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5 things to consider when running a workshop

shutterstock_490695220Martyn Clarke has worked in ELT classrooms as a teacher and trainer for over twenty years and in more than fifteen countries. He has taught English at all levels and in many contexts from one-to-one in financial institutions to rural schools with classes of eighty students.

Running a workshop for teaching colleagues is a very useful form of professional development for the following reasons:

  • It can encourage us to focus on an area of teaching in more detail than we normally would.
  • It gives us the opportunity to consider why we do things as teachers and colleagues.
  • The semi-formal setting allows us to exchange ideas with a wider range of colleagues than usual.
  • The change of dynamic can be motivational in a long teaching year.

Successful workshops usually happen as a result of good planning. Whether you are new to running workshops or have run them on a number of occasions the following 5-point checklist might prove useful.

  1. Purpose

Workshops have different purposes, which will dictate their objectives and the processes. Of course, more than one of the purposes identified below may be involved.

  • An awareness-raising workshop will focus on discussion of classroom issues and sharing of experiences and opinions. Outcomes of these workshops are often guidelines, points to remember, or outlines for future professional learning activities.
  • A materials-analysis workshop will focus on the analysis of learning materials which might be published or teacher-generated. There is usually sharing of ideas on what makes good materials and then some form of evaluation. Adaptation activities are sometimes included.
  • A skills development workshop explores what we do as teachers. It may look at teaching techniques, resource management, or even how we work with each other as colleagues.
  1. Process

Effective workshops have a clear process of learning.  A basic and very adaptable model is Input, Task, Output.


  • What information will be the focus of the workshop? Will it come from the participants or the trainer?
  • What form will this information take? (video/materials/opinions/demonstration, etc.)
  • What status does this information have? Does it have to be complied with? Is it an example of best practice? Is it a prompt for discussion and can be adopted, changed, or rejected?


  • What will the participants do with the information? Will they practice it? Analyse it? Evaluate it? Or adapt it?
  • Will all the participants be doing the same thing? All will different groups work on different aspects of the topic? Will the task take place in the workshop, or afterwards in the classrooms?


  • How will you record the work done during the task? Will you create action plans? Materials? Procedures?  Or discussion points?
  • Will participants record these individually? On posters in groups? Will you record them yourself in plenary?
  • What will you do with the output after the workshop?
  1. Logistics

An effective workshop sits comfortably in its real setting. Making sure the event works on a practical level is a key aspect of preparation.

  • Is the timing appropriate? Will participants be able to focus on the workshop and not be distracted by lessons later that day, marking they may need to finish, or any other external concern?
  • Is the content of the workshop appropriate for its length? In general, things always take longer than we expect.  Teachers like to talk.
  • Is the space of the workshop sufficient for its activities? Have you ensured privacy or will there be other staff/students walking in and out?
  • Do you have all the materials you need?
  • Does everybody know who needs to know?
  1. Follow-up

Effective workshops have strong links to practical professional practice. Teachers are busy people and it’s easy to attend a workshop, find it interesting, but then return to work and carry on doing exactly the same thing that you have always done. Ensuring a workshop has a follow-up activity is a useful way of making it effective.

  • What impact do you want the workshop to have? What changes do you hope will happen as a result of the workshop?
  • What will be the evidence of this? Will teachers record their experiences for a follow-up session? Will they share new materials in staff folders? Will there be peer observations to understand how new skills/resources are being used?
  1. Evaluation

You can evaluate a workshop in different ways. The key is to identify what information you want and to make enough time to collect it effectively.

  • Do you want information about your performance? The activities? The content? The resources? The impact of the workshop?
  • How will you collect the information? Interview? Questionnaire? Observation? Etc.
  • What will you do with the information? Who will you share it with? Will you follow up with the evaluators?


5 Activities for Peer Observation

Peer reviewMartyn Clarke has worked in ELT classrooms as a teacher and trainer for over twenty years and in more than fifteen countries. He has taught English at all levels and in many contexts from one-to-one in financial institutions to rural schools with classes of eighty students.

There are many reasons why peer observations with our teaching colleagues can be useful.

They often share your background and so understand your students, books, pressures, etc. They usually approach problems from the same practical perspective as you. They probably know you and so often understand the best way to approach you. And you can have developmental dialogues over time and so can explore ideas gradually.

Here are 5 observation activities that can be used with a colleague. They all follow a basic three-stage process of before, during and after the observation.

  1. Spot the difference

In this observation activity two colleagues focus on the similarities and differences in their teaching.

The teacher gives the observer an outline basic plan of their lesson. The observer writes notes on the plan on what they would be doing as a teacher at the different stages of the lesson.

The observer notes down the things that happen in the teaching process which don’t normally happen in their own lessons. These could be teaching behaviours, order of activities, methods of recording etc.

The teacher and the observer analyse the information using any of the following questions as appropriate:

  1. How could you categorise the differences?
  2. How do you account for the differences (reasons/rationales)?
  3. What does the observer do instead to achieve the same goal?
  4. What criteria would you use to decide which alternative to take?


  1. 5 reactions

In this observation activity two colleagues focus on five observer reactions to what happens in the classroom. – e.g. Something that surprised/inspired/amused/confused/intrigued me.

The colleagues decide on five observer reactions that they would like to focus on. The teacher gives the observer an outline basic plan of their lesson.

The observer notes down the things that happen in the lesson that cause the reactions they agreed on before the observation.

The teacher and the observer analyse the information using any of the following questions as appropriate:

  1. Which observer reactions does the teacher find unexpected? Why?
  2. Why did the observer have these reactions?
  3. What do these reactions tell you about the ways the you think about teaching?
  4. What follow up questions do you have for each other?


  1. Keep Two, Change Two

In this observation activity two colleagues identify two things they would do again, and two things they would do differently.

The teacher gives the observer an outline basic plan of their lesson.

The observer notes down 2 things that the teacher does (either teaching behaviours or activities) that they would do again in the same lesson, and two things that they would change. The teacher does the same (either making a quick note during the lesson or immediately afterwards.

The teacher and the observer analyse the information using any of the following questions as appropriate:

  1. Compare the selections. How do you account for any differences?
  2. What do you agree/disagree on? What does this tell you about your views on teaching and learning?
  3. Why would you make the changes? What differences would the changes make?
  4. What aspects of the context of the lesson influence your selections?


  1. Away from the plan

In this observation activity two colleagues explore how and why lessons move away from the lesson plan.

The teacher gives the observer a detailed plan of their lesson.

The observer notes down the places where things happen that are different to the plan, in terms of timings, teacher roles, order of activities, etc.

The teacher and the observer analyse the information using any of the following questions as appropriate:

  1. What categories can you put the changes into (e.g. time/management/activity order/ teacher roles/student activities, etc.)? Which categories feature most often, and why?
  2. What strategies did the teacher have for returning to the lesson?
  3. What criteria did the teacher use to decide to move away from the plan?
  4. What differences did the changes make? What does this tell you about strategies for effective and realistic lesson planning?


  1. Teacher Talk

In this observation activity two colleagues analyse what the teacher says in a lesson and why they say it.

The teacher and the observer work identify the types of talk that they think they use in a lesson, e.g. giving instructions, correcting errors, controlling behaviours, etc.

The observer makes notes on when the teacher talks, and as far as possible the types of talk according to their categories. If other categories are found, these are noted.

The teacher and the observer analyse the information using any of the following questions as appropriate:

  1. What surprises you about the data? Why does it surprise you? How do you account for the difference in your expectations?
  2. Are any categories more frequent than others? How do you account for this?
  3. How would you like to alter the incidence of teacher talk? More? Less? A change in focus?
  4. What dos this tell you about the quality of teacher talk and the quantity of teacher talk?


Six ways to boost classroom participation: Part One – Using peer observation

Peer reviewZarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. Since 2000, she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina now spends her time divided between teacher training, materials writing, trainer training and presenting at conferences.

 “When we originally went to the moon, our total focus was on the moon, we weren’t thinking about looking back at the earth. But now we’ve done it, that may have been the most important reason we went.” – reported by David Beaver, co-founder of Overview Institute.

Similarly, when we go into the classroom, as teachers, our total focus is to help our students to learn. But unlike the astronaut, who was quoted, many of us fail to look back. We can become so focused on the job of teaching that we don’t reflect often enough on how we can develop ourselves.

Let’s consider a question. What’s your ultimate goal as a teacher? Many would say they want to help their students be the very best they can be. However, the reality that many language teachers face is that they cannot always engage their students in what they are teaching. They feel they have to teach to the test, or cannot cover everything in the book in the time allocated. Not enough feel like they may be ‘making a difference’.

This is the first of a series of six articles designed to help teachers develop themselves, in order to make a real difference to their students. I’ll be suggesting ways you can boost class participation, and encourage your students to really experiment with the language they are learning.

So, where to start? It can be very helpful to begin by objectively considering how you teach, by being observed. Classrooms are a teacher’s territory and if observations are done as a form of inspection or prerequisite to promotion, it can be very stressful. However, if you invite a close teacher friend into your territory, it is quite a different matter. It allows you to ‘see yourself’ through another professional’s eyes, and a professional who is non-threatening at that.

I suggest asking a colleague (preferably in the same school as you) if they would be willing to partner up with you. It could be as informal as “I don’t really think I teach p.68&69 in the Grade 6 book very well. Would you be interested in seeing how I do it? Could you share any of your ideas with me?”

Although it won’t be assessed, it will still probably cause a bit more anxiety than if it were just you and your students. So be sure to plan to do it a little way into the future and not just “next Tuesday”, only to realise it is parents’ evening the same night…

When discussing and arranging your time to be observed, you should also negotiate when you can observe your colleague in return. If you make it a two-way observation, you are effectively both agreeing to be open and honest with each other and discarding all barriers. It is also fair.

More importantly, observing, mentoring and listening to, as well as giving feedback can be a very beneficial process that leads to some reflective time and consideration on how to do things differently. When you see how others teach exactly what you teach, it provides a real chance for you to try out new things. These changes you make, however small, refresh your teaching.

Before observing someone, there are certain things that need to be in place. Make sure you understand what the other teacher is hoping to gain from the experience and also what they hope to achieve for their learners. It can be helpful to ask them to write a lesson plan, even if they don’t normally do so for every class they teach. This is because it is good to understand what led to the lesson you observe. A lesson plan also gives the teacher the chance to point out ‘known difficulties’, whether these are particular students, or specific things about the class the observer needs to be aware of.

In addition, a lesson plan allows the observer to have some questions in mind before the lesson begins. For example, “Why is this activity not happening till the end? I would’ve used it at the beginning!” They are questions that shouldn’t be asked before the observation because you could make the teacher feel unsure of themselves, but hopefully will be answered by what is evident in the classroom. And of course, a lesson plan is equally important to provide for your teacher friend who is going to observe you. Remember to keep things equal.

Make sure you always thank the person you observe at the end, and highlight the positive things that you saw. If they asked you for constructive criticism, give it, but remember it should be useful and more constructive that critical. Be sure to take notes and get yourself organised before speaking to them.

What kind of things should you note? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Level of anxiety / stress in the classroom
  2. Levels of differentiation and learning
  3. Method of questioning to increase student participation
  4. Listening to students and clarifying what is said
  5. How cognitively challenging are activities for the students?

It’s a good idea to also provide some points that you would like the other teacher to look for in your lessons, so when you are observed, you too benefit from the experience. When this is done effectively and efficiently, both teachers usually benefit so much that they implement it at other times and it becomes a peer observation tool for self-development. It works when all things are fair and equal.

This way, we can deal with our students’ learning and also our own, by putting into place a method of looking back and reflecting like the astronaut who went to the moon. Ours is just as epic a journey and I hope you will join me in my next blog post. I’ll be exploring anxiety in the classroom, both for teachers and students, and how you can reduce it to improve class participation.

This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


Getting the most value out of peer assessment

Illustration of lots of eyes looking at man holding paper

Image courtesy of AJ Cann on Flickr

Is the value of peer assessment compromised if it is used as a class control for large classes? Charl Norloff, co-author of Q: Skills for Success Reading/Writing 4, discusses how to maximize the value of peer assessment.

The value of any technique, including peer assessment, lies in having a clear idea of the purpose for using it and having realistic expectations about the outcomes you seek. Here are some factors to consider.

Structure the peer work carefully so that:

Students are using the target language

Is the class monolingual? If so, then the peer work, especially if it is being used as a control, needs to be very carefully structured so students can easily do it. Otherwise, it can have the opposite effect, leading to students speaking together in their native language, often off topic, and can actually contribute to a lack of control.

So, provide clear directions for what language you expect the students to use, including structures and vocabulary required to successfully complete the task.

The task is easy enough for the students to do with minimal supervision

The level of the students is another consideration in how the peer work is structured. The peer activity has to be such that it encourages use of the target language – in this case, English. If the task is too difficult or too open-ended for the level of the students then, again, it can lead to a situation where there is poor control.

So, make sure the task is at the appropriate level for your students, and give and practice models – including vocabulary and structures – in advance of the activity so students have the language they need. Peer tasks are often best following instruction and whole group practice or assignments.

There is a time limit

Especially where control is one of the purposes of peer work, a clear time limit is also a must. Otherwise, students waste time and can easily end up off task.

So, decide on the appropriate amount of time to complete the task, subtract five minutes and announce and post the end time. You can always add a few more minutes back in if students are clearly on task and still need more time to finish.

There is an end task with clear measurable outcomes, which can be assessed

When students work in pairs or groups, to ensure that the intended work is done, an end activity which holds the students accountable is always practical. That may be where the assessment piece comes in.

If the desired result of the peer work is to be assessment, then there need to be clear and measurable outcomes attached to the peer work in order for it serve the dual purpose of control and assessment.

Again, provide clear instructions about either a written or an oral assignment that will be due (and assessed, if that’s appropriate) at the end of the peer work. Try to keep the end task one of creating or producing something – a dialogue or brief speech presented to the whole class if you’re working on speaking or a piece of writing or analysis of writing that will be collected if writing is your focus. Avoid asking students to evaluate the quality of their partner’s work. Avoid asking yes/no questions which don’t require the use of the language. Focus rather on producing language or identifying aspects of the language rather than judging the language.

Here’s an example:

I’ve assigned, and my students have written, a paragraph giving reasons why studying a foreign language is an important part of their education. Prior to the peer work, we have worked on writing a good paragraph and have read a model and identified the topic sentence, supporting ideas, and conclusion.

My task will be for students to exchange paragraphs with a partner, read the partner’s paragraph, discuss anything that isn’t understood, then complete a worksheet on the paragraph identifying the various types of sentences.

The desired learning outcome in this example is for the students to be able to identify the structure of a good paragraph.

I will give the students five to ten minutes to read their partner’s paragraph and discuss it. Then, they will have another five to ten minutes to do the worksheet. The worksheet might ask the students to 1) find the topic sentence, write it on the worksheet and underline the topic once and the controlling idea twice, 2) list the supporting reasons, 3) circle transitions words, and 4) state whether the paragraph had a concluding sentence, and if so, whether it restated the ideas in the topic sentence or not.

The final step (and end task) would be to share the answers on the worksheet with the partner. Worksheets could be collected and be part of the overall assessment of the writing. A follow up assignment would be for students to reread their own paragraphs, using the same worksheet to analyze the paragraph, and then to revise it as needed based on the worksheet.

In any activity in a language class, including peer assessment, having control of the class is a must. If peer work is done in a way that keeps a class under control, and clear realistic outcomes are expected and measurable, then the value of the work is never compromised.

This is our last question for the Q authors. Thank you to everyone who contacted us!

Check out our Questions for Q authors playlist for previous answers, or see all of our Questions for Q authors articles.


Using Blogs to Add Value to the Writing Process

Asian woman with laptopSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at how teachers can add value to the student writing process by using blog posts in writing tasks.

There is no doubt that writing to a wider audience motivates the writer and results in work of higher quality being produced. However, it is rare that student writing goes beyond the teacher. It may be opened up for peer review, but this usually involves no more than one or two of the writer’s classmates.

One way to create a wider audience is to post student work on blogs. In a previous post, I discussed how the comment area of a class blog post or page could be used by students to post their work. In this post, I will discuss how students can use their individual blogs to publish their work, thereby making it available to a wider audience.

However, it’s important to realize that students shouldn’t just publish to blogs without their work going through traditional drafting/feedback processes; students may be reluctant to post work on blogs without feedback from their teachers and poorly crafted work may also lead to students being ridiculed by their peers. In addition, when grading online texts such as blog posts, it’s important to design grading rubrics that take into account the multimedia features that traditional texts don’t allow.

To illustrate the process, let’s look at an online lesson I used with my students (see Figure 1). [Note: While the lesson below describes a fully online course, I also use a similar methodology with face-to-face classes.]

Figure 1: Overview of online lesson

Figure 1: Overview of online lesson

The topic, protecting the environment, was presented in the form of web-based reading and listening activities, with both practice and graded quizzes (activities 1-4). In activity 5, students were required to write about protecting the environment, personalizing it by giving their opinions. Before starting the writing, students were given some tips about the language in focus (see Figure 2). Students were also given some more writing tips with the instructions for the first draft (see Figure 3).

Figure 2: Tips about language in focus

Figure 2: Tips about language in focus

Figure 3: First draft with writing tips

Figure 3: First draft with writing tips

Figure 4: Second draft

Figure 4: Second draft

It’s important to note that despite the lesson being done in fully online mode, it followed a traditional process writing methodology. The rubrics for the task reflect this:

Figure 5: Rubrics for writing task

Figure 5: Rubrics for writing task

Following this process ensured two things: first, both student and teacher could focus on the actual text, thereby ensuring that it was both grammatically and thematically correct; second, and perhaps as a consequence of the first stage, the resultant text was something that the student could be proud of and want to show to a wider audience. The next stage, students posting the text to their individual blogs, was where value is added to the writing process. The rubrics for this task are as follows:

Figure 6: Rubrics for blog task

Figure 6: Rubrics for blog task

In this task, two major components were graded: the first was the aesthetics of the blog, i.e. did it contain graphics and was it formatted correctly; the second was the social interaction side of using blogs. It was not just sufficient to post. Students must also comment on at least two of their classmates’ blog posts. To ensure that they have actually read the posts, the quality of their comments is also graded. Figures 7 and 8 below show an example of a blog post and comments. While two of the comments were just short acknowledgments, the other two do show that the readers did more than just superficially interact with the text.

Figure 7: A blog post

Figure 7: A blog post

Figure 8: Comments on the post

Figure 8: Comments on the post

Not only has the above process ensured that students have been able to correctly use the language focus in the text, the second stage of the process also ensures that students learn how to publish and interact with online texts, a key 21st Century skill.

In addition, by adding a social interaction component to the writing task, student texts are now becoming a valuable learning resource for the class. Rather than having to search for paper- or web-based texts, which may be at an inappropriate level for EFL students, these student-generated texts are pitched at the “just-right” level for their peers.