Six things teachers always say

Insert what you always say here.

This is a post I have been meaning to do for some time. What words and phrases do we always use as teachers?

1. OK

Perhaps not so unusual as it is supposed to be the most frequent discourse marker in the English language (for a humorous take on the various uses of OK, see here)

2. Right

Again, this is a typical teacher “signalling” device. I use this all the time, I must confess.

3. Very good

A common and useful form of praise from the teacher, or is it? According to research by Jean Wong and Hansun Zhang Waring in the United States, the highly frequent use of ‘very good’ by teachers may not always be indicative of positive feedback and in fact may inhibit learning opportunitites (see ELTJ volume 63/3 July 2009)

4. Today we’re going to…

Many English classes around the world begin very much with these words I think. Not much of a problem unless it ends up being a rather long tedious ramble that takes up the first quarter of the class.

5. Quiet please!

Well, teachers of business executives perhaps not but I’d be willing to bet that this phrase gets a lot of usage in young learner classrooms (or a close equivalent)

6. (open your books to) Page … please

I’ve given whole workshops devoted to finding alternatives to saying this in class. This common phrase can be quite a killjoy, especially if they are the first words out of a teacher’s mouth at the beginning of class.

There are two good ways to find out if you are overusing a certain word or phrase. One is to record yourself over a series of classes and watch. The second is to ask your cheekiest student to do an imitation of you. I am not sure which is more painful!

What word or words do you overuse? Post a comment.

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 8:56 am  Comments (48)  
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Six drinks for an English teachers New Year’s Eve Party

Mixed conditional Martini, anyone?

Mixed conditional Martini, anyone?

I’m bringing this one out from the vaults, just because I imagine there are plenty of parties about right now and this was one of my earliest lists, before many people knew about this site. And, well, yes because I haven’t had time to do a new list recently to tell the truth! I am working on a year-end bonanza, so this will have to do until that’s ready!

Below is my list of six special drinks I would serve if I were hosting a New Year’s Eve party of only English teachers (which I’m not, thankfully!).

1. The Mixed Conditional Martini. A hefty dose of vodka in this one, leading to the following sentence which gives it its name: “If I hadn’t had that extra martini last night I’d be fine now”.

2. The Champagne Collocation. Basically this is like a big punch bowl filled with champagne and a mix of other alcoholic drinks it’s best not to ask about.

3. The Bacardi Washback. Washback (or backwash) is a term in testing about how a test affects the teaching that precedes it. There can be positive and negative washback. This drink has positive washback, trust me.

4. Learner-centred lager. This is the cheap beer I’d have on hand to serve to any students who managed to sneak in to the party.

5. RP  Riesling. RP stands for Received Pronunciation, the accent of the Queen of England. RP Reisling is a fine chilled bottle of aromatic white wine from Germany that will have you speaking English with a flawless German-Posh-English accent.

6. Speech Act Slammers. A speech act is “doing something with words” (Thornbury, An A-Z of ELT). A speech act slammer is “doing something with tequila”, usually drinking it. To finish the evening.

Right, does anyone else have something they would add to this party?

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 12:47 am  Comments (14)  
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Six misconceptions about teaching young learners of English

I met Anita Kwiatkowska at a teaching conference in Hungary and she made a very good point to me about this blog: why aren’t there more things for teachers of Young Learners? Well, the short answer is because I no longer teach young learners. But Anita was right that there is nowhere near as much ELT blogging going on for Young Learners as there is for Old Learners. Faced with this I answered the only way I could: I asked her to write something for me to begin to redress the balance.

Here are Anita’s six misconceptions about teaching young learners (YLs) of English.

1. Teachers of YLs should be paid less money because the only thing they do is playing games and singing songs

2. Teachers of YLs have lower qualifications that’s why they teach kids (or – They teach kids because their qualifications are not enough to deal with more serious teaching)

3. Teaching children is not REAL teaching (Can’t remember how often I was given a look saying ‘Now what do YOU know about the difference between Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous???’) . You also don’t speak REAL English, because if you teach YLs (and are not a native speaker) most probably your level of English is equal to the one of your students’.

4. Teachers of YLs cannot/should not/ are not able to teach adults (This one is interesting – it seems like anyone can get a job teaching kids but if a teacher of kids wants to get a job teaching adults, he or she is immediately rejected)

5. Teaching YLs is a very easy/difficult job (it actually is not, once you get the idea how to do it properly)

6. Teachers of YLs like children (hmm… how to say that… I guess not all of them 🙂

So, what do you think? Are these misconceptions true where you work? Are you a frustrated YL teacher? Are there any others? Please post a comment.

Anita Kwiatkowska is a Polish teacher of young learners currently in Turkey. She is also active in the blogosphere and twittevers and is the person behind the blog l_missbossy’s ELT playground.

Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm  Comments (15)  
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Six despised bits of grammar


Teachers and students just love to hate grammar. Over the years that I’ve taught and observed others teaching I think that there are certain grammar points that are more hated than others. Here are six of the most generally despised and despicable grammar points, in my humble opinion.

1 Have got This isn’t hard to explain in terms of what it means, or even really how it’s formed. No, the problem is when you have to teach it. I always hated spending time on have got with beginner students after they had done to be and then come to present simple and have to re-explain yet another way of making negatives and questions. And THEN when the verb have came up in present simple as in have a shower, have a nap it just got more and more complicated! Fortunately, the order of grammar points is changing in many books (including my own) and have got can come later. Beginners can get by perfectly well with a simple have to talk about possession.

2 Present simple Third person s. Again, not hard to explain and not hard to understand (although I did once witness a teacher get in a terrible muddle trying to say why 3rd person singular took an ‘s’ in the present simple; the teacher said it was “because it feels kind of plural but isn’t really plural” – leaving me and the students completely flabbergasted). So why is this hated? Obviously because students keep forgetting it, and you begin to think you could spend half your teaching life simply correcting this point. In fact, this grammar point is so hated that some have suggested we could do away with altogether in an English as a Lingua Franca approach. You know, take it out and stage a public execution. Another explanation given for the constant recurring error is that it’s simply acquired later. But it’s still an important one, that I think we all love to hate.

3 Present perfect. God I sometimes hate the present perfect. It’s pretty rare to find an equivalent in other languages so it makes teaching the meaning and use of this tense often a bit of a problem. And it can be difficult to write material for too if you want to include real people. How many materials writers have done something using a real person to illustrate present perfect and then hope and pray that the person doesn’t go and die or do something horrible?

4 Present perfect continuous. This is the tense that actually prompted this blogpost. Of all the grammar points that are criticized or used to trash grammar, this is the most often quoted. I have no proof, but I also suspect that “bloody” is a pretty strong collocate with present perfect continuous. This is a despised tense because it can be hard to find lots of authentic and natural examples, it’s got all the problems of present perfect plus an –ing form thrown in and finally it’s not even that frequent. Actually I almost feel a bit sorry for the present perfect continuous. Can we all be a little less horrible about it for a while perhaps?

5 Question tags If getting the auxiliary and the negative/affirmative thing right wasn’t hard enough we also have the whole business of the pronunciation of this grammar point and the whole “are you really asking or are you just checking” thing which can easily get spun into a long-winded explanation. I think that this is another one that some have suggested be eliminated from English teaching, replacing it with an all-purpose tag like innit which kind of horrifies me. I don’t think I’ve ever said innit. Ever.

6 Any grammar point the teacher doesn’t understand. Worse than all of these are the grammar points that teachers themselves are unsure of. I saw a teacher literally have a breakdown in our staffroom because she didn’t know anything about what clauses (e.g. I think what you need is a nice cold drink) and it was in the unit of her CAE coursebook that she had to teach that day. For many native English-speaker teachers especially the lack of knowledge of their own grammar is cause for great anxiety and fear. And, as we all know, fear can lead to hatred.

Well, that’s quite enough from me. What do you think? Are there other grammar points you feel are, rightly or wrongly, generally despised, looked down on or kicked about a bit? Post a comment.

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 10:57 am  Comments (30)  
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Six favourite items of stationery

Apart from my work slaving over materials and on this blog I am a regular online tutor for teacher education courses, inlcuding courses with The Consultants-E, and  a Trinity Diploma course offered by Oxford TEFL. At the beginning of the course we get people to share lists of things (surprise surprise!), a bit like here. Well, this month one teacher started a list that was so popular that I just have to do it here. It seems so perfect for teachers, even though it’s a bit sad in a way…

These are my six favourite items of stationery.

6.Multi-coloured paper clips. Perfect not only for holding things together, but also can be used as counters.

5. Magazine holders. I particularly like the really sturdy card or plastic ones. Seeing my magazines neatly lined up in a bunch of those on a shelf… beautiful!

4. Highlighter pen. Always have one to hand as I am editing or correcting things. I usually stick to standard yellow or pink.

3. Leather moleskin notepad. I used to carry one around with me all the time and jot down ideas. I’m beginning to do this more on my ipod touch now, but I still have the notepad. Gorgeous little thing.

2. Leather wastepaper basket. I picked one very similar to this up in a market in Florence, it’s great. Does it count as stationery? I think so!

1. A really good ballpoint pen. I would never buy a Montblanc or anything expensive like that (even if I could afford one, which is far from being the case) but there really is no substitute for a good heavy ballpoint pen.

Many thanks to Paul Walsh, the teacher in question who came up with this idea AND let me use it on my blog.

What kinds of stationery do you like? Am I the only one who likes getting interesting stationery gifts? Do you have an item of stationery that you protect like mad and would never leave just hanging around the teacher’s room? Post a comment.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm  Comments (25)  
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