The teacher and the syllabus

To start this off, because I love my dictionary, let’s look at how the dictionary describes a syllabus:

Syllabus / noun: Programme or outline of course of study, teaching, etc.

That is a pretty good summary of what a syllabus is to be honest. A syllabus is a document that contains the prescribed series of topics for your entire course. My favourite view of anything I look at is SMART which is the view that anything you set out to do should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based. This is my view of what should be contained in any syllabus.

A syllabus should be specific and contain an ordered list of what language items you need to have taught your students by the end of the course. It should be measurable, which is not to say that it should contain the tests you will use but should allow time for you to test the progress of your students and measure that they are absorbing the information contained in the syllabus. It should be attainable. Taking a syllabus for a university level native-English class and trying to apply this syllabus to a beginner EFL class is never going to be attainable. The syllabus needs to be suitable for the time and level of your students. Linked to attainable it should also be realistic. Even if you have a syllabus which is set to the level and time of your students you should be able to realistically be able to achieve the goals of the syllabus with your students. It should be time based with steps throughout. There should be set times within the syllabus by when you need to have reached a certain level. You need these steps in the full timeline to be able to measure the pace of your classes and ensure you are staying on track.

In addition to what is stated above, each school has a different style in which they like the teaching to be done in. In order for the teacher to be able to play their role in ensuring that the syllabus is followed and that they meet the standards of the school there should be a section detailing some of these items. There should at least be a guide telling the teacher the preferred style of the lessons, assessment methods and preferred materials.

There are 8 main items which you will come across in the full syllabus set out in the school you are working at. This is by no means the full list but this summarizes what your lessons within the syllabus will mainly cover:

  • Structural
  • Lexical
  • Situational
  • Topic-based
  • Functional
  • Content-based
  • Skill-based
  • Task-based

I will cover these in much greater detail later because I feel that each of these deserves their own post or at least a greater level of detail after I have given some insight into lesson planning and planning for different classes. For now I want to leave you with something to think about and a question. A lot of teachers look at a syllabus as a hindrance to their teaching and planning, whereas i feel it is the greatest tool to assist a teacher starting out. What are your thoughts?




The roles of a TEFL Teacher


There are many roles that a teacher needs to play in the classroom. So many teachers think that it is perfectly acceptable to walk into the class, stand by the board, drone on about the subject they are teaching and then leave the classroom. I have unfortunately had to deal with many teachers of this nature. It is your responsibility to ensure that you never become that teacher. You need to be flexible enough to change your role in a heartbeat and be ready to fill in to these different roles. Initially I was again going to list these roles without any expansion at this point, but I feel that this is important enough to expand on immediately. The different roles required of a teacher are:

Assessor: A big part of your job is to measure the progress of your students, whether it is by general observation of your students or through written tests. As n assessor you are able to self-assess your teaching and classroom skills and understand whether you are perhaps going too slowly, too fast or if the way you are teaching is suitable for the goals of your students.

Facilitator: In my previous post I mentioned the importance of minimizing the TTT in the class and maximizing the STT. In order to do this sometimes you need to step back and allow your learners to find their way. Your job during this time is to monitor the students progress and ensure they do not fall back in to L1 (native-language) and motivating them to stick to L2 and focus on the work they are busy with.

Planner: You need to commit to planning your lessons effectively and dedicate enough time to the planning and organisation of the activities you intend to complete with your learners. There is never a way to “wing it” in class. You cannot trust your memory. Planning and having the right materials ready will ensure that your lessons run smoothly.

Manager: You need to ensure that you have put sufficient effort in to planning your lessons as mentioned above. In addition to planning you need to manage yourself and your time, ensuring that you stick to your lesson plan and the activities you have laid out for a particular class. This ties in to the next point. You need to ensure that you give out clear and effective instructions for each activity.

Guide:  There will always be a time where our management of our plan or instructions is somewhat lacking. It will happen to everyone at some point. As a guide your job is to assist while facilitating and ensure that we provide clearer instructions to our learners who seem slightly confused or unsure during our planned activities.

Materials Creator: While you will more than likely be provided with a course book and guide to assist in your teaching, sometimes these will be lacking and will not keep our learners interested. At times you will need to build on what is in the course work and create your own materials which will be more applicable and often better for your lesson than what the course book has to offer.

Monitor: Sometimes our assessments can simply be done through observations. As a monitor we are able to watch our students and understand what we as teachers have not done well as well as understand what our students are doing well or not doing well at. In this way we can provide feedback at a later stage as well as self-assess and correct our own shortcomings or successes.

Motivator: One of our biggest roles in the classroom is to keep our students wanting to learn. If we fail at this we have failed at everything else because a student who does not want to learn will not learn 90% of the time. We need to keep both ourselves and our students motivated throughout each lesson. My experience in earlier experience as a trainer has taught me that the later it is in the day the more difficult this is going to be because students become tired and strained as the day goes on.

Controller: As a manager you need to manage your own time and plan for the classroom. As a controller you are also responsible for controlling that your students stick to the lesson and that their minds don’t wonder off or allow them to be distracted.

I have read so many times that we won’t always need to use all of these skills in the classroom in one lesson but I beg to differ. I feel that in order to be successful in every lesson you set out to do you need to ensure that you step in to each role each time and deliver 110% in each lesson. I like to think of training and teaching as a once off experience every time. Imagine that this is the only time you will get to teach this to a student and that whatever they learn right now and whatever they impression is that they get now is the first and last they will get from you. This idea helps me to motivate myself to work that much harder on each thing I work on. While I realise I have not yet taught a classroom I have had enough experience delivering training to understand what can and will work and what will cause me to fail.

A look at whats to come.

I want to give you a preview of what is coming over the next few weeks of my posts. This has a dual purpose. I’d like to get you excited about what you are going to be reading here but I’d also like to make sure that I am held accountable to getting the content out in the order that I have said I would. I have started some blog before and gotten lost in the content and jumped around too much. This has eventually led me to getting so confused about the direction of my blog that I eventually give up and stop writing. Because this is a topic i am so passionate about I want to make sure that I stick to it and stick to the schedule and topics I have set for myself. So here it is, the list of what I intend to cover over the next few weeks:

  • The different roles a teacher plays
  • The teacher and their role in the Syllabus
  • A look at the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
  • Practical tips for teaching
  • How to keep your learners motivated
  • Different learning styles and strategies
  • Language Elements Part 1
  • Language Elements Part 2
  • Language Functions and Analysis
  • Let’s take a look at Grammar
  • How do we present Grammar

For those of you who have completed any kind of TEFL / TESOL course you will notice that this pretty much follows the same order of the modules within a TEFL course. The reason I am doing this is because I personally feel that while any TEFL course provides a good foundation for learning how to become a TEFL teacher they do not go in to detail enough. There is a serious gap in learning these different aspects and learning them practically. I’ll use a good example of looking at a Verb. I have seen the content of three or four different TEFL courses and while all of them tell you what a verb is, and then later tell you how to create a lesson plan they never quite give concrete examples of teaching a verb lesson.

Please be prepared that you will also find the same in the topics above. I want to lay a foundation for anyone reading this in very much the same way that it is done in a TEFL course with some expansion on the content. My goal in the end is that I lay down a solid foundation for you to reference and then expand at the end with practical ways to pull it all together.

Please subscribe and comment as much as possible letting me know if you feel that I am going off track or if I am not delivering what you expect. This is very much a place to share opinions, learn and discuss together what you think is the good, the bad and the ugly of the content within the TEFL universe.

Are you a teacher?

I want to start off by covering different important points of being a teacher.  Many people look at teaching English in a TEFL / TESOL environment as just another job. The reality is that it will never be “Just a job.” Your responsibility as a teacher far extends those of simply punching in and out and going through the motions. During your time in class you are solely responsible for the future of those you are educating. You need to put your heart and soul into what you are doing and ensure that your students leave with what they paid for, expected and then some.

So what are the characteristics of a teacher that is competent and effective? Firstly and definitely most important is that a teacher needs to be competent and follow the code of practice for teachers. You need to ensure that you have a belief in the worth, individuality and dignity of each of your students. A commitment to truth , excellence and democratic principles and above all a dedication to the principal of equal opportunities for all your students.

There are 12 values or ideals that are critical to the success of any teacher and these must be strictly adhered to.  These values or ideals are honesty, integrity, dignity, diversity, respect, trust, responsibility, accountability, care, protection, fairness and justice. Without these values we would never be able to provide the students what they deserve.

The points i have highlighted above are what I feel are the most important factors to consider when becoming a TEFL teacher but they are far from being the only things that need to be considered. Remember that your learners need to come in to the class and want to learn. Therefore it is essential that you build a good rapport with your students and that they trust you at all times. You need to foster an environment that encourages a constructive learning experience.

Your students are there to learn which means you need to have a clear understanding that their level of English is most likely nowhere near yours. This means that you always need to give clear instructions and lower your level of English to meet theirs. You also need to factor this in and factor in that your students have different personalities. This is important when correcting students. I will cover this in great detail later but you need to consider that correcting the shy student in your class in front of everyone else may simply cause the student to close off and no longer participate.

You have a responsibility to ensure that you are always prepared when you go in to a class. You need to ensure that you have a range of suitable material and resources ready that work well with students of different levels. You need to give the learners a sense of progress and adjusting your materials to suit your best student will frustrate those who are not at that level and simply making your lesson to suit the slowest learners in your class will make students at a higher level suffer from boredom and will hinder their desire to learn.

You need to frequently assess the abilities of your students in a fair manor that will ensure that you are successfully helping them progress through their learning.

You need to ensure that you use a wide range of different teaching styles and approaches while teaching at different stages. This will ensure that you keep your students engaged and interested. Above all else your most important role as a teacher is to facilitate and environment that allows for language learning and acquisition both inside and outside of the classroom by reducing Teacher Talking Time (TTT) as much as possible and increase Student Talking Time (STT).

There is so much that I could continue to write about on this topic and my intention is to expand on each of the items I have mentioned above. Telling you that you need to do something is easy enough but if I am not telling you the “How” then it is pointless. So for now I will end this and allow you some time to reflect on what I have said above. Think about the different aspects of what I have mentioned so that when I do expand on them you can compare your thoughts to mine and we can build a discussion on it. I would love nothing more than for someone to come and tell me that they think everything I am saying is wrong and tell me why. Look out for my next post on what different roles you and your students play in the classroom and as always please feel free to leave your comments below.

All those Acronyms!

So I always have this thing in my mind of how, what, when, where to start a blog? I know that it makes most sense to start at the beginning but where exactly is the beginning in this case. When I started my TEFL / TESOL course the first thing that hit me was the sheer number of Acronyms that existed in the course. They are overwhelming to be honest and I thought that I would never get the hang of them. So I figured that a good way to start, seeing as I will most likely be using the acronyms too, would be to highlight what I think are the most commonly used acronyms in the TEFL/TESOL universe.


AAIEP: American Association for Intensive English Program

ACE: Access Certificate in Education

CALL: Computer Assisted Learning

CAT: Computer Adaptive Learning

CBT: Computer Based Test

CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

CELTYL: Certificate in English Language Teaching for Young Learners

CTEB: Certificate in Teaching English for Business

EAP: English for Academic Purposes (This is the preparation learners go through when entering an English high school or university)

ECIS: European Council of International Schools

EFL & ESL: These two acronyms are used interchangeable. English as a Foreign Language is taught in countries where the native tongue is not English (i.e. Thailand, Vietnam) where as English as a Second Language is taught to non-English learners in a country where English is the native language (i.e. USA, UK, South Africa)

ELICOS: English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students (Australian term for EFL)

ELL: English Language Learner

ELT: English Language Teaching

EMT: English Mother Tongue

EOP: English for Occupational Purposes

ESOL: English for Speakers of Other Languages

ESP: English for Specific Purposes (i.e. Business English)

ETS: Educational Testing Service

IATEFL: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language

IELTS: International English Language Testing Service

IBT: Internet Based Test

JALT: Japanese Association of Language Teaching

JET: Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme

L1: This is the learners’ native language or first language

L2: The second language which the learner is trying to master.

PPP: Presentation, Practice, Production (A teaching method which will be widely covered in this blog)

S.L.A: Second Language Acquisition

SST: Student Talking Time

TEFL: Teach English as a Foreign Language

TESL: Teach English as a Second Language

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language

TOEIC: Test of English for International Communication

TTT: Teacher Talking Time

U.S.S.R: Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading


These are just a few of the acronyms that pop to mind right now. I will expand on this list and will be discussing each of these acronyms in future posts. Please let me know if there are any others that pop to mind or that you have seen which you would like me to discuss. I look forward to always hearing your questions and comments and I will endeavour to reply to each and every one as soon as I am able to. This is something I am truly passionate and I cannot wait to begin teaching next year and I look forward to all my future blog posts and sharing this journey with you.