Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

April 3, 2012

What has Design got to do with EFL?

I’ve just got back from this year’s IATEFL conference in Glasgow and as with everyone else I’m sure, my head is spinning with new ideas and new things to think about.

One of the sessions that struck a real chord with me was the Plenary on Wednesday morning given by Diana Laurillard. In this plenary she explored ideas of teacher communities and also course design, but a course design that was adaptable to many situations and which could be shared across these communities to create a bank of both flexible lesson plans and examples of good practice that had been tried and tested and found to be very effective.

I am sure that my explanation of this is highly simplistic and that in reality it is much more complex than I am sharing here but it was the idea of programme models that struck me most about her talk. It seems that we all to an extent go around inventing the wheel over and over and that by creating, testing, measuring and sharing we could perhaps cut down on our work-load and have a more predictable outcome to our programmes and courses. It’s worth considering I feel.

I am currently working with a young product design student and as we explore elements of design and ideas of design it has become apparent to me that everything is really about design and that by looking at anything we do from a design perspective makes it look very different and also allows us to be far more creative in our ideas and approaches. I am very excited by this idea as I have been exploring course designs and models for my own programmes both online and face to face for the past two years and through a great deal of trial and error I do belive that I have finally created a model for my programmes which is highly adaptable and also flexible enough to fit any student and any area of study that they need be it ESP, general English, exam work or professional development.

“Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge which is concerned with man’s ability to mould his environment to suit his material and spiritual needs.”  Archer

Design is essentially about solving problems and improving things. I think this idea is a very good fit for EFL. We, as teachers, need our skills to evolve and grow and this, in turn, will help us to give our learners a better outcome and solve the problems that we face day-to-day with students in the classroom. Rather than re-inventing the wheel each time we can work with frameworks and models that allow us to create courses and programmes which will suit our learners. Then by sharing these frameworks and the way in which we have adapted them we can build a repository of working models that will both help and be further enhanced by other teachers.

One of the programme models I have been working on is for the short  immersion courses I run here in the UK. These programmes consist of several elements which I feel must be present for the programme to be truly beneficial to participants but also to meet and hopefully exceed their expectations.

I want to share the model here – it is simple but can be adapted to any learner or group of learners who take the course (including EFL teachers).



The model shows all the elements that I need to include in an immersion programme. As you can see this goes beyond the actual lessons. Key to the success of  these programmes, I feel, is making sure that all elements interconnect in some way to add value to the language development and also to the experience for the client.

This model translates into a timetable for the programme where everything is tied in. It goes, however, beyond a mere timetable into all areas of the stay which creates the immersion and feeds back into the technical language taught in the formal sessions.

Everything is crafted to produce a programme which provides pure language practice, specialised language practice, experience of local culture, exposure to native speakers and venues that are relevant to the client’s work (or interests) and an enjoyable and comfortable stay in what is a very lovely part of the UK. I have tried to show in the diagram where these elements are two-way (as in the formal lessons) and where they are provided for the client and expected as part of the programme (e.g. with accommodation). Another level on the model shows where things are deliberately structured (ie: lessons or set work, prepared visits, meals etc..) and where they are more random (such as what happens on actual visits or when meeting people locally).

The programme begins at the airport or station and from then on every aspect of the day is to a greater or lesser extent a learning experience. Most of  the learners require a mix of general English and some technical ESP language. They are also learning within British culture which translates into the food I prepare, some of the activities we engage in (for example a visit to our village pub) and the general way in which we live day-to-day. Visits are arranged to suit their ESP needs where possible. This not only allows them to use specialist language but also to use this language with English-speaking members of their own profession which, I find, is one of the most valuable aspects of the programme.

The final piece of the jigsaw is the setting or ambience in which the learning takes place and this must also be considered as it needs to fit with all the other elements to ensure a successful outcome.

I am happy to share this model as it has been tested and works well. Please use and adapt it. In the final analysis it is not a model for an English language course particularly but for an immersion programme and can be used for any subject delivered in that format.

In my next post I will show how this works ‘on the ground’ by describing one of the programmes I have run based on this model.


To find out more about immersion programmes at Fleetham Lodge in Yorkshire follow the link.

See our learner evaluations of their programmes and their stay.


Other posts on this topic you might enjoy:

Total immersion English courses – fast, furious and fun!

Sharing your teacher’s life – courses in a teacher’s home

Creating a teacher workshop

Learning together – the value of sharing

June 13, 2011

Starting out in ELT

The room was dark. It was hot and humid. A mix of climate and fear made it impossible to keep cool. Soon it would be time to begin. The gentle days were over, the days of acclimatisation, of bonding, of learning the language and playing the tourist. This now, today was the reason I had come here, the reason I had made the decision to leave family and friends and travel half way around the world. This was the start, the first day of many days. It was time to step forward and make a difference.

 The tables were ranged on rows with two people at each table. I made my way down to the front where a large black board stood on an easel. I turned and looked at the smiling faces, eager, expectant. My heart raced and my mouth felt dry. Here were the university’s finest. Lecturers and senior lecturers all poised to begin the final hurdle that lay between them and their Masters and PhD courses in the US, UK and Australia – the English language exam. They were medics, dentists, engineers, mathematicians,  all experienced and dedicated and I was here to make their academic dreams become a reality. I was 21 with my degree in Music and English linguistic studies barely 3 months old and my 1-month teacher training course having been spent largely around the tourist sites of Edinburgh (the weather during my training course had been so good that none of the students had turned up to class).

I took a very deep breath, handed out copies of Kernel Lessons Intermediate and opened the first page. This was it, the first lesson! Would I leave them begging for more or running for the hills?

We began. the Kernel Lessons book came with a piece of A4 green card which was used to cover the writing on the right hand page so the students could discuss the cartoon pictures on the left – this was technology 1977 style! We moved slowly through the pictures, removed the green cards to look at the reading passages and then talked about their own daily routines. Things seemed to be going fine.

Time to use the blackboard. As I turned to pick up the chalk I tripped over the waste-paper basket and did a little impromptu dance. My pride dented, but with no obvious harm done, I took a piece of chalk and began to write. The chalk disintegrated. I took a second piece and a third. By about the sixth piece of chalk I was able to scribble a few words on to the board – these were duly copied down. As I returned the chalk to the box I noticed something moving inside. I shook the box and a small whitish cockroach scuttled out and flew off into the corner of the room. I gasped, they laughed. I laughed, they smiled. Our journey had begun.

It may not have been the dynamic start to a career (which has now spanned almost 34 years) that I might have hoped for, but I still remember that first lesson; how I felt, what went wrong and also what seemed to work. Our first steps are often faltering and tentative, but given good support we can blossom and grow and our learning  journey can be a blueprint for those of our students.

My first group of students seemed intimidating to me given their relative ages and status, but I was lucky, they too were teachers and they understood how I was feeling and with their support I was able to create a bond which ensured that everything would work out well. Having good support is very important at the beginning of a new career. Being a teacher puts you very much in the limelight and ‘on stage’ it is not always a comfortable place to be. You need people to turn to for advice and moral support.

Being mentored by a more experienced teacher has great value. They will often have faced the same issues and problems. They can share their own journey, which will have been similar and also see things with more of a bird’s-eye view. This advice and knowledge can be invaluable to a new teacher. I feel, however, that there is another dimension to stepping into a new career which is equally valuable and that is the support of people who are in the same boat. This solidarity helps us to see that we are not alone in facing new challenges, that others are experiencing the same doubts, apprehensions and also achievements. It is important to be able to celebrate the successes within our peer group and commiserate when things go awry.

Being part of a group with experienced mentors and other ‘new’ colleagues can certainly give us the very best safety net for the start of what, with such support, is guaranteed to be an amazing start to a wonderful career.

My own experience as mentor and mentee (I am currently working with a mentor myself), requests from new teachers for mentoring help and my firm belief that we work/learn better as part of a group has led to my setting up my own online EFL/ESL teacher mentoring programme ™ELTMentor. The programme combines the best of web-based training with ‘hands-on’ advice and support from both experienced teachers and also the ELTmentor community itself. We are about to have our second session – sign up to join us.

January 19, 2011

Learning together – the value of sharing

January saw not only the dawn of a new year but also the second professional workshop for teachers of English held in this little corner of Yorkshire.

When I first advertised the event I wasn’t sure anybody would want to brave a wet, cold English winter for anything – so imagine my great surprise when the first reply came from a teacher in Brazil!! I have to admit I did worry and sent out as many snowy, grey winter pictures as I could but undeterred, Cecilia (@cecilialcoelho) was determined and arrived on a dull January day in the Yorkshire market town of Northallerton along with her compatriot Wellington (@wellingtonros) and two Greek teachers Dina (@DinaDobru) and Maria (@mariazygourakis).

After half an hour to unpack, we got straight into things – English afternoon tea (tea and Christmas cake), a candle-lit christmas tree and an hour of introductions. After five minutes it was as if everybody had known each other for ever and so some of us had – we had met on twitter!! One thing about teachers is that we are rarely backwards at coming forwards and we so like to talk!! So, plain sailing so far.

After a shared dinner we gathered in our makeshift cinema to watch the first of the 3 Bronte films planned (we never made Jane Eyre deciding instead to go to the pub!) The Tennant of Wildfell Hall.

The following morning we set out for Bronte country to see their house, walk the cobbled street they had walked and stride across the moors that had been the source of much of their inspiration.

Haworth did not disappoint. A cold, misty January day is probably the best time to see it when studying the Bronte novels. There was still enough cheer in the Christmas lights to lift the mood of the place and it is certainly a great example of how life might have been in nineteenth century Yorkshire. We didn’t manage the walk but did stand on the edge of the moors to see the terrain and certainly froze for the photo opportunity!

Freezing on Howarth Moor

This visit seemed to set the tone for the rest of the week. It grounded us all in the place and the mood but more importantly in togetherness. It was different, new, interesting and we were learning about each other, our teaching lives, our aspirations and our loves and hates.

The trip ended with a visit to the old Victorian station in Howarth (this is the train line used in the Railway Children). We were lucky enough to arrive just as the last steam train of the day was about to come into the station a great end to a long, yet interesting visit.

Here we were, a group of strangers brought together by the common bond of our profession and the desire to share and learn from each other.

Back to the Victorian Era!

The opportunity to live and study for a whole week allowed us to fulfill this desire in a very relaxed way. We returned home, ate and watched the first part of Wuthering Heights with the reality of the moors and the surrounding areas in our blood.

Our 6th member of the group @shellterrell arrived very late on the Monday after a horrendous journey that took her crisscrossing over the US and Europe. She arrived bloody but unbowed and was able to spend two days with us before going on to Cambridge and London.

During the next two days we explored ideas, methods and tips for teaching skills, vocabulary, grammar and for helping our students to get the most out of their English learning. From the most experienced to the least, everybody had something valuable to contribute. We worked hard morning and afternoon but also laughed a lot. We had afternoon tea, ate Greek delicacies ate a wonderful Brazilian meal and were introduced to caipirinhas!

On the Wednesday (January 5th) being Twelfth Night I had planned a party which included a special meal (we ate goose), a traditional Christmas play (A Mummers Play) and then some Parlour Games (namely Charades, Articulate and a Questions Game).

Some Brazilian Dutch Courage!

We began the evening with more caipirinhas – once the players had chosen and donned their costumes – which were, I have to say, very impressive!

The play was great and everybody performed with great gusto!

The games were great too and we ended up playing until quite late – all games were ones that could be easily played in the classroom to practise vocabulary, question forms,  tenses and a host of other items. We had a fun evening!

On the last two days we explored more ideas and experiences around speaking and reading. Copious amounts of tea and coffee were drunk as we shared resources both online and offline, demonstrated activities using the computer, whiteboard and anything else to hand (including the contents of my bathroom cabinet!).

On the Friday we got an extra surprise as it began to snow!  Out came the hats, scarves, boots and gloves! Out came the cameras and bang went the session! It was such a lovely and magical end to the week’s activities.

Playing in the snow

The group spent the Saturday exploring York and then it was over :-(.

Looking back it seems an age ago and while we were together it seemed like much longer than a week.
So why am I telling you about this?
Well, because to eat, sleep and breathe our subject, our teaching, our ideas and experiences together was a unique experience. I provided the physical platform for this but the fact that it worked and was a valuable (I am speaking for myself but I think/hope the others agree), very enjoyable and thought-provoking week is, I think, worth sharing!
I will leave you with some of the handiwork!
See post on the first worshop – Creating a teacher workshop
Find out more  about teacher workshops in Yorkshire
Other posts:

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: