Exciting news…

January 15, 2014

Sorry that my Blog has been dormant for a couple of months, but there are a couple of reasons for that.

First, I’ve been traveling almost constantly: India, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Croatia, Belgium, Germany and France.

But also my Blog will, this year, be becoming part of Cambridge Conversations, the new global ELT blog from Cambridge University Press, under the new title ‘Trips and Tips’.

Hope you like the new title and hope you’ll continue to read my Blog and all the others on Cambridge Conversations and participate in the conversations there. I’ll be back before then with a link to the new site, so watch this space…

Gary Anderson, Cambridge English International Teacher Trainer


Trips and Tips: Hungary and… Attending conferences

January 2, 2014

BudapestI attended the 23rd annual IATEFL-H (as in Hungary) conference in Budapest last month and after the conference I was thinking about what I do to try to get the most out of the conferences I attend. I wonder if you do similarly? In any case, here’s my (suggested) hit list:

  • Study the conference programme beforehand if possible and pencil-in/pre-select the sessions you think you might want to attend. Once you arrive at the conference and after registering et al, you are often all of the sudden caught up in meeting old friends and making new acquaintances and might not have the time to properly study the programme before the actual conference rush starts.
  • Attend all the plenaries and key note talks not only because these are usually given by leading figures and authorities in our (or other) fields, but also—and perhaps more importantly—because they (should) aim to give a wider pedagogical perspective on what’s happening in our profession.
  • Choose carefully among the concurrent talks and workshops. I usually look first at the title of the session and then see if I know the presenter and/or their teaching affiliation or situation. But before making my final choice, I read the abstract closely to see if it corresponds to what I’m looking for.
  • Attend a session just for yourself. I always try to attend at least one session during a conference on a subject or area which I might not be presently professionally involved with but which interests me just from a personal point of view.
  • Network! Whether you attend conferences with colleagues or go all on your lonesome, try to meet and talk with as many people as possible during the conference (including at the receptions, entertainment evenings, gala dinners, organised outings et al) and exchange business cards, e-mail addresses, social media links. You know, during pair work activities in my talks at conferences I ask participants to ‘talk with someone you don’t know’ exactly for that reason.
  • Visit—and re-visit—the exhibition area to get information and browse at the stands of the exam boards and publishers. You might find a new title you didn’t know about or get a special price on a book you’ve always wanted. Or you might have a complaint or request to make or a question to be answered. And there are usually freebies to take away: inspection copies, catalogues, pens, notepads, posters, badges etc.
  • Thank the conference organisers at the end of the conference. It takes a lot of time and work to organise a conference and, even if their conference wasn’t perfect (Hey, nothing is.), the organisers deserve—and will appreciate—some praise and a real or virtual pat on the back.

BTW: IATEFL-H was great! … as I told the organisers J

Gary Anderson, Cambridge English International Teacher Trainer

On the Road with Gary in…the Baltics

March 15, 2013

Does higher education lead to unemployment?

I was back in the Baltics earlier this month, giving workshops in Riga in Latvia and in Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania. I was talking about two of the fastest growing Cambridge English Exams there—and, indeed, around the world – Cambridge Young Learner English (YLE) Starters, Movers and Flyers tests and International English Language Testing System (IELTS).CEExams_online_courses_large

While I was there, my local colleague, who also teaches at a higher education, university-level college, participated in a local television round table debate programme in Lithuanian. The curious question they were discussing was ‘Does higher education lead to unemployment?’

Of course unemployment is a potential problem for everyone, but perhaps especially for young 20+ adults just out of formal secondary schooling or university higher education and often looking for that first full-time position. (Boy, am I glad that my son has a job!)  In the European Union countries, unemployment in that category averages about 20%—but apparently it’s at around 40% in Spain and Portugal.

The event I attended in Kaunas took place in the impressive Business Leaders Centre which gave me a chance to remind the teachers that they too are leaders. Teachers are educational leaders leading their learners not only to better English and higher IELTS scores, but also to better future job opportunities in business and other fields.

Because doesn’t it seem that higher education usually gives young people better chances going forward in their future careers?  Of course many young people shun vocational-technical education and some also get several higher education degrees (My daughter is probably going for a PhD.) and then think themselves over-qualified for some jobs. In the Baltics, the problem is compounded by the fact that young people are often taking IELTS to go study in an English-speaking university or country; often, they then stay there or move to a different country with their university degrees. So the overall population is decreasing as more people, often highly qualified, emigrate and leave the Baltic countries.

Most of the IELTS candidates in the Baltics are taking the Academic rather than the General Training module, aiming to achieve a high band score of 6.0 to 7.5 (B2 to C1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). We therefore looked at the Complete IELTS coursebooks at those levels with the teachers, and at various IELTS supplementary materials including Grammar and Vocabulary for IELTS, plus IELTS Online Practice Tests and apps.IELTSListening

In the Lithuanian television programme, by the way, the television audience was asked to send (and pay for) a SMS text message voting either 1 for Taip (Yea) or 2 for Ne (Nay) in response to the question. In the end, the ‘nays’ won by about 150 to 100. So Lithuanians in general agree with me: I don’t think that higher education leads to unemployment.

Looking forward to reading and replying to your comments and especially seeing your votes in the above poll while on the road or on my return to Paris,
Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer

On the Road with Gary in…Greece

February 14, 2013

What’s the buzz?

CEFR, ICT, CAT, LOA and CaryatidsAcronyms-CEFR

Are you keeping up with the buzz words in ELT? I find keeping up with the multitude of new acronyms especially challenging. Assessment in particular appears to be one of those areas where lots is happening and where lots of acronyms crop up.

I was in Athens last month to give a talk on the new Cambridge English exams preparation series Compact. Since Athens was the birthplace of democracy, I started by asking the audience to vote on which of the four language skills are the most difficult for their learners. Unsurprisingly, the productive skills of speaking and writing came out ahead of listening and reading.

Of course, there are really five key skills, as I pointed out: the Common European Framework for References for Languages (CEFR, here we go!) divides speaking into two different skills: spoken production and spoken interaction. Cambridge English Exams test both these skills: pairs of candidates not only have to interact together, but each is also given an individual spoken production task.

We also saw a presentation of the short, flexible online Cambridge Placement Test (click to view a demo), which uses Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) to place students at the proper CEFR level from pre-A1 to C2. It does this by ‘adapting’ to give them questions which are either more or less difficult based on their response to the previous test item.

Another buzz word — and one that was new to me — was Learner Oriented Assessment (LOA). LOA integrates on-going tests and checks, often online, into materials so that each student follows a separate individualized learning path. Of course, teachers try to do this all the time in the form of differentiated learning.

Both CAT and LOA remind me of those ‘You’re the hero’ books I read when I was a boy… and of a lot of computer games for that matter!Erechteum temple

Later on, I found time to follow my individual path through the Agora up to the Acropolis to re-visit my favourite site there: the famous Porch of the Maidens, with six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns of part of the Ionic Erechteum temple. Apparently the Greek term karyatides means ‘maidens of Karyai’, an ancient Peloponnesian town; girls from there were considered especially beautiful, tall, strong, and, in this case, capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof while remaining graceful and feminine.

But back to pedagogy… are CEFR, ICT, CAT and LOA new acronyms for you? Have you learnt any other ELT buzz words recently? Please share! If you didn’t reply to the above poll before reading this post, maybe you could do so now. Looking forward to seeing the results and to reading and replying to any comments about any of the terms—or about your favourite part of the Acropolis.


Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer

On the Road with Gary in… Paris

January 15, 2013

What if not every student can have a copy of the coursebook?


I wasn’t traveling in December—except in and around Paris. I was giving workshops to teachers teaching Business English to adult learners in Private Language Schools (PLSs) and universities. I talked about using Business Advantage, a three-level course from B1 to C1 that combines case studies of real companies such as Nokia and Renault with theory from lecturers at leading international business schools such as the Cambridge Judge Business School; it also gives learners practice in all of the necessary business skills.

But I had to do a reality check here in France because the situation is that especially in PLSs adult learners only take courses of 20 to 50 hours; they won’t finish the entire coursebook in that limited amount of time and so won’t necessarily want to buy a copy. So what does a teacher do?

Well, one solution is to photocopy the pages you use—but that, of course, is illegal, as you know. Also, all those loose, messy pages can easily get lost and black and white photocopies aren’t very attractive. And photocopying in colour is probably more expensive than buying the coursebook!

I know that in some teaching situations – in schools in some countries – students buy workbooks to write in and do their homework, but ‘rent’ their student book from the school for a year. The school then re-uses the books, re-renting them to other students the following years.

I remember when I was teaching and running the language program at the American Center here in Paris we often purchased class sets of the coursebooks so that every student would have one during classes. The students would buy the workbook for homework and practice, including listening to the audio CDs in the car. Now of course there are Online Workbooks and listening activities are often downloadable files to listen to on a MP3 player.

Anyway, that was the suggestion I made to the schools here in Paris — class sets of coursebooks… and/or to purchase the Classware DVD-ROM that comes with Business Advantage. Classware is class presentation software to use with an Interactive WhiteBoard or just a computer and a data projector. It includes all the pages of all of the units of the coursebook along with all the audio and video. Teachers can therefore choose the pages and activities they want to focus on to meet the needs of their group(s) of learners. They can even enlarge, write on, and attach files to the pages too. And each individual student can then buy the workbook with audio CD for homework and practice.

‘No problems, only solutions’ as John Lennon sang. What about you? What’s your solution if for whatever reason not every student in your classes can have his or her individual copy of the coursebook? I’m looking forward to seeing your votes in the poll below – and to reading and replying to any comments or information you send about the solutions you’ve found to the problem.


On the Road with Gary in… Russia

December 7, 2012


I was back in Russia last month, traveling from Moscow to Ekaterinburg, and to two cities I hadn’t visited before: Perm and Volgograd. Though Ekaterinburg is a booming city, unfortunately it’s still known best internationally for being the place where Tsar Nicolas II was assassinated, along with other members of the Romanov family — except perhaps not Anastasia, right? Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) had an impressive Motherland Calls statue — as big as the Statue of Liberty! — commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad.

I was there mainly to give two different workshops related to the ‘Cambridge for Schools’ programme. I spoke first about materials such as Kid’s Box and the Fun for… and Storyfun series. These materials prepare pupils for Cambridge English: Young Learners (YLE) Starters, Movers and Flyers Tests, for which every child receives a certificate rewarding his or her individual ability. They get one to five University of Cambridge shields for each part of the test depending on how well they do in each language skill.

I also spoke about the Complete, Objective, Trainer and new Compact series, which prepare school-aged children or young adults and adults for either the main suite Cambridge English exams or for Cambridge Key, Preliminary, and First ‘for Schools’ exams from CEFR A2 to B2.

Because yes, now there’s a choice. What’s the difference? Not much, really. The ‘for Schools’ exams follow exactly the same format as their main suite equivalents with the same task types, testing focus and level of questions. And they lead to exactly the same internationally recognised Cambridge certificate. But — and doesn’t it of course make sense!? — the materials and exams reflect the interests and experiences of school-aged children and are based on familiar topics and situations to give learners and candidates confidence and motivation to use their English in everyday, familiar-to-them situations.

Imagine, for example, a 10 or 14 year-old being required to write or speak about what would be their ideal job? First of all, they may never have thought about it. Secondly, they also might not have or be interested in having the necessary lexis (i.e. salary, benefits, perks, health-care insurance, etc.). But if they were asked to write or speak about, say, their ideal birthday party or birthday gift, then of course they could.

It reminds me of the controversy in the US several years (decades?) ago when standardized IQ tests were questioned as being biased and unfair. They were criticized for not being culturally sensitive to the different backgrounds and experiences of especially minority children because they contained cultural references that reduced their validity. Well, with ‘Cambridge for Schools’ exams and materials that won’t happen!

Don’t you think that materials and exams should reflect the age level and interests of the learners and candidates? I’m looking forward to seeing your votes in the above poll and to reading and replying to any comments or information you send about ‘Cambridge for Schools’ developments in your country.


On the Road with Gary in…Turkey

October 30, 2012

Make your Teacher’s Book thine own when teaching a new course

I was in Turkey last month: in the east, at Erzurum at the foot of Palandöken Mountain (with the best ski slopes in Turkey, so they say), and in the south in Adana and its surrounding region. I was mostly doing post-adoption training for teachers who have adopted a Cambridge English course for the new academic year: courses such as Kid’s Box and Super Minds for primary and More!, Your Space and Interactive for secondary.

Now I only had an hour or so for each session with different groups of teachers and you can’t do much in-depth training in that limited amount of time. So we talked about the underlying methodology of the course, and looked at the overall course structure and how (and why) a unit is put together. Of course we discussed ideas for teaching a lesson, including supplementing the coursebook with downloadables available on the different Teacher’s Zones at http://www.cambridge.org/elt, for example. We also talked about sharing the wealth of ideas and experience by adding activities drawn from colleagues, or even your own, because you teach the class, not just the coursebook, right?

But I insisted that we also look at the teacher’s books accompanying each course. Why? Because I know that whenever I started teaching a new coursebook, I would always use the teacher’s book for its wealth of information and ideas. I’d take a good look at its answers (a time-saver and to avoid trouble-makers), and its suggested groupings and timings for each exercise. I’d run through its ideas for warm-up and extension activities, and advice on teaching mixed-ability classes – after all, every class is a mixed-ability class, isn’t it? I’d even work my way through the tape- and video-scripts all the way through to the supplementary photocopiable activities in the back!

I pointed out to the teachers in Turkey that there’s almost always a lot of white space on the pages of teacher’s books. You can use that space to customize and make the teacher’s book your own. You can write in comments and add Post-its next to individual activities as reminders of what worked or didn’t. You can remind yourself of how much more or less time an activity took than the guess-estimate given. You can add ideas on what to supplement the activity or lesson with, and with advice and reminders on what to do differently – or the same – the next time you teach that activity or lesson.

All this personalising the textbook takes us back to the title of this post, and in particular to a word that may have been unfamiliar to you: ‘thine’. Older forms of English used to have two different forms of the second person possessive: ‘your’ for the ‘plural’, and ‘thy’ for the singular (or ‘thine’ when used in front of a vowel).  My suggestions for personalizing your teacher’s books can be understood as a way of making ‘your’ teacher’s book (that is, the one everyone uses) into ‘thine own’ individual, personal and on-going teaching document!

What about you?  Do you look at and use the teacher’s books, especially when starting with a new coursebook? How do you personalise your teacher’s book(s)? Looking forward to seeing your votes in the above poll and to reading and replying to your comments.

Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer