The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 3 – Inside the Mind of a Coursebook Writer

The first week of the CELTA often tends to be really hectic, both for the trainees and the main course tutor (MCT from here on).

For the CELTA trainee, it’s a case of information overload as they realize what it meant when they were warned in the pre-course interview that it was going to be an intense course.

For the MCT, it’s about ensuring that all the start-of-course administration is actually carried out and sent off, getting trainees acquainted with the format of the course, and writing up a timetable that fits in the necessary input sessions that will get them ready for their observed teaching practice which starts on the 3rd day of the course.

But what are these necessary input sessions?

What would you include when introducing the basics to teaching?

Should these basics be a representation of your fundamental beliefs to teaching?

I used to expose trainees to lots of demo lessons, giving them standard lesson shapes to emulate. This perhaps reflected an underlying fear that trainees would not yet be able to know how to respond to students appropriately, deal with language, and deliver a 40-minute lesson so soon into the course as these skills come with experience (and an accumulation of knowledge over time).

Demo lessons therefore act like little nicely packaged ready-to-go lesson shapes in the form of a situational presentation, a Present-Practice-Produce, a typical listening/receptive skills procedure, a Language from a Text, etc.

I have absolutely nothing against these traditional lesson shapes although they tend to be adapted and modified sometimes beyond the point of recognition especially when in a Business English (or ESP) or coursebook-less Task-Based Learning classroom. In fact, I do believe that they could act as a useful hook when trying to understand the principles of language teaching and seeing the logic of how lessons flow.

But perhaps the logic of that flow might be buried in and amongst the confusion and overload of information of Week 1, and a lack of belief in the trainees’ ability (both by the trainees and the trainers). Behaviourist-style ‘make sure you copy the following’ type demos seem safer and less demanding of the trainees.

But could this be part of the reason for the prevalent belief that there is a ‘CELTA method’ to teaching that fails to take into consideration the different sociocultural contexts of different teachers?

In an attempt to shift the focus from a ‘Just Copy Me’ demo, I went straight into Day 2 of the CELTA with a session called ‘Inside the Mind of a Coursebook Writer – PPP’.

The session saw me giving trainees pages from 3 different coursebooks, all containing variations of the Present-Practice-Produce, or Present-Controlled Practice-Freer Practice stages. In the style of a jigsaw reading, trainees explained the stages of the coursebook page they were given to their group mates, focusing on why the coursebook writer had chosen to shape the lesson in such a way.

Trainees were not told that all 3 pages contained a similar lesson shape.

But my trainees soon figured it out.

They also figured out that language was often presented in context, that the earlier practice stages were more controlled than the latter ones and discussed the justifications behind them. Some even noticed that the language presentation in 2 of the coursebooks chose an inductive guided discovery format as opposed to simply explaining the grammar rules, insightfully commenting that students would remember it better if they discovered the rules for themselves.

Trainees were then asked to look at the coursebooks that they were using for their teaching practice and to find an example of such a lesson shape. Most did this very quickly and were immediately able to spot the PPP format used to focus on both grammar and lexis. One trainee even cleverly noticed that sometimes the ‘practice’ stage came before the language focus stage, and when pushed for a justification, she said, ‘It is so that students are pushed to notice the grammar pattern!’ and then later, ‘This practice stage is actually a revision of the grammar they had previously learnt in a previous level!’

With some trust and belief in the trainees’ ability to use their logic and instincts, perhaps we can get them to not just emulate what we do, but to use this ability of understanding the rationale behind the ways a lesson can be staged and the principles they are based on, and adapt them to suit their future teaching contexts.

As Güven said in his post, it was not an easy task.

But the trainees certainly rose up to the challenge.

And although it was tiring, I hope in the long run, it was worth it.

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

12 thoughts on “The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 3 – Inside the Mind of a Coursebook Writer”

  1. Thank god Chia!! At last, it makes more sense to tell that what and how then get them to use books than just saying “this is a book use it”. They have to make the jump from PPP,TTT.theories to using books and may just not know how they relate.

    All I remember from CELTA is learning those theories and then cutting up copies to fit into a Warmer, reading/listening, comp, language, practice, cooler format. For years I just redid that same format. Fine for reading/listening but not so much for other stuff. For instance, 2 hour grammar classes who would complain that they weren’t getting enough grammar points and spending too much time talking.

    I don’t know how much the CELT has improved since 2000 but teachers have and they are a lot more on the ball than back then. They don’t want spoon feeding and constraining. It’s like the fish and the teaching to fish thing. Focussing on just cutting up and reordering copies is silly because the authors have probably done a better job of ordering stuff than you could. I used to cut up Inside Out so was very pleased when I got a job and could just use it properly. doing all this ‘editing’ implies that 1)The authors made badly organised books 2)CELTA tutors know how to teach better than authors. Well, maybe not.

    Wouldn’t a better solution be to use copiable extra resources like from a workbook or extra activities that support/rework the book? This way teachers would have less ‘clues’ and have to create their own lesson but have some resources to help.

    1. Hi Phil,
      Thanks for your comments. I guess I wanted a CELTA where my trainees were able to think for themselves and I believe that once they understand the logic of how a lesson flows, they’d be better able to adapt the coursebook to their teaching contexts. LIke you said, it’s about not giving trainees a fish, but teaching them how to fish.
      And teaching trainees to fish does not mean making them follow a fixed format or reordering coursebook activiites, although if following that format or reordering the activities is what works for that lessons and those learners, then fine by me.

      In the TP group I have, teachers are using the book Move Intermediate, which is a very thin book. This means that the group of 5 trainees have only about 2 pages to divide amongst 5 40-minute lessons…so they have no choice but to adapt, and to think creatively, use extra resources, and really exploit the topics and materials they have. As a result, the classes are often not led by the materials, but by the conversations and the interaction amongst the students and with the teacher. In just the last two Teaching Practices, I have seen the trainees make such progress in terms of promoting classroom interaction and pulling out emergent language to be dealt with. (Hmmm…conversation-driven, emergent langauge, materials-light…sounds familiar?)

      : )


      1. Sounds like they are going dogme without even knowing it. Maybe you are a doing a dogme CELTA even?? Shhh. Don’t tell your DOS!!

        I like your idea of using a thin book. We used Inside Out which was great but I spent hours reading it as there was so much stuff in there. I think this approach is very important nowadays as so many places I’ve visited at/worked at are feeling the pinch and just using 1 book or internet stuff. I know that being dependant books caused me many problems in my first few years but the CELTA is only 4 weeks. It’s not long enough to cover creating whole courses and lessons from scratch but is the DELTA? I think you still have to reference materials in module 3. I wanted to create the whole course but I just didn’t have time, it ended up being a bit of this and that, not ideal but perhaps more realistic for most people.

        I also believe that the CELTA to first job jump isn’t handled well by some schools. I mean, a CELTA grad can’t just go into teaching a 2/3 hr gen class, a grammar/idioms one, an exam prep one and a speaking one in his first week. There should be a kind of ‘graduate placement’ thing where the school initiates/trains you slowly. they could start you off with just gen English and give you weekly training to expand your knowledge. This could continue for year with a view to DELTA etc. I know many places to in-house training but I haven’t seen any with a set and developmental path for CELTA grads. IH maybe?

        1. Some really key issues you’ve brought up here, Phil.

          We have three TP (Teaching Practice) groups, 5 trainees in each, and each group teaches a different level and uses a different book.
          I’m looking after the Intermediate level, which I’ve allocated Move to, because as I mentioned in an earlier comment, it’s thin and forces trainees to adapt. But because I can’t use Move for all three levels (plus, it’s good to get trainees experiencing different types of course books), I’ve allocated Inside Out for the Upp Intermediates, and Cutting Edge for the Pre-Intermediates. As you said, Inside Out is rather heavy and full of information and exercises. But I’ve chosen not to give any TP points from the start of the course so that trainees can divide the book up as they see fit and truly own the lesson (I am going to write a post soon about TP points).

          As for creating a whole course, when I did the Delta, before it became the modular system it is now, one of the PAs (Portfolio Assignments) was called Syllabus Design. We had to read up and write a 2500-word essay about the different theories on Syllabus Design and then we had to profile a class and create 30-hour syllabus (I think) for that class. I really enjoyed that assignment, especially because I was on the Distance Delta and had the time and opportunity to actually profile my real class and then use the syllabus I had designed on them for real.
          I think the assignment gave me even more confidence to deviate from the coursebook and go full Dogme.

          The current modular system Delta has shifted Syllabus Design to Module 3 and candidates are now to pick a specialisation to design a course for (e.g. Business English, One-to-Ones, Younger Learners, etc). Perhaps those who have done the new Delta can enlighten us about how useful this was to them?

          And in terms of post-Celta development, unfortunately, aside from a Jobs Talk, a session on teaching Business English, and on my Celta, I include a session on using technology for CPD (Continuing Professional Development), there isn’t that much time or space for more support…what would you suggest?


        2. I did the new distance DELTA and we just did a DT/NA then designed the course but had to explain the whys and hows of it and how we’d assess it. Like you, I did a real one on my students and created the course for next term. Sadly my boss was not quite so eager or confident of a DELTA level course so she wouldn’t change anything. I offered to give them what I’d designed but they wanted to stick to what they’d been doing for years and didn’t work.

          Sorry, I meant post-CELTA training, sort of like a graduate placement programme with working and development combined. St Giles in Highgate used to do monthly sessions but I think a 1st year job should have this. In fact every school should have a firm developmental progression for everyone and not just one-off sessions. In other words, new CELTA grads shud be getting regular observations and being given more diverse classes slowly but only coupled with training and support. So, general English (int), then Business English, then very low or very high levels, exam prep, specialised options etc. This would solve so many problems of stressed teachers, crap lessons and teachers getting frustrated or just bored. After 2 years like this they would be ready for DELTA and you’d have in-house senior teacher material. This kind of development would build quality, loyalty and standards and get you noticed. These kind of teachers would be eager to write, speak at conferences and even become teacher trainers.

          This is a Barcelona football team approach as opposed to English ones of buying expensive crap players who don’t get on with the team and manager.

          One last note about DELTA/MAs. It wasn’t until I finished that I found the Manchester one on tech and ELT and another on materials design. Add to that the CERT IBET(???) and there are 3 courses I want to do already but probably repeat some of what I may have done on previous ones. I wonder if you can just pick n’ choose certain elements. That would be great for a ‘build your own MA’ ie each course is x points and you need x to get the MA but can choose from 20/30.

        3. Hi Phil,
          What a pity that you didn’t get to use the course you designed for your group. They don’t know what they’re missing!

          As for post-Celta training, IH London, for example, has Teacher Development sessions every week. They last for 30 minutes and are conducted by different members of staff who get paid a small fee for doing it. But none of us do it for the money. We do it because it is a great of sharing with our colleagues, of helping each other develop, and of practising our teacher training / presentation skills. And the knowledge pool amongst our staff is so varied that I constantly learn different things from different teachers.
          I think every school should definitely do sessions like this.

          I often tell my Celta trainees that the Celta is just the beginning. We train them and show them how to develop themselves and go look for the information they need, and hopefully, they continue to develop after the Celta. Whether it be through online platforms, Teacher Development sessions, or reading up on different topics, teachers should never tire of CPD.

          And courses are another way to do so.
          Since my Celta, I’ve done a DELTA, a CERT IBET (It was called an LCCI Cert TEB in those days), an MA in Applied Linguistics, and recently, a Business Cultural Trainers’ Course.
          And I’ll keep doing courses because I’d stagnate and get bored otherwise.

          That’s the thing I love about our job.
          There’s always somewhere to go, something new to learn, something to develop.


        4. Wow. Why not do a Phd? In uni education they only really recognise the MA but with a Phd you’d be able to get a senior position in anything really.

          I did an online teacher training course last year to teach online. It was only 2 days but was really interesting. Definitely something that gave me a new view of teaching.

          So, you are a qualified trainer, how about coach next? Loads of people have rebranded themselves as those two but I doubt they have qualifications.

          You don’t do it for the money? Wow! I’ve very rarely heard that anywhere but it’s great that you don. I guess it means that you ear enough and are happy enough to give back. Many language schools I’ve seen are full of badly paid teachers fighting to get hours. Freelancers rarely, in my experience, go to unpaid training or meetings. Maybe they would like to but 1)are working elsewhere and 2)don’t want to give up their time when they could be doing something else. I know that I wouldn’t go.

        5. A PhD, Phil?
          Looking at a tiny tiny area of Sociolinguistics under a microscope for 6 yeares?
          As you can see, I am a person of very varied interest…not sure if I could pick a tiny area to stick with for 6 years…although my lecturers at King’s are trying to get me to do one…maybe one day…I don’t know…

          What about you? Why don’t you do a PhD?

          Coaching is indeed the next way forward, and I’d love to do a training course on becoming a communications coach (as opposed to a life coach). Maybe that might be more useful than a PhD?

          No, none of us bloggers do it for the money, Phil.
          We do it because we love what we do.

          And to be honest, if you worked at IH London, I’m sure you’d be going to all the Teacher Development sessions too! You get a £4 lunch vouncher for 30 minutes of informative fun! No, seriously, it’s really useful and a great scheme and everyone working here enjoys it tremendously.
          Knowing how you love professional development, I know you’d go.


        6. Lunch voucher??? I’m sold! Sign me up!! Though 4 quid in London might not go far but I know a great fry up place where it would stretch to a full British. Hmmm, memories.

          Now that is dedication, sounds like they have a great atmosphere.

          Phd? Yes, interested but expensive and nothing in my field i.e. not linguistics. In France they are free but seem to be full of people who just do them to get a job or just for a grant or because they’re bored. I guess that was what England was like pre 1997.

          I think if you can bluff your way past the MPhil then it could be done in 3 years. I fancy the Doctor of Education more but it’s not as recognised maybe. Now, when Scott and Anthony finally set up their online PhD at New School, now that will be worth applying for, if they can support it with free scholarship grants then I’ll apply now.

          Communications coach? Sounds great. Is it like this:

          Talking of CPD sessions, how do you feel about the DOS being there? Does it improve relations or not?

  2. Brilliant!

    I’ve just started reading this series, Chia. Reading the whole week in one go, and I’m sure I’ll find some more thought-provoking insights.

    I’m also glad to find some common notions between your input sessions and my writings on teacher education. I’ve actually done a very similar workshop to that you describe, in which teachers find the rationale of mainstream syllabus design by analyzing a handful of coursebooks. The conclusion is a bit obvious: they’re all grammar-based. But the way they find it out is what makes it a good session. Like yours, which I believe was much better than if you had merely said how they should use it.

    Great series, Chia! Well done!

    [btw, the thread with Phil is getting to look a bit funny in the layout of your blog, last comment has one lettter per line]

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