Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Ask Me Anything ELT

The internet isn’t always a nice place. That’s partly because it’s inhabited by people and not robots (spambots might be annoying but, as yet at least, they aren’t petty, vindictive or liable to pick holes in some tiny part of what someone said and then publicly berate them for it.) But the reason the internet is not a nice place is, of course, mostly because those people are physically removed from the object of their nit-picking or spite.

You might think TEFL would be different but its corner of the web is just as full of it as everywhere else. Maybe more so in terms of nit-picking as teachers are often focused on precision. I regularly see Facebook forums turn on people who ask questions that some members of the group deem unacceptable or evidence of incompetence or laziness on the part of the asker.

If you don’t believe me, visit one of the forums and ask something regarding  grammar or language. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the answer without having to debate with some TEFL forumite whether you really have the linguistic competence to be, or train to be, a teacher.

Another way to annoy is to ask a question about a CELTA/TEFL assignment. Someone will chide the asker for not finding out the answer for themselves. Despite the fact they are doing just that …researching the answer using the tools at their disposal — an internet connection and the biggest staffroom possible. There isn’t much difference between asking in a virtual environment and asking your tutor, coursemates, a book or Google. You’d expect the answers you get to vary in reliability, but you might be surprised at the variance in vitriol.

Even — shocker — on the IATEFL Facebook page. The official one that’s moderated. A question asking for any leads to resources on using literature in EFL for an MA thesis led to a full assault by no less than one of the IATEFL page’s administrators on the ethics of the OP. IATEFL’s page is public so head on over and check it out yourself if you like but here are some quotes.

Is crowd sourcing now an accepted way of setting about a Master’s Dissertation? Just asking. In my day we were expected to do the research ourselves, not put it out to tender. No offence intended, just curious. I don’t understand “I don’t have enough resources on the subject” but suggest you discuss it with your supervisor (this is one of the reasons you have a supervisor) rather than floating it out on FaceBook. Just my two pesos.

When asked why it was any different to asking classmates:

[…] there was no Internet in my time, but I would have spent time in the library catalogues, in Google Scholar (today), looking at previously published work in the area and perhaps accessed some communities of practice in the area. But shouting out in a general area like this seems somehow inappropriate. Perhaps I’m out of touch, I often am, but as a university lecturer I find this hard to understand.

When it was pointed out that the OP was just asking for a lead not for someone to write the damn thesis:

I think you will find that people who ask for help with locating resources are really just saving time by getting someone esle [sic] to do the work for them. But hey, I was breastfed with the protestant ethic and the world must have changed.

And on it went, leaving the poor OP feeling thoroughly cowed, perhaps. or  hopefully buoyed up by the supporters on the thread.

This hegemony of knowledge — we have it, you don’t so na-na-na-na-na is particularly ironic when it comes from people who are supposed to be educators. So, this is my Ask Me Anything ELT offering.

If you have a question about grammar or language, or how to approach something in class, after 12 years of teaching I reckon I can answer it. If your question is about the CELTA/TEFL course, I think I can probably answer it, or have a good go and be in the near vicinity of a right answer. If it’s about the MA, I really should know the answer but I bet I have forgotten it and wouldn’t necessarily be able to find it that easily but you’re welcome to try.

So …


If you’re asking me, (via the comments below) the only answers I’ll approve are mine. No-one gets to chime in with all the reasons you should know better in their opinion (since — yawn — “everyone’s entitled to their opinion”) and if I don’t know I’ll just say so.

Think of this corner of the internet as a virtual staffroom and ask the kinds of question you might ask colleagues in a real one. Although I won’t be able to tell you why the sodding photocopier isn’t printing on both sides of the paper or where the pirate copy of English File Intermediate CD2 has disappeared to. You’re on your own with those.



14 comments on “Ask Me Anything ELT

  1. TapintoLanguage
    October 19, 2015

    Hi! Thank you for your post, it was refreshing to read! I am a 3rd year undergrad looking to get a job teaching EFL when I graduate. I’ve done the CELTA and have tried to get as much experience as possible (summer schools, private tutoring, setting up a blog for EFL learners..), but am concerned about job prospects at the end of it all! I was wondering if you have any tips on getting into teaching? My issue is that now I have a mortgage with my partner, travelling around the world for work isn’t going to be doable anytime soon! Any tips would be really appreciated!

    • Nicola
      October 19, 2015

      Thanks for the question! I have some of my own before I can think about how best to answer your question.
      Where are you based?
      What is your degree in?
      Is it specifically TEFL i.e. private language schools, you want to get into or mainstream education or ESOL?

    • Nicola
      October 19, 2015

      Ah wait, your blog told me where you are. I wouldn’t say you have anything to worry about with finding work in private language schools. Your site shows you to be experienced and knowledgeable. If it’s schools you want, then I never had any problems finding work in the UK and where you are has plenty of them. I’d call up schools, ask for the name of the person who hires or is the DOS and email a CV to their email address (not the general enquiries). I’d say you’ll get some cover classes or overspill one-to-ones and then work up more shifts/classes. I did it a couple of times that way in the UK and Australia and I would think the ebb and flow of teachers will mean there are vacancies and gaps to fill. Also, as soon as you can, get exam classes as that kind of specific experience always boosts employability. FCE, CAE and IELTS being the ones to go for.

  2. TapintoLanguage
    October 19, 2015

    Thanks for the advice! A lot of school posts seem to want experience in teaching IELTS etc. so will definitely at least have a look into the curriculum. I’m happy to teach ESOL as well so will have a good look about for some part time work for now now and something more permanent in the new year.

    • Nicola
      October 19, 2015

      ESOL might be a different case and require specific experience/qualifications but I admit that is not my area and I don’t know much, if anything, about it.

      Good luck!

  3. Mike C
    October 19, 2015

    Hi Nicola,

    I couldn´t agree more! I´m still amazed when I look at forums….lots of people have a lot to say over the internet but I think face to face might be much quieter…..

    A virtual internet staffroom is a great idea as well! I´ve got about the same length of time in the classroom as you so here is a question for the newer generation.

    If you want to get better as a teacher what is one piece of advice you would offer?

    Mine would be to be proactive and observe, observe, observe, reflect and repeat. There are a few assumptions in there but I think peer obsevation is sometimes overlooked when newly qualified teachers get to the classroom. I don´t think this always works if prescribed by the school but even just a few short bits of lessons every week and you have something to build on/ignore/think about/rip off completely whilst hopefully asking for some kind of permission.

    Good luck with all the questions!


    • Nicola
      October 19, 2015

      Thanks! Good question though more abstract than the kinds of questions I was thinking of. You’ve answered it so well I have nothing really to add 🙂

  4. teachingbattleground
    October 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. BerLingo
    October 22, 2015

    Hi Nicola,
    Great post and very true indeed!
    I have been teaching for about 6 months in Berlin and I was just wondering what you think of conferences? I’m debating whether I can afford to go to IATEFL next year…Do you think such a mega-conference is worth it for a new teacher – albeit a very keen and curious one? 🙂
    And, if so, do you have any particular tips?

    • Nicola
      October 22, 2015

      Good question! I asked someone the same thing two years ago before I went to IATEFL, though I was looking at it as a networking thing as a writer so had different aims ie getting work. I think as a new teacher and as a first time attendee it is almost *more* valuable, inspiring and interesting to go to conferences as they (I think) get a bit samey after a few as the topics and the speakers tend to repeat. However, it’s not a cheap thing to do once you factor in flights, accommodation, food and the fee itself. So, an alternative is to go to whatever IATEFL or TESOL are doing in Germany. My first conference was TESOL Spain and the lineup was so good, it inspired about three blog posts!

      • BerLingo
        October 22, 2015

        Thanks so much for the advice Nicola 🙂 that’s great to hear!
        I used to work in academic publishing and am thinking of perhaps going into ELT publishing later so I think I’d also like to go for some fact-finding / networking 🙂
        I reserved a cheap hotel room months ago so now I just need to join IATEFL and pay the fee 🙂
        I hadn’t thought of any German IATEFL events though, so I shall now go a’Googling!

      • Nicola
        October 23, 2015


  6. Clare
    November 27, 2015

    This is such a great idea Nicola! My question is maybe more specific; how can I attract more readers and subscribers to my blog? I’m aiming for a more theoretical, reflective blog, not just lesson ideas, but I’m not sure how to “markt” it very well. Your blog is very popular, so I wonder whether you’d like to share some of your secrets?!
    Thanks in advance!

    • Nicola
      November 27, 2015


      Uh oh. This is one of those ones I can’t answer well. I am glad I am appearing to have a popular blog! But the numbers you see aren’t telling the truth. WordPress has that “join the other X number of followers of this blog” button. But, that button is counting Twitter, (and maybe Facebook) and blog followers because of the way I have posts set up to publish straight to those places. My stats go nowhere near those numbers aside from occasional posts that get shared a lot. So my secret is that it is not as it seems!

      I can tell you what I know though, which isn’t much!

      1. Join teaching related FB groups and share your posts there.
      2. Make the follow and sharing buttons on your blog as prominent as possible (I have not done this)
      3. Maybe set up a TinyLetter so blog posts get mailed out to people who have signed up and that this drives traffic back to your blog eg have only part of the post in the TinyLetter. (most blog followers follow via their own blog and then your posts go through their blog reader which they might not be looking at ever. So email followers are more valuable as they’re more likely to read your stuff).
      4. Make sure your key words are there in tags and also in your title and first paragraph so search engines pick them up if your topics are ones likely to be searched.
      5. Comment on other people’s blogs as they then tend to go and look at yours and ongoing conversations in comments can lead people to relevant posts if you link them there.
      6. Write response pieces to popular blogger pieces and link to their post as they’ll probably tweet your post or you can at least tag them on twitter and they will probably reply/retweet.
      7. Guest posting on other people’s blogs is supposed to be good but I don’t know. I’ve written for other people like ELTjam and MaWSIG. I don’t know if it got me any followers as I wouldn’t have paid enough attention. I get occasional referral traffic though.
      8. There’s no point being controversial for its own sake but controversial stuff makes for more comments, more shares, more heat. But it’s only worth doing for POV’s you really believe in as otherwise it might upset you.And it might upset you anyway!

      Hope that helps but there is bound to be more to it than this!

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This entry was posted on October 19, 2015 by in Teaching English, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , .
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