Working towards a Master’s of Education

It’s 5am and I’m awake.  Had a few late nights recently and it’s starting to catch up with me. My eyes are puffy, my hair is in need of a cut and I could do with a manicure too.  I have a non-existent social life and my dog either hides away under the bed as I sit at a desk muttering in frustration and despair; or with her head on my knee, her big eyes looking at me as if to say ‘do yourself a favour’ – take a break!

Yes, I am doing a master’s full-time.

masters joke

Now, I can’t claim that everyone will experience the same feelings as me.  But, the fact that I am in my mid-fifties, don’t have an undergraduate degree, and have never really been interested in writing makes it all the more challenging.  Perhaps there are those out there who studied for a master’s and found it a doddle.  I’d love to hear from you if you did (actually, don’t bother, keep that fact to yourself because I’ll only find myself disliking you).

So, why am I reviving my blog after a couple of years? Well, it’s finally dawned on me that,  after almost ten years of teaching, with a Trinity Diploma and academic management experience under my belt, plus a myriad of teaching jobs in several countries,  I am quite good at my job and yes, I do know what I am doing (and have the good sense to admit when I don’t!).  Where has this sudden realisation come from you may ask? Well, it’s quite simply from starting the master’s.  So, for this reason, I’ve decided to write this blog post; and to start sharing my reflections with you.  Maybe you might be interested in going down the postgraduate path and, like me, you aren’t a bright young thing with supreme confidence and the courage to march forward into the unknown without gnawing feelings of inadequacy.

Firstly, let me explain why I felt the need to do a master’s at 56.  I didn’t enter into teaching until my mid-forties, and I was looking for something different to do.  I suspect like many others of that age, I was looking for a change, a new adventure and the idea of TEFL teaching sounded to me…well, simple.  Of course, anyone who does the CELTA or Trinity TESOL knows full well that the course is full-on and it is far from easy. But, I just fell in love with it!  I felt such a sense of achievement when I  finally got my hands on the Trinity Cert TESOL,  I almost wept with joy (how sad is that hey?).  But, when you consider that I didn’t achieve a single O’level (I was rather naughty at school, to say the least) you might understand my sense of achievement.  I was gripped with a newly discovered disposition – a will to learn! (Barnett, 2007).  Yes, reader – I am studying at level 7 now so have to start referencing my sources.

Anyway, to continue; working as a TEFL teacher I soon realised that most of my peers had an undergraduate degree.  Now in the classroom,  I fancy myself as a good teacher.  I believe that if you love doing something as much as I do, then your positivity is infectious and I’ve always had great feedback from my lovely students.  Add to that a knowledge of a bit of grammar, how to set up a topic, do the PPP bit and Bob’s your uncle – got it sorted right?  Well, that’s not exactly the case.  After a while, I realised that there was a big-boy qualification out there called the Trinity Diploma and apparently it was quite tough to do.  So, I had to have a bit of that didn’t I?  Where did the sudden desire to put myself through the wringer of hours of stressful learning come from?  To be honest, I just felt inadequate around my peers – I didn’t have a degree, so I wasn’t as good as everyone else.  Now, I know in my heart that’s not the case – but, at the time, the feelings of inadequacy I felt in the staffroom, were only cancelled out when I walked into the classroom to my adoring students.

So, with just under two years teaching experience, most of it on a part-time basis, I studied for the Trinity Diploma.  Now, let me tell you, that felt hard and if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy that particular journey.  At the time, it just felt like something I had to do to prove myself to my peers (or myself).  Also, if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t really know what I was doing and how I passed, heaven only knows.  I remember long evenings studying in Prague for the teaching section of the course, chain-smoking and lamenting to my patient roommate that the last time I felt such pain was when I was in labour.  Slightly exaggerated, yes…but you get the idea.  Surprisingly, I discovered that I received a distinction in the phonology part of the exam – go figure!  I never did find out what my exact grade was, but I’m certain I only scraped by with a low pass.  How do I know that?  Because, I’m doing the master’s of course, and part of the reflective process is looking back over my past work with a more critical eye.

Ok, in my experience so far, the diploma and the master’s are quite different.  The Trinity diploma had a very practical feel to it.  Creating lesson plans, observed teaching practice, an emphasis on knowledge of grammar and phonology and yes, I’m so glad I did it.  Actually, I’d consider it one of my greatest achievements (don’t laugh) and will flash my certificate at any given opportunity.  Remember, there were no O’levels for me! But 13 weeks into the master’s and I’m realising that it is a very different experience.

I’m doing a Master’s of Education with TESOL Pathway, so there are a diverse group of students that make up my fellow cohort.  Some are recent graduates, bright young things that can knock off an essay in a blink of an eye (so it appears to me), and then there are older professionals with several years experience in their teaching discipline, which varies from special needs, primary education, and we even have a reporter on board.  And then there is me…I’m the imposter don’t you know? At least that’s how I felt when I started the course.  Another reference coming up – Young, 2011.  She wrote a book called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.  Go read that book and feel reassured! Apparently, some of the most successful women suffer from the imposter syndrome.  So, with that in mind, I tread boldly forward, determined to overcome my feelings of inadequacy (how tiresome she is I hear you say).  But dear reader,  this is where studying at master’s level is both illuminating and empowering.  I get to argue with the experts (it’s called being critical) and I’m expected to do it.  To be honest, after only 13 weeks, I’m not really into that yet, but I will get there!  I still bow down unquestioningly to the experts like Krashen and Vygotsky in second language acquisition and to Gibbs and Schon in reflective practice.  Hey, who am I to be critical of such greats, but you know what, I’ll give it a go because doing the master’s requires that you do that.  To write in the first person, to go out there and explore, reflect, critique…just grow a pair, have faith in your experience and……..go wild.

On a personal note, I’ve also moved back in with my parents for a year.  This is another experience that is proving challenging and enlightening at the same time.  To be honest, it’s great to reconnect with my Mum and Dad after spending most of my adult life living overseas.  I’m not sure that they understand what I am doing but they very sweetly indulge me by listening to my reflections of the day, spouting off strange sounding terms such as ethnography, epistemology and any number of ‘isms’ that I didn’t know only a few weeks ago.  They cheerfully listen,  but draw the line when I chatter on over Coronation Street or Emmerdale.  A few weeks ago our tutor asked us to undertake a micro-study of the behaviour of a specific group of people over 24 hours.  I decided that I would focus on the amount of times my parents used an imperative preceded by ‘don’t’ in 24 hours.  I can tell you, it was quite a few…don’t forget to shut/lock the door/ wash your cup/put your towel away/let us know when you’ll be home/tell us what you want for dinner.  But hey, it makes me feel young again and I can only be grateful that they have agreed to put up with me for a year until as my Dad says ‘I finally decide what I want to do with my life’.

So, as I continue with this journey, I’ll check in from time to time and perhaps, writing from the heart, might help someone else out there decide whether doing a master’s at a certain age is a good idea.  Will it be worthwhile for me? I don’t know, but to be honest, despite the lack of sleep, the pressure to finish my first three assignments and sitting for hours in front of a blank screen – I’m enjoying it, for so many reasons that I wasn’t aware of before I started.

References List

Barnett, R. (2007) A Will to Learn. Maidenhead: Open University Press

Young, V. (20110 The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. New York: Crown Publishing.










To pronunciate or procrastinate…this is the question!

Image result for wordplay

Did you hear Chris Evans on his breakfast show this week and his ‘play on words’?  The challenge for his listeners was to rename film titles to include an item of food in the title.  There were some great contributions such as Planet of the Grapes, The Bread Poets Society, Braised Heart and, my personal favourite, Harry Trotter and the Giblets of Fire.   (My own, less imaginative contribution was The Lambshank Redemption).  So,  this got me thinking about how we can exploit this and introduce it to students as part of their learning experience.  On short courses, listening skills are often over-looked, taking second place to our desire to get the students speaking.  However, I think we are doing them a disservice  if we don’t help them develop their receptive skills.  (Don’t worry, I’m not going to start talking about elision, assimilation, contractions, intrusion and all those complex pronunciation  issues that can be a conversation killer) – but let’s take The Bread Poets Society as an example.  My bet is, that if you were to ask students if they had seen this film, not one of them would respond with ‘there is no film of that name!’   This is because we unconsciously understand words from either the context or, being guided by the content words or even the intonation and stress.  I’m not suggesting this as a fact, rather throwing it out there for discussion.  In the same way that working on sentence stress and intonation can help students improve their communicative competence, so can working on other features such as connected speech.  The simple awareness of the existence of this can help enormously in enabling students to better understand the language they hear. The question is, how far do we take it on short courses where the focus is on productive skills rather than receptive. Some teachers take the view that these areas should not be taught because simply exposing students to the features of connected speech will  enable them to incorporate those features  into their own speech.

Take for example the sentence ‘it might rain’ and ‘that’s my train’ –  simple enough to understand yes?  But if our poor student is standing on a cloudy railway platform and engages in chatter with a stranger and that stranger says ‘oopps, gotta go, my train!’ …. our poor student may well respond with ‘no I think it will be sunny later J.   Or how about that same hapless student (particularly if he had a lesson on health and ailments the day before) suddenly hears ‘the neck strain will be arriving in five minutes’.  Yes, he may well wonder which planet he’s landed on!

These are of course, linguistic challenges that often appear with higher level students and at that level don’t we feel more motivated to teach the finer details of pronunciation?  I personally think that no matter how naturally we try to speak with our students, when they are lower level A2 or low B1 (which many of our summer students are) we unwittingly speak slower and articulate more than we do with fellow native English speakers.  We might even miss out a few contractions – feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong!

I’m writing this because it’s an area that we intend to focus on more this year at SUL Language Schools, we’ve challenged ourselves to throw in a little more pronunciation – to challenge both our students, our teachers and ultimately ourselves as the Academic Team.

So, when you go into the classroom next, ask your students if they’ve seen ‘Harry Trotter and the Giblets of Fire’ – let us know where it goes? And please feel free to inspire me as to how we can we introduce word play into our classrooms to help our students develop their receptive skills in a meaningful and fun way.

If you are working with SUL this year, and you want to understand more about the terminology in bold, get in touch – we are here to help.

Incidentally, ‘pronunciate’ is a word that is not listed in most dictionaries. does mention it but notes that ‘pronunciate’ is rarely used.  My opinion is that most people will think I meant to use ‘pronounce’ but screwed up.  Unless you think I’m the sort of gal who uses silly double negatives such as ‘irregardless’.




Business English Activities

This is an article that I downloaded from somewhere!  Sorry that I can’t quote the source.

  1. Meetings game.  This is a competitive game that helps learners use chunks of language for different functions such as giving opinions and disagreeing politely.  You must invest time in setting it up well or it won’t work.  Be clear on any rules you think you will need and spend time on the language beforehand.
  • Make some strips of card and put the phrases you want to practise on them. (Phrases for meetings can be found easily in most business course books)
  • Ask students what things they discuss in meetings (in English or their own language) and put a list on the board.
  • Tell them they are going to have a meeting in class and should choose three items from the list to discuss today.  They will have 5 minutes per item.
  • Go through the phrases, drilling any pronunciation you feel important (intonation is very important in disagreeing politely for example).
  • Deal out the phrases and tell the learners they will have to discard their phrases one at a time (one phrase per point they make) and the first to discard all is the winner.
  • Assign a chairperson or do it yourself and hold the meeting.  You take notes on vocabulary etc for a correction slot after.
  1. Tour of the office.  This is good as an ice breaker at the start of a course or near the start of the course and can work with all levels.  If you have one student ask them to show you round their place of work introducing people, explaining how things work etc.  If you have a group then you can assign them roles- tour guide and visitor.  It is a great authentic activity and gets you out of the classroom.  It also lets you get to know the company and how it functions!
  2. The Island activity.  This is taken from  Ask students to think of their dream island- what would it contain?  How may people would live on it?  What kind of infrastructure would it have?  How would they survive?  And any other questions you think would be useful.  Then put them into small groups or with one to one, participate yourself.  An ideal number is four, though.  Tell them they are going to have to negotiate to live on one island and the island should be as near as possible to their personal vision as possible.  Give each person a different colour pen and tell them to draw the coats first, then work their way in.  They can discuss the content before they draw or while drawing.  When they are finished, ask them to reflect on how their negotiating went- did they work as a team, was there any effective negotiation and what made it effective. Then they present their island to others if you have more than one group, otherwise they present it to you.  See the website for more details. There are lots of follow up activities you can do with this- think of laws, plan how to market the island as a holiday destination, decide on trade objectives, discuss developments for the island….
  3. Looking at their website.  Take in a laptop or printed material from their website and get students to explain various items such as who people are, current projects, locations, products etc.
  4. Take in some local newspapers in the learners own language.  Give them out and tell learners they have 1 minute to choose a story they are interested in.  Go through phrases such as – ‘Have you heard about..?’ ? ‘Look at this!’ ‘I was reading the other day about…’  etc and then have them explain their story to the class.  This helps them build confidence with their ‘social English’.
  5. World presentation. Ask students to think of a place they would love to go and live for two years.  Then ask them to think of a product they could sell there, or a business they could start- one they would enjoy.  You can ask them to close their eyes for this.  Then give them 15 minutes to prepare a two minute presentation to the class.  Do the presentation asking the listeners to ask questions.  You can do this at the start of a class to evaluate presentation skills or later to practise presentations, or just as  a fun speaking activity, making sure you do correction if that is the case.
  6. Role play a conference by getting students to prepare some information about themselves and the conference first.  Give them a list of items such as why they are at the conference, their personal information and perhaps some current news item to introduce into conversation.  Once they have prepared go through some phrases for chatting to someone—‘Haven’t we met?’, ‘Hello, I’m ______from______(company)’ etc. Then get students standing up if possible and acting out the conference chat.  You should monitor and give feedback on good language and corrections.
  7. Instead of using emails and telephone role plays in books ask learners who they really write and speak to and what about and create real plays around this information.  Remember there should always be a language focus to these activities even if it is a correction slot afterwards with some ideas for new language they could use in that situation.

Basically, by asking your students what they really do in English or want to be able to do you can create a multitude of activities that can be a fun break from the syllabus OR can actually be the foundation of the syllabus!

The Envelope Game – Topic – Jobs

Preparation: for this task you need an envelope for each student and small pieces of paper


Brainstorm jobs that the students know or have heard of.  Try to get as many as possible written up on the board.  Encourage the students to come up with unusual examples.

Distribute the envelopes and the pieces of paper and ask the students to write their name on the envelope.  They then pass the envelope to the person on their right.

Each learner thinks about the ideal job for the person named on the envelope they have received, based on what they know about the person or what they feel they would be good at doing.  They write it on a piece of paper, put it into the envelope and pass it on to the next person.

The next person also decides which job would be good for the person whose envelope they have received – without looking inside – and writes the job on a piece of paper, adding it to the first one.

Continue in this way till the envelopes return to their original owners. (If the class is large you can divide students into two groups).

The owners of the envelopes then open them and look at the suggested jobs.  They categorise them into groups: jobs they would like to have, jobs they might like to try and jobs they wouldn’t want to do.

The students all tell the class which jobs were suggested for them, and which ones they would like or wouldn’t like to do.  They can also be encouraged to give reasons and also ask other students to offer reasons for their suggestions.

Finally, you can ask the students to write about their ideal job: why would they like that job? Why do they think they would be good at it? 

Taken from: ELT Professional (May 2013) original idea created by Majorie Rosenberg

Warmer idea

The Secret Code game Prior to the lesson write a secret message on slips of paper that are folded into various shapes.


  • Greet and welcome students to their first lesson.
  • Tell them you’ll play a game called “Hidden message”. You can also tell them, if they are young learners, that you will be playing a game called “Spies”.
  • Then, if the class is lower level, elicit the alphabet and write it on the board.
  • Give out the sweets or lollipops wrapped with the slips of paper. This paper will have a hidden message which will have to be worked out by students if they want to eat their sweets or lollipops. Tell students that each letter used represents the previous letter in the alphabet ( Note: Z comes before A). You can demonstrate by writing IJ on the board and you should have spelled out ” HI”.
  • Once students understand, allow them two minutes to work out their messages individually. The first one to find out the hidden message, should read it out to the rest of the class and carry out the instructions on it. See example below:
TBZ ZPVS OBNF UBML BCPVU ZPVS IPMJEBZT (Decoded: “Say your name. Talk about your holidays”)
  • Continue around the class until everyone has deciphered their messages. Give help as needed.


Why it works This game helps students learn each other’s names and builds a sense of community at the beginning of the school year. It also helps students develop their fluency and truly “breaks the ice” if students have just come back from a break or are just starting their studies. This creative classroom aid is usable in multi-level, large classes with limited resources as well as adaptable for elementary classrooms too.

Variations Higher-level students can be given hidden messages which review functions such as complaints, apologies, etc. Teachers may include any topics they want students to talk about such as hobbies, family, animals and so on. Follow up Once they have finished getting to know each other, they may write a short paragraph about what they learned about their pals as a homework task.

(This activity was previously published by ETA magazine (The English Teacher Assistant – US) May 2000, Herald Educational Newspaper – July 2004 (Argentina). It appeared at English Club Net web site (2000), Parlo web site and China Education Exchange site.)

Phonology and Pronunciation

Why teach pronunciation?

English is a the major lingua franca globally and more and more people need to use English for various personal and professional purposes in all kinds of contexts.  It is essential that people who use English to communicate have a high level of intelligibility.  Improved pronunciation is acquired through repeated exposure to an environment where the language is spoken, however pronunciation can be improved through instructional input in order to raise awareness.

  • The basics of pronunciation in ELF
  • Vowel Quality: the distinction between long and short vowels is more important than exact vowel quality.
  • Phonetic realisation of consonants: some approximations may lead to intelligibility.
  • Simplifying consonant clusters: deletion of a consonant within a cluster affects intelligibility.
  • Teaching should focus on achieving correct prominence on stressed syllables, rather than weak forms and schwa.
  • Tone groups – failure to use tone groups to divide the stream of speech into meaningful chunks has an effect on intelligibility for the listener.
  • Nucleaur stress – putting prominence on the wrong word in a an utterance will focus the listener’s attention on the wrong place and this may lead to misunderstanding.

Pronunciation teaching works best if the focus is on chunks of speech, such as words, phrases and sentences.  Lessons should involve students in actually speaking, rather than just learning the facts or rules explicitly.  Good teaching principles include setting realistic goals/integrating  pronunciation to listening and speaking skills practice/student centered/helps learners become self-reliant.

  • Teaching Strategies:
  • Description and Analysis: phonemic chart, minimal pairs, transcriptions, kinesthetic activites.
  • Listening: for meaning, listening for weak forms, function, content word identification.
  • Controlled Practice: drills, repetition, reading aloud, role plays
  • Communicative Practice: discussions, speeches, conversations, problem solving, games
  • Assessing Pronunciation
  • Learners needs: identifying students pronunciation requirements.
  • Ongoing feedback: encourage awareness of progress and focus on improvement.
  • Peer Feedback
  • Teacher Feedback
  • File that Sound
  • Goal: To have students identify words under relevant sound using correct word ending rules.
  • Procedure: Have /t/, /d/, /id/, /s/, /z/ and /iz/ headings and students ‘file’ words under the sound that represents for its ending as the word is read out by the teacher.
  • Stand Up Sit Down
  • Write a word on the whiteboard and have students sit in a line.  Each member of the line represents one syllable.  The stressed syllable must stand up.
  • Rhythm through song
  • This is a game to have students identify and differentiate content and function words.
  • Play a song, supply students with information gap activity sheets and have them identify the content and function words in the lyrics.
  • Rhythm Game Dominoes
  • The aim is to have students identify and match rhythm patterns in short phrases.
  • Make some domino cards with different rhythm patterns and have students line up the cards with the same patterns.


Higher Order Thinking Skills – ideas for the classroom


What are Higher Order Thinking Skills and how can we use them in the classroom?

Higher order thinking skills are the skills that we use when we do more than simply identify and remember simple facts that are presented to us.  HOTs require effort above just remembering facts and information.  They include creative, lateral and critical thinking, problem solving, synthesizing and contrasting.

Bloom’s Taxonomy states that the skills involving analysis, evaluation and creation of new knowledge (synthesis) are thought to be of a higher order and that the deep processing skills used ensure a more memorable learning experience.   Deep processing has a better imprint on our memory and is achieved through relating the language item studied in a way that is both meaningful and interesting to the student.  HOTs are most beneficial and easily implemented into a higher level language class but can also be successfully employed with lower level classes as well.

Convergent thinking vs Divergent thinking (coming to one conclusive answer vs several possibilities)

Critical thinking is deciding if something is true, untrue, being able to distinguish between categories, to generalise and exemplify.  Also, being aware of impression in a text (for example tautologous statements), recognising the logic or otherwise in a statement.  It is generally classed as convergent thinking (although not always).

Creative thinking includes lateral (outside the box) thinking, creating new ideas and is mainly divergent. i.e. Brainstorming a number of responses to a task, devising original or unconventional responses to a task.

  • Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive objectives are: *
  • Knowledge of basic facts etc
  • Understanding
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis (create)
  • Evaluation

We should use HOTs in language teaching because they encourage intellectual development together with language acquisition in a way that is interesting and fun to the learner.  ‘It is not enough to teach students how to think, we need to give them something worth thinking about’ Penny Ur

Some practical examples of CRITICAL THINKING TASKS starting with a task for elementary learners.

Task: Classifying hyponyms into correct categories (instead of the simple picture/word match activity).

A clock, a dog, a dress, a mother, black, a pen, bread, trousers, a bag, a frog, red, books, a cat, rice, a man, a baby, pink, a teenager, a hat, a t-shirt, a banana, a book, a sheep, meat, kids, a table, green , an elephant, sugar, white

Students have to identify the class of the word by putting it into the correct column.

Animals          Colours          Things          Food          Clothes          People.

On a higher level the same sort of task can be used, but in addition to categorizing, grammar can also be incorporated.

How about doing this instead of the traditional gap fill or matching exercise:

Relative Clauses

Give each student a slip of paper that has one of the following lists on it:

  • List 1 – Australia, apples, August, an airport, an artist, an African, an alligator, air
  • List 2 – a book, Bangladesh, bread, a bedroom, a baby, bottles, a bus
  • List 3 – a cow, Canada, a chicken, a carpenter, cigarettes, coffee, a cinema
  • List 4 – a duck, a doctor, Denmark, doors, December, a dream, a daughter, disinfectant
  • List 5 – eyes, an elephant, the evening, an emperor, an engine, eight
  • List 6 – Hollywood, a helicopter, hands, a hotel, happiness, a hairdryer, a horse

Each student then has to write sentences using a relative pronoun to define the items on his list, i.e.  Australia is a country that is near to New Zealand,  a bus is a type of transport which is very popular in London etc. However, when they write the sentences they omit the item (……….. is a country that is near to New Zealand.)   In this way they are creating a gap fill exercise for their partner to complete.  (Having each list in alphabetical order gives a hint to what the item is making it slightly easier).

In these lists the relative pronouns, that, who, which and also where and when are being practiced.  Better than a boring gap fill and the students do all the work too!

Getting our students to identify inherent contradictions….do these make sense?

  •  a definite maybe
  • an objective opinion
  • an exact estimate
  • the larger half

…or tautology (saying the same thing twice in a sentence)

  • a free gift
  • a new innovation
  • we made too many wrong mistakes
  • he exaggerated the situation too much
  • it’s pure undiluted orange juice
  • let’s meet together at six
  • it’s a biography of the King’s life
  • that is a basic and fundamental fact of life
  • they commute back and forth every day

Finally, an creative activity that encourages divergent thinking:

Ask the students questions like:

  • How many ways can you end the sentence ..if I had a thousand pounds….?
  • How many ways can you think of to use a tin can/a pen/a sheet of paper?
  • How many adjectives can you think of to describe a car/a movie/a song?…etc etc

All ideas noted from a recent IATEFL webinar by the amazing Penny Ur.

* Blooms Taxonomy (1956)

Should we ask our students if they ‘know’ the phonemic chart?

When I posed this question to Adrian Underhill he was kind enough to send me the following response which I think is worth sharing:

Hi Julie

No need to ask sts if they know the chart, because they don’t. Same with teachers, they don’t either. It’s like asking “Do you know English Grammar?” It is not something you know. You have met it, you know some things quite well and other things imperfectly and loads of stuff not at all…and you are ready to learn more….If the teacher is willing and able. The chart is not something to know. It is a whiteboard on which one brings to bear the third language system,(Grammar, Vocab, Pron) in order to integrate it into all the other language work going on. My advice is in the first lesson take them for a flight over all the sounds, so they can see for themselves what is there, and what they already know and where the issues are to be worked with, Then you get them on your side, and they can start feeding pron to themselves, rather then rely on occasional pron crumbs from the teacher’s table. So I suggest you let go of imagined limitations, and instead of maybe managing to teach schwa during the course, expose (not teach) all the sounds in the first day, then they are all in circulation, and that alone will change everything in the following days. Multilingual class is ideal. They all have something to work on. To student 1 you say, faster, to 2 you say clearer, to 3 you say join the words to 4 you say where is the stress, to 5 you say less energy please, to 6 you say what’s the first sound, to 7 you say what is the second word, could you say it slower, ok where is the stress, to 8 you say say it as if you mean it….and so on….. All can be challenged to do one bit more than they are doing. They don’t need you to teach each of those things, they just need the instruction and maybe a little assistance, and the others learn from hearing all this going on. A very rich environment.

Here is what I find works:
Be sparing with explanation
With small bits of connected speech get students to identify just the tonic syllable, ie the syllable on which the main meaning rests and on which the main intonation movement seems to take place (even if the movement is spread across others as well). Never mind which way the movement is going.
Get them to identify other stresses and unstresses.
Get them to join the words smoothly.
Get them to imagine and visualise the feeling they want to express
And rehearse it in their mind’s inner voice
Then say it aloud. And be struck by any difference between what they rehearsed in the inner voice and what they said aloud.
Try it again
In summary, my cardinal rule: spot the tonic and play with it. The rest follows.
 Have fun!

Teaching the future in the past

  • I was going to call you, but I couldn’t find a phone.
  • I meant/intended to call you, but I couldn’t find a phone.
  • Originally, I was leaving at 7pm, but because of fog I only left at 11pm
  • In the above sentences the future is intended but doesn’t occur.
  • Concept Questions: Did I intend to call you? (Yes).  Did I actually call you? (No).  Why not? (I couldn’t find a phone)
  • Or: When did I expect to leave? (7am).  When did I actually leave? (At 11).  Why was I delayed? (Because of fog)
  • She was born in 1926 as Norma Jean Baker, and would later become Marilyn Monroe.
  • Originally an unknown model, she was to become a 20th century icon.
  • The above sentences show that the future event is not intended/planned, but occurs nevertheless – sometimes this may give the impression of the event being destined to happen.
  • Concept questions: Was she famous when she was born? (No). Was she expected to become famous? (No).  But, did she become famous later? (Yes)
  • My itinerary said that my flight was to leave/would leave at 7am
  • The above sentence is essentially indirect speech, reporting a future form.
  • Concept questions:  When did I expect to leave? (7am).  When did I actually leave? (Don’t know, could have been at 7am or later or before).
  • Form:
  • The past form of going to (do) refers to the intended future, and the but clause explains why this didn’t happen as intended. (I was going to call you but.…)
  • Some past simple+infinitive constructions also express future in the past. (I meant to call you but…)
  • would represents the past version of will (and would later become)
  • The past of be+infinitive (was/were to do) expresses future in the past (she was to become..)
  • reported future – is to becomes was to, will becomes would (flight was to /would leave…..)
  • The past continuous is also used to express and intended/arranged future. Again the but clause explains why it didn’t happen. (originally I was leaving at 7pm but…..)

Suggested activities to practise the structure:

Excuses, Excuses: In open class, brainstorm a list of household chores (eg the ironing, the washing, hoovering etc).  Then put the learners into pairs.  They take it in turns to choose a chore (e.g. ‘you said you were going to do the ironing’) and reply with an excuse (e.g. ‘I was going to do it but there was a power failure).  For more practice, repeat in a different context (at school, at the office, in a restaurant etc).

It didn’t happen: Make a 6×6 grid on the board and write prompts into each square (e.g. Christina/look for new job/last year). Split the class into two teams.  Throw a die twice to determine the square (the first throw is for across, the second is for down).  Team A has to make a sentence from the corresponding prompt (e.g. Wasn’t Christina going to look for a new job last year?) and Team B has to explain why this didn’t happen (e.g. well, she was going to but then she got a pay rise.)  Then the teams swap roles.  If the same square is hit again later in the activity, Team B should try to think of another explanantion.

Famous Lives: Go to and choose a few famous people that everyone will know.  You will need to note some key events in their lives with dates.  Make a bio-card of these notes for each personality alongside a photo of the famous person.  Give three bio-cards to each group of learners, who then expand the notes into mini-biographies of their personalities using would and was to be/become/win/star etc.  then each group can present their famous lives to the whole class.

Chain Story: Make groups of 4 learners.  Give each group one or two starting sentences (e.g. last Sunday I decided to study all day.  I was going to get up early but….) Student A has to complete the first prompt and hand over a new prompt using was going to /intended to/meant to to Student B who completes it and hands over to Student  C etc.  Try to get the story to go around in a circle at least twice.  Then compare the stories from each group.

Thank you teacher John Potts, Zurich