Does writing about TEFL make you a better teacher?

The answer is obvious, but maybe not the one that you are expecting.

Back when I worked in a certain international chain of schools and so was forced to waste time justifying my professional development, it seemed that all the improvements in my ability to prepare and teach good lessons that I could mention were due to the brainstorming, reading and reflection that I did so I could write.

However, now that I’m not writing about TEFL nearly as much, I seem to be undergoing another leap ahead in the quality of my lessons and most of what I was not doing so well before was due to writing about teaching almost as much as doing it.

Looking back, sometimes it was simply spending time on coming up with ideas and writing that I should have spent on actual lesson planning. More often, though, the brainstorming and writing helped me come up with good ideas that had nothing to do with my actual classes, as if I’d researched and written a Part One essay for a Cambridge Diploma lesson and then went straight into teach the lesson without doing the adapting to your own students that is supposed to be the next stage in the process. Then there was the coming up with and trying out “radical” new ideas when what I should have been doing was polishing up my best ideas for this new set of students…

So the obvious answer to the question is…

“It depends”.

If any present or prospective TEFL bloggers are reading, the good news is that reflective blogging is probably the one kind of writing that is almost certain to have overwhelmingly positive effects on your teaching. The bad news is that other kinds of blogging like the “news” and “humour” that often end up here are just pure time wasting that I should feel just as guilty about as spending the time watching cute cats on YouTube…

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ECC may have bought data stolen from owner of Berlitz

According to the newspaper Japan Times, the data on 75,000 high school students that large Japanese language school chain ECC bought might have been among that stolen by someone working at Benesse, owner of the Berlitz and ELS chains, plus the Kaplan schools in Japan.

ECC Linked to Benesse Data Theft

Let the TEFL spy wars begin!

Posted in Berlitz, Eikaiwa | Tagged | Leave a comment

Why my worksheets don’t have numbers

Along with my complete disregard for appearance and even hatred of pointless illustrations, probably the biggest difference between my photocopiable materials and paper-based published ones is how mine almost always use bullet points rather than numbers and letters. Unlike the third big difference which I will mention in my next post, this one is entirely deliberate.

Ever since my TEFL course, it’s always struck me that even a few moments with the students or teacher saying “7 C” and “9B” is completely wasted, and that a page of a notebook that says those kinds of things is a sure sign of something that has been ticked off and dismissed in students’ minds and will never be remembered.

Even if it takes a bit longer, it’s much better for students to say the words that they are matching up, the sentence that they are filling the gap in, etc etc, both when working in pairs and when checking answers as a class. Ditto with the teacher checking answers with exchanges like “Right, and the next one. ‘Am I allowed to dot dot dot’. ‘Is it okay to dot dot dot’. Etc. Which one on the next page does that match up with? That’s right. ‘Do I have your permission to dot dot dot.’ Etc.”

That will inevitably lead to more misunderstandings and the need for things to be repeated, but that means more genuine classroom communication and is therefore a good thing. On top of that, students will say and hear the language more and so hopefully remember is better, and depending on your policy on drilling this might be their only chance to hear the teacher saying the things on the worksheet and have their own pronunciation corrected.

Or so says the man who wrote the worksheets anyway, but perhaps I’m not the best person to judge…

Posted in Photocopiable worksheets | 1 Comment

IELTS Academic review lesson plan with classroom materials


One copy of most of the worksheets below per student

Cut up copies of some of the worksheets below, sometimes one per class but usually one set per group.

One dice by group.

At least one of each type of IELTS Academic Writing Part One task (line graph, table, pie chart, bar chart, map and flow chart) per group

One full reading paper per student, preferably with answer key

One full listening paper per student, preferably with answer key and transcript

Lesson plan with link to materials

  1. IELTS dice game and question brainstorming, ending with exam-style practice with exam script on the last page – 25 minutes
  2. Move onto Speaking Part Two exam-style practice with one of the tasks from the worksheets below – 10 minutes
  3. Analyse and write IELTS Speaking Part Two tasks - just the analysing bit, or could write a task about nature to tie in with the stage below  – 15 minutes
  4. OptionalBrainstorming useful phrases for Speaking Part Two - probably better to do as a class on the board to save time – 10 minutes if done like that
  5. IELTS Speaking Part Two on nature – 10 minutes
  6. IELTS Speaking Part Three typical questions and answers (also starting with questions about nature) – 10 to 30 minutes, depending on what stages you do
  7. Finish that stage by running through possible answers to the difficult questions such as “How important…?”, ending with the one about changes, then brainstorm language for different trends by drawing basic lines on the board – 20 minutes
  8. Optional: IELTS nature vocabulary trends – just describing and agreeing/ disagreeing, no time for guessing game – 10 minutes
  9. Plan then describe an Academic Writing Part One line graph task from an exam practice book like this one – 10 minutes
  10. Optional – A selection of language from Trends and comparing/ contrasting and/ or The language of trends the same or different, stressing the comparing and contrasting parts – 25 minutes
  11. Similarities and differences between IELTS Academic Writing Part One tasks – 20 minutes
  12. Different IELTS Academic Writing Part Two tasks, introductions and lesson plans - just the first worksheet – 15 minutes
  13. IELTS Academic Writing Part Two tips and useful phrases – 15- 20 minutes
  14. IELTS Listening tactics discussion and tips/ Brainstorming language for IELTS Listening/ IELTS Listening tips and useful phrases - 20 to 30 minutes
  15. IELTS Reading tactics discussion and tips - 15 minutes
  16. Optional: IELTS Reading Lesson 1 (exam tips and practice of typical question types, with an IELTS Reading about IELTS Reading) – 25 minutes

All adds up to between three hours ten minutes and four and a half hours, probably (hopefully!) quicker in a one-to one class like the one I will be teaching it with tomorrow…

Loads more IELTS material, including a whole page on first lessons, here.

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My computer corrected me in class!

In one of the schools I work for the computers in the classroom make a strange bing-bong noise when the screensaver starts, one which sounds a lot like the sound that a wrong answer gets in a quiz show. It’s usually just annoying, but this week my computer learned perfect comic timing, going “Bing bong” just after I’d given a somewhat controversial answer when checking statements about IELTS Listening. My completely natural reactioj was to turn to the interactive whiteboard and tell the computer “No, honestly, I swear it’s true!”

As I said to my students after we’d all had our little giggle - Welcome to the future of teaching, it’s only a matter of time till it really happens…

Posted in Interactive whiteboard, Technology | Tagged | 2 Comments

Over 100 IELTS worksheets now easier to find

As part of the continuing reorganisation of my many worksheets pages, have added all the relevant index pages to my main IELTS games/ worksheets page, making it hopefully only two or three clicks from there to materials for just the task or textbook you are looking for.

Posted in IELTS, Photocopiable worksheets | Leave a comment

My policy on graded presentations

Perhaps surprisingly for a nation who are supposed to be shy, the Japanese are quite big on getting each other to stand up and make speeches and whatnot, including in social occasions like company group bonding sessions and goukon group dates. Perhaps for that reason, universities seem to be very fond on getting students to give graded presentations at the end of the course. The results are very mixed, from inspiring and surprisingly good to headslappingly bad, including the inevitable few people who ignore everything that has been covered in class. So this year I’ve decided to add some straightforward rules to the eliciting, error correction, choosing good advice etc of my more TEFLy presentation materials. Would be interested to get people’s feedback, as it’s my first time trying something as anti-CELTAly direct as this:


You will pass the presentation and get a good grade by producing a presentation that has the characteristics below (most important top)

  • Communicating your ideas well (easy to understand, a good clear voice, explaining difficult terms, explaining more when people don’t understand, a logical overall structure, stressing important words, setting out what you’ll say, etc)
  • Content which is new to the audience
  • Content which is interesting to the audience
  • Spending most of the time looking at the audience (not at your notes or PowerPoint)
  • Moving your body (using gestures with specific meanings, moving where you stand, pointing at things on the slides, turning your body towards different parts of the classroom, pointing at people who ask questions, etc)
  • A topic which matches what you were told about suitable topics
  • A topic which is narrow enough to be covered reasonably well in five minutes
  • Stating a concrete and achievable aim
  • Efforts to make it interesting (range of intonation, hook, use of images, etc)
  • Asking at least two questions per day during other people’s presentations (= about one question per four presentations)


  • A range of different support for your points (statistics, quotations, interesting facts, personal experience, diagrams, etc)
  • Simple but effective PowerPoint (minimal text on each slide, the right number of slides, only necessary and effective visuals, little or no ClipArt, little or no animation, etc)
  • Good improvisation (commenting on other presentations, giving further explanation when people don’t seem to understand, etc)
  • Use of longer presentations phrases (for choosing who will ask questions, explaining visuals, ending, etc)
  • Use of original presentations phrases (rather than just reproducing exactly what you learnt in class)
  • A hook which gets the audience’s interest (especially if it does so in a way that makes sure you keep their interest over the length of the presentation)
  • Spreading your eye contact around
  • Avoiding repeating language (from earlier in your presentation and from other people’s)
  • Language which is suitable for the audience, e.g. the right level of formality/ friendliness
  • Suitable use of pauses, to aid comprehension and interest
  • A clear explanation of how the presentation is divided into sections (two to four main sections, plus an introduction and summary/ conclusion)


Also highly recommended:

  • Spend some time standing on the opposite side of the screen
  • Notice (from body language etc) when people aren’t understanding or aren’t interested and respond effectively
  • Mention previous presentations
  • Limit questions to the audience to rhetorical questions (clearly no response needed) and surveying the audience (clearly response needed such as raising their hands)
  • Print out your PowerPoint and look at that rather than the screen while speaking (except when pointing at the screen)

You will lose marks or fail the presentation part of the course for doing many of these things (most important top):

  • Preparing a script rather than notes (no full sentences are allowed in your notes or PowerPoint – the teacher will check!)
  • Memorising a whole script and reproducing it word for word from memory (as this is a presentation not a speech, and this always makes you difficult or impossible to understand)
  • Being difficult to understand (all difficult language and concepts should be explained – in English – as you use them).
  • Translating rather than explaining (no use of Japanese at all is allowed).
  • Obviously not having rehearsed your presentation.
  • Simple errors which you could have easily avoided like spelling mistakes on PPT.
  • Too much on PowerPoint slides, especially text written as full sentences, irrelevant data and anything which is too small to see properly.
  • Repeating the same few simple phrases (“Any questions?” “Any questions?” etc)
  • A presentation and/ or language which isn’t suitable for this audience (however suitable it might have been for another audience)
  • A presentation topic which isn’t related to what kind of topic you were told to pick
  • Being under three minutes or over about seven minutes (please time yourself when you are practising)
  • Spending most of the time looking at your presentation notes or the PowerPoint rather than the audience.
  • Not being able to answer questions which were obviously going to be asked by someone (please prepare for the Q&A by predicting likely questions and thinking about your answers)


  • Using the same starting and ending phrases as everyone who presented before you.
  • Using phrases that you learnt in ways that don’t match the situation (e.g. saying “Can I have your attention please?” when the audience is already quiet or “Thanks for coming to my presentation” – which is not why your classmates are there!)
  • Unnecessary non-English text, on graphs etc


You won’t lose marks for:

  • Being nervous (if it isn’t because of lack of preparation or insufficient practice)
  • Needing thinking time (when answering questions etc, as long as you aren’t silent)
  • Having to correct yourself (as long as it is only when what you said might be misunderstood – don’t correct other language mistakes)
  • Making mistakes when attempting to use complex language such as longer presentations phrases
  • Grammar mistakes (apart from really obvious ones on your PowerPoint)


  • Needing to explain something again a different way
  • Going off topic (as long as it is relevant)
  • Not being able to answer questions that you couldn’t have predicted would be asked
  • A light-hearted and informal tone such as being ironic and using jokes (as long as the topic and delivery are suitable for this audience of your classmates)
  • Technical problems
  • Not getting many questions (as long as you make an effort to elicit more)
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How students can improve their fluency

… including things that they can do while and just before speaking, things that they can do while studying on their own, and things they can do with a teacher or conversation partner:

57 ways to improve spoken fluency

I’d imagine it’s at least as useful as my previous top article, but as I said in my post on the topic, you really can’t predict the popularity of such things…

Posted in Speaking | 1 Comment

Games/ worksheets for 47 grammar points now easier to find

Have begun the reorganisation mentioned in my last post, making sure you don’t have to open and then close so many windows to get at the worksheets you are after, starting by adding all the grammar sub-menus to the main grammar page:

Grammar games/ worksheets

I’ve also added all the relevant business grammar classroom handouts to the relevant general grammar pages (alongside their own biz grammar index page).

Feedback on this big reorganisation in this or the last post please!

Posted in Grammar games, Photocopiable worksheets | 1 Comment

How can I make it easier to find worksheets on TEFLtastic?

I actually saw someone navigating my worksheet pages for the first time about three months ago, and was quite shocked by how many windows they had opened by the time they actually found what they wanted (even with me looking over their shoulder and helping them). I’ve since had similar feedback from a couple of people I know (and so are not as unnecessarily polite as those of you who I don’t).

I still can’t decide between having a system of opening a new window when you click on a link (with the screen messiness that can lead to) and the window you are on jumping to the next page you click on (meaning countless jumping backwards and forwards if you can’t decide which of, say, three worksheets you most like the choice of). I also don’t know if it’s better to have longer pages (e.g. all FCE Use of English worksheets on one page) or very specific pages (just Use of English Part One). However, I have decided that listing all sub-index pages on each index page is probably a good idea, and will start on that today.

Any feedback on that idea or other suggestions on making it easier to find stuff here?

In the meantime, here are some tips for finding stuff:

- If you know what worksheet you are looking for, just Google it, maybe adding words like “TEFLtastic”, “Alex Case” or “” if it’s one of mine

- If that doesn’t work, try Googling a line from the worksheet with speech marks around it, or doing the same thing in the TEFLtastic search box

- If it’s an index page you are looking for rather than a specific worksheet, try “games and worksheets” after the name of the language point, section of the exam, textbook unit etc you are looking for

- If you have no idea of the name of what you are looking for just the category it probably belongs to, use the dropdown menus above, not clicking until you reach what you are looking for, or at least a relevant index page

- If you have even less idea of what it might be, try clicking on “Worksheets” above.

Posted in Teaching English as a Foreign Language | 1 Comment