Teacher Successes & Failures

One of the questions we ask prospective candidates applying to follow a Cambridge DELTA course at our centre, is to describe an activity they have used with one of their classes which was successful and one which wasn’t. In both cases, the candidates have to explain why they think this has happened.

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A typical response looks like this:


  1. Think of your own experiences as a teacher and describe one   successful and one unsuccessful classroom activity used with a group of adults, explaining the factors contributing to their success or otherwise. Please describe each activity briefly and comment as to why it was successful or otherwise. 

Approximately 250 words

Successful  activity

Unsuccessful activity

Students were asked to follow up a lesson on giving/following directions by hiding/writing directions to a piece of candy.  Students were put in pairs.  One student would attempt to find the candy by reading the directions, the other student taking note of any confusion caused by the wording or structures they used (and maintaining silence). If the first student was unable to find the candy using the written directions, the students would then attempt to verbally direct their partner to the candy (If they managed to find the candy, they would be verbally directed back to the classroom).After both partners found the candy they would report back to room and the teacher.  Students would be put in groups as they arrived back in the classroom and encouraged to speak about what structures/wording was easiest to follow and where they became confused (problems in structure/wording for the most part).The activity was successful for several reasons.We focused entirely on directions for a couple of days before the activity, so the students were aware of directions (and directions vocabulary) and how to go about phrasing them already.Students were able to spot mistakes more easily because the directions were written down and being interpreted by someone else in their presence.The small group discussions helped me to see and understand who might need more help with the topic and also helped students become more aware of the language they were using (rules, things they ought to consider, etc.).

When all of the students had returned we had a short class discussion on common mistakes/troubles, that allowed all students to learn from their collective mistakes (and helped me know what to focus the final lesson on).

This activity was structured around a course designed to provide students with English skills they might use in the workplace.  The unit related to restaurant services.  The activity was a reading exercise designed to produce vocabulary from students/expand their vocabulary by explaining words they might not understand.The focus of the lesson was to be vocabulary and pronunciation, as my job was to teach this class conversational/spoken English skills as opposed to grammar and structure.The students were asked to read through passages as a group and individually.I was unprepared for the students to not understand the grammar presented in the chapter (the grammar teacher’s class had been cancelled). We got bogged down in things (mostly grammar and structure) that I was unable to adequately explain, as I was not fluent in the students’ native language (I did not know the grammar terms in their language and they did not know the grammar terms in English).I was so focused on trying to fill this gap in their knowledge that the class hardly learned anything in the lesson and both the class and I left incredibly frustrated.If I had been aware of several factors the situation might have improved. First off, had I been more aware of my teaching environment I would have known the grammar teacher was absent and I could have changed the lesson.

Secondly, if I had had an alternative plan ready just in case, I could have taught something else/presented the material in a different way.

I was caught unprepared.  Because I was unprepared for this to happen, I shifted the focus of the lesson drastically to try to salvage some part of the lesson.  I tried to take on another teacher’s job, a job for which I was not qualified.  All in all, the lesson was unsuccessful.  I later presented the material again (successfully).


Is it possible to predict something about a teacher from this write up?

We believe it is. A reflective teacher is one who can learn from their successes and failures but who can also analyse the processes follow and reflect on the factors that allowed or prevented success.

Failure and success analysis are a vital part of our development and should be practised regularly, on a blog, in a private journal, even as a recorded comment on our iPhone or laptop

Can all these reflections be accurate?

Reflecting on the reasons for success or failure is more important as a process than as an outcome. In the case above, there may be factors which the teacher has not considered, e.g. the grammar lesson got bogged down because the teacher did not have any methods of teaching grammar without recourse to terminology in the learners’ L1, something which may spring to mind in this instance.

Recording one’s reflections in some way

This is actually not as important as the recording of the reflection and revisiting it later, possibly in the light of further reading or discussions, or even a staffroom or online chat!

We learn by constantly assessing and reassessing our teaching practices and planning decisions and this learning needs its own time and its own individual pace for each teacher.

An interesting blog post discussing Ben Goldacre’s recent article in the Guardian and his thoughts on research for education.

Read Ben Goldacre’s article Bad Science here 

Watch his TED talk too


Related blog posts 

Evidence-informed policy and practice – we should welcome it, but also be realistic!

Research and Evidence in ELT  posted by Julia Moore after an #ELTchat we had on how teachers could be more involved in research – you can read the transcript of that chat here and summary will be posted soon as well.

And a post about all this on Ben Goldacre’s website 

Joe Kirby's blog


leech doctor

 The Doctor & The Leech

Long ago a travelling physician diagnosed fevers as due to an over-supply of blood, and prescribed leeches as a cure to reduce the excess. ‘Blood-letting’, he said, ‘clears the mind, strengthens the memory, dispels torpor, reduces anxiety and lengthens life.’ He treated many poorly people in this way as he travelled from town to town. Whenever the patients recovered he would boast about the great remedy of the leech. But strangely enough, when they died of their fever, he was never seen at the funerals, for he had already left town.

Cryptic, remote, irrelevant and unusable’, writes Tom Bennett on the Times Educational Supplement website: ‘why is so much research in education purest snake oil?’

In March, Ben Goldacre published a treatise on building evidence into education, a long-term aim I share. Dr Goldacre has hundreds of thousands…

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How to make the most of your DELTA course

This is the summary of an #ELTchat which was written up by Chris Wilson who has himself just started following a DELTA course.

You can read the original chat transcript here and Chris’ summary on his blog.

On the 15/02/2013 teachers from across the world met to discuss my suggested topic “How to survive and make the most of your DELTA (or similar course)” A topic I had chosen as I am about to start my DELTA (having been persuaded on a previous #ELTChat) and having seen Sandy Millin reflect on her issues and struggles on her DELTA. Thankful the ever helpful ELTchat PLN came to the rescue!

Top Survival Tips

1) Get reading early

@Marisa_C shared this tip and it quickly lead to a sharing of recommended reading books, which I’ve added to an Amazon list.

@ShaunWilden later added that forming a reading group was a good idea to assist other trainees learning.

2) Build a Jargon list

@ShaunWilden commented on the large amount of Jargon in the DELTA and so recommended making a Jargon list. @TEFLerinha agreed and added that the Exam now asks you to define terms as well (although as @Shaznosel pointed out, you only get a few points for defining terms so don’t worry too much)

@SandyMillin shared her Quizlet group as a tool for learning DELTA jargon but @toulasklavou was more critical stating that learning terms by heart was useless and that it was much better and more effective to read and learn the terms in context.

3) Get assignments out of the way early

@TheTeacherJames shared this tip from his CELTA course. Of course (no pun intended), the DELTA has a different format from the CELTA with assignments not being part of Module one, Module two has five writing assignments and Module three has an extended assignment. So time management is still a big issue.

4) Develop a good note taking system

@Marisa_C Sshared that when she did her Diploma she used Large paper mindmaps and Note cards but now there are plenty of tools that make storing notes a lot easier. @ShaunWilden agreed but @Shaznosel said that she still uses paper mindmaps and note cards.

Some Of the curation tools that were recommended included Evernote (my favourite), One note (from Microsoft), diigo (Useful highlighting tools) or even a tool like Pintrest. In hindsight I noticed that no one mentioned an online mindmapping tool so i’d like to recommend Google Drive’s drawing feature or wallwisher.

Continue reading


This is an opportune blog post as we have been doing language analysis work and discussing theoretical vs pedagogic grammars.

Read Scott Thornbury’s post and comment on the validity of the following statements about various modal verbs taken from a variety of pedagogic grammars

Please add your reflection in a comments below the post.


  1. You also use might have or could have followed by a past participle to say that if a particular thing had happened, then there was a possibility of something else happening.

  2. You use could not have or couldn’t have followed by a past participle to say that it is not possible that someone had the ability to do something.

  3. You use used to be able to to say that something was possible in the past but it is not possible now.

  4. Have to expresses unavoidable necessity as distinct from personal obligation.

  5. Modals do not normally indicate the time when something happens. There are, however, a few exceptions: shall and will often indicate a future event or situation; could is used as the past form of can to express ability; would is used as the past form of will to express the future.

  6. Instead of using modals you can use other words and expressions. For example: be able to is used instead of can, be likely to is used instead of might, and have to is used instead of must.

  7. didn’t need to expresses no obligation and therefore no action — needn’t have expresses no obligation but the action was performed.

  8. Modal verbs are those verbs in English which show the mood of the main verb. They cannot stand on their own in a sentence because they need another verb which they “colour.” That’s why they are called defective verbs as well (defective = something with a problem or a fault).

  9. We use should have/ought to have + past participle when we expected something to happen and we do not know if it happened. We also use this structure when we expected something to happen, but it did not happen.

Comments below post please 🙂

Image – royalty free from morguefiles.com

An A-Z of ELT

Palmer happy etcHow do you write a pedagogic grammar?  Or, more realistically, how do you judge the worth of one that has already been written?

This is a task I regularly set my MA TESOL students, i.e. to put a teacher’s or learner’s grammar of their choice to the test, and to come up with a set of criteria for evaluating pedagogic grammars in general.

The criteria that result almost always involve issues of accessibility. How easy is it to find what you want? How clearly is it organized and signposted? How clear are the explanations? and so on.

Accessibility is a real issue. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the students who have little or no ELT background find performing even simple research tasks incredibly difficult. Asked to rule on the grammaticality of I’m lovin’ it, for example, one student failed to locate the distinction between stative and dynamic verbs in Parrott (2000), even…

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Why do I blog?

Why do I blog?

Richard St. John shares his eight secrets of success in a fantastic video and I want to talk about blogging and how I think it is connected to these eight great secrets.

Here are the eight secrets in a word cloud

cloud2Richard St.John’s Eight Secrets of Success – Made with http://www.wordle.net/

I blog for all the reasons in the word cloud:

  • I blog because I want to be an excellent educator (Excellence- get good at what you do)
  • I blog because I want to share my ideas (Serve Others)
  • I persist even when I am tired; good results need hard work! (Work!)
  • I blog to focus more on my interest and learn more about it (Focus)
  • I blog because this makes me think and learn new things (Push Yourself)
  • I get more ideas by trying to explain my ideas to other people. (Ideas)
  • I blog because I love my job and I am passionate about teaching (Passion)
  • I persist because I believe communicating your ideas is important for learning (Persist)

What should you blog about?

Blog about something you love, something you are passionate about. It may be using songs in the classroom, using Web 2.0 tools or it may even be a blog about the English language!

If you love your subject, you will find more things to write and you will also find the time, no matter how busy you are.

It takes time but it’s worth it!

May be you will find it hard at the the beginning. I found it hard too!

But with time, it gets easier. Remember! You won’t get better by waiting! You will get better by trying!”

Go beyond your comfort zone

Challenge yourself and you will surely be amazed by how much you will learn by communicating with the world!

And if you would like to listen to this great talk which inspired this post, here it is below, one of the great TED talks.

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