Hello world!


Welcome to Teacher Talking Time.

This is a blog for teachers interested in teacher education, teacher training and development, teaching and learning and related topics. We will be inviting a variety of  people to share their experiences on a regular basis – so keep coming back!.

The latest post is by Galina an ITI DELTA student working in Samara, Russia. She describes the three-day ITI Master Classes held at her University. Liz and I had a wonderful time and thank Galina for inviting us and also writing it up for our blog. 

I have written the first two posts to get the ball rolling. My first post is about ‘whole person learning’ and explains my personal philosophy that learning should utilise the whole person in terms of stimulating the mind, body and emotions.

My second post is also personal and describes my experiences over the last two years facing cancer. Like staring down from a precipice, confronting our fragile mortality is terrifying, and yet, at the same time by confronting the inevitable, it provides a unique opportunity to perceive from a new and sharper perspective and to learn valuable lessons about the nature of learning and life.

I hope you enjoy these postings and future ones.

Best wishes

Tom Godfrey (Director of ITI)

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If you saw the film – Don’t miss this show

Speech Bubbles has come a long way since our first musical (Grease) performed at Robert College in 1999. This year we are celebrating 30 years of musicals and pantomimes supporting children and education in Turkey.

This weekend Speech Bubbles theatre group are performing We Will Rock You by Queen at the Torun Centre, Mecidiyekoy. Book your ticket: http://www.speechbubbles.org

We Will Rock You is a story about a future world where everything is controlled by one large technology company. The population is taught how to think and behave the same. Fortunately, there are a few ‘free thinkers’ (the Bohemians) who still believe in creativity and the power of ‘rock music. In many ways this dystopian world is not unlike the reality of today where children spend hours passively in front of screens, failing to communicate or think critically – only the Bohemians struggle to stay awake and dream of a brighter future.

This is the ethos behind Speech Bubbles. We are a multi-national group of musicians, actors, teachers and other professionals joined by our love of the performing arts and the desire to raise money to support education and children in Turkey.

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Transformative Teaching: Channeling Energy in the classroom.


What is exceptional teaching? This is a question that, as a teacher trainer, has preoccupied me for the last 40 years. What makes an exceptional teacher?

A production line view of education.

Traditionally education is perceived as a process similar to the production of a MacDonald’s meal. The ingredients are assembled (course books and materials), a methodology is followed and the anticipated outcome is predicted in the form of learning, which is then tested and evaluated.

This is a static, and mechanical view of education. It reduces the teaching process into parts: curriculum, materials, teaching methods and learning outcomes and attempts to apply objective standards to each component. Unfortunately the conception disravels as learners do not behave in a standard manner (unlike ingredients in a MacDonald’s hamburger). Learners are not readily standardised. It is a source of inescapable confusion to academics and administrators that learners defy all attempts at logic and rationality imposed on them.

Furthermore I have noticed that on teacher training courses there is intense reductionist pressure to identify objective teacher competences that are observable and measurable. This obsession with standardisation is evident on the CELTA where, for example, trainee teachers are evaluated against a list of criteria and marked as standard or not to standard. Teachers, of course, are no more malleable to standardisation than learners.

Samples of criteria from the CELTA course

The criteria judges whether a teacher can plan a lesson, and effectively set up the activities, (assemble the ingredients and process them in an appropriate manner). These are basic requirements of a teacher and therefore it is not unreasonable to focus on these in an initial training course. However these are standard competences: what competences measure an exceptional teacher?

Criteria for a Distinction grade at Delta

Let us look at the pinnacle of ELT teaching expertise – a distinction at Delta! This represents the highest practical qualification an ELT teacher can obtain and therefore should describe the competencies of an exceptional teacher. The criteria, however, is surprisingly similar to the CELTA criteria describing the observable processes of planning and executing a lesson. It too mirrors the pattern of producing a MacDonald’s hamburger – assembling ingredients and processing them effectively. Admittedly in this description of an exceptional teacher we have the inclusion of subjectivity: ‘in-depth’ understanding and ‘highly developed’ awareness of learners but essentially the criteria to evaluate a highly experienced exceptional teacher are not dissimilar to those used to rate a ‘standard’ teacher of no previous teaching experience. In this paradigm there are no exceptional teachers and there are no ‘exceptional’ McDonald’s hamburgers – everything congeals around ‘the standard’.

Objective criteria describing teachers’ behaviour (planning and executing lessons) are of limited value in terms of identifying what distinguishes an exceptional teacher. Competences that define teacher’s behaviour are simply stating what a teacher does but avoiding the more subjective judgment involved in how effectively they do it. What is happening under the surface?

Ticking the boxes on a list of competences does not identify exceptions. All teachers plan and teach lessons. It reminds me of my mother who claimed to be an excellent driver because in her words:”I have never had an accident”. She was a terrible driver.

I am a member of a choir and we have had three choral directors. In terms of their observable behaviour they all tick the boxes in terms of their knowledge of music and how they conduct choir rehearsals. However in terms of their interactions with the choir they are very different. The first was young, dynamic and had an infectious enthusiasm. He was a ‘Caregiver’ who was loved and admired and had a close, easy-going relationship with the choir. The second director was more of a ‘Leader’. He was forceful, arrogant and led by force of his determination and vision. He met with considerable resistance initially but was confident in his own abilities and manipulated the choir into his style through attrition. The third conductor is more passive and focussed on the music rather than relationship building. The choir demanded him to take more of a leadership role and discipline members for not pulling their weight or adopt a more caring, emotional attachment but he was more focussed on the tasks (action). The point is that describing these choral directors in terms of objectifiable competences reveals little and fails to highlight their unique qualities.

The true qualities of a choir director

Outside education, in other areas of human activity there are noticeable developments: we are running faster, jumping higher, producing more and exploiting technology and artificial intelligence. There is an evolution in human endeavours, so why shouldn’t we be seeking an evolution in teaching and focus on what exceptional teachers are doing? These opening sections are a preamble leading to my response to the question that has preoccupied me for the last forty years: what distinguishes an exceptional teacher from a standard one? If we can not find the answer from behaviour alone we need to explore what is beneath the surface which manifests itself in observable behaviour?

The answer came to me when I considered the question: what causes change or transformation in general terms? What makes a light come on, an apple to fall from a tree or humans to act? These are manifestations of an energy flow, whether electrical, gravitational or other forms. We do not see electricity, radio waves or gravity but we are aware of their intrinsic power by virtue of their effects.

Teachers need to generate energy in the classroom and channel this energy in meaningful ways. All teachers are aware of energy in the classroom, and when it is lacking.

There is ample evidence of energy in the classroom

There are three identifiable energy forms that manifest in a classroom: physical, mental and emotional. We are familiar with physical energy and we are well aware that sometimes we are energised and at other times we are tired and listless. We know that if we are to complete an activity effectively we need to feel physically ‘up for it’. Although we can not observe the energy itself, there are observable effects. Energised learners have positive body language, they seek eye contact, their heads are up and they show an awareness of their surroundings. Learners lacking energy are slumped, with heads and eyes looking down and they appear distracted.

The second energy is mental. Again this is not observable but the evidence is very apparent. Learners with their heads down focussing on a problem are using mental energy. It is evident in their body language and also in their progress at completing the tasks. The third energy is emotional energy. Similarly this is evident when learners show their emotions; smiling, laughing, frowning crying. It is also evident from the atmosphere and interaction within the group.

When these energies are fused together and working in harmony – that is when a teacher becomes more aware of themselves, the learners and the context. It allows a group to achieve a state of ‘flow’. Teaching is about making choices and exceptional teachers have an expanded awareness of what those choices are and how they can be utilised in the classroom.

Learners need to be energised if learning is to take place

We are familiar with the classes lacking in energy. Learners are tired and listless. There is no engagement with the lesson content or tasks. Without energy, learning can not take place. It needs to be generated either by the teacher, or the learners themselves or the interaction between them. 

The Conductor.

The Conductor: modelling and mastering

Transform through physical energy.

Learning is active. We learn by doing. Learners need to read, write, speak and engage in activities. This energy can either be teacher generated by modelling and mastering behavior or learner generated through activities that encourage experimentation and creativity and interaction. This is perhaps the traditional view of the teachers’ role: the teacher is the master who models the processes for his learners who then aim to imitate the master and develop their skills through extensive practice. It conceives as learning as a craft and reflects the relationship between the master craftsman and apprentice. This balance between guidance and discovery is well documented in EFL methodology. The Conductor transforms through action, he is task oriented and seeks out possibilities for the implementation of ideas and plans of action. The Conductor asks the question: “How can I make this work?”

The Caregiver

Transform through emotional energy

The Caregiver: providing respect and a sense of belonging.

The Caregiver seeks connections, creating relationships, to make communication and sharing of ideas possible. She transforms by building a positive dynamic. The Caregiver asks the question: “What emotional support do my learners need? Effective teaching involves creating dynamic relationships between learners and the teacher. Collaborative learning is more rewarding and motivating than working alone. This energy can be focused by the teacher on individuals personally and uni-directional (ego enhancing) or it can be focused collaboratively to establish a group dynamic and a shared sense of belonging. How we feel about our learning is a crucial determinant of success. A feeling of well being, self-confidence in our abilities and high expectations influence the learning outcomes.

This influence is exercised in accordance with one’s self-efficacy beliefs, which are defined as the extent to which people think their actions will result in success. These beliefs are strong determinants of success (Bandura 2012a).

Low expectations lead to poor performance and high expectations to the opposite. The beliefs of others also has an important influence. Teachers’ expectations of their own competence effects the learning process. Teachers with higher efficacy manage time better (Bouffard-Bouchard et al. 1991), are more persistent when faced with challenges (Bandura and Schunk 1981), perceive more control over student success (Skaalvik 2010), are more committed to their job (Ware 2011) and exhibit greater job satisfaction and less job burnout (Klassen 2010).

The creator

Transform through mental energy

The Creator: generating thoughts and ideas

The Creator needs to be imaginative, to break boundaries and rules, to question and challenge. She aims to transform through imagination. She asks the question: “What’s possible?” Cognitive learning theory states that learners improve their understanding of the world by revising their frames of reference. These are shaped initially by social and cultural influences but are amenable to modification when individuals solve problems (instrumental learning) or discuss (communicative learning) while critically reflecting on the assumptions upon which interpretations, beliefs, and habits of mind or points of view are based (Mezirow 1996). Teachers can promote changes in attitudes and beliefs by having learners complete discovery learning exercises, such as projects, role plays, discussions, that engage students with concepts in a way that is relevant and meaningful for students’ lives (Mezirow 1997, 2000).

The Fusionist

Transform by fusion

The Leader: following a vision

The Fusionist proposes the vision and establishes shared outcomes. She asks the question: “What is our goal?” Intentional change theory derives from management literature. It involves first establishing an ideal self and a personal vision of the future. This is compared with a ‘real self’ and a learning plan devised to move between the two states by engaging in activities that allow experimentation new behaviours and development of relationships with people who can help progression towards their goal of realizing change.

Transformational leadership is a universal; paradigm for empowering, inspiring, and challenging individuals to transcend their own self interest for the purpose of achieving higher level of functioning *Bass and Riggio 2010)

The transformative teacher is one who is able to generate energy in the classroom and also balance how the energy flows. It requires heightened awareness of the context and the learners. A teacher needs to be sensitive to and aware of the undercurrents of energy to channel its flow appropriately:

  • Is direction and attention dissipating and unfocussed? A Conductor intervention is needed to re-establish structure and to model and set up practice activities that keep the learners active in a purposeful manner.
  • Is progress becoming too procedural and routine? A Creator intervention is required to open up ideas and fresh possibilities.
  • Is the group lacking cohesion and learners not listening to each other, or disrespecting other viewpoints? Caregiver skills are necessary to pay attention to the group dynamics and ensure cooperation and collaboration on tasks.
  • Are learners losing their way, questioning the process, undermining the teacher? It is time to assert Fusionist skills and restore a sense of purpose and mission.

The transformative teacher connects knowledge and wisdom, reason and intuition, logic and imagination. It is the space where a balance of the energies in the classroom are utilised.

The energy patterns are not equally balanced within us. As teachers we have preferences and aversions. Sometimes we can underplay an energy pattern by not utilising it – for instance being unwilling to allow too much creativity and exchange of ideas in preference for more teacher centered modelling and practise. Similarly we can overplay a preference. For example a teacher who overplays emotional energy can become overbearing and smother learners. They seek dependency in the learners rather than supporting them to be independent. While appearing to give emotional energy they are in fact seeking it for themselves and suck the strength from others.


If we conceive of learning as an active process, as most educationalists readily accept, then we must consider what is the impulse, the force that drives the action. I operate from the assumption that learning requires energy, in other words the force or power that makes things happen and individuals’ act.

I have examined how this energy manifests in the classroom in different guises and describe how these energies can be channeled by teachers and learners to foster learning and development. The power to channel energy effectively explains why some teachers are transformative and effect deep learning while others fail to channel the energy flow effectively.

My purpose is not to describe different roles that teachers perform in the classroom (this has been covered elsewhere in the literature). The aim is to demonstrate how a transformative teacher generates energy and channels it to create effective learning. Rather than focus on static, measureable, observable behaviour and standardising teacher competences, we need to remind ourselves that teachers are dynamic, changeable, vital personalities, each capable of personal development and growth. There are many forms of human energy which commentators from different traditions have identified as ‘chakras’ (yoga), ‘chi’ (Chinese medicine), the holy spirit (Bible), and archetypes (Jung). They emerge everywhere in myth, literature, art, religion and science. They occur at all times and in all places on the human journey. They reside as energy within the psychological unconscious life of people everywhere. They are invisible controlling patterns or metaphors in our consciousness that control how we experience the world.

Balancing the four energies may be applied in many other contexts of interpersonal interaction. All situations of human interaction are dynamic and changeable and a transformative teacher is able to create an energetically balanced and sustainable learning environment.

What is exceptional teaching? My conclusion is that the key distinction is not identifiable by a list of competences or related to knowledge of subject, pedagogic skills or even personality: an exceptional teacher is one who is able to generate energy in the classroom and is a master at channelling this energy to maximise learning opportunities.

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Developing Writing Skills: The Genre Approach

Development Plans for my favourite holiday destination

Everybody is talking about the new development plans. It is the hottest topic in all the cafes, like the one in the picture. I wonder what is your opinion!

The Genre Approach to develop writing skills.


This is one of my favourite lesson plans. I created the lesson around the context of a small fishing village on the Black Sea coast of Turkey faced with plans for a huge holiday complex to be developed in the village. The lesson could, of course, be built around any similar scenario such as a ski resort in an alpine village or a nuclear power station in a rural village. I have a similar lesson about a new bridge being built over a site of natural beauty. The lesson works on several levels but is essentially constructed to provide an opportunity to develop productive skills – speaking and writing.

In terms of writing tasks, the following rhetorical styles are covered:

The lesson consists of a series of stages although as with any lesson these are a flexible outline and need to be adapted to the level and needs of the group. Some of the key stages are:

  • Setting the scene: using a visualization to arouse learners interest and personalise the topic of “favourite holiday destinations”. Learners first visualize their favourite holiday and then describe it to their partner.
  • Prediction and pre-reading stages: introducing my favourite holiday destination and introducing the village of Binkilic. Asking learners to brainstorm the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed holiday complex development plan.
  • Reading: learners read a variety of text types: a description of the village; the proposed plans. These texts serve to build the context by providing further information, exposing learners to key lexis and concepts and providing a model for their own writing.
  • Analysis and planning: learners are provided with handouts that provide a template to plan their writing. The templates provide an overall framework and key functional language.
  • Role Play: The lesson builds in stages for role plays where the learners take on the roles of the villagers and conduct a meeting in the village hall to decide on their future.


The underlying principle of the lesson is that language production needs to take place in a context so the activities and tasks have an authenticity of purpose (a reason to communicate ones views). It conceives of productive skills (speaking and writing) as a social activity and adopts a genre approach. In other words, the primary focus for the development of productive skills is situated in the communicative purpose: in terms of writing we firstly need to consider who we are writing to (the audience) and what we are trying to achieve (the purpose).

There are five categories of knowledge that learners need in order to write effectively:

  •  Content knowledge:  ideas and concepts in the topic area the text will address
  •  System knowledge:  syntax, lexis, appropriate formal conventions needed
  • Process knowledge:  how to prepare and carry out a writing task. 
  • Genre knowledge:  communicative purposes of the genre and its value contexts. 
  • Context knowledge:  readers’ expectations, cultural preferences and related texts. 

The advantages of a Genre Approach.

The first part of the lesson builds the context. Introducing the concept of favourite holiday destinations and describing my favourite holiday place, the village of Binkilic. The scenario develops when we introduce the development plans for a huge modern holiday complex that will change the traditional village life. The context is vital as it provides meaning to the language: without a context the learners have no clues to meaning. Learners use contextual information to understand individual words – ‘destination’, ‘development plan’, ‘facilities’, ‘traditional life’ and so on but also to understand the relationship between the words and concepts. ‘Describe’ your favourite holiday is meaningful having visualized it, talking about causes and effects makes sense when we learn that a development plan is going to radically change the traditional village life.  

There are a series of writing tasks in the lesson.

  1. Write a description of your favourite holiday place for a holiday brochure.

This first writing activity adapts a traditional ‘product’ approach. Learners first visualize their favourite holiday destination and then describe it orally to their partners. Then they read and analyse a model text noticing the lexis and organization. The genre is typical of a holiday brochure first describing the location and highlighting its attractions and then the second paragraph states the advantages for visitors.  Learners use this text as a template for writing their own description.

This is a guided writing task in which learners use the text as a template substituting their own ideas while following the text’s structure, organization and lexical phrases. The advantage of this approach is that learners analyse an authentic model, errors are minimized as learners imitate the organizational structure of the model.

  • Advantages / Disadvantages of the development plan. Write a report.

This writing task is essentially a brainstorming task. The learners brainstorm advantages and disadvantages of the development plan. Half the class brainstorms pros and the other half cons. Then learners are paired pros and cons to share their ideas and try to convince their partner (this creates the need to justify their points with reasons and examples). Learners in pairs now write their pros and cons in a report. The report genre lends itself to bullet points. Learners are provided with the functional language as illustrated below.

  • Compare / contrast: How do the development plans compare with the present? What are the similarities and differences?

This writing task is a guided writing based on two example sentences. Learners are asked to compare a diagram of the current village with the development plans and write sentences based on the example sentences provided. This can be done in pairs.

  • Cause and effect: How will the proposed changes effect life in the village?

This writing task guides learners in the organization and structure of a typical cause and effect essay. The learners are provided with a template and try to complete it by adding examples to support their statements. The task provides the organization and key language while the learners complete the content.

  • Opinion letter: Write your opinion about the proposed development plan to your local newspaper.

After the role play stages in which the villagers share their opinions and discuss the development plans in a meeting, the learners write a letter to the local newspaper stating their opinions. This is a free writing activity but it provides an opportunity for learners to use all the rhetorical styles practiced earlier in the lesson.

These are some of the writing tasks that lend themselves most naturally to the context but there are many other tasks I considered that could also be included: describe a typical day in your life (daily routines) – while imagining they are the character on their role card, learners envisage and write about a typical day.

Pedagogically, authentic moral dilemmas provide a rich context for language input. Once students are familiar with the outline scenario and content, the situation provides a model to focus on structure, lexis and phonology and provides a ready context for follow-up writing and speaking activities. Learners explore issues, events and relationships through improvised role plays and discussion. Typically contexts are presented in course materials in a static and lifeless manner, as content to be absorbed; however every effective teacher understands that real learning is not generated by the materials but is generated by co-construction and negotiation between teachers and learners in a lived experience which is why every lesson is unique and learning outcomes unpredictable.

Context knowledge. Psychologically the dilemma between maintaining traditions and accepting change, as depicted in the Binkilic scenario, represents a part of human consciousness that exists in all cultures and invariably evokes a personal response. Each learner responds differently as their relationship with the dilemma depends on their own interpretation of the world. Not only does the cultural, social, sexual and physiological make up of the classroom impact on learners’ responses, but also each individual learners’ struggle with contradictory viewpoints of the world. Paulo Freire (1970) claims that at the heart of education is an ability to help learners (and teachers) to reflect and act upon the world, and through that transform it into a better place.

The advantages of a Genre Approach.

A Genre Approach takes as its starting point ‘life’ not language and by so reversing the learning process, that is, by beginning with meaning and then moving to language later we are able to draw on the full range of a learners’ multiple intelligences and exploit learning as a ‘whole-person’ approach. The lesson builds on the input of the personalities, energy and ideas of the participants, so is alive and always changing and evolving. Because of this no two lessons are the same, and the level and quality of the work is determined by the nature of the group.

  1. Driven by inquiry. Although based on an imaginary fictitious scenario, the theme explores authentic and emotive dilemmas: should parks be destroyed to build shopping centres? Should the rain forest be cut down for cattle grazing? Should villages be flooded to build dams? Scenarios arouse genuine passion and strong, emotive learner responses.
  2. Meaning is ‘learner generated’ through their responses to the scenario and not transmitted from an external source.
  3. The lesson stages are logically sequenced and yet the structure is flexible as it depends on unpredictable learner responses. The method is powered by risk-taking as the process relies on challenging learners to respond and engage with the materials and issues raised. Each time I do this lesson the views expressed are different and the outcomes vary both in terms of language output and opinions stated.
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Tom’s Drama Workshop Tour to Ukraine and Russia

I am travelling to Kiev, Ukraine to do a workshops focussing on how to encourage holistic learning by exploiting drama techniques that use our learners’ minds, bodies and emotions to enhance the language experience.

The workshop in Kiev is on Saturday 13th October

Here’s Teachers for Teachers page on facebook:

Then the next workshop is in Rostov on Don, Russia on Saturday 27th October.

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Forum Theatre in ELT: The Story of Peter Black Role Play.

A Tragic Story of the Financial Crisis.


This is one of my favourite lessons. ‘The Tragic Story of Peter Black is about a middle-aged man who is made redundant during a financial recession and the tragic consequences that folllow. The lesson explores the themes of unemployment, depression and suicide and allows learners the opportunity to explore their reactions to these themes. Learners are invited to critically interact with the story by role playing the fateful meeting when Peter Black learns from the Personnel Manager of his redundancy. The lesson exploits Forum Theatre to explore alternative outcomes to the scenario based on Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed (1979). Additionally, the learners discuss the story outcomes in an Oprah Wimfrey style Talk Show exploiting a ‘problem-posing education’ model as advocated by Paolo Freire (1972) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Language and skills

The lesson is an integrated skills lesson that practices receptive reading and aims to develop speaking skills through role play, discussion and exploiting ideas adapted from Forum Theatre and the work of Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed.

Lesson Stages.

The lesson consists of 5 main stages although as with any lesson these represent a flexible outline and need to be adapted to the level and needs of the group.

  • Setting the scene and arousing learners interest and personalising the topic. I use a video of images depicting the financial crisis to elicit relevant lexis, and questions students can discuss in pairs to generate interest such as: – ‘Does your city have a large unemployed population?’ A further task is a collaborative brainstorming activity in which learners create a spidergram with lexis related to the financial crisis.
  • Pre-Reading: I show a photo of the main protagonist, Peter Black, and elicit ideas by asking questions such as – How old is he? What is his job? And then I dramatically draw a large black cross next to the visual. This usually elicits an exclamation: ‘He is dead!’ After confirming that Peter Black is indeed dead I invite students to write questions they would like to know about him. In this way learners are in effect writing their own comprehension questions (an idea adapted from Mario Rinvolucri’s Revenge Questions). The first few questions are typically along the lines of: ‘How and why did he die?’ but quickly become more creative as the learners predict their own scenarios – ‘Who was the last person to see him alive? Did he have many enemies?
  • Reading: Firstly, I get the learners to skim the story to find whether the answers to their questions can be found in the text, then we do a scanning activity in which they find key lexis (this can be done as a race in pairs or teams to generate some kinesthetic energy as they run to the teacher with their answers).
  • Forum Theatre Role Play: The learners re-enact the meeting between Peter Black and the Personnel Manager with the aim of exploring alternative outcomes. Does the outcome inevitably lead to Peter Black’s suicide or are there alternative endings to the story? There needs to be sufficient preparation prior to the role play in terms or both generating ideas but also practicing relevant target language. There is controlled practice of expressions for ‘breaking bad news’ to develop learners’ pronunciation and the role plays and discussions provide opportunities to develop and practice oral fluency. A special feature of role plays is the opportunity to work on ‘pragmatics’, the skill of communicating messages through culturally appropriate language and gesture. In this role play the Personnel Manager’s task is to break the bad news to Peter Black that he has to be made redundant. Pragmatics allow us to reach our communicative goals without offending or hurting others’ feelings.


The lesson methodology is strongly influenced by Boal’s concept of Forum Theatre. Boal’s vision of theatre is as a creative and reflexive process through which participants view themselves and their conditions. He was greatly influenced by the work of Paolo Freire and he modelled much of his theatre work on the ‘problem-posing education’ model outlined by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972).  According to Feire, ‘problem-posing education’ should begin with the participants’ lived experiences and then after reflection, explore solutions and act to change. As such,

‘In problem-posing education, people come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.’ (Feire 1972:64).

Boal’s Forum Theatre similarly is one of theatre as transformation. Forum Theatre entails the spectators joining with the actors in the performance to explore alternative endings to the story.   The act of performing the story with different outcomes, allows people to move away from ‘mechanical’ reactions that recreate dominant, normative discourses, opening the way for transformation. Essentially in an ELT context, Forum Theatre involves using a story as a stimulus to allow learners to critically reflect on the scenario and together to co-construct through mutual agreement a series of alternative endings and re-create a fictitious transformative result. The principal features of this lesson are:

  • Learners focus on issues, characters, mood, conflict and dilemmas in the story as a stimulus for learning.
  • Learners respond personally drawing on their own experience, psychology and values.
  • Learning occurs as learners explore the issues and dilemmas symbolized in the story
  • Learners bring the story to life through improvisation and discussion

I was first introduced to ‘The Tragic Story of Peter Black’ by Jon Naunton at IH London in 1985 and I have since taught it countless times in different formats. As I live in Istanbul the effects of financial recession are all too common. There are many middle-aged Peter Blacks coping with redundancy and depressions here!

The power of Forum Theatre.

Psychologically stories can represent a part of human consciousness that exists in all cultures. They fulfill a human need to listen to and tell stories and invariably evoke a personal response. This story of Peter Black allows learners to confront issues related to telling people ‘bad news’ and the strategies they can use to negotiate awkward (but not uncommon) situations. Each learner will respond differently as their relationship with the story depends on their own interpretation of the world. Not only does the cultural, social, sexual and physiological make up of the classroom impact on learners’ responses, but also each individual learner’s struggle with contradictory viewpoints of the world. Paulo Freire (1970) claims that at the heart of education is an ability to help learners (and teachers) to reflect and act upon the world, and through that transform it into a better place.


Sts will have been introduced to and practiced the target lexis related to the financial crisis. Particularly they will be exposed to the following lexical set: To be made redundant, to be laid off, unemployed, to commit suicide, financial crisis, mortgage.

In addition they practice functional language exponents to beak bad news:

Preparing to give bad news Giving bad news Other expressions



 I’m afraid I have some bad news.

There’s no easy way to say what I have to say.

You might want to sit down before you hear what I have to say.


I’m very sorry to have to tell you that you are being made redundant

As you may have suspected, I have to tell you that…. you are being made redundant

It is my unfortunate duty to inform you that….. you are being made redundant


There is nothing I can do unfortunately.

I wish I could help you. I really do.

The decision is out of my hands.

I’m really sorry. I know this must be a bitter disappointment.

As in any activity developing oral fluency learners need to have the ability to effectively manage an interaction. There are many features of oral interaction that a teacher can focus on but one useful area is that of breaking bad news as highlighted in the table above.

The teacher can introduce these exponents in a previous lesson and monitor how effectively learners use them in this lesson. Alternatively at the end of this lesson (especially if the discussion can be video recorded) learners can reflect on their turn-taking strategies and self-evaluate.

Pedagogically, stories provide an opportunity to develop and practice receptive skills (reading in this lesson) as well as provide a rich context for language input. Once students are familiar with the story outline and content, the story provides a model to focus on structure, lexis and phonology and provides a ready context for follow-up writing and speaking activities. Most importantly for me, a story with an unresolved conflict can provide opportunities to explore alternative endings using Forum Theatre. Learners explore issues, events and relationships through improvised exploration and discussion. Typically, texts are presented in course materials in a static and lifeless manner, as content to be absorbed; however every effective teacher understands that real learning is not generated by the materials but is generated by co-construction and negotiation between teachers and learners in a lived experience which is why every lesson is unique and learning outcomes unpredictable.

The advantages of Forum Theatre.

  1. Driven by inquiry. The context presents a problem that is authentic and emotive. The problem can arouse genuine passion and strong and emotive learner responses.
  2. Meaning is ‘learner generated’ through their responses to the story and not transmitted from an external source.
  3. The lesson stages are logically sequenced and yet the structure is flexible as it depends on unpredictable learner responses. The method is powered by risk-taking as the process relies on challenging learners to respond and engage with the materials and issues raised.

Peter Black lesson plan

Peter Black Read the passage and answer these questions

Peter BlackPreparing to give bad news

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A Challenge to Education

We need to reform education to meet the needs of children in the new millennium. The current system involves placing children in boxes (called schools) for most of the daylight hours; and once inside these boxes they are divided into batches (according to age) and then placed in cells (called classrooms) from which they are allowed out for short, supervised exercise breaks when the bell rings. Inside the cells they sit in rows, they are not encouraged to interact with each other, they are fed knowledge artificially divided into subject areas. They are required to process texts, course materials and deductive problem-solving activities in set time frames and tested on a regular basis. The process is supervised by a controlling adult warden (called a teacher).

What do children learn from this process? Despite living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth, children learn that school is boring and tragically they learn that learning is not fun. Education, as Sir Ken Robinson (2008) claims, is ‘alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school’.

The education system needs to be turned inside out. Effective learning is interactive, co-operative, learner centered and involves the whole person. Humans are physical, mental and psychological beings. When encouraging our kids to learn we need to recognise and satisfy their ‘whole person’ needs and abilities.  In other words, we need to address physical, mental and psychological as well as purely learning needs. Traditionally learning is confined to the mental world of problem-solving, rule application and artificial contexts. Education needs to unlock the ‘whole-person’ and develop physical, creative, imaginative and emotional responses to learning contexts.

One way of unlocking this potential is through the ‘arts’. The arts (Robinson, 2008) address the idea of aesthetic experience. ‘And aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you are present in the current moment, when you are resonating with the excitement, when you are fully alive. Essentially dramatic arts have the power to liberate the student from the confines of the conventional classroom structure and gives the learner the opportunity to draw on their own experiences and imagination, in creating the material on which the class is based.  These activities draw on the natural ability of every person to imitate, mimic and express him or herself physically.  They are dramatic because they arouse interest by drawing on the unpredictable emotional power generated when emotional memory is triggered by a stimulus and when a person is brought together with others. Great learning happens in groups so the class learn and discover together, all the while feeling part of something larger than themselves and experiencing the support of the group.

One of the main benefits of exploiting the arts in education is to provide an active, stimulating and creative environment in which to develop the children’s learning potential.

To encourage young people to gain confidence, engage in personal development, and to stretch themselves to reach their full potential, Speech Bubbles are sponsoring the “Performing Arts Challenge”. The “Performing Arts Challenge” is a challenge to young learners and schools to create an innovative work of drama that includes song and dance. The drama is then performed at the Performing Arts Challenge Festival.

We are looking for ‘partner’ schools to help us host the festival and participate in the Performing Arts Challenge. In addition to performing at the Festival, learners may enter their performance for the internationally recognised Trinity College Certificate qualifications in drama and performance.

If you agree with us that children can build powerful learning skills through creativity, collaboration and performance then join us to build confident, inquiring and inter-connected learners for the 21st Century.

If you are interested in participating in the Performing Arts Challenge as a ‘partner’ school we are inviting you to register your interest on our web site: http://www.speechbubbles.org/pages/challenge

Smell of Rebellion

The Performing Arts Challenge

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What is TEFL?

‘I am an EFL teacher and trainer’.

A typical retort to this comment is: ‘What’s that?’

For the uninitiated EFL means English as a Foreign Language. EFL therefore describes the situation where learners are learning English in a context where the official language is not English. In other words, Spaniards learning English in Spain or Japanese learning English in Japan.

My profession, ELT (English Language Teaching) adores abbreviations. These acronyms are a shorthand that are easy to bandy around if you are ‘in the know’ but what if you do not know what the letters stand for. TEFL, for example, is an acronym that describes the subject – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. However, unlike other subjects such as Maths or History there are other acronyms that describe variations such as TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) amongst others. TESOL is primarily used in the US where obviously English is the main language and not a ‘foreign’ language.

In order to enter the TEFL profession you need qualifications (initially a TEFL Certificate). This is where the confusion often arises. The question I am mostly frequently asked is: ‘What is the difference between a TEFL Certificate and CELTA?’ This is not a straightforwardOhhh an invitation question to answer because CELTA is a TEFL Certificate. CELTA (accredited by Cambridge) is the most widely known and internationally recognised initial TEFL qualification. I would recommend doing a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) if you are serious about teaching EFL. There are centres worldwide offering full-time, part-time and online / blended options such as my centre in Istanbul (www.iti-istanbul.com). iti-logo-med-large-37a71d4b7c54d91468d35691cd0f8759

When choosing a TEFL course it is important to check that it includes at least 6 hours teaching practice (TP). A TEFL course without teaching practice is going to be of limited value as training to teach has to include time spend planning and practising in a real classroom situation and getting feedback on your performance. Beware of courses that only include ‘micro-teaching’ as this means teaching your colleagues which is not the same as teaching real learners at all.

So to sum up, if you are interested in a career in ELT and want to teach EFL then the first step is to get a TEFL qualification. I would recommend a CELTA course as it includes TP. When you complete the CELTA I guarantee you will be armed with many more acronyms!

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