Exploit the c**ts at #IHTOC9

26 05 2017

At #IHTOC9 on Friday 19th May 2017, I gave a thirty minute presentation called ‘The Key to EFL – Exploit the c**ts!’.  The video of the talk and the talk slides are both available on the conference blog:

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as well as right here:

Exploit the Cont**ts


And it’d be great to hear what you think of the talk and how you exploit the c**ts in your context!

IHTOC9 Conference Blog

26 05 2017

On Friday 19th May 2017 IH World hosted the 9th International House Teachers Online Conference – IHTOC9, which was a fabulous demonstration of the strength and quality of our network with over 30 talks given by IH teachers.  Throughout the day, we travelled virtually around the world to hear talks from as far afield as Buenos Aries and Sydney.   With talks in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish, the conference reflected the diverse spectrum of languages we teach.

In addition to the excellent teacher-led talks, this year we had two plenaries kindly sponsored by ETpedia with Lindsay Clandfield and Vanessa Reis Esteves bringing us ideas for using games and storytelling, so a big thanks to them for being involved.

Since the end of the conference Shaun Wilden, the teacher training coordinator and conference co-organiser, has been working hard to make all the recordings available at https://sites.google.com/site/ihtoc9/.  Here you can find all of the recordings and the slides of every talk.  Please do share this fabulous teacher development resource site with your colleagues.

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Thank you once again to everyone who worked to make this conference a success and we look forward to doing it all again next May!

Comment on Damian William’s blog post ‘Solutionism in ELT: magic bullet or malady?’

16 01 2015

Brilliant blog post by Damian Williams inspired me to comment thus:

Thanks for introducing me to Solutionism, Damian!
And just to further your thought, while course books get a lot of flack these days, it’ll be teachers getting a lot of flack tomorrow, while technology ironically takes us back a century. And while I don’t agree that course books are unrivalled (my students get a lot more out of authentic materials, unlike solutionists) I do agree that good teachers are and always will be.

Bringing out the inner voice

19 05 2014

Saturday May 1th 2014 saw me presenting a spanking new talk at MAC2014 – the annual Macmillan conference in Montevideo, hosted by the Anglo institute.  It’s the third time I’ve talked at the Macmillan Montevideo conference and it was great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.



The talk has been a long time in the making since it was inspired by Jeremy Harmer’s talk at the 2010 International House DoS Conference – ‘Speak the speech, I pray thee’, which discussed improving students’ fluency by helping them to think and prepare inside their heads first.  It was an inspiring talk, but a little short on practical ways to get the students actually doing this in the classroom.  So I set about trying to motivate and inspire my students to think much more in the class, alongside their development of the other four skills. It’s taken me a few years to put what I’ve done into a talk, since it’s very much a case of small steps and slowly, slowly catchy thinking student.  As the Macmillan conference was focused on developing Life Skills, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to make myself write the talk and bring together my ideas on the topic.

#2014MAC Life Skills tree

#2014MAC Life Skills tree

The results are here, in the form of the slides for the talk in PDF:

Bringing Out The Inner Voice

and a video of them too:

as well as the video I used at the end as a way of having the students reflect on the ideas we discussed during the talk and think about how they could create more thinking space, structure and sensitivity into a lesson using this video.  Unfortunately during the talk the sound was dodgy, so the great lyrics couldn’t be heard beyond the front row (and apologies to the audience that I had to resort to singing some of them myself!

I also hope to put a lesson together myself using this text as a launching ad, so look out for that here too!

Next up is the example text-based guided discovery lesson I used.  You can read more about Guided Discovery and this lesson here if you’re interested.


And then here are some lesson ideas to use at the beginning of your efforts to inspire your students to think in English:

Thinking in English

A reading based on a text about why to try and think in English when learning the language, with a worksheet that has built in space and structure for thinking.

The Week in English

Encourage your students to do some thinking for homework and then discuss what they’ve done in class – the flipped classroom turns your students flipping (if they talk to themselves 🙂 ).

Anecdote feedback sheet An example of how the students can reflect on each others’ work and tech each other a little more about anecdoting.


In full flow at #2014MAC

From ladders to mountains – cutting Demand High down to size

10 06 2013

This is a talk that I first did at the Macmillan Annual Conference at the Anglo on Saturday May 11th 2013.  I then repeated it as a workshop at International House in Buenos Aires on Friday 31st May 2013 at our weekly interschool teacher development meeting.


IH Facebook photo

They were two very different and very worthwhile experiences and they both showed different ways in which using the ‘Demand High’ meme (as Adrian and Jim suggest we call it) can be a very powerful reflection tool for teachers of all experiences in all contexts.

A meme example

A little meme example for you – is this what A&J meme?


First of all, in Montevideo, Hitting the Heights was much more of a talk, since there were around 300 people present and we were in an auditorium at a conference, so the set up was very talk-oriented.  Hence the use of the following slides, which you can access here: Hitting the Heights

But let me talk you through them a little, in case you’d like to join us on our reflection journey up the mountain, or would even like to  give a similar workshop yourself.

I started by explaining where my mountain metaphor came from – my wife wanting to climb Aconcagua while I wanted to go to the IH Dos conference in London.  Since I ended up not being able to go, I ended up enjoying the videos of the talks on the IH World website.

Jim's ladder of teacher stages

Jim’s ladder of teacher stages

First of all Jim Scrivener takes us through the reasons for Demand High and uses a ladder to explain why teachers can use Demand High as a way to continue developing their higher skill sets.

and then Adrian gives us some practical examples of putting Demand High into practice.


What I did in the talk was summarise these two talks and blend them together with another by Steve Brown, the slides for which he makes available on his blog for others to use – and so I did!   Here are the aims for Steve’s session (click on the slide for a link to his blog) – he nicely splits them into Low Demand and High Demand.  The aim of my talks (and this blog post) were very much to allow the audience to reflect on their teaching…

One main tenet of Demand High is the focus on three areas of teaching and the teacher – our attitude towards our students, where we focus our energy and whether we are continuing to improve our techniques.


The attitude shift they call for is key to the whole concept of Demand High – are we really pushing our students to do the best they can?  Are we demanding enough of them?  Or is our attitude more lax than that – ‘They’re doing enough’, ‘I doubt they can do much better’, ‘That’ll do’.  Most of my audience agreed that we do fall into this trap too often and we do need to keep ourselves focused more on pushing our students (and also getting them to push themselves).
Slide14In order to do this, we also need to focus our energies on high demand teaching and this is another key point that Jim & Adrian ask us – are we actually running away from the real teaching that needs to be going on in our classrooms?  Are we afraid to get our hands dirty? Learning a language is a messy, difficult job and we need to be putting in the detailed ‘grimy’ work to get it done.  The Communicative Approach in particular has led us (allowed us) to facilitate the students communicating, doing things (mechanically?), but are we getting involved enough in teaching forms and giving constructive feedback that ensures they are really making progress and improving step by step?


And finally, in order to do this, are we using the best, most effective techniques to do so?  Are we armed with ways of helping our learners learn?  Are we equipping them with the best techniques for learning by themselves away from the classroom?  Are we continually striving to explore new ways of doing and reflecting on the most effective ways of teaching in the different contexts we find ourselves?  Are there enough ‘nudging interventions’ in our classes?

Most of us seem prepared to answer No! to most of these questions, which is why I find this session such an excellent reflective tool.  It makes us ask the questions of ourselves, and hopefully as we now move into the detail, provides some possible answers too.    Jim goes on to compare received contemporary ideas with their suggestions for Demand High teaching.  In the workshop we tried to match these up ourselves, but here you have them in their full glory.

First of all consider the left hand column – do you agree with Jim that these are part of the status quo?  Do they happen in your classroom?


In the talks, we had a mix of yes and nos, which shows that most of us are a little further up the mountain than Jim and Adrian give us credit for (or perhaps they felt the need to start below sea level in order to include everyone and not lose some less able / experienced climbers along the way).  And when we compared them with the right hand column, there were lots of knowing nods and ‘yes that happens in my class’ and ‘yes that’s always my aim’, but it was good to see some ‘I’d like it to happen even more’ ‘I don;t always achieve this’ and ‘I hadn’t thought of that’ or ‘I’ve forgotten about that one recently’ in there as well. So wherever your starting point, be it base camp, halfway up the mountain or even below sea level, there’s definitely something in here for you and this task opens us up and prepares us for some more detailed reflection on our teaching.  Which brings us back to Steve Brown…

Steve suggests some areas which we might already consider as Demand High teaching :


but then asks if they really are such good ideas after all.  This is where things get rather controversial, since Steve takes a very ambitious view of Demand High teaching.  In fact, he gave me some…

so I had to talk to the mountain to see where I stood on these matters.  So in the slides you have the original wisdom, Steve’s Demand High turn around, and then my middle ground.  One example here to show you how to interpret this section of the slides…


Steve suggests and we probably mostly agree that it’s received wisdom to plan your lesson.  But Steve asks us to consider what the Demand High results of not doing this might be, listed in the above slide. I then take these to the wisdom of the mountain, and come up with the responses in the slide below.  Sometimes I completely agree with Steve, sometimes I think he goes a little too far to elicit a reaction and sometimes I think he’s missed a point.  As you work through the slides and compare the two views, you can make up your own mind, but the idea of the activity is to help you see where you stand on some fundamental concepts of classroom practice.


Plenty of theory to be getitng on with then.  But what about putting it into practice?  Jim and Adrian don’t suggest too many ways of actually Demanding High in the classroom.  Adrian has a pronunciation suggestion (of course!) which is an excellent drilling technique I’d never come across before and it does work really well.  It simply involves getting the studnets to hear your model of the language before they repeat it themselves, to hold on to their mind’s recording of your voice and repeat it as many times as they can before they lose it (normally after around five seconds) – try it out in class, it’s quite a powerful technique.

To finish up I suggest a few ideas of ways I’m going to try and Demand High in my own classes, which you can enjoy below…



Differentiation is an area I’ve not thought about too much since I tend to teach monolingual classes which are pretty well levelled, but I know it’s an area I should be considering more even within this context.  I found a helpful self-reflection task on how differentiated your teaching is, which also gives some practical ideas about how to go about doing it.  Are you more to the left or the right of the differentiation clines?  As with all these ideas I could blog a separate post on them, so keeping it brief here.



Early finisher exercises are another area I’d like to widen my repartee in.  I give one simple example here, but want to spend time and perhaps a blog post leading to a workshop on how to engage and push the fast finishers.  I obviously need a lot more time to Demand High of myself…



And as a teacher trainer, I always like to encourage observation, since I consider it the most effective development tool.  So here are a couple of Demand High peer observation tasks for you to try out when watching and being watched.

Hitting the heights observation

Student peaks

And finally, giving the learners more motivating, realistic/authentic and Demand High homework tasks is an area I feel I can improve in.  Again I share just one simple idea here, but hopefully more will be on the way someday.  Learners had to go and watch youtube videos and find examples of unreal past conditions and results to share with their classmates.  Then they brought them into class and their friends had to guess where they were from.  We ended up showing them in context on mobiles to check their predictions.  The blank one is because some didn’t find any – but they had lots of intense listening practice anyway as they tried to find them…



It’s a very simple idea with very little teacher preparation, but really engaging and personalised for the students. One I’m going to use again and again, tweeking here and there of course. So we’ve reached the summit of the mountain and the view looks pretty spectacular.  We’ve had some tough times on the journey and had to look inside ourselves to find the attitude, energy and techniques to get to the top, but with a little help along the way from Jim, Adrian and Steve we made it!

Now all that’s left is to share the tale of your journey with friends and family once you get back home.  How are you Demanding High of yourself and your students?  Which areas are you going to choose to work on?  What Demand High techniques and activities are you adding to your teaching?  Please do share with us here, we’d love to hear from you.

Congratulations on Demanding High, enjoy the view, and remember by Demanding High, you’ll Hit the Heights!


14 04 2013

So IATEFL  2013 has come to an end and all of the delegates have left Liverpool.

IH colleague Shaun Wilden says Goodbye Liverpool on Facebook

IH colleague Shaun Wilden says Goodbye Liverpool on Facebook

But in many ways the conference is only just beginning.  Now there’s more time to read and reflect, to revisit and review, to draw conclusions and put into practice.  I hope to continue doing this throughout the rest of April.  But for today I’d like to show you the best bit of the conference for me, in case you didn’t have the chance to visit it – the International House World stand!


The reason being this year International House celebrates its diamond jubilee – 60 years since John and Brita Haycraft set up the first school in Cordoba, Spain.  We’ve come a long way since then and to celebrate we’re giving away lots of fabulous presents to teachers, as well as giving you lots of fabulous opportunities to contribute yourselves and get your students participating in the celebration, participating in a range of competitions we’ll be having throughout the year.

60 years of International House

60 years of International House

Hopefully those 2585 of you who were lucky enough to attend the conference yourselves are proudly clutching your IH world gift on your way home and have already signed up to our gifts list to receive all the fab freebies we’ll be sending your way throughout the year.  And those of you who couldn’t make it can do so right here:

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The free gifts already available on the website include a sample 6 lessons / activities / games from our various resource banks – General English Activities, CEF Activity packs, the IH Writing Portfolio and the IH Games Bank.  I’m very proud to say that I edited the first three of these and wrote the Games Bank in its entirety.  Of course, if you want to have the complete resources you’ll have to become an IH teacher!

We are also running a Lesson Plan competition for all teachers around the world.  The lesson simply has to have a link to the word 60 somehow.  I have created an example lesson to give you an idea of what we’re looking for and to provide a template for you to use for your entries.  You can enter as many times as you like and could win a free IH training course – take your pick:

Win a free IH online course - many to choose from, something for everyone!

Win a free IH online course – many to choose from, something for everyone!

Full details of the competition are available in our special IH60 section of the website:

IH60 Lesson Plan competition details

IH60 Lesson Plan competition details

You can also access all of the videos from the IH DoS conference in January (just in case you’ve already watched all of the IATEFL videos):

IH DoS conference 2013 videos

IH DoS conference 2013 videos

and my favourite section of the IH60 gifts page at the moment is the ‘I wish I’d known’ section, where 60 IH teachers from around the world share what they wish they’d known all those years ago when they started out in the world of English teaching:

I wish I'd known...

I wish I’d known…

So many exciting gifts to start off with and many more to come during the rest of the year.  Get thinking about some of your favourite lessons and think how you can get the word 60 into them so you can enter them in the competition.  Visit the IH experience page so that you can see how to get your learners involved and keep up to date with our various competitions as they come online.

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And make sure you sign up to the IH60 gifts list so that you keep getting lovely presents throughout the year, as well as news of our various conferences and workshops and competitions celebrating 60 years of International House.  Happy birthday IH World!

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Day two at #iatefl from a downtown BsAs bus

10 04 2013

Starting this on the bus on the way home from the centre of town,

The 39 bus - from Corrientes to Carranza

The 39 bus – from Corrientes to Carranza

and no doubt won’t finish it til tomorrow morning, but wanted to try out making a post on my phone – after all, this is where our learners are headed, isn’t it?

Sandy has been a big help again today, easily my star of the conference.


‘We’ ‘saw’ the following talks together:

Does the word “synonym” have a synonym? – Leo Selivan
Bridging the gap by Ceri Jones
From preparation to preparedness – Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley

Does the word “synonym” have a synonym? – Leo Selivan

talk sounds fascinating, I love travelling back through the history of the language as he did at the beginning of his talk and this pie chart of the make up of English I haven’t seen before:

Where does English come from?

Where does English come from?

And for some strange reason I always enjoy telling my students that English is the biggest language in the world (for some other strange reason my Argentine students never believe me and insist Spanish has more words, not a problem I ever had in the Czech Republic).

And of course, the main point Leo makes about synonyms is crucial when it comes to vocab learning (well-timed, since I’m doing our CELTA session on teaching vocab this afternoon – one of my favourites) – synonyms are not the same.  This is something I’m a staunch defender of and always pick up our trainees on when they say ‘they’re the same’ to the students in class (a little demand high CELTA tutoring there, Neil?).  If they were the same then we wouldn’t have two words for something.  The reason we do have two words for something, or three or four, is because there are subtle differences between them (perhaps because the different social or geographic classes saw things differently back when the language was being molded (hang on a minute, language is always being molded (although perhaps nowadays it’s being moulded too?)).  And so they don;t differ in basic meaning, but as Leo points out, they differ in their collocations, register, colligations and semantic prosodies, to name but a few.  And this does need to be pointed out to students, as I will point out to our CELTees this afternoon.

Sandy reports only two practical ideas from Leo, collocation forks, which if I understand correctly go back to Lewis’ ideas in The Lexical Approach, and a website called Just the word, which looks like a useful reference page for teachers and students alike – demand high of yourselves by checking out collocations of words before you teach them (but remember to stay in the context in which you’re teaching).  My example nods to yesterday’s post about Day One at IATEFL:

I do like the visula simplicity of the little green bars, though I’m struggling to see why ‘cabbage at’ is just as used as ‘cabbage with’. Market forces I imagine.

Bridging the gap by Ceri Jones

is getting short shrift because I have some Academic Coordinating to do before pilates class, but seems worth a mention because the course book she is selling in the talk seems to be written on slightly more solid foundations than any others in recent years.  It seems to take into account the changing world and changing language around us and tries to be more relevant to learners by including them more in activities.  I imagine like most talks about course books she focused on the three best activities in the book, but hopefully that’s just me being cynical.  Definitely one to check out when it comes to choosing new books.  One activity she mentions that I am a big fan of is getting the learners to write a text before they read a similar text form the coursebook, they are then immediately comparing their own ideas and writing skills with those of the author, which makes the whole process more cognitive and affective.

From preparation to preparedness – Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley

This was one of the most eagerly awaited (and tweeted sessions) of the day and I picked up on the following:

This just made me want to be at the conference and at the session.  Whether or not the presenters were giving us good ideas, I’d love to have been there to see them try.

And this tweet makes me want to read these articles.  We should all be expecting the unexpected in our lessons – and enjoying it!  One of the things I loved most about our recent Delta Intensive was watching very good teachers (when the lesson went to plan) become even better teachers by changing the plan, adapting the plan and losing the plan depending on their students’ needs.

But unfortunately there weren’t too many practical ideas coming out of the session, except for this list:

Training teachers to improvise

Training teachers to improvise

Improvising teachers

Improvising teachers

Those last two are the ones I’m going to focus on more, since the others are hopefully already ‘just good teaching’, aren’t they?

Time to coordinate, so I’ll leave you with a few random thoughts on a few random tweets I favourited throughout the day:

Completely agree with this one, Mike.  I always try and set my self a new development goal each year (and normally manage many more along the way).  This year’s include blogging IATEFL :), writing a Delta Module One Live Online course and celebrating IH World’s 60th anniversary (hope you enjoy the free gifts, since many of them are from me).

This tweet too sounds like the kind of session I enjoy – practical activities that really work in the classroom.  How many were there?  What were they?  Do they really promote further fluency?  How can I find out?

I include this tweet because I don’t really get it.  Apart from people actually paying less attention to the speaker during conversations because they are distracted by their phones (although at conferences we probably concentrate more when we are tweeting / blogging during the talks?), speech itself isn’t changing, so how does the speaker envisage speaking activities reflect the more digital communication that there is?  Anyone who was there care to enlighten me?

This link sounded good so I’m sharing it with you.  Obviously I was intrigued by the Dogme / Demand High mix (’twas only a matter of time) so let’s see what it’s all about shall we? Not much D&D (un)fortunately, so little in fact I had to comment on it:

Hi Tom,
Very common sense if your students have the technology – sounds just like my kind of lesson and similar to one I shared yesterday in its use of whatever tech is ‘handy’.
Am interested in hearing how you made it Demand High though, since that doesn’t come out of your post and those dominoes don’t sound very Dogme (not that that’s a criticism).
But I hope your title and tags brought you a few new readers like myself anyhow ;) .

I’m a big fan of Wily’s and would love to have been at his talk – he really is an authentic teacher and always makes you think.  If I have time I’ll try and get more of a taste of his and Katy Davies’ talks to comment on tomorrow, because they sound like to of the talks of the day.

Work beckons.  What do you reckon?