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Unit 2: Training course content


Whether you are designing a training programme from scratch or designing a programme based on someone else's idea of a syllabus (such as Cambridge Assessment English or Trinity College), you are going to have to come to terms with deciding on the content of your programme.
As a novice trainer it is not usual (although possible) for you to be left to your own devices in this respect but even if the course syllabus is laid down by others, it is still your job to see how the content fits together and addresses the intended outcomes of the programme.



Teacher training is a serious business, although it needn't be gloomy, dull and over-earnest, and, like all serious undertakings, it needs a rationale for its existence.
You should, therefore, be able to tell someone else in accurate and concise terms what your course is for and why it is needed.
The rationale will include at least:

That's the foundation laid.  Now we can start to build the content.


Four types of knowledge

Teacher training programmes are complex animals and we need a way to categorise what they intend to achieve.
Some courses will be severely practical, intent only on providing novice teachers with a set of techniques and procedures to get them through a teaching day.
Some, for example, in-house programmes, may be focused on sharing ideas with other teachers and setting personal development goals.
Others may be more sophisticated and endeavour to link procedures and techniques to principles and theoretical models of language and learning.
Still others will be focused less on the classroom and attempt to provide practising teachers with theoretical knowledge to back up and justify what they already do in the classroom.
Whichever type you are involved in, there are four areas you need to consider.  The mix will vary and some types of knowledge may be prioritised over others but they will all, most probably, be present.


Subject knowledge

There is some doubt on some courses that subject knowledge is treated as thoroughly as other kinds of knowledge but it is still the case that learners expect and sometimes demand that their teachers are masters of the content of the syllabus as well as the practical aspects of teaching.
Some subject knowledge will accordingly be contained in the content of any serious training course unless it may safely be assumed that the participants have already mastered it (as may, for example, be the case with some in-house programmes for well qualified and experienced teachers).
On initial and pre-service training courses it is perilous to assume that ability to speak, write and understand the language is an adequate background for teaching it.  Even on in-service courses, where one might expect a higher level of initial knowledge, there will usually be a need to for some serious language and skills analysis.
This will involve these areas (although they will not all be given equal prominence, of course):

  1. Grammar, phonology, lexis and structure
    Trainees at all levels need to absorb at least some data on:
    1. verbs forms
    2. tense and aspect
    3. syntax
    4. discourse and deixis
    5. morphology
    6. functions and notions
    7. lexical relationships
    8. mood and modality
    9. phonemic knowledge including transcription skills
    10. elements of connected speech including prosodic features
  2. Skills knowledge
    Trainees at all levels need some knowledge of the strategies and subskills concerned with:
    1. Reading
    2. Writing
    3. Speaking
    4. Listening
    5. Combined / integrated skills
  3. General language awareness
    Although not all courses will focus on this area, some will have to, and the area includes:
    1. English as an international lingua franca
    2. The roots of English
    3. Varieties of English
    4. Cultural issues
    5. Differences between English and other languages (typology)
    6. The social context of language use

It's not possible here to determine the relative importance of these areas for any programme on which you may be working but all the areas have to be considered if only to be discarded because they don't match the syllabus, time does not permit or the topic is too advanced or irrelevant.


Methodological knowledge

This is another area where a certain amount of judicious editing and selection is probably wise on almost any programme.  However, it is not possible to select and edit if you don't have a reasonably comprehensive grasp of what the area involves.
It's also important to categorise carefully in this area or everything gets called a method or a methodology and the water is very muddy and undifferentiated.  On this site, distinctions are made between:

but, providing you have some clarity, you can decide on your own categories for these items.
There's more in the guide to refining methodology.

Consideration needs to be given to at least:

  1. The constituents of a methodology
  2. Theories of language: what it is and how it fits together
  3. Theoretical assumptions and assertions about learning (see the next section)
  4. The range of methodologies and methods available currently and in the past
  5. Natural approaches
  6. Humanism
  7. Post-method methodology

Again, the nature of the course, its participants and its aims and objectives will determine what weight, if any, is given to each of the factors in that list.


Psychological knowledge

This is often combined with the last section on many courses or the threads are woven together.  It is, nevertheless, a distinct area for consideration and will include:

  1. Learning theory
  2. Language acquisition theories
  3. Human data processing theories
  4. Learning strategies
  5. Factors affecting learning
  6. Language interference and facilitation
  7. How language is learned
  8. Cognitivism and other theories of mind
  9. The relationship between thought and language

On pre-service and initial courses, you are probably wise not to dwell on this area but for in-service training, it's essential for people to get a grip on the theories which underlie classroom practice.


Procedural knowledge

Pre-service and initial training courses need to place procedural knowledge at the heart of what they do.  Unfortunately, this tends to mean that other areas of knowledge are neglected and participants are left without adequate background understanding to carry their skills forward and build on them in a principled way.
That's not your fault and on some courses, aiming for recognised initial qualifications, there is little you can do to ameliorate the problem but on others you may be able to do something useful to allow people a certain amount of autonomy.

Procedural knowledge will include any or all of the following depending on the level of competence and skill the course is intended to enable in the participants.
The following is in alphabetical order lest you think it's some kind of prioritised list.  It cannot be because all courses are different.

Activity types
Assessment routines
Classroom organisation
Context and text
Error diagnosis
Error correction
Feedback routines
Genre approaches
Grammar teaching
Grouping learners
Learning preferences
Lesson planning
Lexis teaching
Needs analyses
Online teaching
Pronunciation teaching
Task types
Teacher roles
Teacher talk
The zone of proximal development
Using time lines
Using visualisations

It would be simple to add to this list and a good many of the items could be subdivided.


Other skills to consider

In addition to all of the above, as if that weren't enough, we need also to consider training people in:

  1. Teaching for special purposes (English for Business, Academia, Science etc.)
  2. Teaching one to one
  3. Teaching online only
  4. The nature of authenticity
  5. Selecting a course book and supplementary materials
  6. DIY materials
  7. Testing
  8. Resources
  9. Using technology
  10. Project work

and more.


Mythology avoidance

While we are considering the content of training programmes, it is worth taking a little time to consider how myths about the language and the best way to teach it are transmitted and that is usually through some form of training course.
Myths and errors of fact may be profession wide (such as learning styles and left-right-brain differences) or they may be confined to institutions (such as being unable to distinguish style from register).
There is a guide on this site which sets out a range of myths about the language and teaching procedures which considers, for example, the efficacy of drilling, the existence of an affective filter, the evils of teacher talk, the usefulness of group work and much more.
It may be worth a few minutes of your time to see how many unicorns you believe you have seen.
Click here to open the guide in a new tab.


Making the decisions

Faced with such long lists of different elements in each of the three main categories, we need a systematic way to make a principled choice of what to include and what to prioritise.
Unfortunately, ELT Concourse can't do this for you but we can propose a methodology that may help.
It looks like this:

  1. Start from course aims
    • If the aim is procedural competence for pre-service and initial training course participants, focus on procedural matters and introduce background theory tangentially (using something like because it is believed that ...).
    • If the aim is to train in-service teachers to refine and strengthen their teaching repertoire, start the other way round by considering theories and principles and seeing what sorts of classroom procedures and roles they naturally lead to.
    • If the aim is to raise in-house competence and extend the range of practice, start by sharing ideas which can then be used as a basis for discussing whether they match the theoretical and principled approach taken by the organisation as a whole.
  2. Consider time
    • Short courses will only allow a limited range to be covered so prioritise again using the points under 1. and then editing down the lists to the most relevant topics.
    • Longer courses will allow more depth so try to draw threads through the topics that can build up to a mastery of the area from theories of language and learning → major hypotheses about learning → procedures → techniques → classroom solutions.
      For more on this, see the guide to refining methodology (new tab).
  3. Consider the participants
    • Participants who already have some knowledge of teaching and the theories which underlie what they do in the classroom will be more able to take on new ideas and deeper analysis.
    • Teachers who have become routinised in what they do in the classroom may be refreshed by considering new insights from learning and psycholinguistic theories which they can apply to their classrooms to increase variety and engagement.
    • Participants who have never taught before or only very little need a grounding in grammar, structure, lexis and phonology before they can begin to plan and teach.  Focus there first.
    • People with more background will already have a good idea of these matters so aim to extend and deepen their knowledge through research and writing tasks.
  4. Consider the course context
    1. Courses aiming at externally accredited qualifications need to match the content to the syllabus which is imposed from the examining body.  Match the items above to each of the syllabus elements individually, locate any gaps and fill them.  Ignore everything else.
    2. Courses aiming to prepare people only for particular settings need to be very focused so select with care what's appropriate to cover and cover the areas in depth.
    3. Participants in many in-house development courses are quite able to set their own agendas for research and discovery.  They may need some judicious nudging and direction, however.
    4. If the institution has set up a course to enhance the teachers' abilities in specific areas, track them down from the lists and focus on them without forgetting to consider any theoretical background which makes them accessible and consistent with principle.

Here's all that as a handy cut-out-and-keep diagram to have by your side when you plan.




It's time to look in the mirror.

task Self-evaluation Task 1:
Here is a set of questions for you to answer as honestly as you can concerning the three types of knowledge that you will need to be confident handling in training sessions, when you are marking or assessing written work and in meetings or small-group seminars with participants.

Much will depend on the course syllabus, the nature of the participants and the aims of the programme, of course.
If your response to any of the task items is:
    I have no idea at all
then you need to consider:

Make your own responses to the tasks and then click on the eye open to reveal some comments.
(All links open in a new tab.)

I would be happy to lead training sessions and design workshop tasks to address any or all of these issues:
verbs forms
tense and aspect
discourse and deixis
functions and notions
lexical relationships
mood and modality
transcription skills
elements of connected speech
eye open
I would be happy to lead training sessions and design workshop tasks to address all four skills and explain how and why they can be integrated.
eye open
I have a sound knowledge of the differences between English and other languages and am able to integrate this knowledge into many language analysis sessions.
eye open
I would be happy to design and lead a workshop which considers the nature of more than 3 important standard methodologies and lead participants to discovering the theories of language and learning which underlie them.
eye open
I would be happy to explain and demonstrate via a loop input session (see Unit 3), any of the following techniques and procedures:
Feedback routines
Genre approaches
IRF sequences
Lexis teaching
Pronunciation teaching
Questioning techniques
Text exploitation for reading and listening
The zone of proximal development
Total Physical Response
Using images for grammar teaching
Using time lines
Using visualisation
eye open
I would be happy to design and lead a workshop for inexperienced teachers on using a range of physical and electronic teaching aids.
eye open

task Self-evaluation Task 2:
Try a test to see if you can correctly assign things to categories of knowledge.
Click here to start.

If you had trouble with that test, you may like to consider why.
You may also like to follow the guide to refining methodology.