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Teaching on your CELTA course




Unless you are unusual and/or have a background in teaching, you are bound to be apprehensive when faced with teaching on the course, especially if it is your first lesson.

Help is at hand.



On most CELTA courses, especially at the beginning, you will be given the materials (or a choice of materials) that you will use in your first teaching slots.  Usually, this will be a selection from a well known coursebook or supplementary resource.
Later in the course, this support will be gradually withdrawn and you will be encouraged to select or design your own materials (probably both).

Now you need to ask two questions:

What sort of lesson is this?
This is usually straightforward.  The focus will be on a structure (i.e. a piece of grammar), lexis (i.e., some new vocabulary) or a skill (i.e., listening, speaking, reading or writing).  Usually, for your first lesson, it will be grammar or lexis.
What is / are the objective(s)?
This may already be given to you but the key idea is to decide what the learners will be able to do at the end of the teaching slot that they couldn't do at the beginning.  If you haven't been given an objective, try to write it out in terms such as: By the end of this, ...
    ... the learners will be better able to talk about actions or states in progress in the past using, e.g., It was raining when I arrived.
    ... the learners will be able to recognise that the topic of a paragraph is usually stated in the first sentence and know to read it with the most attention.
    ... the learners will be able to talk about a range of hobbies and say why they enjoy them.
    ... the learners will be able to carry out a simple transaction concerning booking a hotel room, a restaurant table and arranging a meeting with a colleague.

and so on.
Make 100% sure that you focus on what the learners will be able to do, not on what you will teach.  Keep this in front of you for the rest of this process and refer to it frequently.


Planning 1: aims, objectives and background

On most CELTA courses, the tutors will provide you with an outline lesson plan in the form of a grid to fill in.  Details will vary but the essentials do not.
There is a fuller guide to lesson planning on this site (new window or tab).

Here's an example, filled in for a lesson on the language of hobbies and pastimes.

Name and dates etc. Your name, the date of the lesson and the number of the teaching practice slot.
Level: A2 Lesson length: 30 minutes Type of lesson: Lexis (pastimes and hobbies)
The learners: The class consists mostly of Spanish speakers with one Italian speaker (who also has good skills in Spanish).
The learners are mostly in their 20s (with one exception) and are cooperative and well motivated.  They are particularly keen to increase their vocabulary and enjoy speaking practice so this lesson will appeal to them.

Add anything else you feel is relevant to the lesson and the materials here.
Lesson aims: Main aim: to increase the learners' knowledge of the lexis of pastimes and hobbies
Secondary aim: to give speaking practice in asking for and giving information about favourite pastimes and hobbies
Outcomes: By the end of the lesson, the learners will be able to talk about a range of hobbies and say why they enjoy them using acceptable pronunciation of the target items and verbs such as like, love, be fond of + -ing form (gerund).
Materials: List the materials you have been given and any others that you have prepared and attach copies to the plan you give to your tutor.  Make sure you say where they come from, i.e., reference them.

Depending on your centre's idiosyncrasies, there may be other sections on the plan, such as personal aims and so on that you need to fill in.


Analysing the targets

It is, or should be, fully obvious that you can't teach what you don't understand.  This is true whether the target is a skills, a system of the language or a mixture of both.

Here are some ideas about where to look and what to look for.

For a systems lesson
In a lesson of this sort, you will probably be looking at a grammar point and/or lexis.  In the example we have used above, the lexis will include items referring to pastimes and hobbies such as cinema, film, chess, crosswords, bird watching, reading, judo, sport etc. and the grammar will focus on, e.g., the present simple tense followed by the -ing form (here a gerund, arguably) in sentences such as I like going fishing, I enjoy windsurfing, I love playing tennis, I'm really fond of reading history etc.
Grammar and structure: Make sure, if you are given a section of a coursebook to teach, that you have looked carefully at what it says in the teacher's book and have consulted a grammar book, or this site, for an understanding of the language form.
Lexis: Consider how you will explain the lexis, its word class and its pronunciation.  Look, too, at collocation (words which routinely occur together) and make sure you focus on, e.g., go + fishing, do + judo, play + chess etc.
For more help, look at the A-Z index of topics and use the search facility on this site.
For a skills lesson
You need to understand the basics of the skill you are teaching in general as well as knowing what the subskill is.  For more help here, go to the guides to understanding and teaching the skills in the initial plus training section of this site.



Planning 2: procedures and lesson shape

Most CELTA courses will not provide you with a stage-by-stage set of procedures to follow, although many will suggest something, especially at the beginning.
How you get from the materials to the objectives is, therefore, mostly up to you.

At this stage in your training, you don't need to be too innovative and exciting in terms of the procedures but you do need an overall shape for your lesson.

You can take two routes:

Route 1: Present, Practise, Produce
This is the most familiar and popular shape to a lesson so is probably the preferred option, particularly for your first teaching slot.  It looks like this:
Route 2: Test, Teach, Test
This is slightly less common but useful especially when you are not sure of the learners' abilities in the target area(s).  It looks like this:

There is a fuller guide to structuring lessons that you might like to look at now (new window or tab).

nuts and bolts

Planning 3: The nuts and bolts – tasks and activities

This is not the time to cover all the possible types of tasks and activities you can insert into the lesson to bridge the gap between the materials and the objectives they are used to achieve.
At the beginning, most CELTA courses will provide you with a stage-by-stage set of procedures to follow, but this support will gradually be withdrawn as you become more familiar with the possibilities and the purposes of tasks and activities.

There are two guides on this site that are particularly helpful in selecting and designing tasks and activities when planning a lesson.  Both guides will open in a new window or tab:

  1. The guide to activity types.  This guide covers the concepts of three kinds of activity:
    • awareness-raising activities
    • skills-getting activities
    • skills-using activities
  2. The guide to task types focuses on specific task types and covers, with examples:
    • matching tasks
    • gap-fill tasks
    • role-play tasks
    • skeleton tasks
    • listing and prioritising tasks
    • discussion and debate tasks
    • transformation and transfer tasks
    • information and information-gap tasks

Following those two guides carefully at the start of a CELTA course will pay dividends because they help you to understand what classroom tasks are for and how to select and design them to meet objectives.


Teaching the lesson

Here you are on your own.  It's your lesson and yours to deliver in the most effective way you can.  Good lessons are:

  • Engaging: i.e., focus on something of interest and contain motivating tasks and activities
  • Challenging: i.e., giving the learners a sense that they have achieved something they couldn't have done at the beginning
  • Clear: i.e., the learners will know what they have learned, understood the points and have some kind of record to take away

Keep these three points in mind as you plan and teach.

Whichever structure you have settled on for your lesson, the following will apply.

Don't be a stranger!
Smile, be approachable and start with something about yourself.  Make sure the learners know your name, where you come from and something personally relevant to the lesson.  What are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
Be clear!
Make sure you use language which is comprehensible for these learners as well as being concise and clear when you explain and give instructions.  Check that you have been understood.
Do not be tempted to think that pidgin English is easier to understand than natural (though suitably slower) production.  It isn't:
What do you enjoy doing at the weekends?
is clearer and provides a better model than:
What you like ... weekends ... what you do?
For more, see the guide to being clear (new window or tab).
Be orderly!
All lessons need some form of introduction so that the learners are aware of the topic and what they will achieve.  An introduction serves two purposes:
    a) it allows the students to engage with what will follow and use their own resources to help in achieving the objectives.
    b) it does something called activating a schema (plural schemata) which means that the learners are able to draw on their knowledge of the world to understand the language.  In our example, all the learners will be aware of what things like chess, judo, windsurfing etc. are (but they may not know how to say them in English) and all the learners will be familiar with the idea of expressing to others what they like and don't like.
You planned carefully bearing in mind the need to be logical and purposeful in what you do.  Don't suddenly depart from the plan and bring in confusing and unnecessary stages.  Each stage should build on what came before.
Equally, if something is taking longer because the learners need a bit more time to get it right, do not be afraid to allow that time.  If it's important, then the next stage will depend on it.
Keep your eye on the clock!
Nobody expects your timing to be perfect at this stage of the course (or, probably, ever) but don't allow the time to slip by when you should be getting on to the next stage.
Be firm, loud and assertive about stopping people or time limiting tasks by saying, e.g.:
    OK!  That's fine.  Please stop now.
    Right!  Stop and we'll move on now.
Group learners appropriately
There is a guide to how to do that on this site (new tab or window).  Never be afraid to take the time to make sure that the way people are sitting or standing helps rather than hinders them.  Sitting three or four in a row, for example, does not allow people to discuss anything or work together on a task.
Forget the notes
no notes
There is a temptation for all teachers when they are being observed to rely on a blow-by-blow lesson plan to which they can refer as the lesson goes on.
Most people will have a set of brief notes (not the full plan) available as a reassurance.  Try not to need it.
There are five good reasons for avoiding this:
  1. It distracts you.
  2. It encumbers you with a piece of paper in your hand or it means you have to keep returning to your desk / table to check the notes.
  3. It gives the impression that you are reading from a script and that reduces your learners' confidence.  Learners expect their teachers to be knowledgeable and constantly referring to notes creates a credibility gap.
  4. It implies that you haven't properly prepared and thought through the plan.
  5. While you are checking your lesson plan notes, you lose contact with the class and you can't see what's happening.
You need to learn to think of your lesson as a narrative and be able to remember exactly what to do and when to do it.

Here's how to do that by visualising the lesson:
  1. Sit down with your plan and read through the procedure.  Then put it out of sight and see if you can recite the stages of the lesson and what happens at each stage.  Think of it as a narrative rather than a set of stages and it'll be easier to recall the sequence of events.
    If you can't, read and re-read the procedure until you can do this easily.
  2. Now, shut your eyes and imagine what you will say.  Think about:
    • how you will begin
    • how you will set the scene
    • how you will present your target
    • how you will start the first activity
    • how you will stop the activity
    • how you will get and give feedback
    • how you will signal that activities are finished and you are moving on
  3. Now, find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie and, with your eyes closed, visualise the whole lesson from start to finish.  In particular focus on:
    1. what you will say
    2. where you will be in the room
    3. what you will be doing
    4. what the learners will be doing
There is a fuller version of this little activity (new tab) in the Delta section of this site.  Whether you are doing CELTA, Delta or no course at all the principles are the same.
There is also a guide to using visualisation in the classroom (in the in-service section but not too technical).


Being observed and assessed

In most jobs, people are observed all the time.  If you go into a shop, you are observing the behaviour of the person who serves you, if you take a cab or a bus, you are observing the driver's skill, if you are reporting a crime or being arrested, you are observing the police officer's reactions and so on.
Teaching on a training course is slightly different in that you are being observed (by your students and peers) but are also being assessed (by the tutors).

It is easy to say this but the most important thing to remember is that your focus should be on the learners, not yourself or your observers.  Try to ignore them and, when you are observing colleagues, make sure you are immobile, silent and fully ignorable yourself.
Avoid, whenever possible, making eye contact with anyone in the room except the learners.  They are the most important people.


Dealing with feedback

Feedback is, of course, valuable but some comments are more valuable than others.  Don't simply believe what you hear, especially from your peers, but think critically about what has been said.
Before the feedback
Make sure you have thought carefully about the teaching you did considering both the good and the bad points and the reasons for them.  What effect did these issues have on the learning that took place?
During feedback
Listen and take notes but, at this stage, do not focus on rebutting any criticisms.  In other words, do not be thinking
    Yes, but ...
but rather
    OK.  That's a point worth thinking about.
After feedback and before you teach again
Re-write your notes and prioritise what you see as the most important strengths and weaknesses.  Address the weaknesses and build on the strengths.


More help

On this site, you will find:  
A guide to meeting the CELTA teaching criteria This is Syllabus area 5 of the CELTA scheme
Materials for teachers for help with designing lessons and tasks, including a lesson plan with materials for the example lesson focus discussed on this page
The initial plus index These three links will find guides guides to almost all the areas of language and skills that you are likely to meet on a CELTA course.
The A-Z training index
The search page
Lessons and exercises for learners of English where you can get ideas for classroom tasks
TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test) course a complete (and free) course in language and teaching procedures
A lesson-planning visualisation exercise this is the guide in the Delta section which is described above
go to the CELTA index