Technology post-CELTA (3): Technology for teaching

The Axis of pEvil

The Axis of pEvil

In some of the (literally) hundreds of sessions on using technology that I did on CELTA courses I used the term "Axis of pEvil", and suggested that  — after your course has finished — you need to get off it.

The Axis of pEvil is a series of things that all start with "P". It starts with a PC, which churns stuff out of the printer, which is then taken to the photocopier and possibly also requires an accompanying PowerPoint presentation displayed on a classroom projector — all of which your CELTA course may in fact have "taught" you to use.

It's not that you should never use any of those things — there's a time and a place for them (though, actually, come to think of it, a PowerPoint- and photocopier-free CELTA course would be nice!). But you want to get off the Axis of pEvil if it's the only road you travel in your time as a teacher.

Get in lane! Get in lane!

Get in lane!

Did we just ignore the warning signs?

We're 16 years into the 21st century and technology has kind of moved on. I strongly suspect that lots of us in ELT missed the warning signs. If it's only the teacher using the technology, it must feel really weird to people born this century (some of whom are now nearly 17!) whose parents parked them with iPads at a tender age (a really bad idea!) and who grew up on Facebook and Snapchat (etc).

I'm not a big fan of Kahoot but I think, post-CELTA, you want to look at it and be at least aware of how amazing it is that kids could do that on the phones that they're been itching to get back out of their pockets ever since the last time you told them to put them away. If you're not asking yourself how you could exploit the technology now back in their pockets (and not just as dictionaries!), you should be! If your CELTA course didn't raise that question, then it ought to have done!

People playing Kahoot on their phones is amazing; your PowerPoint, in comparison, frankly just isn't, no matter how meticulously you prepared it. A smart phone is an amazing thing — just think of how many amazing things you can do with it. In comparison, a photocopier is a rusting pile of 20th century junk.

One of the ways in which, it seems to me, CELTA veers you off in the wrong direction is that you end up spending too long preparing materials, too little thinking how technology could be used by your learners for communicative tasks:

As a teacher, because — let's face it — you're frankly fairly badly paid in ELT, in most countries, you just can't afford post-CELTA to go on spending hours preparing lots of materials and perfect PowerPoints (an oxymoron).

So what lane should we have gotten into?
Fewer photocopies, less technology!
The road not travelled: less is more! 

For teaching you probably want fewer photocopies than your CELTA course may have taught you to use; less use of Google Images; less use of PowerPoint (preferably no use of PowerPoint — certainly far fewer slides than trainees seem to create, like 3 or under for any given class!). You probably want fewer materials and less technology — particularly as used in the classroom by the teacher.

Partly, I suspect, the problem is the teacher's fear of technology: fear that it will go wrong and they won't be able to fix it if it does go wrong in class — so best stick to what we know, namely PowerPoint.

But what we really need to know about technology is not how to operate it — because our learners are going to do that (see next post in this series) — but how to exploit it so that, when they use it, they learn more, better. More than anything else it's a question not so much of our making good use of technology in teaching, as one of designing good tasks which technology can enhance for learning.

The lane we should have got into wasn't Runway 1, it wasn't a flight path, as teachers we aren't supposed to be the pilot — and we're not groundcrew technical support, either. What we are (or should be) is aircabin crew, preparing and serving nourishing meals (better known as lessons), handing out assistance as and when required but what we don't want either is passengers sitting there meekly like sheep. And on ELT Airlines, mobile phones are allowed!

Good tasks from good materials
For what our learners could be doing with their mobile phones, I recommend this book (and this one is excellent, too!)

You can find ready-made tasks making the sort of minimal use of technology that I would advocate on places like Kieran Donaghy's excellent and on the equally excellent ViralELT, both of which exploit materials to be found on YouTube or Vimeo (where the superb Vimeo Staff Picks are well worth following, perhaps via Twitter).  

Here's one example from Vimeo:

A Film by Vera Vaughn from Sorrel Brae on Vimeo.

For what you could do with that, see these generic YouTube tasks.

TOP TIP: Don't touch the technology in your classroom.
I mean that literally. Don't start and stop the video yourself: have your learners operate it for you. That's a first step in the right direction.

For more materials which, with a little imagination, can easily been turned into tasks for the language classrooms, I highly recommend spending 60 seconds skimming The Guardian (or the BBC, or some other big media site) every morning. Here's one that came from there — and, if you teach in Spain, you've got an entire lesson there, as everyone (and their Mum/their granny) knows the real way to make paella!

Here's another, same source: Hunting for hygge, a new ingredient in Denmark's recipe for happiness. What is the recipe for happiness? One of the generic tasks I've probably used most often in class: brainstorming our ideas and then comparing ours with those we then pick out of an article, and then discuss.

Another favourite source of brilliant ideas for speaking and writing activities is WritingPrompts on Tumblr.

Five vital considerations you need to make

1 | Don't use technology just for creating more "exercises"
Assuming, post-CELTA, that you're using a coursebook with your classes, your coursebook gives you the exercises. Technology gives you opportunities to be more creative.

Take songs, for example. You could just turn the lyrics into a cloze test (aka filling in the gaps) but pick the right song and you can actually get people to talk about it. Just the song (there's the technology, either via YouTube or by Spotify), no exercises or photocopies, and a couple of questions to spark the discussion — which will take you down the materials-light, conversation-driven path advocated by Dogme language teaching, another direction you want to explore post-CELTA.

Here's Bob Dylan, for an example:

You want songs that tell stories, songs with question marks in them. How about some Bobbie Gentry?

See also 50 Ways To Use Music & Song

2 | Ask yourself what your ROI is
ROI stands for return on investment and in business will usually be a question of money. In ELT, it's a question of time — your time! If you're spending an hour preparing material for a five-minute activity, your ROI is appallingly low. If 5 minutes skimming gives you one great headline that will spark an hour's class discussion, you're on the right track.

3 | You are NOT a graphic designer!
I work in a computer room: I see CELTA course trainees spending an awful lot of time looking for the perfect image and picking the "right" font size.

But, as a teacher, you aren't paid to do art or graphic design and the "right" font size won't make for a better lesson, or teach your learners any more English. The art of teaching is asking stimulating questions. It has nothing at all to do with your choice of font size!

4 | Understand how amazing Google Drive is
Of all the webtools I've used, firstly because it is so brilliant for collaboration — with peers and with learners — Google Drive is unquestionably the best. Brilliant for learners giving collaborative presentations — but we'll come back to that one in the next post in this series.

See this for how to share Google Drive files.

5 | Ask yourself how you could exploit social media
Your learners are all on Facebook, right? Even though, at first sight, you might not want to be there with them, another question you ought to ask yourself is this: is there some way you could be exploiting the communicative possibilities of Facebook (etc) with your learners?

Next in this series, we'll look at how you might exploit a shared digital space (Facebook would be an example of that) with your learners.

See also:

And if you really must use PowerPoint, know what Death by PowerPoint is, and learn to use PowerPoint properly! These activities might be worth examining, for example.

More tips

See also
My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

Coming up in this "Technology post-CELTA" series

Technology post-CELTA (2): Filling in the gaps CELTA left one to bookmark, now!

Your CELTA course (CELTA: orginally, "Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults") is a short and intense month-long course and inevitably leaves a few gaps in the knowledge that you will require as a language teacher — and as a job seeker (see previous post in this series).

One of my jobs for the last 10 years and counting has been passing on jobs vacancies to trainees who have taken their CELTA course at IH Barcelona. Most of them (approx. 300 a year) are TEFL jobs in Spain and I'd say 75% or more of employers specify that they want people with experience of teaching young learners and/or Cambridge exams — which CELTA really didn't prepare you specifically for.

So here are a couple of websites that I always recommend people that cover some of the same areas your CELTA course did — and some it didn't.

1. | Teaching young learners
The first is (image above), which is produced by the British Council and the BBC, and which is great if you finish up teaching young learners, which the site divides into teaching "kids" up to 12, and teaching teens, with lesson plans, activities, articles etc. on both.

One Stop English your first stop site for many areas of English language teaching

You then have, which comes from the publishers Macmillan, which is also great for ideas and resources on teaching young learners (with resources again divided between children and teens), and many other things as well.

You have to pay for full access to it (details for individuals and for schools, and notice also the 30-day free trial option) but it's a site I always recommend (full disclosure: I've written articles on using technology for the site).

Both of the above two sites have the advantage over many things you'll find on the digital dungheap (aka the internet) that they've been produced by experts in the field.

TIP Where you're finding things elsewhere on the web, it can be helpful to ask yourself the question "What would [name of your CELTA course tutor/s] have said about this? How many ex-trainees have told me that works wonders?!

Technology isn't always the answer: one of the things I must have recommended most often on our post-course support group is reading books like these to help fill in those gaps.

And of course you also have workshops and courses that will provide you with useful ideas and knowledge (and look good on your CV). One of the most important things to do post-CELTA and for as long as your career in ELT lasts: go on learning to teach.

2. | Preparing learners for exams

Cambridge English exams your go-to exams site

If you teach in a language school, particularly in Spain, but in lots of other countries around the world too, Cambridge exams are hugely important. The obvious go-to site is, which tells you pretty much all you need to know.

If you're going for an ELT job interview, at the very least know what's on the exams and what PET and FCE are and be able to explain the different levels!

3. | Technology

It's not about what the teacher does with the technology!

Something else your CELTA course probably didn't tell you: it's not a question of what you do with technology!

We'll come back to this in another post in this series but it's been my experience that CELTA doesn't really point you in the right direction as far as technology is concerned.

My big "problem" with CELTA is that it — rightly — focuses on teaching you how to teach, whereas I'd suggest that 21st technology really needs to be in the hands of the learners, not the teacher, for it to be used most successfully.

Your CELTA course probably taught you that your classrooms ought to be learner-centred, didn't it? So why are you hogging the keyboard and displaying your PowerPoint? That's the equivalent, if you ask me, of your Mum posting stuff on Facebook for you and you only being allowed to watch!

For a website, or rather a blog, where you can find lots of ways your learners could be using technology, let me suggest my own blog here — or you could follow me on Twitter for more ideas on that 😉 !

But we'll come back to this one…

4. | Teaching 1-2-1
One other area that CELTA probably didn't cover was teaching one-to-one, private lessons (which you may well find yourself doing to make ends meet, as they tend to be considerably better paid what you get per hour in language schools).

You could Google that (though first I'd always search for results on and the results on OneStopEnglish). But you might again want a book for that specialised area and there's Peter Wilberg's One to One: A Teacher's Handbook (LTP; Amazon) or Priscilla Osborne's One to One (Keyways Publishing, Amazon) for that.

Did CELTA not prepare you for any other key areas? Tell us in the comments!

Coming up in this series

  • Technology for autonomy
  • Technology for becoming a better teacher
  • Technology for learning English
  • Technology for teaching English
  • Technology for filling in the gaps post-CELTA
  • Technology for finding work in ELT

Technology post-CELTA (1): technology for finding work in English language teaching

Get on Twitter!

You want a job? Get yourself on Twitter!

For many people, taking a CELTA course is the start of their career in English language teaching (ELT, aka TEFL). Post-CELTA, one of the first ways you are probably going to use technology for is to help you find that all important first job as an English teacher.

Here's a few tips, which come from many years of coming into contact — often thanks to technology — with many, many people looking for TEFL jobs.

  • What is your email?
    If you have an email address that sounds unprofessional, ditch it — and make that the first thing you do. Ideally, you want your own name. What you don't want is something like [email protected] (and I've seen far worse). The problem is this: do you want to run the risk of putting them off you?
  • Do you look like a mad axeman/woman?
    While you're at it, get yourself a decent, professional-looking profile picture, use the same one on social media if you're there publicly, and attach it to your CV. Note that "professional-looking" is virtually impossible to achieve with a webcam (or a selfie-stick!), and you want it without dark glasses, the Eiffel Tower, your boy-/girlfriend or your cat (etc.). Your photo is the first impression you make — and you don't get a chance to make a second.
  • What's you digital footprint?
    You might also want to actually try searching online for yourself and see what you (and a potential employer) can find. What have you tweeted about? Do you have a public blog? Start restricting who can see what if necessary!
  • Is your CV perfect?
    Then you want to make sure your CV is up-to-date and typo-free, and includes your nice new profile picture, in a version that you can send to potential employers — best as a .pdf document
  • Are you on LinkedIn?
    Even if you're not really much into social media, get yourself on LinkedIn, with your updated CV and — two vital things — your location and your profile picture. Your location is important because LinkedIn will find you and send you job offers based on that. Not all of them will be in ELT so if you do have other qualifications and experience, you want to decide whether or not to highlight them. And LinkedIn is for professionals — you really are expected to appear without your cat!
  • Is your CV online elsewhere?
    There are lots of other places you can have an online CV which it can be interesting to provide a link to in the resumé you're sending to employers. I have mine on, which is a site I can recommend (though if I were actually looking for work, I'd spend some time and effort to tailor it to the kind of job I was looking for). There are lots of others but note that you can be a bit too clever and fancy with some of them. I've seen some which probably didn't in fact impress any Director of Studies (DoS) who ever looked at them. (Perhaps it should be said that the average DoS in the average language school isn't… Well, let's just say that they are not usually a technological whiz kid.)
  • ELT jobs sites
    You then want to actually start looking for jobs, with probably being the best, most scam-free site for TEFL jobs (and do beware of scams — which would include any job that requires you to pay to obtain it). Some of the big school chains (such as Bell, EF, International House) have their own recruitment sites which are well worth checking out. Some of them will require you to register — worth doing if you're seeking work.

First coffee, then breakfast, then Twitter, THEN class!

You're looking for work? First Twitter, then coffee, then the paper!

  • Get on Twitter
    If you're not on Twitter, you maybe want to be, at least until you find a job: you can be "private" and you don't actually need to "tweet" — but follow on Twitter (and other ELT jobs sites) and you can access the jobs before they're immediately snapped up.
  • And for your next job…
    Once you've got your first job — and are maybe looking for your next (!) — in your next interview it's good to be able to talk about something your learners have done with technology. I'd suggest that's more important than being able to say what you can do with technology, and some interesting project work your learners have done will probably be a plus against your name with any forward-thinking DoS.

Coming up in this "Technology post-CELTA" series

Death of ELT by PowerPoint (and other random thoughts on retiring after 35 years)

Bruce Springsteen: "When we kiss…" Not just going through the motions!

You could probably say I've had four different though overlapping careers — in language teaching, language teacher training, technology and ELT management.

The first of those I retired from (after 35+ years) a few months ago, though the number of contact hours I was doing was limited;  teacher training I'm retiring from at the end of this month; management I got fired from (to the relief of all involved!) many years ago; which leaves only another 10 or so years in technology to do (I'm only (?) 57, so it ain't over yet!).

I happened to mentioned this in a session a couple of weeks ago and someone (Mati?) asked me if, after 35+ years, I had any tips for teachers just starting out…


My #1 tip for teachers
Every class, every day, every week, every term, every year of your teaching career, try something new and never ever just stick with what you have done before! Your learners, your brain, your DoS — everyone, in fact — will thank you for it. Jump at any chance you get to do something different! A kids' class with a new book? Give it to me !

Trash all your lesson plans at the end of the year: you don't want to use them again next year, with the possible exception of the half dozen that were truly outstanding (see Engage, not entertain, below).

The worst thing that can happen to a teacher is that you end up just going through the motions, just repeating what you've done many times before. With each year that goes by, you'll have a fresh cohort of faces in front of you that, like it not, you have to teach the present perfect (etc.) to. For them it's the first time, for you the umpteenth: but teach it to them as if it was the first time for you, too.

Is there, to misquote Bruce Springsteen, still fire…?

Now it really does get random
But there's more to it than that. So, below, some random thoughts from someone who is content to have failed to learn all there is to know about teaching and learning…

You never stop learning to teach
Being a teacher is a bit like being a parent: you should be constantly asking yourself if you're a good one, are you doing everything possible for your kids, asking yourself  if you could be a better parent or teacher if you did more (or sometimes less!), if you tried something different.

If you're not worried and puzzled by that question, then you should be.

Attitude is everything

Two ways to go to conferences and workshops

Whether you're learning a language, or learning to teach a language, or trying to get your head round some piddling little technological difficulty that is driving you potty, attitude is everything.

If you go to teaching workshops and conferences (and you should!) you inevitably go to a few sessions that are a bit duff, or that just don't feel applicable to your teaching circumstances. But you can still get lots out of such sessions — if your attitude is right.

It requires a bit of lateral thinking sometimes but the attitude "This won't work with my learners because…" will get you nowhere; the attitude "This would work with my learners if…" can turn even poor ideas into great ones.

Around 20 years ago, in a workshop if I remember it rightly, a teacher suggested that her learners' attitude towards her, the teacher, and towards learning English  in general was just wrong and until that changed, there was no way forward. One of her much younger peers, whose face and exact tone of voice but not her name I recall, suggested that that was the wrong way to see things: that what really mattered was the teacher's attitude; that if that was right, the learners' attitude would fall into its desirable place.

That conversation changed how I went into young learner classrooms (as did, around the same time, reading a wonderful book by Herbert Puchta and Michael Schratz).

Best activities for technology enhanced language learning
I started out in language teaching before technology ever came along (and when it did it was at first just cassette recorders and then VCRs); but most of the activities that seem to have worked best with technology also worked without technology.

Favourite activities that technology enhanced (and if technology doesn't make the activity better, don't use it):

What they had in common:

  • They involved lots of talking and collaboration and not too much technology
  • They engaged people (see below)
  • Many involved using a shared digital space of some kind (Edmodo, Google Drive, private G+ Communities and WhatsApp have been among the most successful)
  • And — vitally — they produced lots of language practice and learning

Special mention for some of the fun things you can do with YouTube. Those of you who started out after the YouTube era began just don't know good life as a teacher is for you 😉 !

PowerPoint is WRONG for ELT!
Collaborative presentations given by learners make a fabulous activity for a language classroom, with Google Drive being a wonderful tool for that.

But at some point not so long ago, I noticed that all my peers and CELTA course trainees had suddenly started to use PowerPoint in their classes for literally everything: displaying images, explaining grammar points, exercises  — entire classes. You name it, I've seen it PowerPointed. Make that Over-PowerPointed.

That's got to be wrong! You've heard of Death by PowerPoint? Now we have Death of ELT by PowerPoint.

That's almost as bad as drowning in an avalanche of photocopies !

Whatever happened to good old chalk ?! Whatever happened to just asking learners if they'd ever been kitesurfing or whatever? When and why did it ever become necessary to PowerPoint it all?

Engage, not entertain!
No amount of technology is ever going to prove more useful than a single idea that the learners "bought" and responded to and were engaged by.

A working definition of a much overused word, "engaged": the learners willingly do the task the teacher has set and, vitally, get so "into" the task that, given they choice, they'd in fact rather being collaborating with their peers — in English, on THAT — than be on Facebook with their friends.

Here's one example, a picture of a motorbike I took in the street outside and which I showed to learners, asking them to come back to class with as many pictures they could find of different vehicles on the streets of Barcelona…

…  which they did and, a week or so later, had invented some pretty amazing "owners" of the vehicles they'd photographed (a number of whom "sold" their vehicles to other "owners").

You could have stolen all the images of the vehicles off of Google Images (and then PowerPointed them!) but they got so much more excited and engaged by their photos on their phones.

See also further examples and explanation for the same task.

A message from technical support
One from my time in technical support (TS) , in which I will be continuing for around another 10 years.

How many times have I had the following conversation or variations on it?

USER I want to be able to do this. I used to be able to do
it but it doesn't work now
TS That's no longer possible* but why don't you do this instead?
USER I don't want to do that. I want to do what I've always done!

*Possibly due to an unwanted Windows update 😉 !

We're there to help you in Technical Support, we want to help you but in the end you've got to help yourself and the best way to do that is to accept that technology moves relentlessly forward, and move forward with it. Life, they say, begins outside your comfort zone — and so does self-sufficiency in technology.

Step out of your comfort zone and you'll never have to have that same conversation with the Geeks again. We will have become unnecessary.

A message from another lifetime


On the wall of my office

And because I had half another lifetime in management, here's one thought from that time, and from my 35+ years observing what happens in schools: the worst thing a manager can do is to stand in the way of change, the next worst to do anything at all that makes the job of anyone under him/her harder in any way whatsoever.

Hanging on the wall of my office around the last 10 years there's been the photocopy you can see in the image above, an appeal for Leonard Cheshire Homes, which has a picture of a woman in a wheelchair and a sign saying "enabled" on the table.

What's the primary job of any manager (and of a teacher, and of technical support, come to think of it)? It's to enable people to do whatever.

Just one regret

If I could have my time again I'd be a teacher. I liked being a teacher. Often it was a challenge, often it was unrewarding and unappreciated, always it was underpaid but I wouldn't have swapped it for any other profession — except the crazy ideas which I once daydreamed of but could never have been (like a helicopter pilot, or a drifter in a Western, or a photographer).

Or a collector of quotations (which I was). Muhammad Ali said this; "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth" and teaching was, for me, a life of service and that was what made it worthwhile.

My one regret was that for 35 years I primarily served organizations rather than school children, who — I realise — weren't always any more thankful to you for your efforts than your DoS or Head of Department but who needed and deserved your service so much more.

If I could start over, I'd go back to where I began — in Primary and Secondary — and serve there instead.

And after 35 years, I'm glad I'm still a little naive.