’T need your facebook ID. Yes, that’s right. A world where facebook is absolutely unnecessary.
  • Educational Background – most recent first. Include dates (months), institution names and grades. You don’t need to list your GCSEs. Just “10 GCSEs A-C” will do.
  • Employment History – again, most recent first. List key duties and avoid rambling by using bullet points and starting each sentence with a verb. The key here is to be concise. I personally HATE continuous prose on CVs. Also, don’t include useless stuff. If you worked in an ice cream parlour 10 years ago, I frankly don’t care. I want to know what you have done as a teacher. Next time you apply for a customer service job, plonk the ice cream parlour back on there. Until then, either leave it out or merely reference it to avoid gaps in employment. You don’t need to list your duties. A teaching example might be:

April 2011 – July 2012, Teacher, Roger’s Naughty Little Boys School of English, London

  • Taught A1-C2 general English, IELTS exam preparation and Cambridge Exam classes to multinational classes
  • Helped students with self-study
  • Delivered an INSET on pronunciation
  • Was observed regularly both by peers and management
  • Delivered skills-based classes
  • Assisted with and led extra-curricular activities

You don’t need to write about obvious stuff. Every school has registers – I don’t need to know that you can fill one in!

  • Additional Skills / Hobbies – Clean driving license? Black belt in Origami? Extra qualifications,  no matter what they are, show discipline. If you can use a computer, be specific. “Can use a computer” is not as good as “Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint”. If you play Football, put it down. If you go out and drink 25 Jagerbombs every weekend, DON’T put that down.

My favourite: Under “Skills”, somebody put “No tattoos”. I have three. I am still insulted.

Unskilled Workers

David Beckham – An unskilled worker

A final note about CVs

CVs are not colloquial. Exclamation marks, phrases such as “which I really enjoyed” and emoticons (Yes, REALLY) have no place on a CV. Trust me, you aren’t getting an interview.

And another thing… (I sound like my Mother) – put an Email address for your referees, if you are attaching their contact info. Most employers will have a form to send them.

On to…. The Cover Letter

I get the sense that guidance hasn’t been provided. Let’s go for a rough guide:

  • One page is enough – I’m talking Arial, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing. Any more and you run the risk of sounding pompous / making me eat the paper out of boredom.
  • Employers are NOT idiots – I receive hundreds of these things. If you’ve cut and pasted the format of a cover letter online, someone else has too and I WILL NOTICE.

As an extension to the above, here’s the rough format of a cover letter that I’ve seen several times of late:

“Blah blah blah my Cv / resume blah blah native / near-native speaker blah blah blah Thank you for blah blah CV / resume”

If you happen to see this before applying to me, take this as a warning: If I see this, I will press “DELETE”

  • Read the job spec – If there is a name at the bottom and you send your “old faithful” cover letter starting with”Dear Sir / Madam”, then you’re asking for trouble.
  • Refer to the actual job – mention the company name. Actually do a little bit of research. The clicky-clicky-sendy AND REPEAT method of applying for jobs in bulk will get you nowhere.


Here’s a good idea of what should go in your cover letter:

  • A brief introduction – why are you applying? Why should I read beyond this sentence?
  • Overview of experience – NOT the time to mention that ice cream parlour job. Relate your experience directly to the role. Write about 200 words.
  • Your personal approach – do you believe in task-based learning? Does your school take the communicative approach? Are you well-organised? Do you believe that communicating with students outside the classroom lowers the affective filter inside the classroom, thus facilitating more effective learning? PUT IT. Again, 200 words is enough.
  • BYE BYE! – Thank me for reading your letter, state that you would like to arrange an interview to discuss the role further, and then sign off (using the correct sign-off – “Sincerely” if you used my name at the start, “Faithfully” if not.)

My favourite: “Dear Sir / Madam, I am most interested in working for your company and have attached my impressive CV. Please read it and let me know how many weeks’ work you are going to give me. Sincerely, X”. Whoever you are, if you read this, for shame.

Feel free to contact me / comment on this. I’m particularly interested in people between the ages of 18 and 23 who have received input at school / university on CV and cover letter writing and can recall what that input was. As I say, I am clearly out of touch.

Next week: Phone / Skype Interviews: An interviewer’s nightmare.


A Phrasal Verb Story

Here’s a story I made with a few phrasal verbs in it. It’s intended for higher levels, but depending on the activity, could work with Intermediate students. I devised it not only to teach a bit of new vocab, but as a vehicle for looking at phrasal verbs with regards to idiomaticity, pronunciation and form (separability). This is what I did:

1) Warmer – Students asked if they have seen any fights or violent behaviour. Asked what the common reasons / locations for violent behaviour are in their countries / England.

2) Reading for comprehension – students can read to answer the question “How is the main character doing now / Where is he now?”

3) Students go through text and underline phrasal verbs

4) Students categorise them in to three columns (don’t give them titles, ask them to sort them as they wish)

5) Groups rationalise their choices

6) Look at phrasal verbs in terms of pronunciation rules, separability and levels of idiomaticity (I believe that each of these three categories can be split in to three columns – for more information see my essay: 

Teaching Phrasal Verbs to Lower Learners (particularly pages 3-7)

Drill, answer questions etc.

7) Gap fill / other controlled practice activity

8) Get them speaking – role play, or writing a story.

As a follow up to this lesson, I gave students the following muddled up version of the original story. NB: This is difficult, but my class were all CAE / CPE students, and coped well.

Phrasal Verb Story Muddle



Idioms – Market Traders

I often get students asking “What does…….mean?” after trips to markets. The fact is that not everyone can be expected to grade their language. This is particularly true of markets, where traders strive to represent their area of the country as much linguistically as anything else. With that in mind, I created this for a high level class.


1) Cut up conversation and students can order it in groups

2) Have a look at meaning, form and pronunciation – particularly focusing on London accent variations. I’ve found that students love having a go both understanding these phrases when said rapidly and saying them themselves.

3) Role play!

Enjoy 🙂

Students – can you find any “strange” language in the text below? Do you know what it means?

Market Traders


A / An / The – An introduction (For students, with notes for teachers)

Teacher’s note: This is for an hour-long class – TTT. It’s for Pre-Int, but could be adapted for higher levels / used as a revision tool for higher levels.

What do you think the text below the picture is going to be about?

A man with a knife

The text below has some words (A, AN, THE) missing. Can you put them in?

I was on my way to restaurant with my friends a few months ago when we saw man wearing black jumper. Man came over to us and asked us for money. He was really big and only girl in our group was bit scared so I told him to go away. He got really angry and took knife out of his pocket. Knife was gold and looked really new. We were all surprised so we ran in to forest behind restaurant and I climbed apple tree. I stayed in tree until morning! All other guys were looking for me all night! People said I was crazy after that for a long time.

(Teacher’s note: This text could be spaced out and students have to insert cut-up the / a in to the correct spaces in pairs.)

Have a look at the correct text:

I was on my way to restaurant with my friends a few months ago when we saw man wearing black jumper. The man came over to us and asked us for money. He was really big and the only girl in our group was a bit scared so I told him to go away. He got really angry and took knife out of his pocket. The knife was gold and looked really new. We were all surprised so we ran in to the forest behind the restaurant and I climbed an apple tree. I stayed in the tree until morning! All the other guys were looking for me all night! People said I was crazy after that for a long time.

Did you get these all correct? Let’s look at a few rules:

(Teacher’s note: Cut up the rules and give them to students. Students move around the class and compare the information. Once they have shared the rules, they are presented with a paper copy of them all and language negotiation stage starts)

1) We use “a” to talk about one noun.

  • When it is not one specific thing
  • When it is the first time we talk about the thing

I saw a man wearing a black jumper.

How many men did I see? Do I know the man?

Would you like a cup of tea?

Is it a specific cup of tea? No, because I haven’t made it yet!

2) We use the when we know the thing or things we are talking about.

The man came over to us…

I already talked about this man, so we now know which one I’m talking about.

Let’s go to the park next to your house.

Do I know which park? Yes, so we use THE.

Let’s go to a park together.

Do I know which park? No, so we use A until we have decided which park to go to.

3) We put A and THE before nouns, or before the adjectives describing the nouns.

A jumper.

A black jumper.

4) THE can be singular or plural.

The only girl in the group OR all the other guys (if we know which ‘guys’ we are talking about).

5) If we are talking about groups in general, we don’t use A or THE.

______People said I was crazy after that for a long time.

Which people? People in general, not a specific group, so we use NOTHING.

The people in my class think I’m crazy.

Do I know which people? Yes, so we use THE.

6) We use AN for the same things as A, but the word after starts with A, E, I, O and U (when the sound is U like in UP, not U like in UNIVERSITY)

I climbed an apple tree.

Now let’s try again. Can you use the rules above to help you complete this text?

Teacher’s Note: As with ex. 1 .

Tom and Jerry

I went to cinema next to bank in my village yesterday. I saw amazing film. Film was about cat that falls in love with dog. Dog doesn’t know and starts chasing cat. It’s comedy and I really liked it because it reminded me of Tom and Jerry. People in cinema were laughing lots, but I know people have said that it isn’t very good film. I don’t care; I thought it was best film this year!

Now let’s take a look  at the answer:

I went to the cinema next to the bank in my village yesterday. I saw an amazing film. The film was about a cat that falls in love with a dog. The dog doesn’t know and starts chasing the cat. It’s a comedy and I really liked it because it reminded me of Tom and Jerry. The people in cinema were laughing lots, but I know people have said that it isn’t a very good film. I don’t care; I thought it was the best film this year!

How did you do?


Thousands and thousands of lessons and activities

OK, maybe just thousands rather than thousands and thousands. This is basically a whole load of word documents containing ideas for activities / half lessons / longer lessons. In the word docs, I usually use Ctrl+F to search for key words rather than trawling through the lot of them – there are rather a lot, but I’ve found so many useful, fun things to do from these. So here they are: enjoy!


162 games for Adults and Young Learners

95 Games

20 Games

14 activities

12 Games Bank

11 Games

7 Games

100 Games for Young Learners

Online Resources

So, my scribd account, http://www.scribd.com/SRenglish is where I store links to course books, resource books and theoretical material online. I’m always adding to it, so go and take a look. Amongst other things, all the Cutting Edge and New English file books are currently linked there, as are the Extra book series (Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing), Pronunciation Games and also an assortment of academic reference materials by Thornbury, Larson-Freeman etc.

I believe I’m legally obliged to mention that these are links for reference only…

Happy Weekend!



I love food. Because of this, I have developed a number of materials that allow me to teach students about it. My enthusiasm = their enthusiasm or something. Anyway, I designed these for World Food Day, which, besides being about food, is actually about helping third world countries. So there’s the schemata. Hope some of these prove to be enjoyable.

Cut up and match – Lower Levels

Select Recipes from The Forme of Cury – Advanced

Recipe Gap Fill Int

Two Recipes with Vocab

Games and Freer Practice Activities

ARGH! I’ve still got 15 minutes left! How many times have I said that in a classroom?? Well, none actually, but I’ve certainly thought it on many, many occasions. Sometimes I just can’t think of a game that doesn’t provoke the response “Oh, THIS again…”. Well, here’s a few lists of games and quick activities that can be really helpful in this situation. And, as it goes, a lot of them can be used or adapted for freer practice activities. I hope these are of some help.

162 games for Adults and Young Learners

100 Games for Young Learners