The Ten Commandments of Teacher Training Unplugged

We’d like to sketch out here our thinking while going about the initial work of unplugging our course.

We posed ourselves the question: “if we could create an initial language teacher training certificate course from scratch, how would we define an “A-grade” teacher?”.  It didn’t take long before we had the following list

(you might call them the Seven Blessed Virtues of ELT – as opposed to the Seven Deadly Sins of ELT, but more of that later…):

  • ability to create meaningful and simple reasons for learners to listen to the teacher or each other;
  • ability to create meaningful reasons for learners to speak to the teacher or to each other;
  • ability to listen to and notice interesting use of language from students while maintaining normal interaction with learners;
  • ability to present examples of learner language on the whiteboard in a way which makes their linguistic features apparent to learners;
  • ability to ask straightforward questions to learners about these language examples to encourage reformulation or variation;
  • ability to create simple but effective ways of putting such language back to work on the fly in class;
  • ability to reflect on their learners’ language use in one lesson and select useful areas for closer study in a future lesson.

After we had this shortlist, we set about redesigning our course.  In a later post, we’ll describe the course design process in more detail.  At this stage, what is interesting is that, after we had finished, we noticed that we had been working with some unspoken yet shared principles running in the background.  After talking this over, these principles could be expressed thus:

  1. if it’s important to us in a teacher, it comes early in the course as a discussion;
  2. if it’s a familiar skill from “real life” that has application in the language classroom, it comes early in the course as a discussion;
  3. if it’s likely to require a lot of getting used to doing, it comes early in the course as a discussion;
  4. if it’s a standard ELT technique alien to “real life (e.g. repetition drilling). it always gets initially talked about within the context of a real lesson that the trainees have observed;
  5. if it’s a common framework for a type of lesson (reading, listening, language focus etc.), it never gets discussed before the trainees have observed their tutors teaching such a lesson with the Teaching Practice students that the trainees are themselves working with;
  6. If it’s something that has practical application in the classroom, it should be rehearsed in input sessions prior to being field-tested in Teaching Practice;
  7. If it seems to need handouts or other transmission-style-enabling tools, rework it until you don’t need the handouts any more;
  8. If illustrative materials are needed or useful, make sure they are real examples (e.g. real course-books instead of copies from a unit; real student writing examples, real examples of learner language perhaps collected by the trainees themselves etc.)
  9. if it seems to stand alone as a topic or session, look more closely until links with other ideas and events in the course become apparent;
  10. If a session doesn’t surprise you as a tutor, you’ve been on auto-pilot.

These principles were not formulated prior to the design process; far more, they emerged and crystallised during and as a result of the design process.  We were both struck by how powerfully they had influenced our thinking and collaboration during the work of stripping our first week down and refitting it.  In this way, the design process was a perfect illustration of principle number ten in action.

Hopefully, this gives a clear picture of the thinking behind the course design process.  In our next post, we’ll describe the actual design meeting and the shock we felt at watching a course write itself.


  • I am very impressed with the definition of an A-grade teacher. I do have a question about the use of illustrative materials though – what’s the difference between using real course-books instead of copies from a unit, and why is it important? I also wonder if you could define what it means to be ‘alien’ to real life.

    • Glad you liked the post and thank you for the interesting questions. I suppose the preference for “real” copies rather than duplicates comes down to a few things. First, why copy something you have lying around – save the trees? Second, whatever you want to look at is more in its natural environment so you get some broader familiarisation for free. Third, we feel less guilty about copyright infringement, even for educational purposes. Of course, this is an ideal that we don’t always live up to!

      I would say the following teaching techniques or behaviours do not have much of a routine place in most people’s everyday lives (though they may, under very specific circumstances, occur): modelling and drilling the correct pronunciation of a word; asking questions to establish how far something has been understood; organising small group work; finger-coding; using gesture to indicvate sentence stress etc. They can be useful but placing emphasis on them early on may not make much sense to trainees precisely because there is so little connection between them and the trainee’s knowledge and experience base. I believe in the pedagogic value of moving from the known towards the new so if I can establish useful applications for known and familiar behaviours in the classroom first, it may be easier to subsequently make sense of things like this which may otherwise simply be taken on as unprincipled rituals.

      Hope that’s helpful and thanks again!

      • Yes, that is very helpful, thanks. I particularly like your guiding principle of moving from the known to the new – it’s good to boil things down to fundamentals like that.

  • I just watched your presentation at IATEFL on-line and read through your blog – right now I’d just like to say a very big thank you for letting everyone know what you’ve done and what you’re doing.
    I work at a large teacher training centre in Barcelona where we run a lot of CELTA courses and Dogme is something we have been aiming at for some time. It’s great to see how you have got so far ahead of us.
    all best

    • Dear Roger,

      Thank you for stopping by. Scott Thornbury has said on more than one occasion that you have been working for years in the way that we have been aspiring towards – so for you to say “thank you” to us is an extremely great honour!

      We had immense fun at the conference and this has given us a great boost to continue sharing what we are doing on this blog – Izzy will soon be posting on how day three proceeds, for example, so please do drop by again!

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