A new ELT manifesto

I can hold my tongue no longer. After hearing Anthony Gaughan summarise the theme of IATEFL as demanding more from our students that finally tipped me over the edge. I didn’t attend Jim Scriv’s talk but have heard enough to push me into action.

If you read the last guest post by George Chilton you may be aware of the increasing interest in teaching with more serious/common/realistic or just normal subjects. I use the term ‘normal’ because if you look in newspapers, what’s popular on twitter or on your search engine, these are the topic you’ll see so why aren’t we doing them in class?

Secondly, grammar/vocab. Students and we are bored, face it, with teaching one abstract grammar point and 7/8 words per 1 hr slot. This isn’t how they learn outside and the formula of the EFL lesson has just got old. As Scott Thornbury says where does the grammar and lexis stop? It’s all connected, so are tenses and structures.Students have had it to death, us too.

Thirdly, we are just too nice to students and spoon feed them with a bit of this her and there and praise them constantly, even when they are terrible. Then when they move on and some teacher says they are horrible or they fail a test then we get it in the neck. It’s time to stop!

Fourthly, most of us, when we plan or discuss or even write materials, are imagining a dream class full of eager and polite students who would love to stand up and mingle with a find someone who or would find it fascinating to spend 10 minutes playing with cards or running across the class. Meanwhile, the other 99% of us in the real world have demanding/tired/uninterested students who either are forced to take English, need it for an exam or just aren’t bothered either way.

Interestingly, when I tweeted that high demand teaching was just what EAP/BE/ESP teachers had always been doing, Dave Dodgson said, and rightly so, that this is always the case ie whenever coins a new movement lots of people say “I’ve always done that”. Dave you are spot on mate!! The only response I have is that, as with Dogme, it just adds so legitimacy and a common language for like-minded teachers. BUT if Dogme put the 1st nail in the coffin of TEFL teacher-dominated/leading classes then High Demand seems to move us back to teacher as facilitator and challenger. What’s common about both is that students need to work and develop, we can help them by setting up activities and prodding and stretching them, but they need to get used to putting in the effort.

Time wasting and ‘schemata activating’ warmers that don’t directly relate to the topic.
Long lead-ins via random questions that are obvious to everyone
Endless Gist/Detailed questions for every text or listening
Endless drilling students like parrots
CCQs with just YES/NO answers
Structured practice of everything
Countless different types of paper-based exercises just made to confuse people and prepare them for test types in exams
Constant praise and ‘letting it slide’ with regards errors
A focus on fluency at the expense of content
The warn out structure of Lead in, PTV, Reading, Gist..Open practice
General/bland/out-of-date topics with no appeal to anyone
Confining and limiting lessons made to restrict students at every turn and turn a class into just ‘going through the motions/plan’
The reliance on the idea of the ‘active learner’ who is studying out of class and learning and deciphering with us as his guide.
Dumbing down our talk and lesson content because we think low level=low intelligence

What I propose is a new manifesto that creates a comfortably challenging class with a spirit of development and difficulty. One where a right answer isn’t enough but an explanation of it, why others are wrong and how it could be changed into different things is welcomed. Everything should be exploited and seen as an avenue for development. I have these points:

1)Only topics that are in the news now or within a week of your lesson are allowed
2)Readings, listenings and videos are essential and a whole lesson can just be on reading and discussion
3)Listenings and texts should be followed by summaries and reflections where students must present their response to the input referring to it where needed
4)Students should be encouraged to use dictionaries/thesaurus/colloc at all times to find language they don’t understand
5)Vocab and grammar should be pulled from the input and used to discuss the content then recycled into output but naturally and ‘in context’.It must be shown to be useful to help work on the topic
6)Nothing should be explicitly taught out of context
7)Critical and meaningful speaking AND writing must be developed
8)For speaking & writing, only common genres should be used such as writing a text message, a purposeful letter, a blog post, a tweet, an email, chatting, discussing and arguing. No fake role-plays.
9)Students must be told they are wrong when they are then helped to understand why and progress
10)Everything should always be comfortably challenging or even hard on an intellectual level
11)Challenging homework should be given after each class such as reading an online article or watching a news report followed by student note-taking and analysis
12)Starting class however you want and letting them develop naturally
13)Treating students like adults and telling them what they need to work on, why and reinforcing it.
14)Learners need to and should be exposed to proficiency/native speech. If it’s too difficult, make it shorter, add scaffolding. Don’t make it stupid (Dale Coulter).
15)No EFL written materials of any kind should be used.
16)At every stage of a lesson students should be challenged and made to explain why answers/comments/ideas are right and wrong and to provide alternatives

A sample lesson for 18+

Topic: Internet surveillance
Materials: Youtube video about Microsoft teaming up with the government to monitor internet use
Goals: Critical listening, discussion, context-specific vocab, arguing about pros and cons, writing a letter to the government

Discussion of responses
Vocab+word formation/collocations+contextual use
After thoughts
Letter writing+correction


“Paul, why do you believe that the speaker thinks…..?”
“But couldn’t it also be true that…?”
“What else could he have said in support of this argument?”
“Sarah, you have made 2 grammar mistakes, do you know what they are? Can someone tell her? Sarah, do you know why you make those mistakes?…Your homework for this week is to revise…and practice it. We will check next week to see how you have progressed. Can anyone give Sarah some help?”
“Your ideas are OK but you are missing a couple of key things…” “ Why did you not think of these?””Based on these ideas, now can you think of some more?”


Isn’t this just an EAP/BE/ESP style class?

If this is what we should be doing why have we been wasting time playing games and having fun for so long?

Does the CELTA really prepare us to teach like this?

Will this mean the end of summer schools and ‘fun learning’?

Is Krashen to blame as we have all been using his ‘affective filter’ as our main support for doing fun lessons?

Are challenging lessons suitable for younger learners?


16 thoughts on “A new ELT manifesto

  1. While consulting at a school with a high population of ESL learners, one teacher pulled me aside to look at a stack of reproducible books. Which curriculum should I order for next year? I don’t know where to start.

    I worked with her to push-into the classrooms, revolving her lessons around vocabulary that is relevant to other activities they are discussing in lessons. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start toward understanding what you said – lessons need to relevant, multimedia, and challenging. Worksheets out of context do not lead to better conversation or comprehension. Thanks for stating that so clearly.

    Janet | expateducator.com

  2. Hi Phil,

    You’re prolific, a veritable ideas machine. What do they put in the water on that there island of yours over there in the Indian Ocean?

    Your post reminded me a lot of a discussion I had in a very positive and productive feedback session after a colleague of mine had come to observe one of my lessons. Firstly, I have to say that informal peer observations truly facilitate the exchange of opinions, practices and ideas between colleagues. During the chat, my colleague, a CELTA tutor of 27 years, said, “It’s strange, I see all lessons through the eyes of an observer with a set criteria to tick off”. This was a very interesting point, which we then discussed and came to the conclusion that a lesson depends very much on the glasses through which you view it; seeing my lesson through CELTA-tinted glasses was a change for my colleague, who by the end of the lesson had put on a different set.
    In my view, what you’ve outlined above doesn’t seem radical at all but merely putting on a different set of glasses to teach with.

    Did CELTA give me the ability to teach like this? No, of course not. Critics of CELTA might say that the course dictates the motions and plans and you have to jump through those hoops to pass. They’d not be wrong. Trainers throughout the world would have something to say in return, that they add their own touches to the course to make hope-jumping +1, which is an equally valid argument. I have observed a few CELTA input lessons lately and seen exactly this. One problem is the amount of trainees who sadly don’t have a clue (to put it bluntly) and aiming at hoop-jumping or even hoop-jumping + 1 is a stretch the very outer realms of their ZPD.

    By the way, from watching the sessions I’ve come up with a few ideas for CELTA skeletons, which if anyone is interested in hearing about I’d be happy to share them.

    The ‘IN’ points seem much more cognitively challenging than the ‘OUT’ points. Do you think these would apply to a three-hour lesson? Might students not get tired or demotivated? Also, have you considered their effectiveness when applied to teenager learners? Roleplay and meaningless speaking can be affective to ‘warm up’ teenagers. What do you think?

    I disagree with throwing out roleplay completely. Nevertheless I agree that meaningless roleplay doesn’t serve a purpose. The other week my student asked me mid conversation how you would order a table in English. We brainstormed language and then I gave him my mobile number. He called me from the other side of the school and booked a table. I made sure I stood in a loud area of the school to imitate real conditions and then gave him feedback on the conversation. He made the same phone call a few days later much better.

    Just a few thoughts,


    • Lack of sleep and nobody to talk to seems to do the trick.

      Oh Yes, CELTA sessions. I’m trying to set up something along those lines with you in mind. I’ll keep you posted.

      The ‘IN’ points seem much more cognitively challenging than the ‘OUT’ points. Do you think these would apply to a three-hour lesson? Might students not get tired or demotivated? Also, have you considered their effectiveness when applied to teenager learners? Roleplay and meaningless speaking can be affective to ‘warm up’ teenagers. What do you think?

      I do it like this for 2 hours but I used to do 3. However, late night classes do need some entertainment but in an educational and challenging way. I don’t feel comfortable, I never have, in asking 20+ year olds to do lots of games and anything that involves moving around a lot. A lot of these fall into the ‘milking it’ category.

      Teenagers? I used to teach kids and teens and they aren’t daft. Teens are pretty on the ball and I hear a lot of complaints form them and their parents that they just aren’t learning anything and just messing about. Roleplays as warmers? If it’s them playing them fine but saying “now you are a carpenter and you are a plumber” has never gone well except with creative classes or in drama class. Yet, in a business class ‘business simulations’ related to their work would be sound.

      I disagree with throwing out roleplay completely. Nevertheless I agree that meaningless roleplay doesn’t serve a purpose. The other week my student asked me mid conversation how you would order a table in English. We brainstormed language and then I gave him my mobile number. He called me from the other side of the school and booked a table. I made sure I stood in a loud area of the school to imitate real conditions and then gave him feedback on the conversation. He made the same phone call a few days later much better.

      That’s perfect. It’s in demand, appropriate and is ‘survival English’ but not just some cut up abstract role play printed from the net that many of us use. Everything needs relevance on some level I think.

      • Good points raised there Phil. Everything needs relevance on a certain level. Roleplay for the hell of it is useless; students make few connections with the language they are using and the environment in which they would really use it. They are so far away from the real context that come the big day (ordering some cheese in the supermarket) they wouldn’t remember anything. I trainer at my school used to give his students his weekly shopping budget and send them off to the market to do his shopping. Whatever they came back with he had to use. Interesting survival English.

        What is a game anyway? I asked my teens to mime jobs the other day and guess each others jobs, that was instead of brainstorming. Is that a game? Lifeguard, pusher, lawyer, plumber etc. I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking 40 year olds to do the same.

        Will we be seeing more lesson shapes and reflections on your lessons popping up that give us more insight into your manifesto?

        • Hmmmm good idea. I was thinking of posting some lesson prompts that I now use ie a topic, a video, some questions and possible areas for development.

          I am in favour of drama in a drama English class though. I’ve seen this done very well by some teachers but it was an option and a content class in English.

          I still think most EAP/ESP/BE/Foundation/Uni teachers teach this way. It’s nothing new but jumping from CELTA style to that is a big leap. On my postgrad I don’t recall being taught to teach at all, we were too busy learning the topics and how they are organised. We did look at how to plan a lesson but not much on procedures and methods. thus, worksheets came into play and trial and error. Some of it was good but many things just bombed. What I liked was that it was either one or the other, sink or swim. Some people quit others gave up, I stuck in there and survived and by the end had students eating out of my hand, so to speak but it would have been a lot easier if they’d taught us all those things we needed before they threw us to the lions.

  3. Idea machine indeed, Dale. Phil is the idea monster… and as lovable as the cookie monster. Rock on, Phil. Love the manifesto, and know that it rings true… but does it ring true to an administration, to a syllabus, to what the industry is thus used to? That, I would say is evolving, but ever so slowly, no? We can do what we like behind close doors for the time being, though!!! Mwah hahahahahah

    • Cheers for the comment Brad.

      I started my main ELT teaching in an environment where I taught with people do Uni prep courses. Some had CELTAs and maybe some didn’t but there classes were very CBI or rather content and language support. Since then I’ve seen this kind of teaching grow more popular and a move away from ELT manufactured texts and materials to more realistic content. So, it doesn’t make sense to keep on doing TEFL stuff if the students want/need something different. I know that I find it hard teaching Electronics or Engineering English using TEFL drilling and pair work checks etc. Especially when the students have ‘content’ lessons all day.

      Perhaps we should all start teaching more like in EAP classes or maybe there is a serious divide between EFL schools and us teaching in colleges/unis. I do think that some groups of people have just taken the’ fun’ and ‘relaxed’ nature of many EFL classes too far and used it as a doss. If we want to be taken seriously as a profession we should show that we are serious and challenge students.

      This post was just a gut reaction to many ideas going round at present but the fact that nobody has really disagreed with anything, apart from RPs, and that I’ve had over 250 views, seems to show that maybe this is what everyone is doing or thinks they should be. Thoughts???

      • 250 views and 10 comments seems about right to me.

        It’s a hefty post (a manifesto) and it seems often that the ligher, and more directed posts engender the most banter (where there is a lot of space to bounce back and forth, and to establish one’s personal point-of-vew). And maybe that’s what we’re doing in class— trying to leave more space, trying to encourage communication through ‘entertainment’ and something that students really want to be a part of and share their own opinions.

        That seems to be a move in the right direction as we’re coming from a delivery-oriented mode of education. Have we gone too far to the other extreme, accommodating the “affective filter” so much that we’re no longer making it really an academic environment? Possibly, but that’s hard to say and hard to generalize as I don’t really know what’s going on outside of my classroom.

        The challenge then is to do remain open, personal and pertinent in learning approaches that are still academically driven. From what I read, I think you’re doing this, and I know many others in the blogosphere are too. Let’s keep talking about it, and reporting how it’s going. In the end, we’re all mad scientists experimenting away and hopefully moving forward in discovering that magical ELT potion! Cheers 4 the convo. -Brad

        • That ‘affective filter’ has a lot to answer for. For instance, a friend runs a school and has about 100 students, all teens, and they and their parents complain that they are having too much fun. The problem is that his school is a franchise and fun is their method. Now, should we all ditch this entertaining style and get serious or will students not want it. I generally find that having a mature class with entertaining comments when they come up works well for me. Planning and trying to do jokes just falls flat.

  4. Hi Phil,

    First of all, I really like where you are going with this blogging thing, especially as you say you are in it for the reading more than the writing. 🙂 The ‘questions’ section at the end is a good idea and something I might ‘incorporate’ into my blogging practice in the future.

    I really think that NO teacher training course whether it be 4-week CELTA or a 4-year state uni degree programme can ever train a teacher fully/adequately. There’s simply no substitute for experience. It could be argued that the CELTA actually has an advantage for teacher wannabes in that you don’t get overloaded with pedagogical baggage – you’re just pointed in the right direction and left to it.

    I feel a manifesto of my own coming on…. Sooner or later, I’ll get something up on my blog about it. 🙂

    • Cheers Dave.I’m not quite sure if I’m going anywhere so I just write whatever seems important to me at the time and enjoying reading people’s reactions.

      Oh yes ‘left to it’ or ‘fed to the dogs’ in some cases. My very first post-CELTA class was communication skills and I just didn’t have a clue as all I knew was general English from Inside Out or Headway. I used to cling to those books and hide them from other people. I had to share a teachers book at one point and it was messy.

      Before CELTA I did a short weekend course that at the time seemed quite good because it was completely practical. By the end we had basic tools and ideas how to teach and I did manage some decent lesson afterwards. However, the place that ran it then offered us work overseas as ‘volunteers’ but they wanted us to pay for the privilege. This set off alarms. Yes, it wasn’t accredited at all but the teacher was pretty good and completely free to teach us survival tactics. I wonder what CELTA tutors would teach and how long they would need if they were allowed to do the same!!

  5. Interesting and provocative. I would add: not only are most material-writers imagining their dream class ‘full of eager and polite students who would love to stand up and mingle with a find someone who or would find it fascinating to spend 10 minutes playing with cards or running across the class’, most of them are imagining these same students to be highly educated, probably already with a grasp of the Roman alphabet, probably well-off, probably in a nice fee-paying school, probably being taught by nice highly-qualified native-speaker teachers. When is the ELT world going to stand up and take notice of the silent majority of students who need / are forced to learn English but do not fit into these categories? Ironically, the type of students who don’t need much motivating, just opportunities to learn…. Is it because these students are never going to splash out on coursebooks that almost nobody cares?

    I would subtract: “1)Only topics that are in the news now or within a week of your lesson are allowed.” Come on now, many of us live in a fast food culture, but do we need to treat classroom topics in the same way? Aside from the fact that there a large number of people who want to learn English but frankly don’t give a monkey’s about what’s in the news, this would seem to disqualify any number of potentially stimulating topics (depending on the students), which in themselves would not interfere with anything else on your manifesto.

    • Cheers Neil.

      Hmmm. So, you think a ‘general safe’ topi from an old book would be more interesting an engaging than a specific and contemporary topic chosen to suit the students? I teach a lot of technical students and I’ve given up with many books, thankfully some new ESP ones are out which are useful for language are more up-to-date but if you can take that and combine with something in the news/common culture at the moment, then you are flying.

      Every week I design debate classes on an IT issue in the news and I’d say that 40% of the students are aware of each but want to know more but the others find it engaging. This is quite CBI as our lesons are then informative on a topic-based level and the English is just to help it along. When I’ve used general topics or ones from the past there is a lot less relevancy and life to the class. A contemporary topic is changing and you can set research homework and follow the story/issue and then predicting activities are real and discussions are important as nobody knows what will happen. I would, of course, go into most topics with this route as it is one way to connect students to things in a book.

      As you say, it all depends on students. And oh yes, us lot outside EFL schools have a different breed. Perhaps we should all right an e-book on teaching the unteachables.

      • Thanks for the reply. I didn’t say anything about ‘general safe topics from an old book’ – or about anything in books at all – just that to restrict your classroom topics to this week’s news seems limiting and, with a number of students I can think of, a non-starter. I suppose it depends where you set the limits of the ‘contemporary’. Perhaps it’s relevance that takes precedence rather than whether or not it happened this week. Anyway, believe me, I’m with you on the coursebooks. I’m trying to persuade my current place of work to let me design a CB-less course, based on many of the principles you’ve outlined, and Thornbury too, in his post on e-coursebooks. Thanks for adding more grist to the mill.

        • I do really like the ESP books coming out though as for years I’ve had nothing. Before 2000 there weren’t even many BE books and certainly not many for option classes. Corporate places ‘made their own’ from newspapers/journals etc. Whether this was/is better than something in a book is interesting as few of us can make really good tasks from a real text and a book is usually complete with lots of stuff. For lexis and structures for high level or ESP/Content classes I’d definitely need a book but I’m still always surprised by the students who just want general stuff. Perhaps they are just fed up with the same topic all the time.

          I know what you mean about some news falling flat if it’s not chosen well.Many of my students don’t have a clue about the world or anything about anything except their courses. Is it or job to open them up or just teach them English or both?

          I was in one extreme school that had been using the same copies for 20 years and nothing was relevant and things were just out-of-date. For instance, a text about ‘future houses’ had TVs, DVDs and mobile phones on.Old!

          Thanks for your comments Neil, very inspiring!!

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