More free online training opportunities for ELT professionals

Given the popularity of my recent post about free online resources for continuing professional development, and the proliferation of fantastic training opportunities out there, I thought this topic probably merited a Part 2. Here are some more ideas for your next training fix. Please don’t hesitate to add more recommendations in the comments!

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Source: Pixabay

TED education talks

You’re no doubt aware of the wealth of information on It can be hard to know where to start when faced with such abundance! If, like me, you’re interested in young learners, then try this compilation of bite-size talks relevant to early childhood education. For teaching teens, why not learn more about the adolescent brain? Or this on nurturing creativity? Or consider these 3 rules to spark learning and curiosity. I could go on …

Online ELT conferences

The International House teachers’ online conference was held this year on May 7th. With two 45-minute plenaries, and over twenty 10-minute mini-talks, there was a lot of interesting content to digest. The slides and recordings are available for anyone to view here (and you can click here for programme details). Though quite badly publicised (I felt) to those of us outside the IH organisation, it was free for everyone to register, so keep an eye out for this next year if you want to tune in for the live sessions.

Software like Adobe Connect is making it easier and easier to drop in to online conferences and fit attendance around other commitments. I was pleased to be able to do this with the pre-conference event day run online by the IATEFL Young Learners SIG in February, which featured thirty short, informative talks. You didn’t have to be an IATEFL member to participate. It’s worth keeping a lookout for these pre-conference events next year. Young learner-focussed events are posted to the website here (and I imagine other SIGs will be running events of their own).

TEFL podcasts

Great if you’ve got time to kill during a commute, or enjoy listening to something while, you know, loading the dishwasher, podcasts are an alternative to sitting in front of a screen for your CPD. There are lots of ELT podcasts available via Twitter – check out @TEFLology, @theTeflShow, @TEFLCommute and @motcast.

More MOOCs

I talked a little about MOOCs in my previous CPD post. Since then, I’ve added more of these to my ever-ambitious To Do list. (As previously noted, they run fairly frequently, so you can often register interest for next time.)

The Education and Development section of the Open University’s website includes lots of interesting-looking free courses about young learners, and also courses on school leadership and applied linguistics which might appeal. I think you can do these at any time. They seem to take between about 8 and 20 hours in total, so are shorter than many MOOCs. Topics include an Introduction to child psychology, Play, learning and the brain and Exploring children’s learning.

The University of Sheffield offer a longer course on Exploring play via FutureLearn (lasting 7 weeks).

Also run by FutureLearn, the 4-week Dyslexia and foreign language teaching course looks useful for ELT teachers and materials developers, too.

Over to you

Have you discovered any online training opportunities worth sharing, or know of any coming up? Have you done any of the courses mentioned above? I’d love to hear about your experiences of this in the comments.

Teaching young learners: What’s hot and what’s not!

Whether you are developing ELT materials, designing a syllabus, training teachers or simply planning your next lesson, it’s good to know which way the wind is blowing. Here’s a brief guide to some of the hottest methodology topics for young learners discussed at conferences and on social media this year, and some thoughts on how they might change teaching practice and classroom materials in the years ahead.

Current buzzwords

  1. Life skills

The WHO, UNICEF and UNESCO have identified 10 core life skills which the children of today need most to thrive. ‘Life skills’ is an umbrella term which encompasses a range of skills it’s particularly important we develop in young learners and teens, including issues like self-awareness, and the ability to deal with stress and emotion, as well as developing cognitive skills. We can break these down to think about:

  • Communication skills such as listening actively and understanding instructions.
  • Interpersonal skills such as leading, interacting with others, working effectively as part of a team, resolving conflict and showing empathy.
  • Personal skills such as managing time, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem-solving and decision-making.


hands-565603_1920 source pixabay
Source: Pixabay


As a consequence of these life skills being identified and widely discussed, we will need to see more focus on high-order thinking skills (HOTS) in materials development, and a shift to more of the kind of interdisciplinary, inquiry-based project work which promotes this.  Learning to collaborate effectively needs to be high on the agenda, and projects lend themselves to this, too.  A more systematic approach to developing student creativity should also be a priority, and it will be interesting to see if and how publishers tackle this. Which brings us to our next point…


  1. Creativity and innovation

The robots are coming! No, seriously – they are! The percentage varies a little by country, but around 30% of jobs are likely to be automated by the early 2030s, according to recent analysis by Price Waterhouse Coopers.

Our current education system, by and large, prepares children to regurgitate information. It’s a system that was developed during the Industrial Revolution when what society really required was an army of fairly homogenous workers to power the economy. In the 21st century, though, the ability to recall facts, follow instructions or even translate proficiently isn’t going to equip students adequately for the demands of a rapidly changing jobs market. The skills students need to develop most are the ones which will give them an edge over the robots. The ability to think creatively tops that list.

Creative thinking includes four key elements:

  • fluency (generating new ideas)
  • flexibility (shifting perspective easily)
  • originality (conceiving of something new)
  • elaboration (building on other ideas)

Creativity, we’re often told, is like a muscle that improves with regular exercise. Perhaps our lesson planning for young learners should be reassessed in the light of this. For example:

  • Are we doing enough to prioritise developing creativity as a learning objective in its own right?
  • Can we build in more open-ended activities with no right or wrong answers?
  • Which creative thinking skills are we working on today?
source pixabay robot-2027195_1280
Source: Pixabay
  1. Social values education

Teaching social values links closely to ‘life skills’, and is gaining a lot of traction in ELT. This topic was taken as theme of the day by the YLT SIG pre-conference event at IATEFL 2017, and we’ve seen that over the last five years or so, the incorporation of a values syllabus has become a standard feature of many primary ELT coursebooks. Whatever we may think of the treatment of values in the coursebooks we know, I suspect few of us would dispute the importance of raising awareness of issues like fairness, justice and empathy. At primary level, teachers are never ‘just’ language teachers, after all, and this is nothing new. I’d argue that the importance of taking a holistic view is becoming more widely acknowledged in English language teaching, though. Publishers, authors and conference presenters are beginning to talk more about meaningful ways of putting values education into practice. One of the most powerful vehicles for these messages, of course, is stories.

(You can read more about social values education, including lots of practical ideas, here.)


And finally …

Buzzing off

Learning styles

This neuromyth is the widely held belief that children learn better when they receive information in their preferred format: auditory, visual or kinaesthetic. In March 2017, thirty top academics wrote an open letter clearly stating the lack of empirical evidence justifying ‘learning styles’ methodology, and urging educationalists to focus on evidence-based practices instead. How long it will take for this change to be reflected in teacher training courses and coursebook publishing remains to be seen.  Trinity College London has removed the reference to learning styles from its TESOL assessment criteria and Cambridge English have pledged to do the same for the CELTA and DELTA syllabus.  We can probably expect a very slow transition away from this approach. While recently conducting research into pre-school courses, for example, I was struck that a majority of international publishers continue to make reference to ‘learning styles’ in their online marketing, since many courses still make prominent claims to cater to a range of learning preferences.

For the full letter debunking ‘learning styles’ methodology, see the link here.


Over to you

What other hot topics for teaching young learners have you picked up on recently? And how do you think we should promote creativity and build in life skills training? How can classroom time and everyday activities be maximised to work on these essential skills?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.






Free online resources for ELT continuing professional development

Everyone likes a freebie.

It won’t have escaped your attention that there is a lot of useful information online for the dedicated ELT professional. All you need is time and an internet connection, and you can keep up with the latest discussions on methodology and industry trends. Whether you’re a teacher, materials writer or publisher, there is a lot of fab, free career-enhancing stuff out there. Training doesn’t have to be expensive. To save you some legwork, I’m going to use this post to summarise some of the highlights I’ve found recently. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope it’s a useful starting point. Feel free to add more recommendations in the comments.

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Photo source: Pixabay

ELT webinars

Many publishers are now running webinars as a way of promoting their products and authors. But what if you’re not available for the live event?

Oxford University Press have a webinar library, where you can view recordings of previous sessions, organised into subcategories and covering a diverse range of topics. You have to create an account, but you don’t have to agree to be bombarded with promotional material.  You can access it here.

And here’s the one for National Geographic, which also looks great.

MOOCs and training courses

ELTjam have just launched their training site, the ELTjam Academy. Using the promo code ‘WHITEINK’, you can do their informative and thought-provoking ‘ELT in the digital age’ course for free. It’s based around a series of videos and accompanying tasks. They say it takes around 3 hours (but allow longer so you can explore the links and scroll through the interesting comments). One particularly nice feature is the Facebook community they’ve created to accompany the course to encourage networking and further discussion. The ‘Dive deeper’ sections with suggestions for further reading are great too.

If you have a bit more time and can dedicate a few hours a week to CPD, MOOCs are a good way of building your knowledge of a particular field, and (for a fee) getting certification to prove it. My experience of the British Council’s MOOC ‘English in Early Childhood: Language Learning and Development’, was wholly positive, for example. The British Council are currently running a course called ‘Understanding Language: Learning and Teaching’, together with the University of Southampton, drawing on their MA in English language teaching course. You can still enrol here.

There’s a list of all the courses on the Future Learn platform relating to teaching here. For many of these MOOCs, even if you miss the ones you really fancy, or haven’t time to participate at the moment, it’s possible to register your interest and receive a notification the next time they run.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to do them all…

Conference recordings, slides and blogs

Couldn’t make it to IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow? Don’t worry, there’s a lot you can still watch. You can see recordings of many of the sessions on the IATEFL site, and the interviews are worth a look, too. Some publishers are making videos of the sessions they sponsored available as well. You can see the ones from Cambridge University Press here.

What else? It’s worth reading the write-ups by conference bloggers. There’s a great summary by Sandy Millin here, for example. And there are slides too, such as these from the ELTjam presentation on creating ELT products with impact.

So much interesting stuff, so little time!


You can see Part 2 of this series on free online training resources here!

Exploring the link between inclusion, engagement and empathy

This blog tackles what I sometimes think of as the elephant in the room in ELT publishing: the importance of considering diversity in materials development, and why we still have some way to go.

There’s a famous quotation by Whoopi Goldberg on the power of equal representation, and how children experience it:

“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on… I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”

She’s talking about seeing African-American actor Nichelle Nichols playing Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek in 1966, which was ground-breaking TV at the time.

More recently, and still on a space theme, 13-year-old Taylor Richardson started crowdfunding after she was inspired by the film ‘Hidden Figures’. The film recounts the story of three African-American NASA scientists, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, whose work made it possible to send astronaut John Glenn into space in 1962.  With the $16,000 she raised, Taylor Richardson gave 100 more girls the opportunity to go to a screening and see the film for themselves.

You see how in both these examples, the initial story makes an impression on a child, who then goes on to make a bigger impact still on others? It’s a virtuous circle, expanding at every stage to reach more people. Let’s hold onto that thought when considering missed opportunities for inclusive content.


Source Pixabay hand-1137978_1280
Source: Pixabay


The question of ELT materials and representation

I’ve recently written a few pieces about diversity in ELT materials. Until now I’ve limited my discussions of representation to the issue of gender. Then I read this rather damning indictment in the Bookseller of the state of children’s literature in the UK . There was one quotation that particularly got to me: “It is still easier to buy a book with a dragon on the cover than it is to find one with a black child.” (Catherine Johnson, children’s author)

So those dragons must be feeling pretty empowered, right?

Many of the arguments about visibility are the same, whether it be a question of gender, race, class, orientation, culture, nationality or disability. Children won’t learn to identify and empathise with what they can’t see represented.  And it seems that at the moment, representing dragons is taking priority, in trade publishing at least.

Exam boards in the UK are regularly criticised for their focus on white male writers of the established literary canon. The debate rages over the relevance of these writers to teenagers at school today. But what about ELT materials, which, unlike the works of John Keats and Charles Dickens, are written with an international 21st century audience in mind, after all?

Skim through a typical ELT coursebook from one of the major publishers and you will undoubtedly find examples of children of a range of ethnicities. And yet …

… How often are the non-white characters the main characters, as opposed to the supporting roles with less to say?

… If you did a breakdown of all the ethnicities shown in a unit, what percentage would be white? How do you think that would that compare to a breakdown of the children using the course internationally?

… What about course book covers?

… How often are the non-white characters in stories, artwork or photos given names?

… When was the last time you saw a mixed race family in an ELT course book?

… How well would these materials stand up against accusations of tokenism?

It’s uncomfortable territory, isn’t it?

Why is it important to address this imbalance?

At Channel 4’s annual diversity lecture in March, British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed spoke about how a lack of diversity on British TV is alienating young people.

“Every time you see yourself in a magazine, on a billboard, on TV, Film, it’s a message that you matter… that you’re valued… If we fail to represent people in our mainstream narratives, they’ll switch off… Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories?”

He’s talking about preventing extremism, specifically, but the point about engagement is broadly true in many ELT contexts. A student who isn’t engaged isn’t learning. Which leads to the question: Who are the heroes in our stories?

We know that the stories we choose to tell make an impression on young learners. Stories can be a powerful vehicle to emphasise our common humanity. It’s a theme taken up by Maya Angelou in an interview she gave Angela Montefinise of the New York Public Library:

“Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else. There may be details that are different, but a human being is a human being.”

B. J. Epstein, a Senior Lecturer in Literature and Public Engagement at the University of East Anglia, writes very convincingly on the way in which books serve as both a mirror and a window, reflecting our current experience and opening us up to new ideas. Like Angelou, she also talks about how experiencing ‘otherness’ through literature, or in our case through educational materials more generally, serves as a way of reducing prejudice and increasing empathy. You can read more here.

The role of the publisher

The Bookseller article above raises the question of risk. Putting non-white characters front and centre is seen as risky by trade publishers who, in an era of tightening purse strings, are less willing to publish and promote inclusive books, sticking instead to “tried and tested classics to stay afloat”.

So what about educational publishers? To what extent are they subject to the same pressures? Do financial concerns influence ELT course book developers at all when it comes to issues of inclusion?

The answer: Probably more than most would like to admit.

By way of example, I can think of a time when the inclusion of a photo of a black child in an international version of a course I was overseeing was hotly debated. An experienced freelance editor felt compelled to replace it on the basis that previous projects she’d worked on had received negative feedback in some markets because of similar content. The photo stayed, but the discussion it prompted was revealing.

Unfortunately, I think many editors would have anecdotes like this.

These projects are often collaborations with local publishers and/or education ministries, so the solution is not necessarily as clear-cut as simply saying that the international publisher should raise awareness among editors, have better checks in place, or put their foot down with co-publishers.

Do publishers have a responsibility to lead the way to more inclusion? I think most of us would say yes, absolutely, but in a highly competitive sales environment, publishers fear anything which might lose them adoptions of a course. And – crucially – a course that doesn’t sell, or loses out on a tender to a more conservative rival, isn’t going to change attitudes, is it? How do we tackle this conundrum? Unsuccessful products are probably not the answer.

So, what would make a difference? More choice in stock photo libraries (and more budget allocated to finding the right stock photos). Pressure from authors. Internal pressure from editors. Editorial training. Solidarity between publishers, pledging to work together to stamp out some of the racism that still runs rampant in parts of the global ELT industry. And above all: pressure from teachers and parents, and the clear expectation that diversity in materials is the norm, in all markets, for all students.

Too much to ask? I’d like to think not.

Ending on a positive …

I’ve heard – second hand – about an encouraging example where a publisher has taken a stand. The team in question resisted pressure from sales colleagues who felt (to their embarrassment) that a Student’s Book cover design which prominently featured a black boy’s face would deter schools from adopting the course in their fairly conservative, predominantly white markets. (It’s shocking, isn’t it, that this was even discussion point? I fear that even a decade later, though, we could be having exactly the same conversation). I’d be curious to know how sales were affected by this decision. More important, of course, is what we’ll never know: the ways in which the many students who saw that cover were influenced by its inclusion.

Materials need to inspire children regardless of background and skin colour. They need to show all students that their lived experience is recognised, and that difference is not to be feared. As Farrah Serroukh, learning programme leader at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education is quoted as saying in the Bookseller article: “It’s not about diversifying; it’s about normalising all realities.”



Changes to the Cambridge YLE tests: Starters, Movers and Flyers

From January 2018, the Cambridge YLE tests are changing. If you are a young learners’ teacher preparing children for these tests, you need to be aware of the differences.

These include:

  • Changes to the word lists
  • Changes to some of the task types, and tweaks to others
  • Changes in the way papers are assessed and results are reported, to be more precise and more closely aligned with the CEFR and main suite exams (Key, Preliminary etc)

You can watch a webinar from Cambridge English outlining the changes in detail and the rationale behind them. You can download the new handbook here, and new sample papers are available on the YLE website too. They have also provided a useful ‘at a glance’ summary of changes by paper.

For my own part, I’ve been involved in co-authoring Teacher’s Books accompanying the lovely Cambridge Storyfun series, now launching its second edition, which is brimming with new stories and activities, and is fully revised to reflect the 2018 changes to Starters, Movers and Flyers. It provides loads of useful practice and tips for these tests. You can find sample material and extra info at the World of Fun site.

What kind of changes have been made to the YLE tests?

In response to feedback from market research, changes have been made in order to keep these tests relevant to the evolving needs of learners in the 21st century. There’s also the need to keep in line with developments in pedagogy more widely. Changes to word lists have used corpus data to reflect what going on in the real world. This means asking “What other vocabulary do students tend to know at each level?” and incorporating it.

Scaffolding has been improved, so, for example, for the Movers and Flyers speaking task where learners tell the story based on picture prompts, they are now provided with the story title and names of characters on the page (rather than having to remember what the examiner says). In another child-friendly move, drawing tasks have been removed from listening papers, as they reportedly caused anxiety among some students.

The increasing popularity of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) has been recognised to some extent, too. In the Starters Reading and Writing paper, Part 4 is now based on a factual text rather than a riddle.

Overall, Cambridge English Language Assessment describe the changes to the tests as ‘fine-tuning’ rather than being a more drastic overhaul.

Which changes do I need to focus on?

There is an increase in the vocabulary syllabus for all three papers. The changes to the wordlists reflect trends in language use, and include sensible additions to equip learners with useful expressions. For example:

  • There are more words relating to technology (eg app, laptop, e-book, tablet, wifi, file).
  • Some names are changing. At Starters, Ann and Tony have been axed in favour of the more contemporary-sounding Mark, Matt, Alice, Hugo and Eva.
  • Learners are expected to know more adjectives, adverbs and verbs.
  • More exclamations have been introduced (such as Cool!, Fantastic! and Hooray! at Starters).
  • There are more words relating to the themes of health, leisure, animals and the world around us.
  • Gender neutral terms have been introduced, for example: firefighter replaces fireman/woman, police officer replaces policeman/woman at Flyers.

Overall, the changes make the tests slightly more demanding, and require more oral and written production from students.

In terms of activity types, I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty at this point, as the info is available at the links above, and is amply covered by lots of test tips and fun test practice activities in the Storyfun series. As a heads up, though, I’d particularly direct you towards the new listening and writing tasks which learners should be familiarised with before the test:


  • Listening Part 1


  • Listening Part 3
  • Listening Part 5
  • Reading and Writing Part 6


  • Listening Part 5
  • Reading and Writing Part 7

It’s also worth noting that for Movers and Flyers Reading and Writing papers, the order in which activities appear is changing, in order to have a clearer progression towards more difficult tasks at the end of the paper.

All that remains to be said is … Good luck to your young starters, movers and flyers!

Covers reproduced with permission from Cambridge University Press.