The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 8

It’s the last Dogme day of the Teach-Off.

I walked into class with a huge stack of coloured cards that I had cut up.

On each card is a word, phrase or sentence that contains the lexico-grammar the class had covered over the past two weeks.

After a brief greeting, I put split the class into groups of 2-3 and gave them 15 minutes to work together on a massive recall session, going through what we had covered with the help of their notebooks. I reminded them of the practice they could get by testing each other through describing the phrases to each other, and left them to their own devices.

This was followed by a 2-hour long revision session.

The students were split into 2 groups, and were told to give their groups names.

In the first revision activity, students from the groups then took turns coming up to the front, and were each given the stack of coloured cards and 2 minutes to describe as many of the phrases on the card to their group members as possible. Each correct answer was worth a point, each card that was passed was made available to the opposing team for a guess after the group’s turn was over. Passed cards that were not described or not guessed correctly were put back into the stack.

In the second revision activity, students were asked to sit on the floor in a circle around a bottle of mineral water which I had put in the centre of the circle. I would describe the word or phrase or grammatical structure, and students who knew the answer had to grab the bottle. Only those with the bottle in hand were able to guess. If the guess is incorrect, the student would have to put the bottle back and allow for someone else to grab the bottle. This fast-paced activity often descends into chaos….and a lot of laughter.

Wrapping up the two weeks we had spent together, I explained to students that we had not used the coursebook this week and that I would like to know about how they felt about this teaching approach as compared to their previous learning experiences. I asked for their permission to place a Dictaphone in the centre of the room and conducted a 15-minute focus group session where students were given time to talk about their experiences as I stayed as quiet as possible. So as to give the shy and quiet students a chance to voice their opinions in private, I also gave students a questionnaire that asked for their comments on the Dogme lessons they had experienced.

In order to avoid skewing the results of the following two weeks, I’ll refrain from letting you into what was said/written today and withhold the results till the end of this ‘teach-off’.

Instead, l shall leave you with some photos taken by the lovely Shelly Terrell, who was one of the many observers that took advantage of the open door policy I had all week and came to watch the class.

Photo by Shelly Terrell
Photo by Shelly Terrell
Photo by Shelly Terrell

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 7

Before I summarise today’s lesson, here are the ‘answers’ to the loan words featured in yesterday’s post.

  • Rajicase (Japanese) is a shortened form of Rajio Casetto Pureya…or Radio Cassette Player.
  • Pasocon (Japanese) is also another shortened form. This time, it’s of Pasonaru Computa…or Personal Computer.
  • Salaryman (Japanese) refers to an office worker who draws a monthly salary.
  • Office Lady (Japanese), also known as O.L., refers to women who work in offices whose duties include making tea, photocopying and dealing with meaningless admin. Rather politically incorrect, I know… Oh, and did I mention that they have to wear a uniform too? Does ‘Girl Friday’ ring any bells?
  • Face Pass (Japanese), or KaoPasu, uses ‘pass’ like in ‘student pass’, refers to good-looking people who can get into clubs or bars for free.
  • Skinship (Korean/Japanese) is a physical intimacy shared through a display of affection, e.g. hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc.
  • Fighting! (Korean) is what you say to someone going for an exam or about to face a difficult challenge. The closest equivalent in English would be ‘Go for it!’ or ‘Come on! You can do it!
  • Show off (Persian/Farsi) has the exact same meaning in Farsi as it does in English. Interesting though that an English loan word is needed to describe such behaviour.
  • Site (Brazilian Portuguese) is short for website.

And here’s the boardwork for today. You know the drill.

Boardwork 1
Boardwork 2

Today’s lesson consisted mainly of a recall and revision of yesterday’s language, which in turn led to further questions and lexis, and the rest of the mini-presentations by the students, followed by some delayed correction of all the student presentations.

After giving students about 15 minutes to do a recall in pairs and to fill in the new student on what she missed yesterday, I gave each pair a mini-white board and described the lexis, while they discussed the answers in their pairs and kept score. The discussion of the word ‘tailor make’ used as a verb led to questions like ‘What’s the opposite of “tailor make”?’ (‘to buy something off the rack’) and this was further extended to me eliciting from the students if we could say, ‘I went to a tailor and I tailor made a shirt’.

The students and I agreed that it wasn’t I, but the tailor, who tailor made the shirt, and so I fed in the causative structure, ‘I had the shirt tailor made.’

After asking the concept questions, ‘Did I do it myself?’ (No)

‘Did I ask someone to do it?’ (Yes)

Did I pay someone to do it?’ (Yes)

I then elicited the form ‘to have + something + past participle’

The Japanese students got rather confused at this point, probably because in Japanese, the causative has its own tense (and by tense, I mean conjugated verb form). In addition, seeing the past participle threw quite a lot of the students off.

A few more concept questions later, I wrote:

I need to paint my walls.

I need to book a holiday.

I need to print these photos. 

I need to clean my house.

I then established that I was very rich and didn’t want to do these things myself.

I was going to pay someone to do it.

The students worked in pairs, changing the sentences into causative structures, and later in open class, I asked,

‘I need to paint my walls next week,’

eliciting the answer, ‘I’m going to have my walls painted’.

As I varied the time adverbials in each sentence, the students were made aware that the time element was signaled by the first verb ‘have’ and the past participle remained the same.

After some more controlled practice, we went back to our mini-whiteboards and revision. But when the phrase ‘loan words’ came up, a student asked about the noun ‘loan’. This led to me eliciting several words connected to banking and loans as the students bounced off the new language, sharing the words that they would use in their language, e.g. while we say ‘to be in the black’ and ‘to be in the red’, some languages used ‘blue’ and others ‘green’, instead of ‘black’!

Perhaps another noticeable point of today’s revision session was the fact that all the students were better prepared and had clearly been going through their notebooks and revising at home. The setback of yesterday’s Back-To-Board for a particular team had clearly jolted the students into putting in some work at home! Success!

After the break, our only Iranian student in the class gave a excellently-prepared presentation on her country and aroused quite a bit of interest during the post-presentation Q&A from the Japanese and Korean students. Following that, our two Japanese girls told us about Japanese Kabuki and Ukiyoe, and although I am quite confident about my knowledge of Japanese culture, they filled me with all kinds of interesting trivia that I had never known.

The delayed correction slot basically consisted of me writing sentences that I had heard over the last 2 days during the student presentations and having students discuss in pairs as to how they might reformulate the sentences.
I then went through them, sentence by sentence, having students write their reformulations on the mini-whiteboards, and then sharing it with the rest of the class. What I like about this is the fact that very often, there really isn’t one correct answer to these corrections. By getting all the students to write their versions on the mini-whiteboards, we can not only acknowledge the different ways of reformulating the sentences, but it also provides the students with a chance to have in-depth discussions with their partners as to how to change the given sentences, raising their awareness while consolidating their knowledge of how language works, on top of providing the teacher with an insight into how much the students are able to handle. (Have a look at the sentences in Boardwork 2. How would you reformulate them?)

Tomorrow is the last Dogme day of the Teach-Off.

Tomorrow is the day of the student questionnaire and focus group.

And then it’s on to my DOS and the coursebook, Global…

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 6

Today’s boardwork – You know the routine by now, don’t you?

Boardwork 1
Boardwork 2

As the weather forecast had predicted, it was cold and rainy this morning, and my student was quick to point that out to me as I walked into the class. I replied by saying that we were lucky to have a sunny afternoon yesterday when the rain cleared and asked if they got up to anything special.

One student said he went to the British Museum and that seemed to spark the interest of a couple of his classmates. They wanted to know what he thought of it and he said, ‘I like it.’

I gestured for him to put the sentence in the past tense, and he looked at me, puzzled, and said, ‘But I did. The past tense of “like” sounds like the present.’

So, I wrote,

I like it.


I liked it.


and highlighted how the initial vowel of the following word meant that the last letter got transferred phonologically, meaning that the /d/ was pronounced a lot more clearly.

After a bit of drilling, I asked him, ‘So how did you find the British Museum?

He hesitated, and then said, ‘I look at the map, and then…

So, I quickly jumped in and elicited that ‘How did you find ~?’ often means ‘What did you think of your experience with ~?

The conversation then moved on to students talking about the wildlife in the neighbourhood they lived in, the different museums and galleries they had been to in London, how it was best not to cover the whole of the British museum at one go or it may get overwhelming, and the fact that the Tate Modern used to be a power plant. I took this opportunity to feed in the phrase ‘~ is well worth + -ing’, knowing fully well that later, the students were going to do mini-presentations about their countries.

(How did I know that? Well, you obviously haven’t read yesterday’s post! Click here for a quick catch-up)

As we had covered quite a fair bit of lexis and structures in the last two days, I decided to put students in their pairs to do a recall of those two days for about 5-10 minutes, and conducted a 30-minute long Back-to-Board of those language items.

(I wanted to spare you TEFL teachers of an explanation of Back-to-Board, but for the benefit of those not in the know, here goes:

Students are put into groups, in this case, 2 groups. Each group sends out a representative who would sit on a chair with their back facing the board. The teacher, in this case, moi, writes a word, phrase, or sentence on the board. The rest of the group describes or explains what is on the board to their representative without saying the words on the board or spelling them out. The first representative to shout out the correct answer wins a point for their group.)

One team, who called themselves Team Asia (because they comprised of students from the Far East) started to struggle in the middle of the game as their group members were used to thinking carefully before speaking and not speaking for the sake of filling silences. Their opposing team was clearly coming up far in front and their confidence started to lag.

After the game, I thought the need to explain that the purpose of the activity was not only to help them revise the language items, but to give them practice in paraphrasing and describing what they mean because there would be plenty of times in real life where this would be a useful skill.

The students nodded readily, and I’m hoping this might mean that the next time we do a Back-to-Board, Team Asia would jump into the deep end a little more and be adventurous with their use of language, as much as it might initially go against their cultural instincts.

After the revision session, I had students form groups with classmates from their own countries, and share the research they had done as homework about their countries in preparation for the presentation they would give after the break. I offered my help with any emergent language and suggested that they should feel free to use the computer and the IWB if needed.

Although some students chatted away in the corner, the class was generally faced with a lull.

And this was something I was not used to.

I know the theory and all:

  • Students need silent moments too – preparation time, absorption time, and thinking time.
  • Students from certain cultures have different discourse strategies, and are more comfortable with preparing what they are going to say thoroughly, and less likely to blabber away.
  • A need to fill classroom time with chatter is sometimes a sign of a teacher’s need to control and an inability to let go.

Yet, it was something I was not used to, and had to remind myself to leave the students to their own devices and let them get on with the task in their own way, even if it meant a classroom that was not filled with talk.

After the break, we all settled in our seats and got ready for the first student to present. He had clearly done his homework and spoke to his Brazilian classmates about the Portuguese loan words used in Japanese (see Boardwork 1).

Seeing the level of interest in the classroom at this point and the potential for expansion, I wrote the words ‘karaoke’, ‘entrepreneur’, and ‘latte’ on the board after his presentation, and told the following stories.

Karaoke’ originated in Japan, and ‘kara’, as in ‘karate’, meant ‘empty’. ‘Oke’ was short for ‘orchestra’. Therefore, karaoke really means ‘empty orchestra’.

Entrepreneur’ originated in France and refers to a businessman, one that takes risks in the spirit of business. George Bush has been known for saying, ‘The French don’t know how to take risks. They clearly don’t have a word for “entrepreneur” in their dictionary.’

Latte’ originated in Italy and means milk in Italian. However, in English, its meaning has changed to refer to a type of coffee made with a lot of milk, and this definition is now found in English dictionaries.

I then asked students to think of 3 English loan words in their language and see if their meanings have changed from the original English word.

Here are some of the words that came up. See if you can figure out what they mean (some of them have retained their original meanings).

  • Rajicase    (Japanese)
  • Pasocon    (Japanese)
  • Salaryman    (Japanese)
  • Office Lady    (Japanese)
  • Face Pass    (Japanese)
  • Skinship    (Korean)
  • Fighting!    (Korean)
  • Show off    (Persian/Farsi)
  • Site    (Brazilian Portuguese)

(Answers in tomorrow’s blogpost)

Next up were two Korean students, the first of whom had carefully prepared a speech about the Korean writing system and the popular places to visit in Korea. The second student had prepared some wonderful pictures to demonstrate Korean pop culture and Korean food, and had the whole class salivating and looking forward to lunch.

The two Brazilians were on right after, and spoke about the importance of the coffee trade in their country. While I fed in some words about the economics of demand and supply, the rest of the class (including myself) were fascinated to see photos of the coffee plant and fresh coffee beans. I don’t think I had ever seen coffee beans that weren’t roasted!

The lesson that day ended with an energetic discussion about the rare and expensive coffee beans that had passed through the digestive tracts of a bird, and the Brazilian students reacted to their classmates enthusiasm by showing them a Youtube clip of said bird.

Lots of language and fluency practice resulted from the presentations (which needs to continued tomorrow) and the energy of the students rode high as they left the class…

I could only laugh at myself and my inability to let go.

I should have trusted the silence.

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 5

Here’s today’s boardwork in two pictures.

Can you guess what happened in class?

Board before the break
Board after the break

It was raining this morning as I went to school and it was miserable.

I commented on the weather as I entered the classroom, and the students agreed in unison, expressing their dislike for the wet weather. One student started voicing his worries about the weather for the rest of the week, saying that he was booked to do a Jack the Ripper walk in a couple of days. I took out my iPhone and checked my London Met Office app while eliciting the lexis ‘weather forecast’, and to his disappointment, it stated that there would be heavy rain showers every day till Saturday, with a tiny reprieve of a light rain shower on Thursday (shouldn’t we all be thankful for that!).

At this point, I asked students to move their chairs in the usual horseshoe, joking that I felt like they were judges on Xfactor judging me if they all sat in a straight line. A student asked what that was, and I said it was a singing competition on TV. Another student asked it that was like ‘The Voice’, a new TV show I know very little about, and I threw the question to the rest of the class. Another student asked if it was like ‘American Idol’. In the meantime, the Japanese students seemed rather clueless about all these TV programmes, and so I got the Brazilians to explain the concept of audience participation to their fellow classmates. While I fed in lexis such as ‘the one with the least votes’, ‘to get kicked out of the show’ and ‘the ratings are high’, the students told each other about the talent shows that also existed in their countries.

A Korean student then said that they get the British programmes XFactor and Britain’s Got Talent in Korea, and a lot of young people download the programmes because everyone talks about them and the newspapers talk about them too. I fed in the phrasal verb ‘to hype something up’, and highlighted that ‘hype’ could also be used as a noun. Here’s the example scenario I gave to clarify:


When the film Titanic first came out, everyone was talking about it and the media kept covering it.

There was a lot of hype about the film.

Some people watched the film and felt disappointed.

They felt that the film was less than what everyone had said.

They felt that the film did not live up to the hype.


I then asked students for other films that the media really hyped up and did not live up to the hype.

We ended up with ‘Inception’ and ‘Sex and the City’ (both part 1 and 2, I’m afraid).

I then elicited other object nouns they felt would collocate with the phrasal verb ‘live up to’, and they cleverly volunteered ‘expectation’.

I then prompted them further with this example:

I went to this language school because everyone said it was really good.

It had a good name.

But when I was there, I was disappointed.

I did not think the school was as good as its name.

I think the school did not live up to its r_______________.

After some more prompting, a student shouted out ‘reputation’, giving us a total of three object nouns that collocate with ‘live up to’.

I then asked students whether they were more likely to use ‘live up to’ with in a negative or positive sentence and we agreed that we are more likely to comment on something if it did not live up to our expectations.

Someone mentioned the 3D version of Titanic at this point, and I said that I had heard it was really good and worth watching. A student looked at me puzzled and said that he had heard quite the opposite about the 3D release, saying that there was not much 3D effect in it, except the moment when the ship crashed into the iceberg and the ice comes shattering into the audience. Another student grimaced at the mentioned of Titanic and didn’t seem impressed.

I was reminded at this point of a bar I was in recently that was commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic sinking by having their guests all turn up in 1920s outfits, and students seemed amused by that. I tried to elicit ‘fancy dress party’ and got ‘costume party’ instead.

Funnily enough, when I proceeded to write ‘fancy dress party’ on the board, a student asked, ‘But “fancy” also means expensive, right?’ The rest nodded.

Rather than brushing it aside by saying ‘There are many meanings of “fancy” but we are only dealing with one now,’ I decided to address the students’ confusion.

I first clarified that ‘fancy dress party’ was a fixed expression and cautioned students not to try and dissect the meaning of ‘fancy’ in the above phrase.

I said, ‘If I go to a fancy restaurant, what kind of restaurant is it?

The students said, ‘Expensive?’, ‘Elegant?’

I said, ‘Yes. What’s a word we use for “upper class”?

A student contributed ‘posh’.

I elicited, ‘What part of speech is “fancy” here?

Students volunteered, ‘Adjective’.

I drew a mindmap on the white board with ‘fancy’ in the middle circle.

I then asked, ‘Can “fancy” be a verb?’ and the students looked at me, puzzled.

What if I said to you, “Do you fancy a pizza?” What am I asking you?

(I figured it was a common enough question and since the students didn’t know it, it was time they did.)

After hazarding a few wrong guesses, I decided to put them out of their misery.

Equating it to ‘Would you like a pizza?’, the students then said, ‘Oh, it’s the same as “Do you want a pizza?”

Pushing this mid-int class further, I said, ‘It’s the same as “Do you feel like a pizza?”’

The students laughed. I realized the double meaning embedded in that statement.

So I explained, ‘Do you think I am asking you if you have the same feelings as a pizza?’

The students continued laughing as they said, ‘no’.

I then said, ‘Is it the same as “Are you in the mood for a pizza?”’

The students agreed.

I asked, ‘Does this all mean “Do you want to have a pizza now?”

And the students got it.

A quick controlled practice was called for, so I asked, ‘How do you ask your friend if she wants to go out?’

The students replied, ‘Do you fancy going out?’ and ‘Do you feel like going out?

I said, ‘The weather is awful. You want to say no. How do you say it?

The students replied, ‘I don’t fancy going out,’ and ‘I don’t feel like going out.

I decided to leave more controlled practice for tomorrow and moved on to another meaning of ‘fancy’.

I included ‘I really fancy Angelina Jolie’ on the mindmap and asked students to deduce what it meant. After a few goes, they finally settled on ‘like’ and I added that  I not only ‘like’ her but would like to maybe kiss her or more… (I was appealing to overwhelming majority of men in the class here and was definitely not alluding to my sexuality in any way!)

We were now ready to go back to the topic that we had left to explore ‘fancy’ as students were clearly still interested in it.

I asked students, ‘What reality TV shows or talent shows are there in your country?’ and ‘What do you think of them?’

In groups of 3 or 4, students shared with each other, explaining the concepts of programmes like Big Brother, Survivor, and the Apprentice as they went along.

A Japanese student said that reality shows were not as popular in Japan, despite the one weird example of one where girls were put into a house and competed to see who could cry the most by collecting their tears in test tubes (I am not lying! Honestly!)

So I prompted her to talk about TV shows that were popular, or shows that colleagues would talk about at work. The conversation soon led on to popular soap operas and quiz shows. We talked about the origin of the expression ‘soap opera’ (They used to be day-time programmes targeting housewives and therefore featured many soap ads), before taking our 15-minute break.

When we came back, I told my two Korean students about the ad I had seen of a Korean cultural festival on the door near reception. I asked if they were going and the other students were curious as to what might be featured in such a festival. The two Koreans speculated that there might be some karaoke or some Korean food and drink, but I noticed that some of the students looking quite perplexed and so I asked, ‘Have you ever tried Korean food?’

Only the Japanese students replied in the positive.

I realized at this point that many of my students hardly knew much about their fellow classmate’s countries or cultures.

So I wrote on the board – Brazil, Japan, Korea, Iran, and said, ‘These are the four countries in our class. Apart from your own, write a sentence about something you know about each country. You have 3 minutes.’

As I monitored, my suspicions were confirmed. The students didn’t know much beyond the fact that Japan was famous for sushi and was where samurais originated, that Brazil had carnivals and Iran had oil.

After they had written their sentences, I put them in groups with students from countries other than their own, and they shared the sentences they had written.

Students were instantly keen to inform their classmates about their countries and tell them more than the superficial sentences that had been written.

As the levels of conversation and the decibels in that class increased, I heard the quietest student in that class passionately telling his fellow classmates about how sad he was about the missile that was launched by North Korea last week, and then explaining the reason for the North and South Korea divide. This student arrived in London not too long ago and was clearly having teething problems with dealing with a communicative approach to language learning for the past week. Like many students from the Far East, he tended to think carefully before forming a sentence, and preferred keep quiet unless he had something important to say. He now clearly did…

Using complex sentences and impressive lexical items like ‘Capitalism was led by the USA and Socialism was led by USSR’, he certainly surprised a few of his classmates with his level of English. I couldn’t stop smiling. This was the trigger I had been waiting for.

Open class feedback about the different countries brought the topic on to football, and we spoke about the rivalry between neighbouring countries. I told students about how the Scottish wore T-shirts that said ‘ABE’ (Anyone But England) in jest when England would play in the World Cup, and how the Irish would rather support Aliens if they played England. A student at this point asked, ‘Sorry, but the Irish people don’t speak English, right? They have their own language?’

This brought us on to a whole new discussion. I explained the attempts of the UK government to keep Welsh and Gaelic (Scottish and Irish) in the education system with varying degrees of success, and how many of the Highlanders, after the Highland clearances, no longer see Scottish Gaelic as their language, while although the Irish continue to see Irish Gaelic as their language, do not speak it as much as the Welsh speak Welsh. (see here for my post of Gaelic)

Seeing the interest the topic has generated, I asked the students to prepare something about their country as homework so as to share with the others the next day. Finally, a task. The task I have been waiting to set.

In the last 30 minutes of the lesson, I had students bring out the photos of adverts that they had previously taken on their mobile phones as homework, and had one in each pair describing it to their partners while their partners drew the advert on a mini-whiteboard.

Students then discussed the following questions:

What is the advertisement about?

Where did you see it?

Who is it targeting?

Why did you choose it?

In open class feedback, the partners showed the class their drawing and reported what they had been told about the ad while the mobile phones were passed around so that students could compare the original photos to the drawings and compliment fellow students on how well they have done.

With the huge amount of lexis to be revised, the task to be worked on, and only half the class having shared their photos of adverts, it certainly looks like tomorrow’s lesson has already been cut out for me.

Or has it?

With a Dogme class, you just never know…

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 4

Due to popular demand, here’s a picture of my boardwork to start with.

See if you can guess how the lesson unfolded!

This Monday started off like many other Mondays. Everyone had a lie-in on Sunday, everyone couldn’t get to sleep on Sunday night, and everyone feels fatigued on Monday morning.

I walked into a class of quiet and tired-looking students and started the day by asking them what they did over the weekend. One student revealed that he had gone to Bournemouth, while another said she went shopping in Westfield. Sensing that the students were indeed keen on talking about what they did over the weekend (and not just groaning because yet another teacher is asking them the same question), I handed it over to them and had them telling each other about their weekends in groups of three.

Ranging from walks in the park to dinner with mates, many of the students seemed to have had an interesting weekend. One student then said he stayed home over the weekend and read books in English…everyone was quite impressed. Scaffolding the language output, I fed in the phrasal verb ‘stay in’, as in ‘I stayed in all weekend’, and then realized I needed to clarify the grammar of the phrasal verb.

In the tradition of guided discovery/ consciousness-raising, I wrote the following up on the board.

I looked after my cat. 

He switched on the light.


TESCO drove the small businesses out.


I stayed in. 

We ate in.


My boyfriend and I broke up.


I then asked to students to note the similarities and differences between the two categories. In pairs, students decide that both categories contain phrasal verbs, and define phrasal verbs to each other. They then figure out that the first group of sentences took an object while the second group does not.

In order to introduce the grammatical labels for these phrasal verbs, I elicit from students words starting with ‘trans’.

Students come up with ‘transport’, ‘transmit’, ‘transgender’ (yes, a student did say this), ‘translate’, etc.

I then asked students what they thought ‘trans’ means.

They suggest ‘change’ and ‘movement’.

I then tell students that the group of phrasal above that take an object are called ‘transitive phrasal verbs’ because the action moves/transfers from the verb to an object.

I then elicit that the groups of phrasal verbs that do not take any object are ‘intransitive’.

To ensure, that they were clear, I asked the following concept questions:

Can I say, ‘We stayed in on Saturday night’? (yes)

If I say, ‘I ate in a restaurant’, is ‘ate in’ a phrasal verb?’ (no)

I had thought it would be harder for the students, but they unanimously said ‘no’ to the second question and seemed clear that ‘in a restaurant’ was an adverbial of place, and that ‘in’ did not belong to the verb ‘ate’, as in ‘ate in’.

I then drew attention to the group of transitive phrasal verbs, and asked for the difference between the first two and the last sentence of that group.

After discussing with their partner, they decided that the phrasal verb in the last sentence was separated and the object was what separated the two verbs.

I asked which of the first two phrasal verbs could also be separated, and students very quickly decide on the second, after realizing ‘I looked the cat after’ simply sounded wrong.

I asked, ‘What about the second group? The intransitive verbs? Which of them are separable?’

This was obviously a trick question, and as students began discussing with their groups, some of them started laughing, and in open class feedback exclaimed, ‘If there is no object, how can the object separate the phrasal verbs?


Seeing that chance to check up on the students’ dictionary skills has presented itself so neatly, I asked the students, ‘So, if you see a phrasal verb like ‘eat in’, how do you normally check for meaning and usage?’

I got students to show me what they could find and so students fished out their digital translators and/or activated their iPhone apps. Many admitted to using bilingual dictionaries, but many were not able to find a satisfactory example sentence or tips to its usage. Some were even not able to find the phrasal verb ‘eat in’ and were simply given the definition of ‘eat’.

We discussed the pros of using a monolingual dictionary at the level of their studies, and the crucial features a dictionary should contain, and I showed them the 4 possible ways a dictionary might attempt to indicate if a verb is transitive or intransitive.


switch the light on

switch sthg on

swtich   ~   on

Making a mental note to bring some dictionaries into class tomorrow to practice their dictionary and note-taking skills, I move the topic on to lexical notebooks and highlighted the usefulness of students having a separate lexical notebook at home which is categorized by topics or by alphabetical order.

Spending 10 minutes everyday transferring the lexis one learns in class into their lexical notebook at home is not only a great way to organise new lexis in an easily retrievable way, but is also a great tool for students to revise and consolidate the day’s learning, while raising questions about language items that students either had forgotten or are not sure about, so that they can ask the teacher in class the next day.

As I brought back the example sentence ‘Student C stayed in all weekend’, another student started asking, ‘Is that the same as “to have a lie-in”?’

We first clarified the difference in meaning between the two, but as we moved to form, we quickly realized that ‘a lie-in’ is a phrasal verb that has been made a noun (with the use of the hyphen) and that the phrasal verb ‘to lie in’ is not as often used.

We looked at the example ‘My boyfriend and I broke up’ and created the noun ‘a breakup’, as in ‘She was very upset about the horrible breakup’, before I reminded them of a phrasal verb they learnt last week that was made into a noun (I put my ‘leftovers’ in the fridge).

We then looked at other things that students did over the weekend, and Student A said that she was washing clothes. I elicited the expression ‘to do the laundry’, and then asked if any other students did any housework this weekend.  Several lexis regarding household chores started to appear, and after a short list was compiled, I decided to get students using the lexical items regarding the details of their weekend.

Putting the chairs in a circle, but deliberately leaving my own out, I stood in the middle of the circle and said, ‘If you did the laundry this weekend, please change seats’.

If you are reading this, you are most likely a TEFL teacher.

And if you are a TEFL teacher, you know how this goes. (groan, sign, mutter…)

But the students weren’t TEFL teachers, and found this activity utterly new and amusing, and we went on for about a good 10 to 15 minutes doing this amidst lots of giggles and laughter.

Hurrah for good ol’ TEFL games!

After our 15-minute break, we came back for a revision of the entire week. I gave the class about 10 minutes to review their notes and recall the week in pairs, and then distributed the mini-whiteboards, one per group.

I then proceeded to describe, explain or use the word in context, and students could negotiate with their partners before writing the lexical item on the board.

Through the revision process, several phrases and structures that students had doubts about were clarified, and I occasionally allowed students to fill the gaps with more than one answer, giving a point to each correct answer.

e.g. Chewing gum is _________________ in Singapore.

I accepted the answers ‘banned’, ‘prohibited’, ‘forbidden’ and ‘not allowed’.

I elicited that the sentence was in the passive voice and so the answer had to be a past participle.

However, seeing the negative in the option ‘not allowed’, I had a nagging feeling that students would not be too sure how that would work in the active voice.

So, I asked them to form the same sentence in the active, starting with the words, ‘The government _______________________ ,’ using the word ‘allow’.

Quite a few students wrote,

The government does not allow to have chewing gum in Singapore’,

and I realized that their difficulty was not the formation of the negative of the active verb ‘allow’, but the verb structure of ‘allow’ itself.

So I wrote,

The teacher didn’t allow me to smoke in class.

She doesn’t allow smoking.

She doesn’t allow students to eat in class.

I then had students discussing in pairs the structure of ‘allow’ in order to fill in the gap ‘The government doesn’t allow _________________’.

Students deduce that ‘allow’ is either followed by a noun, or by ‘sby + to-infinitive’, and so decide that the sentence should either read,

‘The government doesn’t allow smoking’


‘The government doesn’t allow us/the people to smoke’.

After our competitive bout of reviewing the week’s language items, we continued talking about the question students had last week about moving on the left of escalators in the London underground and driving on the left.

Some of the students had gone home to look up the reasons for driving on the left in the UK and had stories to tell. I put them in three groups of three (there were nine students in class today) and had those who had done some research telling the others. I then labelled the students of each group A, B and C, and had them sit with the others of with the same letter, thus changing their partnerships (yes, yes, you already know this because you are a TEFL teacher…), and then had the students recounting the stories that they had heard, all the time feeding in lexis and correcting students when necessary.

It was one of those days when you realize it’s 12 noon, but you really wish you had an extra half an hour with them…

Devil’s Advocate versus Rakesh Bhanot on Non-Native Speaker Teachers of English

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the sixth victim on the hot seat is Rakesh Bhanot

Rakesh Bhanot has been involved in teaching/teacher education for over 40 years and has delivered workshops/seminars in over 30 countries. He has contributed to a range of publications and is the founder editor of the journal Language Issues. He lives in London and is thinking about starting a blog.

Chia:              Hi, Rakesh, really good to have you here.

Rakesh:          Pleased to be here.

Chia:               I hear you have a rant that you want to share with us.

Rakesh:          Well, firstly, I am not, and do not feel like, a victim. Secondly, what I have to say is hardly a rant; it’s common sense.

Chia:               Ah hah! You might not feel like a victim now…but when I am done… (she rubs her hands together in glee…)

So what is this common-sensical thing that is irking you?

Rakesh:          Let’s just get this out of the way: the Devil often falls into her/his fire. So watch out!

However, here is my position: put bluntly – since I am a blunt Northerner from Lancashire as well as from North India – non-native teachers of English are better than so-called native speakers of English. I can and will qualify that as you approach the cliff edge of the eternal fire.

Chia:               Wait, first of all, as this is a touchy subject, I would suggest we clarify the terms Native Speaker and Non-Native Speaker before proceeding into eternal fire.

Rakesh:          Giving dictionary definitions may or may not help you here. My big fat dictionary describes a  Native Speaker (NS) as ‘someone who has spoken a language from earliest childhood’. That begs all sorts of questions: how early is early? what about a person who grows up in a multilingual society? etc.

Chia:               Let’s just say that someone who spoke the language from, say as early as 5, and was educated in English at school, even if they were multi-lingual? Does that sound like a good definition to you?

Rakesh:          Such parameters can help but life is more complicated than that. For example, I did not speak any English until I arrived here in the UK aged 10 and yet I have taught English in many institutions – both public and private – that claim/ed to employ only NSs.

Chia:               Do you think these institutions saw you as a NS?

Rakesh:          I don’t think they saw me in those terms; they simply saw me as someone who was popular with their students in spite of the fact that I do not look like a (stereo)typical Englishman or a British person. What mattered to them was that I could deliver a professional ‘service’ and what mattered to the students was the ‘feeling’ that they could understand what I was saying; often more clearly than the NSs they had rejected because they could not even understand the accent of the so-called NSs. Shall I elaborate?

Chia:               Hang on…let me pick up on your point about students not understanding the NSs’ accents…

Is it not part of language acquisition to learn to understand the NSs? Why are we protecting them from that?

Shouldn’t such exposure be part of letting students get used to listening to NS accents?

They probably couldn’t understand NS accents only because they are not used to them… Is it not our job to provide them with more listening practice then….if that is the case…

Rakesh:          Well, Ms Devil, you have opened up another can of worms that I am rather pleased about. I agree with you that learners should be exposed to different NS accents. However, if the learners cannot understand the NSs because their regional accent is so far removed from a variety of English that they need to learn for the geographical context in which they live, then one has to ask why.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. When I taught in Spain in the early 1970s, I was twice pushed into a classroom by the director of the school and told to go in and say that I was a native speaker (sic.) of English to the students.

Technically, I am not a NS since I had no knowledge of English until I was 10 and I did not speak English at home, and never did so while my parents were alive, but for the students who had paid good money to learn English I was a ‘better’ teacher since, to begin with, they could at least understand what I was saying. In fact, I remember my opening remarks on both occasions was to confess to the students that I was not a NS of English and received such a positive response from them to the effect ‘thank god, we can understand what you are saying‘.

Chia:               But you still haven’t answered my question, Rakesh. What if these students come to the UK and are unable to understand what NSs are saying?

And if you argue that they might never need to come to a NS country, then what if they watched English language TV programmes, Hollywood films, etc and can’t understand a thing? They would turn around and blame the teacher for not preparing them well. After all, what use are English lessons if the students can’t come out of it understanding the English?

Rakesh:          Exactly, if the students cannot understand English when they have been exposed to it then there is clearly there is something wrong.

You have accepted that there are many kinds of English and many sorts of  NSs who speak with a variety of accents. There is not a norm as was perhaps the case when RP was the ‘accepted’ standard. Most language learners go in with an expectation that they will learn the variety of the target language that will enable them to communicate with the majority of its users.

If I am learning English in, say a part of China, to come to London to live and work or study and I am being a taught by a NS with a heavy accent from Glasgow that I cannot understand because it does not seem similar to what I have seen or heard on the Internet or in films, then I maybe a bit peeved. You do not employ a Geordie or a Scouser with heavy regional accents because they may come across it at some time in their lives; you employ a teacher whose accent may help you communicate with lots of different people.

Clearly, if you are teaching ESOL in Glasgow for local residents who have to get by with the locals, it would make sense to learn some of the local dialect but I think most people want to learn English which will help them deal with situations more widely.

Chia:               So what you are basically saying is that having a NNS accent could cater to their needs and their wants more?

Rakesh:          No, I am not saying that at all. Look, everybody has an accent and some accents are more distant to what may be considered the norm. The issue is not about NS or NNS or regional accents or dialects…. it is about clarity and compensability.

Chia:               But you must admit that you are the exception to the norm, Rakesh.

Many NNS teachers of English do not necessarily have such clear and comprehensible pronunciation.

They speak with heavily accented English which their students then learn off them…

In Japan for example, many Japanese teachers of English can’t really distinguish the /r/ and the /l/ themselves, and as a result, they are not only unable to model the sounds correctly, they are not able to teach students to recognise and produce the different sounds correctly either.

Rakesh:          Yet, you and I both know Japanese speakers of English who have no problems with those sounds. So, it’s not a question of NS or NNS but more of the ability to master (sic.) the sounds of English and the ability to help the students to communicate. In some ways, the whole debate around the NS ad NNS dichotomy is a false one. Would you agree?

Chia:               Sure, there are NNSs who can pronounce English sounds, but statistically speaking, there are more NNSs who CAN’T pronounce English sounds than NSs, wouldn’t you say?

And that is the same for knowledge of the language on the whole too…lexicogrammar and all…

As Naom Chomsky suggests, it is the NS in whom the idealised speaker-listener state is inherent… NSs know what sounds right and what sounds wrong by intuition. They can use this intuition to help them with their knowledge of the language, and to guide students…

Rakesh:          I think you may be slipping into the fire already especially when you try to claim that NSs have a superior knowledge of grammar as compared with NNSs. Studies, anecdotal evidence, reports from NNS teachers of English who do training courses with NSs etc. all clearly show that NNSs have a much better knowledge of the English language than their NS counterparts – even when the NS have degrees in English.

As for Chosmsky, not only do his critics dismiss his ideas about the ‘idealised speaker listener state’, even Chomsky himself is not sure about how his ideas have been (mis)interpreted. Some/most NSs may be advantaged in dealing with sounds but nowadays there are many multi-media ways to provide role models of sounds. In short, NSs may have a small advantage but often they have many shortcomings when compared with NNSs who know about the English language in much more depth.

Chia:               Hang on a second, I did not say that NSs have a superior knowledge of grammar. In terms of talking about language and knowing how grammar works, yes, many NNSs know a lot more because they had to learn it as a second language and thus had to analyse it and contrast it to their L1s.

But as we know, talking about language, and using the language are two completely different things. NSs may not be able to talk about language (until they have had some training and some development) but they already instinctively are able to use it. They are naturally competent as it is their first language. The knowledge about grammar can be picked up by reflecting on how they use their language.

Rakesh:          That does not make the NSs better teachers! Yes, instinctively, NSs can use the language better but we are not talking about an ability to use the language BUT an ability to teacher/ to help others to learn. They are different skills.

One of my ex-employers, the late Peter Fabbian who was the Director of the London School of English, once said to be in not much diplomatic terms that anyone who has not been through the pain of learning a second language to some degree of fluency should be let loose in front of language learners. I guess this brings us to another important distinction, viz. the debate is not so much about NS v. NNS but ‘mono-lingual teachers (who only speak their own language) versus bi/multi-lingual teachers ( those who have made the painful journey of learning another language).

Chia:               But one needs to be able to use and manipulate the language well before they can help learners to do the same.

For fear of sounding like a broken record, I must state again that simply by nature of being NNSs, there is a higher statistical possibility that they are not able to use the language well and lack the ability to intuitively know what sounds right and what sounds wrong. And overuse of clichéd idioms, for example, is how an NNS could come across quite badly.

Matters of pragmatics, discourse, and styles (within particular genres) are difficult ones for NNSs to get their heads round, and often come with repeated experiences of interactions with other NSs. They are thus less able reflect upon how language is being used and help their learners with it.

Rakesh:          In my 40+ years of experience in ELT, I can honestly say that many NNS teachers of have actually spent/had to spend time reflecting  on the nature of the English of the language they are teaching and that many NSs simply try and get away with having the status of being NSs without an in-depth knowledge of how the language works. Many are unable to explain the basic rules of English grammar.

The issue is not one of whether NSs have an automatic advantage as teachers over NNSs but whether a particular individual has the professional ability to help others. We can argue all night who can do this better.

Let me ask you a question: if you wanted to learn, say Arabic, would you prefer an Arabic speaker who has no knowledge of your language learning needs as a speaker of English  or would you prefer a an English teacher who has made the journey and someone who knows what difficulties/challenges lie along the way? Would you not prefer to be able to ask questions in your own language from the outset? Think before you answer.

Chia:               That’s an interesting question, Rakesh. And it leads me nicely to the devil’s next argument.

Most students would say they want a NS as their teacher.

Schools all over countries like Japan publicize the fact that they only employ NSs as their selling point.

Are you saying we ought to ignore the expectations and wants of the learner/client?

Rakesh:          Many learners have little or no idea about how best to learn unless they have some experience. The myth of the native speaker being a better teacher has a history (and form) and one can trace it quite precisely; when and where it started. There is no scientific basis for it. If you repeat something for long enough and market it people will buy anything.

If you want to read a scholarly account of this and other myths/ fallacies about language teaching then I suggest you look at the work of someone like Robert Phillipson (Linguistic Imperialism OUP 1992 but there is new edition available) .

There are other fallacies e.g. that English is best taught monolingually; that the earlier English is taught the better; the more English is taught the better the results; that if other languages are used in teaching English it will damage the standard of English being learnt.

Phillipson demolishes each of these fallacies ‘created’ for post imperialistic neo-imperialistic motives.  Go back to what kind of teacher you would like to have for yourself and forget the pseudo-scientific nonsense propagated by those who wanted to continue the ‘rule of England by controlling the way English was taught’.

Good teachers are not born; they are made and the accident of speaking a language from birth does not make you a better teacher

Chia:               Of course, the term ‘better’ is very subjective as well.

Part of being a teacher is helping learners to use the language and communicate more effectively.

But there’s also the learners’ expectations and presumptions as well. Take for example, the cultural element that learners often expect from an English course. I have met so many learners who say they want to learn about the English culture and how English people see things.

Now, you could say that it’s because I work in a language school in London. But I also know of many language schools in Japan who, as I said before, use the NS teachers they employ as a selling point, advertising the fact that they can ‘transport’ the learner to England and teach them about the quaint English culture (bowler hats and cups of tea are featured in their publicity material).

Photo by Jasonoutthere, Photobucket

When I was learning Japanese, I wanted to know all about the Japanese culture – its history, its pop culture, how the people think and see the world etc. If I had learnt Japanese from a NNS, I would only get their perspective of the Japanese culture. I wouldn’t be getting the ‘real thing’, would I?

Rakesh:          Two queries re the above: ‘helping learners to use the language and communicate effectively’ is something different from just being a NS and not if NSs have this ability. I would trust someone who has done this (i.e. learnt English to high level) to have these skills.

Secondly, most people want to learn to speak/read the language and culture, albeit a key part, is not why people join language classes.

Which and whose culture? Middle class white British culture or the modern day multiculture?  This touched on what for me is the key issue in this debate that is never touched on. The debate about NS v NNS is really a euphemism, a mask which really disguises the true nature of what is happening and the insidious way in which owners of language schools and the learners themselves collude with the blatant racism that goes on and will go on.

When learners say they want a NS, they are often saying they want a light-skinned person who fits their stereotype of what they think Englishness is. It is nothing to do with being a native speaker! Generations of brown skinned and black-skinned Brits growing up here in the UK are ALL NATIVE speakers of English but they are not seen as Natives! They are seen as foreigners!

Don't we all want Doris Day as our English Teacher?

Chia:               But, Rakesh, just to play Devil’s Advocate, calling someone with cultural capital discrimination is like saying that a student who wants a Business English teacher to have the social and symbolic capital, having been in a habitus of the Business English field, is classist.

Rakesh:          NO, maybe I did not make my point clearly…one example of a colleagues in Bradford is poignant. Abdul – name changed –  born and brought  locally MA in Applied linguistics/academic publications to his name   experienced teachers of ESL and EFL is asked to teach two Saudies who look like  him in appearance  but these students say they don’t want him even before he has opened his mouth since they reject him as not being English enough. BTW I have not experienced this personally in 40 years BUT these incidents happen to the very few brown and brown skinned people who dare enter the ELT profession.

When Language schools, whether here or in Japan, say they employ only Native speakers, what they mean is that they do not employ people like you and me   they employ only light skinned teachers  who have certain types of features.

Let me try and sum up what I think I am trying to say:  There are good teachers and bad teachers; true, not all NSs are automatically good  and vice versa  However , many are like driving instructors who cannot drive or have never driven  how dare they teach a language which they did not have to learn!

On a pragmatic basis if I wanted to learn another language and I have tried to learn many and failed in learning most.  I know what kind of teacher I would prefer and that is someone who is an expert speaker. Call it near native if u like and someone who knows about my own cultural and linguistic needs.

The arguments fallacies about the superiority of NS teachers was formulated at a time prior to the availability of tapes videos so the point that NS provide good models of pronunciation is redundant

Chia:               So you do agree that NS pronunciation targets are desirable then?  ; )

Rakesh:          Not necessarily. It depends what you need the English for. Given that most interactions in English are between NNSs, the kind of accents you may wish to instill in your students learner will depend on where they are going to use English.

Chia:               I would really like to ask you how you would suggest we go about changing the minds of students and language schools who think that NS teachers are better than NNS ones. But that might be the stuff of another blogpost… Perhaps we could invite comments from the readers about this?

Rakesh:          Yes. The whole issue of the inverted  racism that students have about NNS teachers is another can of worms and worth a separate debate.

Chia:               Certainly stuff for another DA! Fancy coming back in the future and being a ‘victim’ again? ; )

Rakesh:          Yes, I’m game for a laugh.

Chia:               Anyway, thanks a lot, Rakesh! You’ve certainly stood up for all the NNSs in the world and for all the injustices they have had to deal with in their professional lives!

Photo from ELTpics (Flicker) by @dfogarty

Epilogue: Rakesh’s views are his own and do not represent any organisation he is associated with. Chia was certainly just playing DA. Rakesh and Chia are still best of buddies!

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 3

Three more students were transferred into the class today. One Japanese male, a Japanese female, and a Korean male. The Korean male was actually in my class last month, and this suddenly made the challenge a whole lot harder…I can no longer pull out tricks from my bag that I had pulled last month. This Dogme course is going further and further into the deep end!

The class started with the usual recall session, pairing the new students with students who were here the day before so that they can be brought up to date. As and when I heard students making generalized statements like, ‘We talked about places we would like to visit, then we talked about the laws in our country…’, I would jump in and prompt them for more details, saying, ‘Where did Student B want to go? What recommendations did she get? See if you can remember the details what your classmates said.

During the recall, one of the new students clearly showed some confusion over the word ‘emu’, and I realized that I owed the class a clarification. Using the computer and IWB in the classroom, I pulled up a picture of an ostrich, and one of an emu, and I had students comparing and contrasting the two, and using some descriptive language as they went along. Ostriches clearly had longer necks and emu had more feathers on theirs. As I filled in the word ‘feather’, we started talking about the ‘hair’ on dogs or cats and naturally, I fed in the word ‘fur’. The conversation moved to furs that one could use for clothes like mink coats, rugs made of kangaroo skin, etc, eliciting the lexis ‘controversial topic’ and ‘controversy’.

I then wrote on the board, ‘What would you do/not do?

And then wrote a selection of phrases that ranged from ‘buy a mink coat’, ‘use a neck piece made of rabbit fur’, ‘put a rug made of kangaroo skin in your living room’ to ‘use leather products’ and ‘eat beef’.

Students were put in groups of three to discuss the above.

While the ones who were clear animal rights supporters were much more vocal about what they would not do, those who did not see anything wrong with the use of animal fur for fashion purposes were slightly more hesitant to make their point (and this could be due to the nationalities and cultures of these students. They simply would not feel comfortable being provocative over such issues). It was at this point when I suddenly realized that this would not be a suitable topic for the members of this class, and decided to move on. Before I did, a Brazilian student very appropriately summarises his group discussion as follows, ‘If we are already using the meat for food, we should also use the rest of the animal.’

I took this opportunity to feed in the phrase ‘might as well’, as in ‘If we are already using the meat for food, we might as well use the rest of the animal’.

To exemplify its use, I gave students a few more example scenarios (that intentionally took the topic off dead animals):

‘I wanted to buy a Mulberry bag in Tokyo, but when I went to Japan, I saw that Mulberry bags were more expensive there than in the UK. Since I live in the UK, I thought I might as well buy it when I get back.’


‘I missed my train, and when I checked, I realized the next one is in 5 hours. I might as well walk home.’


‘For my history exam, I started studying chapters from my history textbook. Then my friend said that the teacher had mentioned that none of the questions will be related to the coursebook. I said, ‘I might as well not study’’.

With a few concept questions,

‘Is it my first choice?’ (no)

In the present situation, is it the best thing to do?’ (yes)

Then I established that ‘might as well’ is similar to saying ‘In this case, why not?’

As we returned to talking about the clothes we wore, the fire alarm went off for about one second, and we started looking at the phrasal verb ‘the alarm goes off’. We were talking about when our alarms go off in the morning, when a student struggled to say that he woke up at 5am every morning because he did it all the time and was ____________  _____  ______.

I fed in ‘to be used to + -ing /noun’ and was in the middle of concept checking when another student asked, ‘Is that the same as ‘get used to something’?

I got the students thinking about the difference between ‘to get married’ and ‘to be married’, and how ‘get’ signals a change, to action of ‘becoming’ while ‘to be’ was a state. In pairs they told each other of the difference.

I then redirected them back to ‘used to’ and got them to apply the differences between ‘get’ and ‘be’ by getting them to pick the correct verb in the example scenarios that I painted them.

e.g. ‘I didn’t like the food in London when I first got here. I _____ used to eating rice. I ________ used to eating potatoes everyday. After a few years, I ______ used to eating potatoes. Now I _____ used to eating potatoes.’

Then in groups of threes, they told each other about 3 things that they were/are not used to in London.

One mentioned the way everyone stood on the right to make way for those walking up the escalators on the left. In Japan, it is apparently the other way around and he kept getting confused in London. He then asked why we drove on the left but kept right on escalators. I must say I was dumbfounded by that question. How very astute.

Another student talked about how he was used to taking his shoes off when he entered someone’s house and couldn’t get used to the fact that he had to leave his shoes on in the shared flat he stayed in.

Another student then added that he could not get used to the self-checkouts in the supermarkets in London, and this led us into a whole new conversation about the evils of supermarkets. We spoke about the benefits of buying from smaller specialist shops, going to the baker’s for bread, the butcher’s for meat, etc. When a student asked if ‘the baker’s’ meant ‘the bakery’, we looked at how ‘Michael’s wine shop’ could be shortened to ‘Michael’s’, and therefore how ‘the butcher’s shop’ is simply ‘the butcher’s’, ‘the chemist’s’ is ‘the pharmacy’, and why when we say ‘I’m going to Chia’s’, we mean that we are going to ‘Chia’s house’.

The penny dropped at this point for some of the students when they realized why we say ‘MacDonald’s’, ‘Marks and Spencer’s’, and ‘Sainsbury’s’. At that point, a student asked why it was that we don’t say ‘Tesco’s’, and other students suggested that it was perhaps because Tesco wasn’t a person. Since nobody knew where Tesco got its name from, I decided on a quick skimming activity.

I googled ‘Where does Tesco get its name from?’ on the IWB, and was led to the Wikipedia page on Tesco, and said to students that I was going to scroll down the page and they should shout out when they see the information they are looking for.

When they found the relevant paragraph, they read it in detail and shared with their partner’s what they had learnt about the name ‘Tesco’ (The first three letters came from the initials of a shipment of tea, and ‘co’ came from the first two letters of the founder’s name ‘Cohen’).

I revealed to students at this point that I had decided to boycott Tesco several years ago, and this really piqued their interest. I explained that Tesco was undercutting their rivals, driving smaller shops out of business, and monopolizing the market, especially in smaller towns in the UK.

After a look at some of the lexis that emerged from that discussion, we had a 15-minute break, and I spent this time scouring the shelves of our Business English department, and came upon a DVD of a 2-minute news item regarding Tesco’s dominance in the UK. Now, I must admit, I had never seen this DVD before, but hey, isn’t the whole point about Dogme to improvise eclectically as and when something is needed?

I came back to the class after the break and I popped the DVD in, telling them that it was a news item about Tesco. Here I set them the following 2 tasks:

  1. What is the journalist’s take on Tesco? Is he positive or negative about Tesco? Is he for or against the supermarket chain?
  2. Take notes to summarise this news item for a friend who hasn’t seen it.

The first listening proved a little difficult for the students, so after a brief pair discussion, I elicited a basic premise and as I did so, I fed in certain key lexical items such as ‘to dominate’, ‘to have 58% market share’, ‘competition commission’ and ‘ombudsman’, all of which were crucial to the understanding of the news story. I then played the news item for the second time and had another pairwork stage, I again elicited more information about the news story.

We then went back to the beginning and did some intensive listening, whereby each sentence was played a few times until students were able to identify the individual words in the sentence. We did this with half the story, and then looked at some of the lexis in the story, followed by some progressive deletion (I deleted several words from the transcribed story on the board and students had to fill in the gaps…I then deleted more words, thus creating more gaps. See boardwork below).

Check out my atrocious drawings of the Ostrich and the Emu! And can you guess what the one at the bottom might be?

But how do we get a group of students from Far Eastern cultures to take part more actively in a conversation-driven lesson? I’m doing much more than mediating at the moment…

I still have yet to find the topic that motivates them, that fires them up…and I have this feeling that coming from cultures that pride structure and systematic learning, I still have to prove to them that this can be done with the coursebook…

Considering the fact that the brief on the way I teach was done on Day 1, and since then, the class has doubled, half the students have no idea why I am teaching in this maverick way… Do I explain again to the class what I am doing and why? Do I get those who were here on Day 1 to explain to those who weren’t? Do I just leave it, and do a massive revision session during the next lesson to solidify what they have learnt?

Nevertheless, Day 3 was so much better than Day 2…

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 2

I have always found Day 2s quite hard.

You kind of know the students’ names but you haven’t got to know them yet. They have kind of been introduced to your rogue way of teaching but they aren’t quite convinced yet.
Day 2 is often the day my insecurities speak to me the loudest. I look at the students faces and wonder if they are thinking, ‘Why have we come all the way to London to be given this Asian-looking English teacher?’
Day 2 is often the day I start to do recall sessions, and the students are clueless as to what I’m trying to achieve.
Day 2 is often the day I feel most on edge…

But this Day Two was made even harder not only by the implicit knowledge of the teach-off happening, but also by the fact that there were a couple new students in the class, and I had to integrate them.

We started off with me asking students to recall yesterday’s lesson to their partners. As on every Day 2, despite my specific instructions not to only focus on the lexico-grammar notes they took, but to also look at the discussions and the contexts that arose, many of the students often draw a blank, staring at the page of their notebook, tempted to simply read off what they have written.

I went round the groups, encouraging them to remember the subjects we discussed, the topics involved, the questions asked and the things their classmates said…but to no avail…

Okay, it is Day 2.

So I brought students back to open class and prompted them further, finally eliciting the information that I blogged about yesterday. Special attention was paid to the mention of the perfect aspect and the present perfect continuous, and throughout the lesson, whenever the opportunity for self-correction arose, I grasped hold of it and had students practising the use of the perfect aspect in the contexts of whatever they were talking about.

Seeing that we had not really done a get-to-know-you session yesterday, I had all the students stand up and instructed them to arrange themselves in alphabetical order of their names. After some negotiating, students put themselves in their respective places, and took turns saying their names and the city they were born in.

We then repeated the same activity using ‘the city you were born in’ and then the ‘last film you watched’. The latter offered several opportunities for students to expand on the films that they had watched and to decide on whether they would recommend said film to their classmates or not, and why.

They then arranged themselves in chronological order of the time they went to bed the night before and then in alphabetical order of the country they would most like to visit. A quick round of sharing revealed that the countries that some of the students wanted to go to were countries others have been to, and so it made sense for them to sit with their new partners and exchange travel tips on where to go and what to eat.

Then in a carousel fashion, I moved the pairings so that everyone was now with a different partner. They then recounted the recommendations they were given by the previous partner. I find that any chance for students to practise recounting and reporting what others have said is a chance to emulate an activity that we often carry out in real life.

More get-to-know-you activities followed as I got students to sit in a circle and toss a ball around, stating the name and an interesting fact about the person they were tossing the ball to. Students of the class seemed to struggle remembering facts about their classmates, but in a very cool turn of events, a students mistakenly says the name of a classmate and then asks a question instead. I quickly changed the nature of the game and had everyone practising their question forms and answers instead. Once it became clear that everyone in the class knew each other’s name and felt slightly more comfortable with each other, I gave them a 15-minute break.

I came back from the break to find some students talking about where they lived in London and how they got to school. The conversation went on to be about the London transport system and then the fact that there was no free wifi in the London underground and most of the city.

At this point, the Iranian student started to say that Internet access was restricted and forbidden in her country, which led to some language work as student reformulated the sentence using the words ‘allow’, ‘prevent’ and ‘ban’. I drew the students’ attention to the fact that both ‘forbid’ and ‘allow’ share the same structure as the previously encountered ‘recommend’ eg allow sby to-infinitive, while ‘prevent’ and ‘ban’ take prepositions followed by noun/-ing.

We started talking about the strange things that were prohibited in our countries and I told students about the banning of chewing gum in Singapore, while the Brazilians spoke about the ban on outdoor advertising in Sao Paulo.

In a delayed correction stage, I decided to highlight the difference between /r/ and /l/ as it seemed to be a consistent problem amongst 4 (out of 6) of the students. We first looked at the position of the tongue in the mouth when producing the English /r/, and then the /l/. Following that, I said a few minimal pairs and students had to guess which sound they have heard, so as to encourage recognition of the different sounds. Students then had to produce the sounds themselves with the tongue twister ‘Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’.

The delayed correction then led on to work on Prepositions of Time, and I gave them a rule I had made up for the occasion.
‘on + one day’
‘in + more than one day’
‘at + special periods of time e.g. Christmas’

Try it! It works!

A bit more delayed correction brought us to the end of today’s lesson.

Day 2 is always hard…but we can try to make the most of it.

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 1

I love the place I work for!

I went to work today and found out that the DOS team had not allocated the class I’m meant to teach because they wanted to ensure that I get the perfect number of students in the classroom (it would be difficult trying to do this teach-off with only 2 students).  So, we waited for the new intake to be processed, interviewed and put into levels, before I was told the best class to take. I cannot express enough about how grateful I am for the support this little challenge is getting from everyone!

For a recap of the premise of this challenge, click this!

These are the things that I found out today:

  1. The level is Mid-Intermediate A. The class:  daily Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 12noon. I will be going Dogme with this group for 2 weeks.
  2. The coursebook I am up against is one of the best coursebooks in the market – Lindsay Clanfield’s Global (Macmillan)…yes, it’s time to panic!
  3. There are 5 students in the class at the moment but the DOS team is adding a few more in tomorrow so that I get an optimum size (which I believe is about 8 -10).
  4. Here is some brief information about the students:

Student A

Japanese female, IT Systems Engineer, in London because her husband has been transferred here. Needs English for day-to-day survival.

Student B

Iranian female, potential undergraduate in Management and Marketing. Wants to study at an English university.

Student C

Japanese male, film graduate, in London because he loves the art scene in Europe and dreams of travelling around the world after 6 months of English studies.

Student D

Korean male, ex-salesperson who has quit his job to come to London and wants to do a Masters in Business Management.

Student E

Brazilian male, marketing manager who needs English for his work.

The lesson started off with some self-introductions, as I probed the students for the above information. The following questions are things I always ask my students on the first day…

Where are you from?’

‘What do you do?’

‘How long have you been here?’

‘Why did you decide to come to London to study English?’

‘Why do you need English?

As they answer them, I ask more questions to expand on their answers…partly for my needs analysis, and partly because I am just curious…

After talking to different students and dealing with lots of emergent lexis about what they do in London, Student A said she had been here for a month, but it was her first day at IH London. Naturally, I followed up by asking, ‘What have you been doing for the last month?’ but her answer clearly showed her lack of understanding of the question. So I quickly clarified and asked her if I was asking about the past month or the coming month. We, as a class, established that I was talking about the past month, and Student A answered, ‘Shopping, staying at home and talking on Skype to my family and friends in Japan.’

Sneakily, at this point, I asked the class, ‘What was the question I asked her? Do you remember? Tell your partner.’

Although I had just asked the question a couple of time just moments ago, the students struggled to formulate the question, which clearly showed that they hadn’t got to the stage of noticing the grammatical form of the present perfect continuous yet. I drew the timeline for the present perfect continuous on the board and Student B said, ‘What did you do last month?’ while Student D said, ‘It’s continuing until now, so it should be ‘What were you doing last month?

This was the information I needed to know where they were at with their knowledge and usage of grammar and allowed me to plan the scaffolding on the spot as appropriately as possible.

So, I wrote ‘What did you do last month?’ and asked the concept questions:

Is this talking about the past, present, or future?’  (past)

‘What is the first verb in the sentence?’ (did)

So where in my mind am I? Am I imagining myself in the past, present or future?’ (past)

Is this connected to the present?’ (no)

This was further clarified with a timeline.

I then set up a scenario: Student A sees me in class and asks me out to lunch. I say ‘I have eaten’.

What is the first verb in the sentence?’ (have)

So where in my mind am I? Am I imagining myself in the past, present or future?’ (present)

Is the second verb in the past, present or future?’ (past)

We establish that ‘I have eaten – so NOW I am not hungry’ suggests that the second past verb is connected to the present, and we label this ‘Past in the Present

I have eaten
Subject First verb in the present Past (from point of view of the first verb)

This was further clarified with a timeline and lots of jumping around the classroom.

I then set up the scenario: Student A decides then to ask me for dinner tomorrow. She says, ‘Let’s meet at 3pm!’ But at 3pm, I _______ ______ ____________.

Students agree that the first verb ought to be in the future and choose ‘will’. They then agree that the verb ‘work’ should be signaling the present (at 3pm tomorrow) and there should be ‘working’. With a bit of prompting, we decide that ‘I will working’ is not correct as the modal ‘will’ must be followed by an –ing form. A student cleverly suggests ‘will be working’.

We then labelled the above ‘Present in the Future’

I will be working
Subject First verb signalling the future Present (from point of view of the first verb)

I extended the scenario: I then say to Student A, ‘How about we meet at 5pm? I don’t know exactly what time I will finish but I know that I will finish before 5pm. I might finish at 4pm or 4.30pm. I don’t know. But I know that by 5pm, I _____ ______ _______________.

Students agree that the first verb is still in the future and quickly say ‘will’. They then discuss and agree that ‘finished’ should be in there somewhere because it is something that is the ‘past’ from the viewpoint of 5pm the next day. However, ‘will finished’ did not seem right. Eventually, a student suggests ‘will have finished’.


We labelled the above ‘Past in the Future’.

I will have finished
Subject First verb signalling the future Past (from the point of view of the first verb)

We go on like this, giving new labels to the tenses they already know, revising them while clarifying the underlying meanings of the different aspects and highlighting the importance of the first verb in indicating where the speaker’s mind/imagination is at.

Now, the students are ready for the present perfect continuous…

I take them back to the original context: Student A came to London on the 2nd of March. I want to know about her actions until now. The hint ‘until now’ suggests that my mind is in the present, past or future?

My students suggest that I should be standing in the ‘present’ part of the classroom but looking back at the ‘past’…but the ‘past’ would continue till the ‘present’.

We thus work out that ‘I have been shopping’ is the ‘Continuous from the past into the present’.


I have been shopping
Subject First verb in the present Past (from the point of view of the first verb) Continues to the first verb


At this point, Student A said she has been going shopping in the supermarkets. We started to look at the difference between ‘to go shopping’ and ‘to do the shopping’, highlighting that ‘doing the shopping’ involves groceries and is not often the most enjoyable activity for many of us. I mentioned that I prefer to do my shopping online as it reduces the hassle of carrying all the heavy bags home, seeing that I don’t drive.

This led the conversation to online shopping, and a student mentioned how she didn’t like to shop for clothes online because she couldn’t try them on. I then said that I liked shopping for my tops online in shops that I am familiar with, but hesitated to do so with trousers because they might need alterations. If the trousers were too long, I would need to have them __________.

We looked at making verbs from adjectives e.g. short – shorten, fat – fatten, wide – widen; verbs from nouns e.g. length – lengthen, strength – strengthen; and adjectives describing functions using those verbs e.g. whitening toothpaste, fattening foods, bone-strengthening milk (always with contexts and example scenarios, of course). We then talked about the difference between fattening foods and fatty meats, and the conversation led to the types of healthy or unhealthy foods they ate.

I didn’t explain to them the nature of this teach-off/experiment, for fear of skewing their opinions and feedback…but as it was important to do what I always do in my normal classes, I spent the remaining 6 minutes explaining to the students my method of teaching (Dogme) and how I don’t use coursebooks, and they agreed to it (I didn’t force them, I swear!). I also highlighted that we would be covering lots of grammar and lexis (I pointed to the board at the point) despite not using the coursebook, and that it was essential they brought a notebook with them everyday so as to make notes of what they cover in class as they would be tested on them the next day.

I walked out of the class smiling and feeling really optimistic about the teach-off.

I love the place I work for!

The Teach-Off – the premise

Today is the day – the day of the teach-off.

What teach-off, you ask?

Following the much-talked and much-blogged about Dogme debate that ensued after the IH DOS conference in January, my DOS publicly challenged me to a Dogme versus Coursebook teach-off in a comment to a series of my Dogme blogposts.

My initial reaction was to wave it off as unscientific, seeing that different teachers would apply Dogme principles very differently to different lessons and different students, and the same could be said for coursebook-based teachers.

However, after some consideration (and egging-on from the people around me), I decided that rather than being purely a competition, we could milk this as an opportunity to develop and to challenge ourselves, to reflect and to be open to feedback and constructive criticism both from our students and from each other. It was with CPD in mind that I accepted the challenge.

So, these are the rules:

1. Over the period of a 4-week long course, I would take the 1st 2 weeks and my DOS will take the subsequent 2 weeks.

2. I am not allowed to use any course books or materials except when students bring in their own materials, or when materials are introduced in an impromptu, improvised manner, led from emergent topics and conversations in the classroom.

3. My DOS is allowed to adapt the course book materials but has to use at least 50% of what is in the course book at least 50% of the time.

4. In Week 2 of both our teaching slots, we have to spend two days doing the opposite of what we are used to, i.e. I have to teach from a course book for 2 days while she has to go Dogme for 2 days.

5. We will observe each others’ lessons (except in my Week 1, when my DOS is off on holiday).

6. We will not tell the students about the teach-off, except to say that they will be getting two teachers for the price of one. We are, however, allowed to explain to our students our methodology of teaching (if that’s what we normally do).

7. We will keep daily reflective journals that relates in detail the goings-on the classroom for that day.

8. We will have regular meetings to discuss the lessons and give each other feedback.

9. We will be teaching Pre-Intermediate (They asked me to pick a level and considering the constant criticism that Dogme cannot be used with low level classes, I went for the lowest level available)

10. My DOS will be my peer for the purpose of this experiment.

I’ll be meeting this group of new students tomorrow morning and I am nervous…very nervous…

Suddenly, I feel like I’m losing all my courage and feeling so very small…

Why have I agreed to this?

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