Category: Uncategorized

going by the book


I think even the most rabid of coursebook critics, amongst whom I count myself, would concede that, on the whole, published course materials have been getting better over time.

New examples of unsuccessful work will always come to light, and older gems will always lead us into the fallacy that “they don’t make ’em like they used to”, but it seems quite undeniable that the range and quality of material, created by the depth of talent, available to teachers today is overwhelming.

Of course, my use of the word “overwhelming” is deliberate.  While it is wonderful to think that there is such an embarrassment of material for the modern teacher, it is also obvious that this sea of stuff requires skilled navigation.

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Dogme is not “just good teaching”

Photo taken with thanks from Craiglea123’s Flickr photostream under a creative commons CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

Usually when (it) is so simple we say, “Oh, I know that! It is quite simple. everyone knows that.”But if we do not find its value, it means nothing. It is the same as not knowing.

– Shunryu Suzuki in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” –

I am not sure when exactly it started, but at some point recently a strand of debate around Dogme ELT arose (or was resurrected) which basically can be summed up in the following statements:

“Oh, but that’s what I’ve always done.”
“That’s what we’ve always done.”
“That’s what good teachers have always done.”
“That’s just good teaching.”

I have heard these phrases used many times when responding to the suggestion by others of new ideas or practices.  I have said such phrases myself in response to such suggestions.

But notice what is happening here. Continue reading

is teaching child’s play?

Q: When is a train carriage not a train carriage?

A: When it is a classroom.

This is the substance of a conversation I heard on the train recently.

Initially I only vaguely listened while trying to concentrate on my book, but the conversation began to grip my attention and I transcribed it.

Names, while overheard, have been omitted in the interests of privacy.

This conversation was one of probably hundreds of similar conversations between parents and children going on throughout the UK at the time.

Scene: a train carriage in the UK

Protagonists: a mother and male child, late nursery or early primary school age.
Child is reading aloud, mother is encouraging the child to continue and is engaging the child in conversation about the book he is just finishing. Continue reading

ELTChat Summary: what makes a good teacher trainer? (26 September 2012 9pm GMT)

This is a summary of an ELTChat for the benefit of the #ELTChat community

What do you get when you pose a question like this to a bunch of committed teachers and teacher trainers? Before anything else happens, you get an argument about definition of terms.

 09:01pm @victorhugor: What’s the difference between teacher trainer and teacher educator?

Marisa Constantinides found this link to a discussion of the distinction between Teacher training and teacher education (from his classic Aspects of Language Teaching).

The basic distinction that teacher training tended to occur more in a pre-service setting (hereafter: PRESET) whereas teacher education tended to happen more at in-service (hereafter: INSET) level was queried but not seriously disputed by most participants.

However, as the chat went on, it became clear that this “false dichotomy” (as I called it) led, once accepted, to some fairly radical statements about the nature of teacher training.

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Basic Training series going online

I am starting a new series of pages with the title Basic Training, where I will be summarising and illustrating some fundamentals of language classroom work (at least, as far as I see it!)

Initially I thought about doing this mainly to support my CELTA trainees but then I thought that it might be generally useful, so I am keeping it public.

The first installment – on how to get learners talking and how to capitalise on what they say – will go online very soon, so keep an eye out for it.

My first guest bloggers – my students

Work in progress…

Earlier today I unexpectedly had the opportunity to cover a teaching practice slot on our CELTA course. As I was watching one of my trainee teachers working with a recording of a book-club discussion about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I started to think about what I could do next with the student group that would be challenging and worth their while.

I decided to ask them if they were writers themselves, and it turns out that one of them had recently penned a poem to a friend on the occasion of their birthday (if I understood them correctly). from here, I made a connection to some poetry writing that I had been doing with students recently myself, and this led me to my blog.

I showed some of my recent posts and then admitted a problem: I am so busy with the current training course that I was afraid about not getting my next post out in time.

The class agreed – cautiously – to becoming my first ever guest blog post writers, with a post about their experience as students working with my trainee teachers in teaching practice. .

We defined who my typical readership was and what they were likely to be interested in hearing about, and then I let each student write about whatever they felt like in response to this. I spent my time supporting them and refining where I could, but I didn’t suggest content.

They agreed that I could post their comments on their teaching practice experience here, and I would love it if you would reply to them in a comment.

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Guest Post: Breaking The Law In The Language Classroom (On Phil Wade’s blog)

You can check out my guest post on a blog belonging to the Mighty, Mighty Phil Wade by following this link:

Breaking The Law In The Language Classroom – Anthony Gaughan

It’s just me getting all self-righteous about the wanton lack of respect for copyright in our photocopy-addicted profession – and some classic 80s heavy metal courtesy of Judas Priest.

Hope you enjoy it!




On Thursday 28 June I was honoured to give my first webinar, asking the question what makes a lesson GREAT?, for the British Council Teaching English team.

Thanks go out to the 70 or so participants who gave up luchbreaks, dinner times or sleep to attend – I deeply appreciate it!

If you couldn’t make it, or if you would like to relive the experience, the recording of the whole session including Q&A is now online (duration: 67 minutes).

‘Til next time, all the best,


What makes a lesson GREAT? Part #4

Here is the much-delayed part four in a five-part series of posts inspired by Mike Harrison, who asked on the IATEFL Facebook page “what makes a lesson GREAT?” My answer was:

Group Dynamic

Relevance to learners’ lives

Emergent language



You can find my posts on the first three characteristics by clicking on them above. Or you can start in medias res by reading on…

A for Attentiveness

The now-traditional glance in my dictionary tells me this about attentiveness:

attentive |əˈtɛntɪv|


paying close attention to something : never before had she had such an attentive audience | Congress should be more attentive to the interests of taxpayers.

ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French attentif, -ive, from atendre ‘give one’s attention to’ (see attend ).

Attentiveness is then, the paying of attention to something. Seems obvious, but there are one or two implications worth paying attention to! Continue reading

In Memoriam: Chris Foley (? – 2011)

Sketch of Chris Foley ß - 2011
A poor sketch of a great teacher… and a great man

These are private words addressed to you in public

– T.S. Eliot

I do not expect many will read this. It does not matter. As I write, I imagine you are being carried by friends and family from the church to your final resting place. I doubt you will like that very much: you never were a restful kind of guy.

You were the best teacher I have ever had. We only worked together for two years but in that time I can honestly say that you forged me. You didn’t mould me, you didn’t shape me: you heated me, tempered me, prepared me to take an edge. Continue reading