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Six levels, six stages – in sixty minutes

How is the ‘Can Do’ ethos of Headway linked to the aims of our students and the CEFR bands? Stacey Hughes will be exploring this question in the webinar: “Six Levels, Six Stages – in Sixty Minutes” on 28th November 2013 at 9:30 and 15:00 (GMT).

In the past, learning a language involved learning more about language than learning to do things with the language. What pedagogical issues does this shift in focus raise? How does it link to student expectations in the kinds of tasks we set for them?

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) focuses on what students are able to do at different levels; in other words, what they are able to talk and write about and what they are able to understand from reading or listening. It is this focus on what learners can do with language – how they can effectively use language for communication – that Headway brings into its activities.

When aiming to help students achieve their learning goals, we also need to consider who our learners are and what are they learning English for. What kinds of activities and topics can course books utilize that will improve students’ ability to communicate effectively in a language? How can we extend this learning outside of the classroom?

These are some of the issues we will explore in the webinar. Using some of the CEFR level descriptors, we will identify language skills from six different level bands. We will also look at Headway’s approach to learning and see how it links to the practical application principles in these descriptors.

As teachers, we know that students gradually build up proficiency. However, students need frequent, reachable goals to see their progress. They also need to see the connection between what they are doing in a course and how it is useful for them in using the language. This webinar will show teachers how they can join the dots between activities in Headway with ‘Can Do’ objectives.

Register for the webinar now.

Webinar times


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Announcing the 2014 Headway Scholarship

Exeter CollegeWhen John and I started writing Headway we had certain beliefs about ELT borne out of our experience as teachers and teacher trainers. And, like many teachers, we weren’t always entirely happy with the courses we used. However, we decided to stop whinging and have a go at creating a course of our own. We never imagined that Headway would become the chosen course of countless ELT classes round the world. We were flattered that so many teachers seemed to find our approach complemented and assisted their teaching.

Over the years we have hugely valued the many trips we’ve made to schools round the world, meeting up with teachers and students, and learning of their experiences and needs. Their stories – your stories – have influenced our writing. Nothing has given John and me greater satisfaction than teachers telling us how they felt that their students have made real progress using Headway.

As Headway became increasingly successful, we wanted to give something back to the ELT community to show our appreciation of all those students and teachers who were our inspiration and motivation. We decided to create the Headway Scholarship, sponsoring two students and two teachers from a country where Headway is widely used, to come to study in Oxford for a fortnight in the summer. We wanted to select students and teachers for whom such an opportunity wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

The first year of the Headway Scholarship was 2004, and the first country selected was Hungary – a country which has shown huge enthusiasm for Headway from the start. Over the following years, John and I discussed the country selection with the Headway team at OUP. Other countries in Europe were selected, then we extended the opportunity to the Middle East, Latin America, and most recently Ukraine and Turkey. The selection process has varied country to country, but each Headway Scholar has been a worthy recipient, having demonstrated their commitment – often via a competition – to English Language Teaching.

Liz and John Soars with four Headway Scholars at Exeter College in 2010

Liz and John Soars with four Headway Scholars at Exeter College in 2010

Although in the early years the Headway Scholarship was awarded to both students and teachers, it became apparent that the people who most benefited were the teachers. They attended the two-week English Language Teachers’ Summer Seminar, held at Exeter College, Oxford. These teachers have all been very enthusiastic about this course. Whenever we were able to, John and I met up with them. Many of them have written to tell us about what had been for them an opportunity of a lifetime, how much they’d developed as teachers, how they valued exchanging ideas with so many other ELT professionals from round the world, and how they would pass on what they’d learned to the wider ELT community back home. This is why we decided to dedicate the Headway Scholarship to four teachers.

And now there is an exciting new development to tell you about! The country selection has always been hard, and we hate to deprive any teacher of this opportunity just because of where they live. So to mark ten years since the first Headway Scholarship, this year we are making the Scholarship global! Wherever you are in the world, as a Headway teacher, you will be eligible to enter the Headway Scholarship competition to win a place at the 2014 Summer Seminar in Oxford.

The Headway Scholarship is very important for me, as it was for John, and I’m delighted it’s expanding in scope. As you’ll see from the competition entry information, it’s all about ‘Making a difference’, which is exactly what John and I set out to do all those years ago when we started writing Headway.

Good luck to everyone!
Warm wishes,

Liz Soars

You can find the application form and terms and conditions to enter the competition on the Headway Fourth Edition page.

14 March 2014 UPDATE: Please note, we are no longer accepting applications for the Headway Scholarship. We have posted the shortlist of applicants on the Headway Fourth Edition page.


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Webinar: Warmers, fillers and other quick activities

Teacher pointing at the whiteboardJon Hird, materials writer and teacher trainer, discusses the place and function of short activities in the English classroom. Jon will be hosting a practical webinar session on this topic on 12th September.

While not a requirement for every lesson, quick, simple and largely preparation- and materials-free activities such as warmers, fillers and lead-in activities can add a bit of dynamism and fun into any class. But why do them?

Warmers can wake the students (and the teacher) up and at the same time energise and stimulate. They help to focus minds and get the students in ‘English mode’. A good warmer can get the students engaged with English without them realising they are ‘doing’ English.

Fillers can serve a similar purpose to warmers. They can be used to change the pace, energy levels and dynamics between activities or whenever needed during the class. They can both help the students to relax and give a boost when things are perhaps flagging a little. They can allow a bit of ‘time out’ between more conventional classroom activities. They are flexible and can be used at almost any time. They are also especially useful for filling time at the end of a class.

Lead-in activities, as well as performing a similar function to warmers, are at the same time designed to introduce a topic, generate interest and whet the appetite. They focus minds on the topic and activate schema. Lead-ins can also be used to check, input and pre-teach any language necessary for the ensuing activity or activities.

There are also a great many preparation- and materials-free consolidation activities that can be used to give further practice and help fix new language in a fun and engaging way once the coursebook and other published materials have been completed.

In my upcoming webinar, Warmers, fillers and other quick activities we will look at a range of such warmers, fillers, lead-ins and consolidation activities, as well as activities to help you and your students get the most out of the course book. The webinar will use content from Headway Fourth edition.


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8 Steps Towards a Successful Classroom

Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, discusses the ingredients of a successful lesson. Verissimo hosted a webinar on this topic on the 10th May. To view a recording of this webinar, click here.

What makes a lesson successful? Beyond the specific materials and activities, what can teachers focus on in order to deliver consistently successful lessons? These are not easy questions to answer, but there are some key points we, as teachers, can focus on in order to increase the probability of consistently successful lessons.

Consider the students. Too obvious a point, probably. But in the rush of a day’s lessons, it is easy to deliver content without focussing on the individual students we have in front of us. What are their abilities, their interests?  How do they feel that day and how could these considerations affect the lesson you are about to deliver? Sometimes it is important to take a deep breath before beginning a lesson and consider these questions. We might be able to make some slight adjustments that will help our lesson flow better.

Although easily taken for granted, it is important to begin and end the lesson well. A good beginning has impact, drawing the students’ attention and engaging them in what they are about to do. It is also clear as to what the students will be doing in the lesson. A clear idea of the outcome of the lesson will help students become more personally involved in the activities, helping them to learn better. A good ending will give students a sense of achievement, of having learned. Students can reflect on what they have learned and what skills they have developed. Equally important, they can also consider what might have been difficult during the lesson, leading them to focus on that aspect of their learning.

Of course, the material you use will greatly contribute to the success of your lesson. But it is important to look at it critically. How does it relate to your students? Is it relevant to them? Almost any topic can be made relevant, but it is important to focus on this in order to make it so. Students may find a topic boring or a language point too difficult to understand. However, making their feelings and opinions part of the lesson will help to involve them. Contributing to the lesson in this way helps them take responsibility for what happens in their lessons. They, too, contribute to the success of the lesson.

Students today learn as much outside the classroom as they do in class, maybe even more in some cases. Successful lessons take this into consideration and don’t end when the class ends. There are many ways to extend the lesson beyond the classroom. Students can find links between the topics in class, maybe from their coursebook, to their world. I discovered in a coursebook lesson based on parkour that the national champion of the sport was from the city where I was teaching. My students knew more about it than I did. Of course, this led to photos of where the sport was practised in the city and some of the people who practised it.

Technology is an integral part of our students’ lives, providing many opportunities for continuing language work outside of class. This could be based on language work integrated with the coursebook, or online work based on researching a topic. Teachers can also consider using students’ digital devices to bring their lives into the classroom. When working on the present simple for daily routine, students can be encouraged to take some photos of what they do every day. Sharing these in class will add a personal context to the language being learned.

My webinar further discussed some of the key points that bring success to the classroom. You can view a recording of the webinar here.


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Oxford Teachers’ Academy 2012 – Reflections

Teachers working togetherMirjana Podvorac, an attendee of the Oxford Teachers’ Academy: Teaching English for Adults course in July 2012, talks about this life-changing experience.

I feel really privileged to have been a part of the Oxford Teachers’ Academy course Teaching English to Adults 2012. Being able to meet people from all over Europe and beyond, who are in the same profession of teaching, who are really dedicated to what they do and are experts in their area of interest, is inspiring and makes me personally want to learn more and push my own limits.

These few days in Oxford have really been rewarding in many ways; famous Oxford University and prominent Keble College provided a perfect setting for the course, stirring our imagination and taking us back to the times of Tolkien, C.S Lewis and other prominent Oxford scholars.

The course consisted of 18 hours of intensive teacher training divided into 9 sessions over the course of three days. Tim Ward, the tutor, professionally covered all language skills providing lots of useful tips, techniques and ready-to-use activities to make our teaching more efficient, varied and fun. Personally, I admired his calm, friendly, and engaging attitude. At the end of each day there was some time left for reflection, going through our notes and handouts, summing it all up, which have proved to be very useful now that I want to use the activities and ideas in my class.

We were also given the opportunity to meet the editors of Oxford University Press Adult course book classics, English File and Headway, which enriched with the new, inventive iTutor and iTools digital features, continue to be teachers’ favourites worldwide. Being able to convey our opinion to people who are engaged in the process of the development of new courses and to assist with the usability testing of the online test project was really rewarding. The OUP team have proved once again to be trustworthy ELT partners who truly value teachers’ feedback encouraging all the participants to continue working together and contribute to future projects.

Meeting fellow colleagues from different countries was another benefit; 36 enthusiastic people who like this tricky, yet wonderful profession. We spent most of our free time together as well, sightseeing, taking photos, buying souvenirs and getting to know each other over dinner and a pint in famous Oxford pubs or, again thanks to the OUP, enjoying fabulous Lebanese food. We continue to keep in touch exchanging ideas, useful books and links. Hopefully, the OUP OTA 2012 will result in some inspiring international partnerships as well.

In conclusion, although Oxford is known as the City of Dreaming Spires suggesting the melancholy, poetic echo of the rich history, we have found the City and the University itself to be vibrant, stimulating and fully awake.

Finally, I give my appreciation to the Croatian OUP team in Zagreb, who have been reliable partners for more than thirteen years, for their support and this memorable experience.

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