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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Linking Your Classroom to The Wider World

shutterstock_247739401In this blog, Patrick Jackson shares his experiences of learning as a child.  His insights illustrate some important elements of engagement and motivation that often get overlooked in the day-to-day busy classroom and curriculum.

What do you remember from your school days? Forty years on, I can remember:

  • Some of the faces
  • Many of the feelings
  • Much of the fun
  • Very few of the facts
  • The times the wider world came into our classroom
  • The times we weren’t actually at school

As a teacher, I’ve learned to incorporate those early memories of school into my own teaching. I’d like to share some of those lessons learnt with you.

Lesson #1: Exploit opportunities that you can build a lesson around.

My first experience of education took place in a wonderful Montessori school that occupied a room in a local racecourse. In return for allowing the school to use the room, the students had to pick up the litter on a Monday morning after race meetings. We loved collecting the colorfully numbered betting tickets that littered the ground. One day, a student found a pound note. That led to a discussion as to what should be done with it. In the end, half went to charity and half to a bag of sweets for the whole class. I’m sure that this early experience led to my lifelong interest in litter picking although you won’t find many pound notes these days. I can’t remember much of what happened in the classroom but I do remember how much we’d look forward to those Monday mornings

Lesson #2: Bring the outside world into your classroom

The clearest memories are of the days when we escaped from the classroom or when the wider world came to see us. We had a teacher who brought his Labrador to school every day. It would sit under his desk. One morning, a pigeon flew through the open window and flew around and around, to be eventually caught and released accompanied by much barking and excitement. There was the day we received a package from a school on the other side of the world. It was full of stickers and interesting snacks. We were fascinated. There were the happy days when a visiting speaker would come and talk to us about something wonderful and different and new. Those were the best days. When something different and new happened.

Lesson #3: Take your class out into the world

Then there were the delicious days we spent away from school – the trips off campus. There was the day we went to Stratford Upon Avon and the theatre had to be evacuated because of a smoke alarm (nothing to do with us, promise). There were museum trips where invariably somebody would get lost and we’d all have to wait for them to turn up at the meeting point. There were nature field trips, and visits to the local old folks home where we would sing the residents Puff the Magic Dragon and songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Most heavenly of all was the annual three-day trip to an outdoor activity centre where we would rediscover our true calling as children – to get wet, dirty and exhausted. Outside.

Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid to go off topic

In the classroom, more than any syllabus or curriculum, I remember the red herrings. By that I don’t mean smoked fish. I mean the times when we could distract our teachers to tell us all about their favorite things – those lovely moments when they would drift far away from the task in hand and enthuse about their own interests. Those were the teachers we loved the most and the teachers I can remember now. There was a Mr. Green who supported Derby County Football Club and would always tell us in detail about the previous weekend’s match. There was a Mr. Sanderson who loved Motown and could never resist playing us one or two of his favorite tracks. There was a teacher of some forgotten subject who had a collection of ceramic owls in her classroom. It wouldn’t take much to get those teachers started talking about their pet passions and a good red herring could last to the end of the lesson.

Lesson #5: Share your passions

There was a history teacher who came into class one day with a silver spoon. He held up this spoon for the class to look at. It was an antique Georgian Irish Silver ladle. He started to talk about it, full of enthusiasm. I am ashamed to say that my friends and I sniggered at the back of the class. But the more he spoke about his spoon, the more we became engaged. He told us about how the spoon had been passed down through his family. He enthused about the design of the spoon, about the elegant curve of the handle, about the process of making a spoon like that two hundred years ago. He passed the spoon around the class so that we could all see the little silver marks on the underside of the handle. He taught us how we could identify the maker, the date and the place where the spoon had been made. He spoke of the type of home that this spoon was used in in Georgian times. I can’t remember the rest of that lesson. To be honest, I can’t really remember the teacher that well but I can remember his spoon.

I am very pleased to invite you to join my webinar this month. Together, we will look at some ways in which all teachers can create links between the classroom and the wider world. By opening up to our students and opening the doors, windows and hearts of our classrooms, we can become more memorable and more effective teachers.



Using drama role play activities in your classroom

shutterstock_286079675Ken Wilson is the author of Smart Choice and in all has written more than 30 ELT titles. We asked teachers from around the world who have been using Smart Choice what one question they would like to ask Ken. In this video blog Ken answers the question ‘How can Smart Choice be used for drama role play activities?’

To relate English language learning to their daily lives, students need the opportunity to say something about themselves or to give their opinion. We all need to find manageable activities that help students with personalization.

In this final Question and Answer video blog, Ken Wilson demonstrates how you can use coursebook material as the basis for personalization activities. He then suggests how teachers can extend language learning by asking students to play different parts in role-play activities.


Wilson, Ken and Healy, Thomas. (2016) Smart Choice Third Edition, Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Ken. (2008) Drama and Improvisation, Oxford University Press.

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Changing classrooms for the better – the Hornby Scholarship

hornbyscholarVuyokazi Yolanda Makubalo has been involved with the teaching of English as a Second Language (ESL) in South Africa for 20 years. In 2015, she was awarded a scholarship from the Hornby Educational Trust to study for an MA in English Language Teaching at the UK’s University of Warwick. Vuyokazi gives us an insight into her work in South Africa, and how she sees her studies benefiting not only herself but also the teachers and children of her home country.

My career in ESL began in 1995 as an English Second Language teacher at Toise Senior Secondary School, a rural school in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. During the twelve years there, I worked as the Subject Head for English at my school and a Cluster Leader in my circuit. In 2008 I welcomed and embraced a promotion in another district, Grahamstown, as the District English Subject Advisor where I continued to work with 32 English High School teachers.

My job as an English Subject Advisor is to see to the curriculum delivery of the English syllabus. To achieve this, I visit schools to monitor the implementation of the syllabus. It is during these visits that I might take note of a recurring challenge in the teaching of English, for instance, and, based on this, I organise in-service training to remedy the situation for the teachers. When I cannot assist I call upon the Provincial Office. It is at such times that I feel most aware that I really need to develop my mastery of teaching the subject of English.

I am not the only English Subject Advisor from South Africa who has the honour of being granted an A. S. Hornby Scholarship. My colleague, Shaike Francis Sefalane, is taking the same course. He is also the vice-president of the Eastern Cape English Educators’ Association (ECEEA) which I also belong to. The ECEEA allows us to reach out to almost every English teacher in the province to share experiences and knowledge. As English Subject Advisors, we are connected to all the other advisors in the province, leading all English teachers in both the Further Education and Training and General Education and Training bands in the province at large. Our coming to the United Kingdom is part of a Provincial plan to send Subject Advisors to the UK to study for a Masters in English Language Teaching and, most importantly, to go back and share the knowledge with colleagues. The Hornby Scholarship has made this possible for us.

The 2015 cohort of Hornby scholars come from 10 different countries and everyone is so proud of where they come from. We have all come to the United Kingdom to study so we can go back home to share knowledge and make things better. The sharing of diverse experiences from our 10 different contexts, embracing each others’ cultures, and exposure to world languages are some of the things that make this group most interesting. But, best of all is the formation of relationships across the world! Today I know I have a friend in Bangladesh, Sudan and so on. I have even enjoyed some of the most delicious dishes from Bangladesh. It is all exactly what I wanted and wished for!

It  has been a life-long dream that one day I would come to the United Kingdom, the ‘Motherland of English’, where most of all the literature I ever read and taught comes from, and to receive my English Masters here! I feel so blessed and for that I will forever be grateful to the man who made it all possible,  A. S. Hornby. Truly, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me as it had afforded me the opportunity to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, see the very first edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, walk on William Wordsworth’s Westminster bridge and visit many other places of interest to an English practitioner.

A wonderful and so-true quote from our Nelson Mandela reminds us that, “Education is  the great engine of personal development. It is through education that a daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mine worker can become the head of a mine, that a child of a farm worker can become a president of a country.” Through the Hornby Scholarship we can also change the fortunes of the children in our classrooms for the better. My main focus is the disadvantaged child in our less advantaged schools, the one whose parents cannot afford to give her the opportunity to go to the affluent schools where she can learn ‘better English’  taught by ‘native English teachers’. I see it as one of my duties to ensure that, in every less advantaged and not so well-resourced school, such a child can also receive such quality English teaching that will see her having an equal share in the opportunities that the world offers. We all deserve that much. Our children’s future should not be defined by their backgrounds. Working closely with their teachers, we can ensure that their future is as bright. I want to believe that this is one of the core goals of the Hornby Scholarship that through exposure to well-taught English, the future of every disadvantaged child in the world is brightened.

To hear more about Vuyokazi’s story, watch her video interview on our YouTube channel. You can also hear from other Hornby Scholars Urmila Khaled and Shaike Francis Sefalame.

 The Hornby Educational Trust was created in 1961 by A S Hornby, an English-language specialist best known for producing the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, published by Oxford University Press. The Trust’s activities include providing scholarships in the UK for people from developing and transitional countries, funding schools and workshops around the world, and maintaining an alumni network.


How we think as (language) teachers

shutterstock_159772340Donald Freeman is a professor of education at the University of Michigan, where he works with undergraduate and post‐graduate teacher preparation in all subjects K‐12. Today, he joins us to preview his webinar How we think as (language) teachers which he will present on March 29th and 30th.

I can imagine my title raises questions. Of course people think when they teach, just like they breathe or they use language. It may be surprising, therefore, to learn that studying how teachers think only became a part of second language teaching about 25 years ago.  Before the 1990s, teacher thinking was part of methodology: When you learned a particular way of working in the classroom, the thinking went along with it. Learning how to do specific things in teaching– like how to conduct a substitution drill or set up a listening activity for example—included the reasons for why and how to do these activities.  In this way, theory was part of practice; the activity embedded the reasoning.  However, with the growth of research in the ‘parent disciplines’ of language teaching, second language acquisition and applied linguistics, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, what we called ‘theory’ took on a life of its own. There emerged theories about how people learned languages, and what languages were, that the teacher needed to somehow combine with understanding of pedagogy.

This changed the role of the teacher. Beyond learning teaching methodologies, and how to do things in the classroom, teachers were also expected to know these general ideas about teaching and learning. But these theories lived in ‘academic’ worlds that seemed very far removed from the messy, complicated work that language teachers do with their students in their classrooms on a daily basis. So to counteract this distance, it makes sense that interest in understanding how people actually think as language teachers increased —the kinds of thinking they do, what factors shape the thinking, how the thinking evolves over time through a teaching life, and how that thinking can be ‘taught’ to (or developed in) new teachers.

I was very fortunate to be part of this work in second language teaching. As we started to investigate how people think as language teachers, we drew from similar work on teacher thinking in general educational research. Like any borrowing, this process had positive and negative implications. On the positive, studying language teachers as teachers focused us on what might be true about the work in general. For example, our understanding of how teachers learn in their first five years in the classroom are anchored in research on the development of teaching expertise generally. A negative was that these general understandings of teaching distracted from examining how language works differently from other subjects (like math or science) when it becomes classroom content. The fact that we do not have a clear view of language as classroom content that is based in research in classrooms and documented in how language teachers actually work has presented major challenges. Too often, the profession has relied on proxies and shortcuts, rather than truly examining how language works in teaching.

Let me give two examples. First,  for years, language teaching has used the concept of the ‘native speaker’ as a reference point for teaching qualifications, although the concept itself is not linguistically definable. This geo-political idea has been substituted for various reasons, for a clear definition of the language that teachers need to know for classroom teaching.

This connects to a second example: the principle of teaching English in English, which is directly connected to how we define language as classroom content. Using the target language in teaching makes a lot of sense pedagogically—it can provide students with exposure and input, and perhaps most importantly it makes the target language real.  But how to teach English in  English is complicated. It depends on the students’ language level, the content the teacher is expected to teach, as well as the culture of the school and the wider society.

This webinar will examine how understanding teacher thinking has evolved in ELT. We will review the ‘generations’ of language teaching and use that generational framework to consider how people learn to teach languages. Participants who are teachers will have the opportunity to frame their own development; those who are teacher trainers, supervisors, or educators will be able to apply the framework to their work with teachers.

If you’re interested in attending the full webinar, simply follow the registration button below.

Register for the webinar


70 years of ELT Journal: continuity and change

Business meeting

Graham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.

There are few things in ELT which are quite as long-standing as ELT Journal. This year marks its 70th anniversary, and, over those 70 years, the Journal has published well over 2,000 articles, over 1,000 books reviews, and countless other feature items (in 1967, for example, we find the announcement of a new venture, the Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, now known as IATEFL: issue XXI: 3).

So what continuities can we see between the first issue and ELT Journal in 2016, and what has changed over time to stay relevant to teachers today? One constant is the overall aim of the Journal. In the language of the times, the opening editorial in 1946 stated that ‘our new periodical, it is hoped … will enable the teacher in the classroom to know what has been done and is being done to help him in his task and to exchange with fellow workers his own experiences and findings’ (issue 1/1). And today, the Journal ‘aims to provide a medium for informed discussion of the principles and practice which determine the ways in which English is taught and learnt around the world’ (ELT Journal’s aims are outlined in more detail on its website). That first issue also created the template for all subsequent editions – an editorial (although now, in the interests of space and readers’ patience, not in every issue!); a range of articles; book reviews; and a feature item.

Of course, there are also differences between ‘then and now’. As well as providing the editorial, the then editor A.S. Hornby also wrote two of the articles; this reflected the relatively small number of people involved or interested in ELT at that time, in comparison to today’s global profession. And the papers and reviews themselves – with their focus on Britain and British culture (by British authors), on the work of de Saussure, and on ‘Books you should know’ – strike a different tone to those in today’s ELT Journal; they aimed to chart a course and establish a field, perhaps, whereas today we hope to share knowledge and draw on common understandings, albeit as we engage in our professional discussions, debates and disputes.

From 1946, let us fast-forward 35 years, to 1981. A key event in ELT Journal’s development was its reconfiguration that year, to reflect the growth of our field and the increasing range of insights from relatively new academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, sociology and psychology. In his editorial (issue 36/1), incoming editor Richard Rossner, reflected upon the increasing diversity of the profession and the range of contexts in which English was taught, and emphasised that it is not ‘good for the profession if individuals see themselves as mainly concerned with ‘theory’ or only involved in ‘practice’ ’. The Journal aimed, overtly, to bridge the ‘theory-practice’ gap; similarly, today, ELT Journal ‘links the everyday concerns of practitioners with insights gained from relevant academic disciplines’.

And what of the content of ELT Journal 35 years ago, half way through its 70 year span? In issue 36/1, both the topics and titles of articles and of books reviewed are perhaps more familiar – debates surrounding the role of teaching materials, student autonomy and authenticity appear; language skills as well as language structures or systems are discussed; different learner age groups are recognised. And authorship throughout the publication is more international and no longer solely the preserve of men. We can see these trends maintained and developed further in the Journal today.

So in fact, this year marks two notable points in ELT Journal’s development – its founding 70 years ago, and its re-launch 35 years ago in 1981, when it became even more recognisably the journal we see today. To celebrate this, both the first issue of English Language Teaching (1/1; 1946) and the first re-launched ELT Journal (36/1; 1981) are freely available on ELT Journal’s website throughout 2016, and, if you have the opportunity to read them, you can track the developments I have briefly summarised here. You can also compare these past issues of the Journal with papers from the present day, through the online ‘Editor’s Choice’ feature, in which an article from each recent issue of the Journal is made freely available online, in many cases alongside short videos in which their authors discuss their paper and the ideas behind it.

Join us at IATEFL, Birmingham for the annual ELTJ Debate, taking place Thursday 14th April. The motion of this year’s debate is: This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time. Proposing: Peter Grundy / Apposing: Penny Ur.