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A modern language teacher toolkit

Gianfranco Conti, who writes the blog The Language Gym, and I have decided to put together a handbook/toolkit for modern language teachers. Gianfranco teaches languages at the Garden International School in Kuala Lumpur, previously worked in the UK and has spent a good deal of time studying second language acquisition research. My background is teaching in the UK, some research and a long-term interest in pedagogy.

Why are we doing this? Not for financial gain! We both wonder whether language teachers coming into the profession, or even existing teachers, are well informed about the best research we have into what works. We also wonder if, in this "post methods" era of what has been called "principled eclecticism" (Pachler et al, from their useful and widely used book for PGCE students) how clear the "principles" are. We feel that many teachers are unclear about their principles with regard to language teaching and learning and that they may, therefore, engage in practice which is less productive than it might be.

We do not start from a fixed view of language acquisition. Having studied the field we are reasonably pragmatic, realising that context is key and that language acquisition can occur both through unconscious "natural" means and through explicit instruction and controlled practice.

We are acutely aware that teachers are not agreed on what works best and we do not wish to write anything too narrow or prescriptive. We would like to encourage teachers, however, to avoid practices which may be fashionable or superficially attractive, but which do not lead to effective language acquisition.

Some of you will know that I have already put together a concise free handbook, available on the Samples page of What we are proposing will be much more detailed and include some theory and research as well as practicalities.

There seem to be a number of books for language trainees, but I have yet to see one which really gets into the nitty gritty of classroom techniques. We hope, in the coming months, to put together something which will be of great practical use to language teachers. We have so far sought via Twitter views about what teachers might like to see in such a book. We have had quite a bit of feedback, including a few recurring points. This is what came up, more or less verbatim.

Systematic planning.
How to motivate and research on motivation.
Lazy teacher's handbook!
More advice on teaching specific areas of language, sequencing and lang to use.
How to design good worksheets.
A framework for planning lessons to consolidate knowledge.
How to situate planning within wider vision over time.
Scaffolding, vision, what would pupils find hard.
Setting cover work.
Creative, seamless backwards design across key stages.
Working with SEN.
Evidence based ideas on what works.
Minimum input, maximum output list.
Stuff on memory, memorisation, sequencing.
No/low prep activities.
Fun ways of doing listening.
How to teach grammar points.
Ideas for teaching grammar in engaging and memorable ways.
Ideas for teaching basic sentence building.
TL phrases for teacher and pupil use.
Ideas for group activities
Procedures not rules: how to explain and model-rehearse-reinforce and reteach.
Transferring vocab/grammar to different situations.
Ideas for games.
Minimal planning games, transferable across topics.
Give teachers a big toolbox of practical techniques and strategies to keep students talking in TL.
An accessible literary review of relevant research.
Range of activities which should work based on research and why.
Historical overview of nonsense as a warning against bandwagons.
How to turn SoW into clear lesson plans.
How to use flashcards.
Cautions about ICT.
Page of one liner pieces of advice from ML teachers.
Starter list of websites apps.
Using tech to enhance learning, not just for sake of it.
Medium term planning.

We cannot guarantee to deal with all of these, but I can imagine many will be covered.

At the moment our initial plan, which may change as the project evolves, is to have three sections. The first would look at some theory and research and what it suggests about best practice. You have to bear in mind that second language learning research has, so far, produced little which can recommend a "best approach". This is the case with all educational research which as to take account of so many variables: teacher, class, school, social context. It can give us some useful pointers though.

The second section will focus on practical ideas for the classroom based on what research suggests, along with what our combined 60 years of experience teaching and observing teaching languages tells us. We shall cover a wide range of techniques and practices, embracing the four skills, technology, games, planning, assessment, worksheet design and use, teaching grammar, working with texts, marking, homework and much more.

The third section would be a set of model lesson plans, maybe lesson sequences, either in English and thus adaptable to all languages, or in French, German and Spanish.

Anyway, do let me know if you think of any specific areas a trainee or more experienced teacher might like to see. This should be fun!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. How exciting!! As a 12 year classroom veteran, I'm very interested to see the end result! Keep up the great work :)

  2. Haha! At 58 years old I am the real veteran. Or is it vintage?

  3. Hi Steve,

    French teacher Ben Slavic has written a couple of these type of books that get right to the nitty gritty of teaching language. The strategies in his books serve the purpose of teaching for fluency. I have really never seen anything like his books. They are called PQA in a Wink, Stepping Stones to Stories, and TPRS in a year.

    You can probably find them at



  4. Thanks. I'll look into that, though I am not naturally drawn to TPRS. I try to keep an open mond, though.


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