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CELTA Syllabus
Topic 5: Developing teaching skills and professionalism

Meeting the CELTA teaching criteria

and some things to avoid

Most of the areas in this topic are covered in practice rather than theory by people more experienced than you watching your teaching and giving you helpful criticism, advice and training.
Sooner or later, somebody has to see you teach.

The following assumes that you are about to start a CELTA course or are following one right now (in which case, it is slightly surprising you have time to read this).
It also assumes that you are not an experienced teacher of languages.  You may have experience of teaching other subjects but that doesn't really count.

This is a crucial area and a long guide.  If you are actually doing a CELTA course, you'll need to be selective.  If you are preparing for one, take it a bit at a time.
Use it in two ways:

  1. Before you start a CELTA course.  This will prepare you well and may even help you avoid common pitfalls (or at least recognise which one you've dropped into).
  2. On a CELTA course.  If you have been criticised for failing to meet one or more criteria, this is a good place to come to see what went wrong and put it right now.  For that, pick your area.

There are lots of links in what follows to other guides and areas of this site.  That may seem a bit intimidating but many are repeated (because they apply to more than one area) and you should not try to do everything at once.  Do what you can handle now (or what seems most pressing) and come back when you have a bit more space.

This is section 5 of the CELTA criteria and it looks like this.
Click on the outside roundels to go to that section.  (Click on top to return.)

topic 5

To help a little with teaching skills, there is a short CELTA teaching course on this site which will explain some of the simpler nuts and bolts of teaching.
Click here to go there (new tab).


Organisation of the classroom


There are two targets in this part of the syllabus.  You need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. arrange the physical features of the classroom to suit the learners and the type of lesson, and ensure safety regulations are taken into account This is not as simple as it looks.
You need to ensure that the learners are grouped or arranged in a way which helps rather than hinders and that requires a bit of planning.
Safety regulations will vary from institution to institution so the guide can't cover that (but you must bear them in mind).
Banana skins:
Learners making their own decisions about where to sit or learners disengaging from an activity because they can't see or hear their partners are both signs that you haven't done this.
The guide to classroom organisation
b. set up and manage whole class work, pair and group work and individual work as appropriate There are two parts:
set up – quickly, efficiently and with minimum fuss
manage – keeping people on track without being dominant and intervening at the wrong times
Banana skins:
Learners ignoring an instruction to work in pairs or alone shows that the set-up was not clear or the grouping was inappropriate.
Intervening too frequently and interrupting learners unnecessarily are signs that you didn't set the activity up clearly or that you are over-managing.  Observing and noting issues are not passive activities.
The guide to being clear

The guide to grouping learners



Classroom presence and control


There's only one area to demonstrate here but we have split it into two parts.
You need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. establish and maintain a good rapport with learners at all times First of all, think of 3 things that aid the establishment of a good rapport with people you know.  Then click here for a few classroom-specific suggestions. Banana skins:
Failing to nominate by name (or, worse, not knowing people's names) may allow some to dominate and some to be left out.
Appearing distant and unfriendly (because you are nervous, perhaps), will negatively affect the atmosphere.
Not responding to what learners say as well as how they say it is a sign that you aren't interested in their views.
Asking good questions
and foster a constructive learning atmosphere Again, think of some ideas for making a positive atmosphere and then click here for some suggestions. The guide to grouping learners

The guide to being clear

Teacher roles



A few words about classroom control (aka discipline, by the way)

If you are taking a CELTA course, you will normally be teaching students who have volunteered for free lessons (or pay very little for them).  They will, almost by definition, be adults and be motivated and cooperative.  Discipline and control will not usually be an issue although you may have one or two difficult people to deal with from time to time, usually the silent and reticent or the enthusiastic and dominant.  The advice above will help you deal with them.

In the real world after the CELTA course, you may well find yourself teaching children or the dreaded teenagers and that will present other challenges.
The mistake lots of novice teachers make, especially when they are teaching children or young adults, is to veer too much to one end or the other of the cline from chum to dictator.  There are three issues:

  1. You need to keep some professional distance but still engender a trusting and open relationship.
  2. The atmosphere should be serious but not earnest.
  3. The classroom should be a place where learners are comfortable taking risks.

How can you try to ensure that these three things happen?
Think for a little while, make a few notes in each area and then click here.



Teacher and learner language


There are four parts to this area.  You need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. use your own English language skills and L1 where appropriate to enhance the effectiveness of your teaching
(Reference to using the learners' L1 was added in 2018 and is covered in the guide to Teacher talk.)
This requires you to be on top of the language you are targeting.
You need to make sure that you have analysed it well and can be clear and unambiguous about its use and form.  To do that, search this site for the language item(s) that are the focus of the lesson.
Banana skins:
Having to stop and think too much when asked a question about the target language is a sign that you haven't analysed it thoroughly.
Giving an example which is not typical of the structure / lexis is a sign that you haven't planned properly.
Search the site

The A-Z index

Language guides (to grammar and lexis)

Teacher talk
b. adjust your own use of language to the level of the class The lower the level of the learners, the more critical this is but it is important at all levels that everyone in the room understands you.
Banana skins:
Having frequently to repeat yourself is a sign that you are not being understood.
Learners doing the wrong thing is another.
The guide to being clear
c. give clear instructions You not only need to give clear instructions, you also need to check them to make sure everyone knows exactly what to do.
Banana skin:
Wasting time repairing instructions is a sign that you haven't done this.
d. choose appropriate moments, and appropriate strategies for correcting learners’ language Do the guide to this area focusing particularly on when you should correct and when the learners can correct themselves.  Whenever you correct a learner, make sure that the correction has been understood and that the learner can use an accurate form.
Banana skins:
Accepting false output of the target language because you aren't listening.
Correcting peripheral mistakes that don't affect communication is a sign that you aren't focused.
Checking learning

Mistakes, slips and errors



The use of teaching materials and resources


There are two areas, one of which does not apply to your teaching practice on a CELTA course.  The first most certainly does and you need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. make appropriate use of a range of materials and resources, including digital, in relation to specified aims Note particularly the use of the term in relation to specified aims.
This is, therefore, partly a planning issue and partly a teaching issue to do with how you set up activities so that the learners get the most benefit and how you get and give feedback so the learners and you know how they did.
Note, too, that this criterion contains materials and resources.  If you intend to use technology, make sure you are comfortable with it (practise).
Make sure, too, that your writing on a board or flip chart is legible for everyone in the room (more practice).
Banana skins:
Using a task or activity because it is fun and engaging only and doesn't contribute to your aims.  Activities and tasks should be engaging but they also need a clear purpose.
If learners look confused about why they are doing something, that's a sign that the task either has not been explained properly or is actually not relevant.
The guide to classroom organisation

Checking learning

The guide to lesson planning

Designing your own materials

Authentic materials
b. understand the implications of teaching with limited resources To get a handle on this area, plan a lesson and then think what you would do if you had no technical resources other than a blackboard and a bit of chalk.
How would you compensate for the lack of the items on the left?  Click on the table when you have an answer to each one.
Banana skin:
There's nothing to slip up on here providing you remember that the majority of teachers in the world work in comparatively resource-poor settings.
You may have to one day.
The guide to being clear

The guide to grouping learners



Practical skills for a range of levels


There are two targets in this part of the syllabus.  You need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. work successfully with learners at different levels, using appropriate types of classroom activity to develop learners’ language and skills On all CELTA courses, you will get the chance to work with at least two groups of learners at different levels.
The first place to go is the Common European Framework to see what the levels are and what they mean.
This is the overview:
CEF levels
Some schools and institutions will use the lettering codes and some will use the words.  The same applies to publishers (who are often very imprecise about what they mean).  So, if you pick up some teaching material and find it is designed for Elementary learners, you can equate that, roughly, with Level A2 on the CEF.  The link on the right will supply some more detail and describes what learners can do in the language.
Banana skins:
Not using the CEF can result in your misunderstanding the level of the learners in the group and over- or under-challenging them.
If learners look confused or bored, that's often a sign that the activity is beyond or beneath them.
The Common European Framework

Checking learning

The guide to lesson planning

Designing your own materials

Authentic materials

Presenting language

Some ideas for practice activities

The guide to grouping learners
b. involve learners of different ability levels in the work of the class and enable them to feel a sense of progress In the trade, this is known as differentiation.  It means being able to vary tasks for different levels of ability.  Most of the volunteer groups of students you will be teaching on a CELTA course will be heterogeneous in some respect (in fact, of course, nearly all groups of learners are).
After a little while on the course, you will be able to identify the strongest and weakest students in the class and be able to plan tasks accordingly.  How you group learners is something you should consider carefully.
There are two ways to group learners in this respect:
  1. Make groups of strong learners and groups of weak learners separately
  2. Mix strong and weak learners in the same groups
When you have considered the advantages and disadvantages of these two ways, click here.

Banana skin:
If you don't consider the difference in strengths of learners you will risk boring or losing people.  Make sure the level of challenge starts low and rises gently.



The monitoring and evaluation of learning


There are three parts to this area.  You need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. monitor learner behaviours in class time and respond appropriately This requires you to listen carefully and know what's being said in the classroom.
Responding appropriately also means responding to the content of what people say as well as the form.
Banana skins:
Standing out of a key activity and being unable to know what learners are saying is a sign that you aren't being a teacher.
Over intervening in activities and interrupting your learners is a sign that you are being insensitive to their need for space to learn and autonomy.

Checking learning

Asking good questions

Teacher talk
b. incorporate into your lessons some basic assessment procedures There has to be a phase in your teaching where you can assess how well the learners are progressing.
Banana skins:
If you and your learners can't say what they have learned and how well at the end of your teaching slot, you haven't checked learning and assessed progress.
If you don't provide a phase in which the learners have to deploy the language or skill in a controlled and checkable way, you haven't done this.
The guide to structuring lessons

The guide to lesson planning

A step-by-step guide to planning

Checking learning

c. make planning decisions on the basis of assessment You need to be able to plan your teaching so that you provide enough, but not too much, challenge.  To do that, you need to know where the learners are now.
Banana skins:
Teaching language the class already know is a sign of poor assessment and planning.
Teaching language which is so far over the learners' heads that they get discouraged and switch off is another one.
Teaching learners to use a skill they already have is yet another.



Evaluation of the teaching / learning process


There are four parts to this area.  You need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. make balanced and constructive self-appraisal of your own teaching Note balanced and constructive.  You need to be honest with yourself here.  See the list below in section d. for issues to consider.
Banana skins:
Focusing on what went wrong only or focusing only on strengths are both equally counterproductive.  The first leads to not building on strengths, the second leads to complacency.
One of the CELTA written assignments is called
Lessons from the classroom
There is a guide to it here.

CELTA self-assessment worksheet

Teacher development (index)

Teacher development (gauging progress)

The expert teacher
b. respond appropriately to feedback from tutors, peers and learners Everyone on a CELTA course will be criticised so be prepared.  If you get all huffy and try to justify everything you do with a Yes, but ... you are missing the point.
Banana skins:
Feeling that you are being 'got at' unfairly is probably a sign that you are not seriously considering criticism and taking it on board.
c. assess your own strengths and development needs, make practical use of that assessment and set goals and targets for future development The guide to the assignment on Lessons from the classroom includes a comprehensive checklist of the areas to asses and also gives you some suggestions for how to frame goals for development.  There is a link on the right to a useful self-assessment grid.
There is also a whole section of this site focused on teacher development.
Banana skin:
Not recognising that the CELTA is an initial training course rather than a fully professional qualification leads to trouble.  You have a good deal more to learn.
d. make constructive appraisals of the lessons of your colleagues Many find this the most challenging part of this section.  You need to focus on key issues here and consider the following:
  • Did the fact you observed matter?  In other words, did it affect the learning that happened?  If it didn't, ignore it.
  • Does having trouble with technology matter in the long run or will you and all your colleagues get better with practice?
  • Was the teacher in the right part of the room all the time?  What were the consequences of that?
  • Was the teacher taking on the right role at the right time?  What were the consequences of that?
  • Were the learners engaged?  Why?  Why not?
  • Did learning happen?  Could the learners do something at the end of the lesson that they couldn't have done at the beginning?
Banana skins:
If you find that you are focusing on people's slip-ups rather than their behaviour generally, you are probably being unconstructive.
If you don't consider the effect on learning of what you observe, you are not focused on key issues.



Professional development: responsibilities


Professional development: support systems


These two areas are taken together here.  In total, there are three criteria to consider and you need to show that you can:

Syllabus description Guide links (new tab)
a. demonstrate professional responsibility by following any institutional code(s) of practice and implementing institutional requirements including:
– health and safety procedures
– equal opportunities policies
– record keeping and time-keeping requirements
You may be tempted, because you are going to be very busy on the course, to think this is just bureaucratic hoo-hah.
It isn't.  You have two responsibilities as a teacher:
  1. To help people learn
  2. To keep them safe and well treated
There are some external links on the right but you need also to make sure you know what your institution's policies are and you keep to them.
Banana skins:
Very simple things like failing to keep a proper register could, in the event of a fire or emergency, put people's lives at risk.
Not abiding by equal opportunities policies could result in legal action.
Health and safety in schools (children)

An example of a language school's health and safety policy

Example equal opportunities policy
b. understand the limits of your responsibility with regard to the welfare, health, safety and supervision of learners and know when to assume responsibility yourself or refer responsibility, ensuring that it has been assumed by someone else In other words, although everyone is responsible for everyone else's welfare, you need to know who is responsible in the centre where you are taking a course.
Banana skins:
Not knowing who to go to if you recognise that one of your learners has a serious welfare issue is dereliction of duty.
Your centre will have told you about this.
c. in recognition of the initial nature and scope of your training so far, respond appropriately to relevant aspects of professional development by finding out about opportunities for further professional development in teaching English to adults, including:
– appropriate professional associations
– digital resources (added 2018)
– magazines
– journals and publications for teachers entering the field of teaching English language to adults
Where next?
This site has a good deal of material to keep you busy and developing after the CELTA course.  The links on the right are somewhere to start.
You can't do a Delta course until you have had considerable teaching experience but if you are really serious about ELT as a career, you'll have to get a higher qualification to progress.  The Delta is one of these.
Journals and associations are also linked on the right but most countries have their own associations, clubs and journals for English language teachers.  Seek them out.
Banana skin:
Assuming that the CELTA is the end of the training road.
In-service training

Teacher development

The Delta course

The English Language Teaching Journal (for serious stuff)

Modern English Teacher

The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (there are national and regional branches)


The links below will lead you to guides to the other areas of the syllabus and to an overview unpacking what the syllabus means and how it is assessed.

Topic 1 Topic 2 Topic 3 Topic 4 Topic 5 Unpacking The CELTA Index
Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context Language analysis and awareness Language skills Planning and resources for different teaching contexts Developing teaching skills and professionalism Unpacking the syllabus and assessment The index of all the CELTA guides