Post-CELTA Confessions

Aspiring to be a better teacher

Month: January, 2013

How much grammar do you need to know for CELTA?

by celtaconfessions

I’ve just been reviewing Week 2 Day 3, our first 60-min TPs, and I felt compelled to write a post to answer the question “How much grammar do you need to know for CELTA?”. It seems especially apt after the previous review of the input session Grammar (Introduction to Language Awareness).

You see, there was this trainee who’s a wonderful teacher – I’d recommend her without reservation – but grammar wasn’t her strong point. Her pride was such that she refused my offers of help, and consequently, I had to watch her suffer on at least two occasions, one worse than the other, or perhaps it was me who suffered more because I could feel her insecurity and noticed the errors she kept making.

Presenting tenses graphically by Chiew Pang

Do you know your tenses? Copyright 2013 Chiew Pang

If you’re a native speaker, unless you’ve done courses, you may not be very familiar with grammar. For your Celta course, you will probably have to do at least two DI lessons plus the fact that your students are adults means that they will at some point or other ask you grammatical questions.

CELTA courses DO NOT teach you grammar; in fact, they assume you have more-than-basic knowledge of it. So, if you ask, “Do I need to know grammar?” the answer from me will be a definite “yes”.

“How much grammar do I need to know?” A rudimentary knowledge is essential. You must at least know the name of the tenses! You can’t afford to confuse the past perfect with the present perfect, for example. You can’t have the students know more than you in this aspect because they will know the names and form of the tenses even if they don’t use them properly.

In this lesson I was reviewing, her main aim was “for, since and ago”, but she had spent the whole night preparing an analysis on the past simple, the present perfect and the present perfect continuous, probably more for herself than for the students. Subsequently, she spent too much time on this part, which ought to have been a cursory revision, and not enough time on her main aim. It could be that she was following the coursebook, which would be yet another lesson for future Celta trainees – use only what’s necessary! Know what your main aims are – don’t try to do too much because you won’t have the time to cover all of them.

You won’t have enough time in the course to devote to learning grammar points from scratch; it’s all right to have to study them in greater detail in preparation for your lesson, but you can’t be burning the candle at both ends because you’ll be messed up in the morning, and end up with an under-par lesson.

So, if your grammar knowledge is lacking, or even rusty, I’d suggest doing a course before Celta. I don’t get paid for saying this, but I can recommend Cambridge English Teacher; they offer a 5-hour grammar for teacher language awareness course for free – you’d only need to register.

Recommended books

[Learning Teaching: 3rd Edition Student’s Book Pack] [by: Jim Scrivener]

Teaching English Grammar: What to Teach and How to Teach it by Jim Scrivener ( 2010 ) Paperback

The Practice of English Language Teaching (4th Edition) (With DVD) (Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers) by Jeremy Harmer ( 2007 ) Paperback

Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott

Practical English Usage by Swan and Walter, also here.

Week 2 Day 2: Grammar (Introduction to Language Awareness) and CCQs

by celtaconfessions

This input session lasted for an hour or so and went like this:

Each table was given an envelope with two batches of strips of coloured paper containing headings and words. Pink strips contained headings, such as “conjunctions”, and blue strips had words such as “and”. The object was to match the words to their headings. When we’d finished, we were to run up to the front and squeeze a squeaky toy. So, lots of shrieks, whoops and squeaks…

The best part were the ICQs – take note. How many words are there under each heading? THREE! What colour are the headings? PINK! Blah, blah, blah…

Sounded a bit like the coach before sending the players to the battle pitch: Who are the best? WE! Who are we going to thrash? TEAM X! Blah, blah, blah… 😉

Next, we were given five quotes and we discussed, in pairs, to see if we agreed or disagreed:

  1. The study of grammar as such is neither necessary nor sufficient for learning to use the language.
  2. It is through speech acts that new language ‘sticks’ in the learners’ mind. Insight into grammar is an equal partner in the dual process of acquisition/learning.
  3. Grammar is the engine behind language – it’s what makes the language stick together.
  4. Without studying grammar you can’t learn a language.
  5. Teachers of English should know all its rules.

What drew my attention was the fact that no sources were mentioned! Were we not told that we had to cite all sources, and we were graded negatively when we failed to comply? Mmm…

In discovery activity 2, we were to put 12 examples of verb forms into these categories: simple, perfect, continuous.  For example: He’s waiting / I’d imagined, etc.

I wasn’t sure as to the aim of this activity. Take “She’s been living”. I know it’s a present perfect continuous tense, but which category would you put it under? More importantly, does it matter?

Then, the second part of this activity was to deduce the rules on how to identify these three categories:

  • Simple tenses have no auxiliaries
  • Perfect tenses always have “has”, “have” or “had”
  • Continuous tenses always have a form of the verb “to be” plus a verb in -ing form (they liked to call the latter “verbing”).

Finally, discovery activity 3 was to name the tenses of four sentences based on the rules we “discovered” above.

My opinion:

I personally got nothing out of this session apart from a few laughs as it was quite a relaxing afternoon, in that sense. I know that Celta trainees are basically a mixed bunch of pre-service teachers and more experienced ones, and there are those who are familiar with grammar and those who aren’t. Some trainees didn’t know their perfect tenses from the simple. So, perhaps this session was aimed at the middle ground, which, to me, served little purpose. For those with inadequate grammar knowledge I doubt it enlightened them very much and for those with advanced knowledge, it was an hour’s worth of socialising, nothing much more than that.

What did the rest got out of it, I wonder…

Before this session, we had another, one on Conveying Meaning. I don’t have many records of this, which is why I haven’t reflected on it to the same extent. We were basically informed of the different ways of conveying meaning followed by examples of checking meaning, which means…yes…you’ve guessed it! Concept Checking Questions! I don’t remember much else except one of the sentences the meaning of which we had to convey was This milk is sour.

Week 2, Day 2: The dreaded 20-minute TP

by celtaconfessions

Yes, I dread these 20-minute TPs – not much can be achieved in such a short space of time. By the time you’ve warmed up, your time’s up; and if you’re coming after someone else (as I tend to do), what you do may be unrelated to the previous “lessons”, thus making the morning a very disjointed affair.

However, as I’d mentioned in my last post, the three of us would be attempting to work together to try to deliver a seamless lesson. It was a refreshing change to have Ts 1, 4 and 6 followed by Ts 5, 3 and 2 instead of the usual 1-6 consecutive order.

So it was that Hatty went first, followed by Al, and then, the resident top-of-the-bill, namely me. Haha. It’s amazing how I was always at the end of the pack…

20-minute TP on CELTA

Hatty on being successful. Copyright 2012 Chiew Pang

We were to do one of these survey-personality test – you can see it in the previous post. Hatty would do the reading-vocabulary, Al would get them to actually do the test, and I would get them to calculate their score and get them talking.

I’d prepare a PowerPoint and my warmer was to ask them 3 questions:

  1. Do you think your assessment is fair?
  2. Do you think this is a good test to assess personality?
  3. Which are the most/least useful question? Why?

I’d also prepare some images of successful people.

To be honest, I didn’t really like what I’d prepared because I wasn’t in control of what would happen before I came on. Much would depend on what Al did and where he’d stop…

With the experience of what’d happened to me in the first 20-minute TP, when I decided at the spur of the moment to divert from my stage plan, this time, I “cleverly” wrote down my introduction like this:

Why? To initiate rapport with the students.
What? T introduces himself and carries on from the previous lesson.

Cheeky, huh? Haha.

As it happened, I frigging did it again. I couldn’t help it, could I? Al was going on about being truthful and lying on these tests, so when he finished, instead of doing what I’d prepared, I went off-the-cuff again. It just felt so right. I wrote, if I remember, three sentences on the board, one of which was a lie. I told the students to guess which the lie was.

They lapped it up. Rapport was established and they were very animated.

I told you I’m not made for these 20-minute TPs. My aim was to get them talking and talking was what they did. But, of course, my timing went out the window. When you’re doing a course like this, you have to play their game. They are big on aims, they are big on control. I hate stopping students when they’re having fun speaking! To cut a long story short, I rushed at the end because I suddenly realised that if I wanted to pass this practice, I’d have to fulfil my “aims”!

What a disaster.

Consequently, I received my first Ns – one for conveying meaning in context (I wasn’t clear about what this referred to) and the other was for presenting materials with professional appearance and copyright requirements. I’d made reference to this latter point somewhere else in this blog, in one of my many rants. Why did I get an N? Because I didn’t use any materials! The students already had the test handout from Hatty. I had no need for the PowerPoint I’d prepared. The proper grading should have been non-applicable, surely? I can only assume that IH CLIC does not dish out NAs like some other centres. Beats me.

However, to compensate, Ceri gave me S+ on establishing rapport and developing motivation, and providing appropriate practice activities. At least she recognised my warmer for what it was! There’s hope here!

My thoughts

I was relieved that there would be no more 20-minute TPs after this. I wonder if those courses dealing with only two levels – and I think these are more the norm than our 18-trainees, three-levels course – would only have one 20-minute TP and not two like us. I’m the first to admit that I don’t control these mini-TPs very well, at least, not to CELTA’s criteria.

What was good, however, was that we worked together and our three lessons appeared more like one lesson with three different teachers.

My advice: Twenty minutes go by quite fast, really. Be sure to know your aims clearly. When planning your timing, remember to add time for giving instructions. Monitor well, and slot in a PACS. It’s not easy to fail, so try to enjoy it, establish rapport with your students, and don’t worry about the grading, which is quite ridiculous. In 20 minutes, the trainer has to grade you on 20+ items! Not for the faint-hearted!

Week 2, Day 1: surrealistic confusion

by celtaconfessions

Surreal day for me.

I’d just given my last lesson to the pre-intermediate group, which was a shame, really. Just as we were getting to know each other, we had to say goodbye… and it was a good lesson, too. See the last post. So, a large part of my mind was still mulling over the students, my lesson, the disappointing grading, while the rest of it tried to pull me back to the here and now, to the discussion with Ceri about the level we’d be teaching for the next seven days.

It started well enough. We discussed the differences we’d noticed between our previous level (pre-intermediate) and this level (intermediate), bearing in mind we had only one day to observe the students from this latter level. We also discussed the differences in the rooms – this one was much larger, with three round tables, and two WBs, one of them a smartboard.

When that ended, we were given a handout of a plan for our 20-minute TPs the following day. The first spate of confusion began. We read what was written but we couldn’t make sense of it because it didn’t coincide with the coursebook. It turned out that this handout was based on an older version of the book. Great. Thanks. Good start. This eventually led to a series of chops and changes resulting in a state of confusion that would stretch until the end of the day. I was too exhausted to keep up.

The best part of this planning was, for the first and only time, I had the chance to work together with Al and Hatty as a team. We’d be doing a test-assessment activity, split into three 20-minute tasks. For a change, haha, I’d be the last again. So, my lesson would very much depend on how Al finished his.

Cutting Edge Intermediate

Cutting Edge Intermediate; image by Chiew Pang copyright 2013

Coursebooks, friend or foe?

After lunch, our input session with Jo was on using coursebooks. There was a lot of pair and group work, discussing their pros and cons. Personally, I didn’t get much out of this – I don’t know about the rest of the trainees. It was all somewhat confusing for me, all the talking among ourselves, changing partners and tables, analysing our coursebooks, unsure of the purpose… and then somehow, this led to us having to prepare our own TP schedules for this level!

We spent a long time on this, chopping and changing, none of us really clear on the way forward. We had to follow the book, but, at the same time, we had to make sure we didn’t have two grammar or two skills lessons on the same day. Don’t forget that teachers 4-6 had just come from their last TP with the pre-intermediate group, and we weren’t really sure what this intermediate group of students knew or didn’t. In the end, after the umpteenth change, we had some sort of schedule.

Then, Ceri, our secondary tutor came in and checked it with us. To add to the confusion, those doing the skills lesson the following week would have to do their skills assignment (3), which meant, basically, they’d have to prepare their reading/listening material on their own, from scratch. The best news was that Friday was a public holiday, so we’d have some breathing space. Looking back, however, my advice to future trainees would be to avoid months where there are holidays if at all possible. I’d thought a break would be good, but all this does, really, is to intensify the pressure. The fact is the centre has to complete its schedule within the four weeks, holidays or not, which means that the lost day will have to be recovered in one form or another.

There were more changes made to the schedule we’d prepared, adding to the day’s surrealism. Was anyone sure of what they were doing? It was probably just me, a stupid old git, my mind being detached from my body, if you can call what I had a mind. The good thing (I think) was that I wouldn’t be doing my skills assignment lesson until week 3, day 4! That happened to be our last day with this group – I just made it! Otherwise, I would have had to do it with the next level, back with our main tutor, Ian, and those who have been following this blog know of how I’d feel about that!

My two pence worth

The coursebook debate is one worthy of more thought. What was given barely touched the surface, most of the time wasted on our own discussions, the worst being the part where we were formed into a trio, one from each level, i.e. pre-intermediate, intermediate and upper intermediate. We had to discuss the merits of the coursebook we’d used. We were given a checklist which filled a double-sided A4 sheet, and we were supposed to make comments. What an utter waste of time! I don’t know about the other groups, but mine just flicked through the pages and said, yes, yes, no, no. I am sure no-one will remember much of this session. I personally had hardly used the coursebook in the week I had it, so I couldn’t give much valued opinion anyway.

I know Cambridge is a big-time publisher so it is in their own interests that trainees be encouraged to use coursebooks, but I felt we ought to be lectured, for example, about their benefits, their weaknesses, how they should be used, etc. Coursebooks aren’t meant to be followed from cover to cover. At the same time, trainees ought to be guided on life without coursebooks. Or are CELTA trainees prepared only for materials-rich environments?

The other waste-of-time activity for me was when we were pussyfooting about organising our own teaching schedules. What was the point of this? Surely, this would have been more appropriate for DELTA and not CELTA trainees? OK, sure, it is a useful skill to have, perhaps, but I think other skills could have been given more priority. What made it worse was the point it was introduced, too. One minute we were discussing coursebooks, then the next, we were told to complete our schedules! Oh, well, at least it gave us a chance to speak to each other!

Week 2, day 1, 3rd TP: can I be sued?

by celtaconfessions

For this post, I will summarise my lesson, my third TP. I wasn’t going to do it, but since it was, arguably, my best TP up till this point, I thought it may be of interest to some of you. Freya, it was a shame that both you & Hatty missed this – I would have valued your feedback. The observers (Al, Ingmar, Josh, Phil & David) loved it as so did the students.

This was another 40-minute TP, but with full lesson plan. The aim of the lesson was to have the students practise reading skills where the grammar focus is on the past simple/continuous. It was a good thing that I had the whole weekend to prepare this (although I had to finish off assignment 1, too). The text I was supposed to use was The Perfect Crime from New Headway Pre-Intermediate. It was far far too long, especially for this level and for a 40-minute lesson.

I crunched it by at least half and put line numbers on the left of every 5 sentences. It fitted onto one A4 sheet on Tahoma 11, so that was pretty concise. I won’t load it up here because of copyright issues, but if you wish to have a look at it, email me.

If you remember, I mentioned in a previous post that, again, I would be the last to teach as though I were always the top of the bill, ha ha. That’s the positive way of looking at it, right?

Board work

Neat & tidy board

Lesson

Everyone loved the lead-in. I started with the dramatic soundtrack of Psycho and after a while, in case they still couldn’t identify the music, the famous screenshot of Anthony Perkins with the knife in his hand faded in onto the WB…

My aim was to elicit MURDER.

There were three images in the coursebook. I changed their order, and had them printed (I’d managed to get them off the Internet) onto the handout. On the reverse side of this was my adapted text. The reason for the change was to facilitate the task I set them, which was to predict the story of the text (pair work).

On the other side of the images was the reading text, titled The Perfect Crime. To make sure they understood “crime”, my CCQs were

  • Does crime mean murder? No!
  • Is murder a crime? Yes!
  • Is burglary (alluding to my previous TP with them) a crime? Yes!
  • Meaning: crime is an illegal activity or action. (The Spanish have two words: delito (less serious) and crimen)

I gave them a first-reading set of questions:

  • Did Alice love her husband?
  • Did Henry, Alice’s husband, love her?
  • How many children did they have?

They conferred their responses with their partners first before I told them to turn the page over where the answers were. They checked and compared them with their partners.

Next, I handed them the lexis questions:

  1. What is the word you use to describe a date when you celebrate something that happened in a previous year (lines 1-5).
  1. Find a word between lines 1 and 5 which means “a ceremony in which two people get married”.
  1. Find a word between lines 5 and 10 which means “visit”.
  1. Find an expression between lines 10 and 15 which is used for “emphasizing that you are extremely surprised or angry about something you have seen or heard”.
  1. Find a word between lines 20 and 25 which means an object that can be used to hurt people.

I did the first question with them. They did the rest on their own before checking their answers (on the other side of the handout) with the person next to them. On the answer sheet, I also printed the dictionary definitions, with some examples of further usage.

Pronunciation issues were dealt with at this point.

Next task was a T/F comprehension exercise and they had to justify their false answers. I did the first one with them.

  1. They were married 11 years ago.
  1. They were having a party that evening.
  1. There was a big marble statue in the middle of the living room.
  1. Alice was putting the baby to bed when Henry came home.
  1. The weather was very hot that evening.

Again, they answered the questions, checked them (the correct answers were on the back of the handout) and conferred with their partners.

I ended the lesson with the question:

  • Why was it the perfect crime? Because the murder weapon was destroyed!

Grading

If I had been doubtful of the existence of some form of bias before, this was the lesson that confirmed it. Can I be sued for libel for saying this? The lesson was not perfect by any means, but it was a damn good lesson, especially for a third TP. I hate to sound arrogant, but I’m very self-critical as you can see in some of my posts in The Dogme Diaries. NOT A SINGLE S+! The minimum I’d expected was a superior grading on the material I spent the whole weekend preparing: well-adapted text, self-penned questions, astounding lead-in, copyright information clearly laid out on handouts and on the slides…

It was highly demotivating. I was glad I was changing tutors because it would give me the opportunity to confirm or squash my theory. Unfortunately, the change would only last a week.

What modifications would I make?

  • I would scrap the first-reading questions. I’d remove the title from the handout. I’d introduce a gist-reading activity, which could be any one of these:
    • Write their predictions on the board; after the gist-reading, they decide if their predictions are accurate.
    • Have them think up a title.
    • Give them a choice of, say, 3 titles and they choose the best one.
  • On my answer sheet of the T/F comprehension exercise, I should have put the line numbers so the students could quickly see where they were in the text. I also had the answers on a slide – the line numbers should appear on this, too.
  • Removing the first-reading activity would allow me to add more detailed-reading questions, e.g.:
    • The police suspected that Alice had murdered her husband. (F)
    • The police wanted to find the murder weapon. (T)
    • Alice was an intelligent murderer. (T)
    • Open question: What was the murder weapon? (The ice statue)
  • Ideally, I would finish with a production activity where the students retell the story to each other. I had this on the plan as a back-up, knowing full-well that it would be a miracle if I had time for it.

As I said, not a perfect lesson by any means, but extremely well-controlled – one I would have been proud of in a real environment.

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