tefl job sites

About this entry

This is page that I wrote some years ago for the static web site. I have simply reproduced it here. There is possibly some inaccurate information here. If you do find some inaccuracies or would like to add another site, please leave a comment or email me if you prefer to remain anonymous. Happy surfing!

The British Council: One of the best employers in the tefl market. Working for the BC you will have the advantages of British Labour Law behind you. The site is clean, well presented and easily understood. To apply, you will have to complete an application form. CVs or resumés are not accepted. Applications are held for six months. If you wish to apply for advertised vacancies during this period, contact the BC to request more information and complete a statement page on how you meet the essential competencies.

If you are invited for interview, reasonable UK travel expenses will be reimbursed. If you are not based in the UK, interviews will be arranged by telephone or at a location where there is a British Council teaching centre.

International House: ih is one of the dinosaurs of tefl. Once a breeding ground of some of the greatest names in the UK tefl world: Adrian and Nic Underhill, Jim Scrivener, Vic Richardson, and so on. It is an chain of affiliated schools and is not solely a recruitment web site. You can however be relatively certain that you will be working for a reputable employer. Job vacancies can be browsed using the categories of teacher and senior vacancies. Applications can be made online or by snail mail. Interviews are held in person. There is no RSS feed, but there is a newsletter which informs you of vacancies.

The Guardian Unlimited: This popular British based newspaper publishes an education section every Tuesday and this is reproduced online. Most of the jobs advertised are in the UK. There are (comparatively) only a small number of jobs here, and are often aimed at experienced teachers – excepting seasonal summer school work in the UK. There is an RSS feed (click on:  XML button) as well as an email service. One big advantage of this site is that institutions that have personnel departments recruit off their own sites advertise here. On the 4th of March 2006, examples included: Edge Hill College, AQA, UCE Birmingham amongst others.

Gumtree: is an online London life advertisement emagazine. There is a page of tefl jobs with RSS feed. The jobs are mainly, but not exclusively, in London and the UK.

edufind: This site features a jobs database with a search by country feature. After registering you can put your CV on line to automate applications, sign up for a weekly newsletter, read country reviews and access teaching materials [some by Rinvolucri].

new materialESL Elite: Description: New ESL job site design for teachers, students, and schools. Hunting ESL/EFL jobs, searching for resumes, teaching forums, resources, and more. Visit our growing site today. ESL ELITE!!

Dave Sperling’s ESL Café: A mammoth site. On this site there is stuff for everyone: teachers, students and others. Particularly useful are the teacher forums should you want to investigate a potential employer – however, beware: sometimes it is not so easy to separate the moaners from those teachers that are making valid complaints about employers. This site will prove especially useful for those teachers seeking jobs in the Far East, particularly Korea, Taiwan and China. The search feature can be very useful.

English Job Maze: An uncluttered site makes for easy reading and navigation. You can post your CV (there are more than 20 000 teachers registered). The jobs which you wish hear about can be emailed to you. Job search is helpfully organized by position, country and qualification.

eslbase: Another nice site featuring: links to jobs, downloadable esl resources, TEFL courses, online language exchange for teachers, teacher’s advice, country information, and a tefl friends database in case you lose your old friends. You can add your cv, the job search is organised by country whist you can get the latest jobs by RSS feed.

eslemployment: This site features a jobs database (organized by continent) with a newsletter and an RSS feed. Judging by the statistics, these jobs do not get the huge number of hits that other sites get. Whether this is to your advantage I cannot tell you. There do seem to be lots of jobs however. Teaching articles are also provided – especially regarding recruitment issues.

jobs.ac.uk:  At jobs.ac.uk you can search for TEFL jobs and other Education jobs, including Teacher Training, Education Studies and OCN jobs, in the UK and abroad. The site does not offer as many vacancies as other mammoth tefl sites but they are in the UK and many  tercary sector jobs feature. Employer profiles, newsletter and RSS is available.

tefl.com: A very mature esl job site. Upload your cv and make automated job applications. This is exactly what everyone does, so most jobs are overly subscribed. Employers are literally inundated with applications… The job search feature in this site is particularly good with several categories to help you narrow down your search. There are the usual city cost guides and country information pages, RSS, newsletters and lots of help for teaches starting out. Additionally there are business opportunities and franchises for sale. A highly recommended site to start your search though somewhat over subscribed now.

tefl.net: Links to teacher study pages, courses, jobs, resources, teacher forums, lesson plans and reviews are available. Most of the jobs here seem to be in the Far East, though not exclusively so.

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What is cooperative learning?

‘Cooperative learning is group learning activity organised in such a way that learning is dependent on the socially structured exchange of information between learners in groups. Each leaner is held accountable for his or her own learning, and is motivated to increase the learning of others.’

R.E.W-B Olsen and S. Kagan. [In Kessler, 1992].Cooperative learning is group learning activity organised so that learning is dependent on the socially structured exchange of information between learners in groups and to which each leaner is held accountable for his or her own learning, and is motivated to increase the learning of others.R.E.W-B Olsen and S. Kagan. [In Kessler, 1992].Cooperative learning was started and developed predominantly in the USA, Israel and Germany. It can be defined as an approach to learning in small groups, organised in such a way that effective learning takes place and is maximised by a combined exchange of information among individual components of a group as well as between groups. Each learner in a cooperative class is not only responsible for his or her own learning but also for his or her peers’ learning.

A typical feature of this type of approach is a genuinely collaborative classroom climate that develops within the institutional context in which it is implemented.

The educational efficiency of interaction among peers as compared to either competitive or individualistic learning modes has been repeatedly demonstrated [and often experienced].

However, asking learners to sit in small groups, having them work on specific tasks, and creating opportunities for interaction, in itself does not make a lesson cooperative. It merely creates group work. Structuring a cooperative lesson means understanding and carefully putting into practice five essential components of cooperative learning.

Positive Interdependence

This must be created by providing a task and a goal in which every learner is involved, both individually and as a member of the group.

Individual and Group Accountability

This is necessary for the successful performance of the task and for the achievement of the agreed [or stipulated] goals and objectives. Nobody can let themselves be carried or dragged along by the rest of the group. And the group cannot tolerate this.

Positive and Active Interaction

The way that groups and teams are formed and behave is an essential element in cooperative learning. The criteria for grouping trainees may vary but they are always closely related to a cooperative perspective.

Deployment of Social Skills

It is essential to teach group skills explicitly and to develop the group dynamic. These are skills that are aimed at facilitating managerial capacities, at developing the ability to negotiate and to resolve problems and conflicts, and at developing the ability to communicate in public.

Group Evaluation

This entails a guided reflection both on the linguistic and cognitive procedures followed by the whole group and on the group members’ perceptions of individual and group performance and progress.

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Teaching speaking: fluency or accuracy?

Whatever type of approach you intend to use for a particular activity in the classroom, making the differentiation between fluency and accuracy is a very important one.

However, here are some things to think about. From Brumfit…

  • Just because we are talking about fluency, it does not mean that accuracy cannot be present. Accuracy is a focus on issues of appropriacy and other formal factors.
  • Overuse of accuracy monitoring can cripple language development, making the students lose confidence through the teacher’s over correction.
  • Any language activity that involves the learners not working like native speakers cannot be called a fluency activity.
    • The “quality” of the language is irrelevant.
    • Because:
      • work that focuses on language alone = accuracy work
      • and work that focuses on the language of the native speaker = fluency work.


So what is the “correct” approach?


Well, the behaviourist influenced thinkers will argue that mistakes reinforce mistakes

Whilst the cognitive argument argues that mistakes are simply an exploration of meaning.


The characteristics of accuracy and fluency activities…


  • Usage: explanation
  • Language for display
  • Language for knowledge
  • Attempts at communication are judged by linguistic competence
  • Attention is given to language
  • Correction is often a feature of accuracy focussed work
  • Language is the objective


  • Use: real life
  • Language for communication
  • Language for skill
  • Attempts at communication are judged by performance
  • Attention is given to meaning
  • Correction is generally a minor clarification of fluency in use
  • Communication is the objective

So, it seems that we should:

  1. look at spoken language as something different to written language;

  2. make a distinction between accuracy and fluency;

  3. decide whether we are going to adopt a behaviourist or cognitive approach to learning theory;

  4. and then having decided what our students’ needs are, what their aims are and what it is that we want to do, we then need to actually get out there and actually do it…


Is it actually possible to have fluency practice in a monolingual classroom?

If the above things are taken into consideration, then it is probably very difficult to have true fluency speaking activities in the classroom with monolingual students. But…

  • What about level? –do students’ needs change?

  • Can the same activity be used for both fluency and accuracy focus?

  • What effect do examinations have on this?

  • What about the length of the course? How can this have an effect?


Fluency tasks should:

  • build students’ confidence.

  • be a chance for students to recycle language and vocabulary

  • allow students to talk about what they wish to talk about.

  • need to listen to each other

  • be good for diagnosis: students can experiment with language

  • give students space so they can personalise

  • have a positive effect on classroom dynamics

  • if they have an authentic task which works in real time, then the language will have a direct effect on the outcome of the task.

  • in life, communication in paramount and requires a genuine use of language.

  • fluency is a process not a product.

How can students cope when they do not know the words they need?

  • Paralinguistics

  • Paraphrasing

  • Asking for help (in L1 or in L2)

  • Suck it and see approach

  • Pure guessing

  • They can change what they want to say: for example, calling a monkey a bear.

  • Some students close down at the start when they realise that they cannot finish off what they want to say.

  • Teach students fillers to give them thinking time

  • Teach and encourage students to start to get the language they need from their peers.

  • Engage in lots off listening activities using authentic materials so that students can begin to get a feel for authentic and natural language.

  • Give them lots of opportunities to hear authentic texts. You may well have to record them yourself though. Is it possible to find authentic spoken dialogue on the radio or television?


Multilingual classes often cause the students to bury themselves in their dictionaries when they should be involved in a fluency activity. What are the problems in monolingual classes?


Books and activities

Some books (especially the pair work ones) are very much language orientated, others are more fluency based. What is the focus of your course book? Does it address the needs of your students? Is it fluency or accuracy focussed? Are there definite reasons for using speech to communicate in these activities – in other words, is the book task based, or are the activities simply speaking for the sake of practising a definite micro linguistic point?


Some Course Book Speaking Activities are, in my opinion, fairly shoddy. However, the question I should be asking is: “what do I actually do that is better?”

  • There is often no outcome (other than just to get to the next exercise).

  • There is no reason for the communicative act. Eg. Talk to your neighbour about…

  • They do little to encourage native type speaking tasks.

  • There are very rarely any authentic models presented.

  • They are usually designed for grammar of function practise.


Fluency and Outcomes

Try to ensure that fluency activities have an outcome: i.e., they reach a decision. Others, for example talking about oneself can go on forever.

What can the teacher do during a fluency activity?

  • Collect samples of language and go over it with the students at the end.

  • Ask the students what they had problems with – what their perception of their performance was…

  • Record the students onto tape so they get to hear what they really sound like.

  • Provide models of native speakers performing the same tasks.


Remember, as soon as we start directing our students we are moving away from fluency activities.


Total Immersion Approaches

Prabhu in Bangalore adopted a very radical (for its time) approach involving total immersion in tas based learning with virtually no language input from teachers. What lessons there were were all based on fluency practice. It was however, extremely successful.I participated in a softer version of this in Azerbaijan to good effect.


Jigsaw Pictures

Have a large picture which is divided into 12 sections. Students have to discuss, describe and piece the whole thing together: can can even be done as an information gap exercise, although this will mean that the activity will lose its fluency bias.

For lower levels and make the activity more controlled, use less than twelve divisions in the picture. Also the teacher can set up the language beforehand. Early finishers can be writing the story up on the board.

Disadvantages with this activity is that it does tend to be rather slow, although you could try to speed it up by making smaller, more compact groups, and/or by making it a race.


Information Gap

Most good fluency activities have some degree of information gap – just as in real life.


Talking about oneself

Students share social and cultural information. Also, jobs, school, personal stories…


Problem Solving

“What’s the best way of robbing a bank?”

With/Without information gap: see Heinemann: Communication Games


Decision Making

In decision-making activities, students should share ideas and come to a conclusion or managed differences.

Examples include Balloon Debates and Skills and civilization.


Debate and Discussions

Look for interesting topics such as, “Men and Women are from Different Planets”. However this is always a very subjective thing to do and it is not always possible to actually do it in practise. How do we know what is interesting to all our students?

The answer to this is to use a questionnaire to set the activity up. The questionnaire can be used as a separate activity task.


Pure Discussion

This is the most difficult to make work. Does this sound familiar (although it may be expressed silently)


“I don’t have any opinion”


It can also take off to such an extent that some students are shouting and others never get to say anything. Some students may be so offended by what they have heard in a debate that they simply decide that these classes are simply not for them.


Our Questionnaire

Or variation: but it will give you an idea about what students think before going down the fluency road. It also means that students can’t easily change their minds over time. Any questionnaire about the class and the student’s learning experiences is nearly always a well received activity. Probably because it is actually about the students own experience.

Variations might include: true/false, change the statement so you agree, collect the statements with which you agree with and a dictation of a topic which the students can then change to suit themselves.


Project Work

Complete projects with questionnaires


Phone for information

Organising own activities

Action Research: this is solving real problems


Order pictures that show a sequence and describe the chain of events.


Role Play

  • Some students can find them very threatening.

  • Some students can be so quiet that others can’t hear what it is that they are saying.

  • In doing a role-play, you are in fact asking the students to act.


  • You can get the students to choose their own roles.

  • Have prompt cards ready to help them remember dialogue if they get stuck (is this fluency though?)

  • Organise the whole activity with great care, thinking very carefully about what each individual student can do.

  • Think numbers: the students not actively involved in the performance of a role-play – how are they processing language? Are they engaged in any activity?

Suggestopaedia [Lozanov Method]

Developed by the Bulgarian Lozanov. It makes use of dialogues, situations, and translations to present and practise language, and in particular, makes use of music, visual images, and relaxation exercises to make learning more comfortable and effective. Suggestopaedia is said to be a pedagogical application of “suggestology”, the influence of suggestion on human behaviour.

Teachers adopting this method often ask students to take on a new role, of their choosing. Mask making and wearing in class may sound silly, but apart from being a good project the masks can make this methodology work.



An Activity for Teaching ESL/EFL Students to Make Quick Replies and Encourage Fluency

A typically native utterance is the one that comes off the top of the head, without much thought given to it. This type of expression could well come under the heading of “small talk”, and a common example is “Great weather, isn’t it”.

  • The idea of this activity is to get the students to reply as naturally as possible to a relatively empty comment or statement like above.

  • Their reply will lack in formal correctness, because that is not the aim of the class. (Much native-native banter is said to be formally incorrect).

  • Another very important factor to tell them is that their reply does not have to be a logical follow-up remark; they should say the first thing that comes into their heads. By saying the first thing that comes into their heads, they are actually behaving collaboratively with the initial speaker.

  • To this end, the reply should also be quite short, although there are no hard and fast rules when people’s personal interpretations are involved.


The Rejoinders & Replies Activity


  • Tell the students that they are with friends in, say, a cafeteria.

  • It is a cloudy day outside and there is a lull in the conversation.

  • Someone is reading a paper, another person could be day-dreaming, and another people-watching. Silence reigns, and then one of the group says something, which is not directed at anyone in particular, off the top of his head.

The teacher can utter the following remarks with the tone he sees fit. He can direct the utterance at the students one by one, or at the group of students, but all the students must then reply.

  • Hey! It’s the end of the month!

  • Ouch! I’ve cut my finger on this page.

  • Someone looking at a newspaper: You know guys, this town we live in really IS a beautiful place.

  • Someone looking at a holiday photo of himself: Jeez, I look awful here.

  • Someone who is broke: I’d have another coffee, only I don’t have any money left.

  • Someone looking at a newspaper: That was a terrible accident in X, wasn’t it?

  • Someone looking towards the street: It must be raining, I see an umbrella up outside.

  • Someone whispering: See that man over at the counter, he’s just put a cake into his pocket.

  • Someone looking at a newspaper: Actors are lucky people, aren’t they?

  • Someone looking at the TV in the cafeteria: People watch too much TV.

  • Someone watching a mother/father with young children: They shouldn’t allow kids in here.



The teacher can say the spontaneous comments and then get the students to reply spontaneously.

You can change the setting to, say, a meeting, a hospital, a school and so on

  • Students often tend to take too long, and ended up constructing wonderful, logical, grammatical sentences (not to mention polite). For example, to “Ouch! I’ve cut my finger”, I got: “You must go to hospital”! and “Cover it” (?)

  • Fair enough, you can just practise simple, correct sentences,

    • but this activity wants to encourage realistic, fast replies, which are elliptical in many cases like in native-native exchanges.


  • Allow the students to give their long-pondered sentences, but remind them that they are with friends and that real life interlocutors don’t normally wait 20 seconds for a reply to a spontaneous remark.

  • Get them to be creative and help to get them into an appropriate frame of mind. They must forget they are in a classroom.

As a bonus, you may even be able to digress (let them know this, tell them it is a time-out) and actually debate a reply (for example, the one about the town being a shop window. Why is it?).

In summary, encourage:

  • Imagination.

  • Ellipsis.

  • Spontaneity.

  • Appropriate frame of mind. Get into context.

  • Accuracy is not that important.


Getting Elementary Students to Talk” –Roslyn Young

This is an approach that Roslyn Young took to get a group of students to become a group of friends an begin to engage in pure fluency talk. She wanted to get rid of books and methods and allow students to talk about themselves. This was based on the premise that everyone wants to talk about the most important person in the world: me. So, she thought, “let it show, make it obvious! Help them to meet each other”.

The class

  • The class was a fifty hour Evening class over 25 weeks. From October to June.

  • 12 students.

  • More than half had already has 50 hours of English instruction with the same teacher using Silent Way.

  • Most of the students were in their 50s and some were in their 60s.

  • It was a French monolingual class.

The beginning

  • She began by giving a five minute potted history of the English language. She believes that the French students particularly appreciate that they realise they already know half the language.

  • She then said that she was going to stop talking and that they if they wanted something to ask, they should finds someone they wanted to ask it of, and do their best to get the message across.

By November…

  • They were getting the hang of chatting in English… but,

  • they absolutely wanted to take notes. RY didn’t want them to do so, because they would then miss out on parts of the conversation and the whole way of working would be doomed.

Her compromise…

  • she recorded the whole class and typed up the conversation (!) and gave it out the next week. She has carried on like this until now.

  • Wile they waited for late comers, the students read over what they had done the week previously.

Ongoing techniques…

  • She uses the Silent Way Charts, and any word not on them will be written up on the board.

  • Correction: she holds her hands out in an open gesture to indicate: “how can you correct this sentence?” The class collectively try to work the problem out. If there are still minor errors, she uses finger correction. After she uses chants, chorus and concept cheking techniques to ensure that the students have got the sentence “off pat”.

  • She uses any type of link that helps students to remember vocabulary.

  • She expends vocabulary using “series”. The word “way” comes up. She adds: raiwa, runway, subway.

By March…

  • The students were beginning to have proper conversations.

  • However, the course had become for the students like some kind of party. They had become natural friends.

Learning to write…

  • Some students wanted to write, so she proposed that they wrote letters to her.

  • She asked them not to write about important things like politics, but about their own lives.

  • instead of correcting the letters, she simply wrote back.

How much time does it take?

  • She reports that writing letter only takes a few minutes. I have done a similar thing and in half an hour one can write many letters… maximum length is a page, and both she and I tended to write about the same length as the students.

  • It takes about an hour to transcribe the tape I the evenings.

  • On the other hand, she has no need to prepare the classes as she as no idea as to what is going to happen.

Bibliography and further reading

Brumfit, Christopher Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching: the roles of fluency and accuracy. (CUP 1984) Chapter 4 “Accuracy and Fluency” pp.50-57 sect 4.1

Klippel, Friederike Keep Talking CUP 1984

Sion Chris Creating Conversation in Class: Student Centred Interaction First Person Publishing 2001

Young, Roslyn Getting Elementary Students to Talk http://assoc.wanadoo.fr/une.education.pour.demain/articlesrrr/sw/talking.htm

Brown, H.D. Affective factors in second language learning. In J.E.Alatis, H.B. Altman & P.M. Alatis (Eds.). The Second Language Classroom: Directions for the Eighties. New York: Oxford University Press. 111-29. (1981).






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Modal verbs for learners

Here is the slideshow for modal verbs. It is in pdf format.

Modal verbs and fun

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Protected: Writing Correction Codes

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Protected: A welcome letter to my students.

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Promoting Learning to Learn.

Here is the Prezi that we will be using to promote the Learning to Learn Programme to our learners and hopefully, clients to be.

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Learning to learn

Self-access presentation, many thanks to Garold Murray. The ideas for the Self Access Programme featured here in this Prezi are taken from:

Murray, G (2009b) Self Access Language Learning: Structure, Control and Responsibility. In Kjisik, Etal Mapping the Terrain of Learner Autonomy: Learning Environments, Learning Communities and Identities (pp. 118 – 142). Tempere, Finland: Tempere University Press.

If you have trouble viewing follow this link to Prezi.

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Learner autonomy: Zirve Conference

Following the conference held at Zirve University, Gaziantep / Turkey, please find my conference power point here for you to download.

Actually I should not call this a”Powerpoint”, but an “Impress” because it was created using Open source software and you will need the free Open office to open it.

Note: the links to the videos do not work so you will have to watch the videos in the player provided.


Here it is again as a pdf.


And finally as a swf file.


And here are the videos:

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Learner Autonomy: cultural imperialism?

Before a crowd of nearly 60,000 people at Yankee Stadium, Pope Benedict XVI ended his first visit to the United States with a reminder that “obedience” to the authority of the church, even in a country that prizes individual freedom, is the foundation of their religious faith.  What the Pope says is, “You are free to do what you want as long as you do what I tell you.”

Before a crowd of nearly 60,000 people at Yankee Stadium, Pope Benedict XVI ended his first visit to the United States with a reminder that “obedience” to the authority of the church, even in a country that prizes individual freedom, is the foundation of their religious faith. What the Pope says is, “You are free to do what you want as long as you do what I tell you.”

I do understand that there is a very pervasive thought knocking around that the ideal of learner autonomy is an example of a characteristic of one culture being transferred to another. My answer to that thought is: Read More »

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A view of education similar to mine

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If the colleges were better, if they really had it, you would need to get the police at the gates to keep order in the inrushing multitude.” Read More »

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The Principles of DOGME

Dogme has ten key principles.

1. Interactivity: the most direct route to learning is to be found in the interactivity between teachers and students and amongst the students themselves.
2. Engagement: students are most engaged by content they have created themselves
3. Dialogic processes: learning is social and dialogic, where knowledge is co-constructed
4. Scaffolded conversations: learning takes place through conversations, where the learner and teacher co-construct the knowledge and skills
5. Emergence: language and grammar emerge from the learning process. This is seen as distinct from the ‘acquisition’ of language.
6. Affordances: the teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances through directing attention to emergent language.
7. Voice: the learner’s voice is given recognition along with the learner’s beliefs and knowledge.
8. Empowerment: students and teachers are empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks.
9. Relevance: materials (eg texts, audios and videos) should have relevance for the learners
10. Critical use: teachers and students should use published materials and textbooks in a critical way that recognizes their cultural and ideological biases.

source and further information:

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Around the verb in 80 minutes #5: The rods and the chart.

The Whole Chart

The Whole Chart

This section of the series owes a great deal to Glenys Hanson and her article “The English Verb Tense System: a dynamic presentation using the Cuisenaire Rods“.


  • A set of Cuisenaire Rods what are these? Go to Wikipedia
  • A large sheet of paper – flip chart size for the chart.

The procedure here involves modelling the process of using cuisenaire rods to represent verb forms and then getting the participants to complete the task with little or no input from the instructor.

These notes may help you to follow the explanations better.

Possible* cuisenaire rod colours to use to represent your verb particles:

  • Pink – any action or state
  • Red – ‘be’
  • Yellow – ‘have’
  • Black – ‘do’
  • Orange – modals
  • Light green – ‘ing’
  • Biege – past
  • white – ‘ed’ forms

*This will depend on the colours and sizes available to you. To represent the subject of the verb, I use a paper clip.
I used these colours abve after experimention. Your set of rods may have different colours and different numbers of each!


The chart before the session

The chart before the session

The bubble (circle on the left) represents “the here – now – this” and the quadrants outside of the circle represent the “there – then – that” concepts.

There are several objectives here:

  • participants use cuisenaire rods to represent the verb forms and
  • these are placed in each of the quadrants according to whether the the participants consider the form to be near or remote.
  • Certain vocabulary is often associated with each of the verb forms. This vocabulary can be written on cards or small Post It® notes. Examples can be seen on the photo at the start of these posts.

The design of this chart is directly attributable to Glenys Hanson: link.

Conducting the session

The participants should all be seated around the table so that all can see the chart. Experience has shown me that the participants should all be looking from the same side/perspective.

I begin by asking the participants for the shortest form of any verb. For the sake of argument let’s say that they give us the verb ‘text’, so I ‘text’ is our starting point. Taking a paperclip and a rod (I have never had sufficient number of cuisenaire rods to use one for the verb subject), I ask the participants:

  • Should these go inside or outside the bubble?
    • The answer should come: “inside”.

I place the clip and the rod into the appropriate quadrant (see the above link “the chart with the verb forms”), saying as I do so: “I text”.

I ask for another simple form and usually get either “I played” or “I am playing”.
Repeating the above procedure I elicit if this should go inside or outside the bubble and select rods of the appropriate colours to represent the verbs. I place them in the appropriate quadrant.

Now I give the box of rods to the participants and ask them to continue until they have used all the quadrants.  I allow discussions between participants to continue and allow theories to be tried and tested and modified, only intervening when discussions seem to have become non-productive.

Potential Problems: aspect

I have texted & I am texting
Where does this go in the chart?  Some participants believe that these should go half-way inside and half way outside the bubble. “I have texted” is pointing to the past and “I am texting” is pointing to the future and both are rooted in the present. I insist that the verb form must either be inside or outside the bubble.

Remember that we previously demonstrated that there were only two tenses in English. If these verb forms are to be half way in and half way out of a circle then we will need to re-visit and rethink our original theory of tense.

  • I ask
  • How may words/articles can we identify here?

The discussion usually identifies the following:

I – have – text – ed and/or I – am – text – ing

  • I ask which particle or word here represents the action?

The answer “text”.

  • Are verbs action words?

If the answer is “yes”, then I ask about state verb like ‘believe’ or even the verb ‘be’…

  • I ask about our previous definition of a verb: “ a word that has a subject”.
  • And here, which verb has the subject? Look at these sentences, which ones are you not happy with?

I have texted
He have texts*
I have texteds*
She has texted

The word which interacts here is the auxiliary verb (auxiliary, implying helper or secondary verb when in fact this is the word that is doing all the work in this example).

I conclude to the participants that in fact there is only one verb here and that is the one that is:

next to the subject and
intimately interacts with it.

The other word is, in fact, a piece of vocabulary representing some kind of meaning. I like to relent from this hard core position and ask the participants if we could call this second word the “vocabulary verb” as opposed to the “grammar verb”.

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Around the verb in 80 minutes #1: Introduction: a bit of history

The Finished Chart

The Finished Chart

Since 1066, Latin (Romance language) and Anglo-Saxon has formed a confused layer cake comprising of overlapping strata and forgotten bits and pieces all over the centuries. In this layer cake, Latin was the prestige language – and still is.

In this linguistic layer cake: a humble “spade” (Anglo-Saxon) will never convince anyone to call it an “excavator” (Latin). Science is still coined in prestige Latinate vocabulary and the Holy Roman Apostelic Church used Latin exclusively until very recently. Whilst Anglo-Saxon derived words tend to are short, sharp, action-driving. Compare the items in this list:

Acquire & get

Agitate & stir

Discussion & talk

Discontinuity & gap

Incline & lean

Adjacent & near

Principal & first/main

Inventory & stock

Inaccurate & wrong

Miserable & bad

Accomplish & do

Purchase & buy

Accurate & true

Construct & build

For those people who are familiar with the London Underground: how would you react if you heard over the tannoy the following announcement: “Please mind the discontinuity…” as opposed to “mind the gap”.

The two languages moulded into one has given rise to rich variety of vocabulary: anger vs. rage, wrath vs. ire, bodily vs. corporal, brotherly vs. fraternal, leave vs. egress/exit/depart, thinking vs. pensive, dog vs. canine, come vs. arrive, ask vs. enquire…

“As a (very rough) general rule, words derived from the Germanic ancestors of English are shorter, more concrete and more direct, whereas their Latinate counterparts are longer, more abstract and are regarded as more elegant or educated.” Link here

What about the grammar?

Well, classical language teaching used Latin (and Greek) as models of excellence in schools and universities. These languages were thought to be somehow “pure” and “noble” and goals to be attained. Due to this snobbery, English was analysed as if it were a Romance Languages.

In fact, other than (a great deal of) lexis, English has little in common with Romance Languages and analysing it as if it were a Romance language is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Doing this in an Second Language Learning environment has been one of the causes of what Rod Bolitho elegantly calls ‘verb tense neurosis’ (“The Whole Salami” Practical English Teaching June 1984). Rod almost apologises for extending the metaphor in which “the (…) doctors suffer the same ailment as the patients”. In circles of traditional medicine the remedy for the ailment was in fact an increased dose of the neurosis causing ailment. A recent conversation I had with a (senior) colleague illustrates this:

“Our learners and learners with similar profiles benefit from worksheets”
“Where is the evidence?”
“Experience tells us”
“… gulp …”

The words “our learners” refer to learners who have not been successful learners and are repeating the course for the second or third time…

In the 20th century, English linguistics has moved away from Latinate based categories and is fully able to stand up for itself as natural science. Instead of imposing a pre-formed template on the language and prescribing usage, lingusists became more interested in observing and describing language. After Chomsky’s idea of “Universal Grammar” became accepted, “generative grammar” models of language analysis steadily gained ground. In essence, generative theories of language describe syntax in terms of a small closed set of logical rules that can generate an infinite number of grammatically possible sentences in a languages. (Though they might not all be equally valid.)

Later, in the 1970s, MAK Halliday’s systemic-functional (SFL) approach seeks to treat language as foundation for the building of human experience. A key concept in this approach is the “context of situation”, in other words, social context, and how language acts upon, and is constrained and influenced by, this social context.

In short, the study of grammar and language has come a long way since Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language or English Grammar in Familiar Lectures by Samuel Kirkham (Ebook here). I believe that the mainstream EFL industry and institutions could do more to catch up with more modern views of how language might work.

If you enjoyed this article you might like to continue reading clicking the links below…

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Around the verb in 80 minutes #2: Rationale: Covering Grammar

The Finished Chart

The Finished Chart

The title to this second post in the series ‘Around the Verb’ is inspired by from Scott Thornbury’s book “Uncovering Grammar” where grammar is not a thing to be learned, but rather a process that emerges as learners language needs become more sophisticated.

The term “cover” such-and-such grammar point has the rather unfortunate implication of mystifying and hiding something. I like to promote the view that generally speaking the TEFL (and derivative) worlds have a lot to gain from selling grammar as a difficult thing to master. And that teachers and publishers gain the upper hand in terms of power and status through obfuscation, peddling complicated and contradictory ‘rules’, and not paying a blind bit of notice to modern trends in thinking about language.

The mystifying rules of grammar

Despite planning and thinking about lessons, learners are taught rules that

  • contradict each other
  • are more complex than the language they are intended to help generate
  • that notionally are complex and extraordinarily difficult to define.
  • … but are great sound bites…

These rules are easy to chant, and this gives the impression of learning – but it is not learning to communicate – rather is is learning to intone the rituals of EFL. Follow the teacher and following the teacher’s plan. This “carefully tuned input”, actually covers or hides the grammar.

Sometimes they even seem designed to mystify the learner.

  • My elementary repeat learners tell me.

“we use the present tense to talk about things that are generally true” Language Leader Elementary
“Great” I reply,
They smile…
“…and what exactly does generally mean?”
“genel” they quickly retort

Their faces fall when I ask them to explain the meaning of “genel” to me. Not surprising as some of the greatest philosophers of history would have had to pause for thought at this question.

But if we cannot agree on a useful meaning of ‘general’,  how we expect a learner to be cogniscant of the concept whilst at the same time trying to encode or decode a message?

to run the risk of repetiton, how can one be expected to process the meaning of the above phrase and at the same time focus on getting out some kind of comprehensible message? If anything, for me at least, the above rule is a hindrance to learning.

  • Another example:

“Could is the past form of can”

rendering the wonderfully elegant (but normal and everyday) phrases such as:

“It could rain tomorrow”

impossible for learners to understand or imagine.

  • A third example:

“we use the Third Conditional to talk about a situation that had a chance of happening in the past but didn’t happen” Success Intermediate

The big picture

The big picture is the name that I give to a way of looking at grammar as a system in which a few basic concepts, words and word-particles combine to form a system of expression that is not only one hundred percent regular but totally predictable.

The basic concepts referred to in the above paragraph are:

  • here – now – this contrasted with there – then – that
  • point time contrasted with line time
  • grammar verbs contrasted with lexical verbs
  • root contrasted with epistemic modality.

In the next post in the series: “Around the verb in 80 minutes – How many tenses are there in English?” I will show how these represent the engine that drives the English verb system. Link below.

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