Challenging Higher-Level Learners

It can be daunting to have a group of near proficient speakers in front of you; they’ve dedicated years to studying and perfecting their language. What’s more, you might find yourself faced with an advanced grammar-driven syllabus that your class would eat for breakfast. How do you make sure that they don’t finish the course feeling slightly short-changed? I’ve put together  in this post a few tips I’ve amassed over the past few years teaching advanced classes:

1. Get their hands on their own language

I bring my MP3 player to most lessons in case I’ve planned a discussion or a moment arises that’s suitable for recording the class. Of course, get their consent before recording – the first time can be a bit daunting. With the recording, you can play it back and correct as a class, transcribe it for a delayed error correction session or send it to your learners after class with a follow up activity. Either way, it gives your learners a great opportunity to get their hands on ‘their language’. At higher levels especially, motivation can be lower and there’s the temptation to become a bit complacent with their language. This added extra opens up a whole new dimension to working with what students provide you with.

You can also use this information for individual goal setting with learners or to give individual feedback on common errors or over-reliance on certain vocabulary/structures.

2. Take control of their own learning

I usually introduce my advanced classes to I teach them about collocation and colligation and set them tasks to research new vocabulary and find alternatives across formalities, examples (with their grammatical patterns, e.g. I’m coming down with a cold – preference for the continuous). You can dedicate time at the start of class to sharing the results of the research.

3. Explore new contexts and functions for their language

Maybe they’ve done the same simulations a hundred times before. Change the paradigms a little by playing the angry client, the pushy boss, the colleague with emotional problems – these will put their linguistic skills to the test as they try and negotiate their way through new and challenging contexts.

4. Practice with longer turns

The safe zone – a collection of short turns negotiated between two or more participants in a conversation – that’s what I call it. C1 and C2 levels can comfortably remain here for a long time without pushing themselves to the limit. On the other hand, how are they at taking a longer turn? Describing a process, talking someone through the challenges of their jobs, filling someone in on the events of the previous week? Your learners will have to dig deep to find the right discourse features, vocabulary and grammar to successfully complete longer-turn tasks and feedback on this will be all the more immediate.

5. Listening

Your class can converse like pros, but can they follow a longer conversations, news programmes or a presentation and give feedback? These tasks are much more cognitively cumbersome and will add an edge to classes. You can even link it in to the recordings of previous discussions or longer turns and make comparisons between their language a more proficient models.

What are your tricks to make sure lessons leave your learners feeling challenged and satisfied with the content of your lessons?

Correction and Timing

After a discussion in the comments section of Chiew’s Dogme Diaries, I felt that my thoughts on correction in second language learning were too many to post in another comment, so I am making a first video post as part of my previously-shelved return to blogging. The task is enormous and far too much to speak about in 9 short minutes of video. For every error there seems to be a theory and a whole load of procedural knowledge to add to it, so this is very much the tip of the iceberg!

After a little thought today I have decided to add a reflection template for teachers to use during lessons to use to identify, categorise and prioritise language learners produce. I use the four boxes to note down bits of language I hear or notes on areas of difficulty. In this stage, I decide whether to provide immediate feedback or to wait and exploit the language point in later feedback; if, on the other hand, there’s no immediate need to focus on it – third person ‘s’ or misplaced stress on appreciate for example – I have a record of these still on paper for the future.


“Without grammar, little can be conveyed; without lexis, nothing can be conveyed”, David Wilkins

Various teaching practice spring cleanings in the past three years have cleared out a lot of clutter from my grammar teaching and while I wouldn’t go as far as saying I avoid teaching grammar (after all, it’s part of the language; it would be unwise to leave out a whole area of language from its teaching), I definitely avoid aspects of it. 

Spring Cleaning

“Use ‘must’ for an internal obligation and ‘have to’ for an external one”

Disclaimer: These results are two random samples I took from the BNC corpus using ‘I must’ and ‘I have to’ – they are not a fully fledged study into the use of modality. 

I’m not so convinced, I must say (or I have to admit?). Furthermore, I don’t think rules like this help students to make personal decisions on what grammar best expresses their opinion. For instance, make a ‘to do’ list in your head, what’s the most common modal that turns up? I swing between the semi-modals ‘have got to’ and ‘have to’. Now think about if there’s more external than internal obligation for each of these. All answers please include the start and the end of the thought process and send them stamped to 25, languagemoments street, London, UK.

But I think I am safe in saying that I make up part of a large pool of language teachers who have arrived at the same conclusion.

Use present progressive for a future action that has already been arranged and decided and use going to + infinitive for an intention

I know this to be true. I have experienced it to be of little help to students. In my personal opinion, the use of adverbs makes much more difference to the meaning of these two structures.


I’m seeing a film tomorrow

I’m going to see a film tomorrow


I’m hopefully seeing that new film tomorrow

I’m probably going to see that new film tomorrow

Can we say therefore that explicit rule-based atomistic grammar instruction should pack its bags and make way for holistic lexico-grammatical instruction? I am certain that this equips students with the analytical tools to analyse meaning as it occurs in real life; lexicalised and in context.

On that note, it’s worth taking a look at ‘have to’ and ‘must’ again. You’ll see that there are some great chunks in the two extracts from the corpus: I have to say/I really must say/I must admit.

The power of language

Not only does the idea of atomistic rules not chime with me, but also the way in which they are written I believe really disempowers the student. How many times do you hear “I must use/I have to use” in your courses? Does this make your heart sink? It does mine. It sounds like the learner is completely dehumanised in the language learning process; where’s the opinion? What about “I can use present perfect when I do not consider the time period finished, e.g. I’ve seen so much while living in Berlin” – I still live there. Swap musts, have tos, we use, you use for I can use, if I say___, it means I think____.


I’m happy to say that they have very little place, if any, in my classroom. Shouldn’t language be introduced and practised in context? If so, then 12 different contexts, all different from each other, just for the purpose of practising a structure is not entirely conducive to this. What’s more, it’s a focus on form, not meaning. Any chance of focusing on meaning is dealt a serious blow from the constantly changing contexts. That said, I do give them for homework, woe betide me for bowing to student expectations.

I would be fascinated to know of any other grammar-teaching pet-peeves people have. Likewise, if someone wants to completely disagree with me, I’d welcome a bit of a grammar tussle.

Also, watch this space. I feel a number of skeletons coming on.

Apps n’ Dogme


Phil Wade 

To cut a long story short I’ve recently taught some 121 classes with ipads n’ apps. No books, copies, even handouts, just an ipad. Now, 

I’m not convinced about the ‘wonders of the ipad revolution’ as many seem to be. 1 ipad costs a lot of money for a teacher to buy and from my own experimentation not a lot works on them except specifically designed expensive apps. Another problem is that the student uses it and you can’t see what they’re doing.

In one place I work we have a couple of ipads and I have to use them but never seem to know how. Thus, with a TOEFL 121 and a Philosophy 121 I set about seeing what I could find that was ipad possible at 0 cost. Not easy if you don’t have a Mac or ipad trust me. 

A great FREE vocab app with several sections and useful questions. It’s available for Apple or Android.

“Photo taken from by @alice_m, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,”

I often use it as a warmer to check what my student knows and then to advise what to work on at home. It’s useful to kick off the lesson, also as a topic change or revision after another activity or even as a bit of fun to end the lesson. Simply select the topic based on the texts or listenings you’ve been using and away you go, instant vocab support.

TOEFL speaking

Another freebie but only for ios I think.

This has various questions and sample answers and lets you record your answers. It’s perfect for the first parts of the speaking. It can be used as a warmer, a whole speaking part 1 or 2 section or to end a class.

Where’s the dogme?

I like to think of each app as a tool that can be utilised in countless ways, just like a reading in a book. they are used as, well, readings, to introduce grammar, to contextualise vocab, to set a theme, to provide content for a discussion bla bla bla. So, why not the same for an app?

Now, imagine you have a 1 hour TOEFL ibt class. For anyone unfamiliar with the exam it is online and has all the usual skills. The 2 apps are inherently limited to vocab and speaking so I’m not going to lie and say make them into a TOEFL ibt reading or listening. No, for those bits just find and use online samples or Edulang’s TOEFL sim. The apps are flexible so can fit around what you are doing or be exploited on their own.

Getting back to the 1 hour. Now, I start off with the speaking app. I select a question, my student answers it while I record it then listen back and work on the mistakes and areas of improvement. Next, we look at another question and analyse the sample answer before doing another recording. To bring in the integrated aspect of the speaking section, I could either go TOEFL and show her a sample reading and play a listening from this part or just select similar material from the net. Again, I can use the app to record the student, play it back, discuss and then improve it.

Next, I could add a bit of vocab by choosing a similar category on the app, trying 10 questions then practising all the words, not just the correct ones in speaking style. After all, why not some listening? Like before, I can play a TOEFL listening online or choose a similar one from Google. The key with that is notetaking. I always check to see if my student is doing it well and then if there aren’t questions for the listening I can make up my own that are TOEFL style. A better approach is asking the student to think about what could be asked. Here we can go through question types.

So, 2 apps are quite handy but it’s also worth remembering you have internet access. I do tend to go on about early prep and laying the foundation at the start but in this course I did just that and collected loads of useful sites and put them on a Scoop. This means I can use them when I need.

Tip: At the start of the course I began building a Scoop which is my virtual resource board. I add to it when I can and keep a mental note of what’s there and how it could be used. In following lessons I pick out what I need (check that they work on your ipad please) but also am safe in the knowledge that I have the others ready for a if/when situation. Lately I’ve even started making my own Quizlets for revising language in the next lesson. They have a free app and even related ones, many of which are free:

“Photo taken from by @europeaantje, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,”

Phil, the idea of a scoop is a brilliant idea to support learning outside the classroom. I was discussing learning a new language only last night with a friend who admitted to not studying at all outside of lessons; it adds an extra platform for students to use that’s not tradition head-in-books studying. One part that stood out particularly to me was recording and playing back students’ spoken language. I think there’s a lot to be said for this to capture their language to work on, what’s more it’s a handy learning strategy for outside the classroom. Thanks for sharing some useful ideas on using apps, all of which seem to work with student needs and student language – Dale

Supporting a student-centred classroom through a blogging platform

I started nostalgically glancing over a map of Rome the other day and all of a sudden a wave of memories, charged with bitter and sun-drenched emotion, came charging into the window of my memory, opened by such a small gesture as briefly gandering at a map.

I dare to imagine that such memories are not too dissimilar from the creation of many different interactions and learning experiences in a learner-centred classroom like a Dogme classroom. Memory is a fickle being though, a fair-weather friend ready cut you out with time; after a period of time such seemingly unstructured learning is volatile to cracks. Thus, during an intensive two-hour per day course I created a wordpress blog as a way of giving learners the opportunity to write their own map for the the course, in the hope that some of them might look back in a few months and open a window in their memories.

The blog took form in my mind as a place in which we could extend our discussions outside of the classroom, a way of stimulating more discussion on topics we had enjoyed and a hub for gathering resources we wished to offer to class as input. Very soon off the mark, the class having responded very well to the amount of control I had given them of classroom content, I began using it as a quasi-report/practice stage, not dissimilar in my opinion to the task-based learning cycle.

One of the questions at the forefront of my mind was how I intended on using all the data; did want to exploit it as a diagnostic and running assessment of the class’s language competence, thus removing some of the spontaneity and enthusiasm – this is quite evident if you happen to glance at the articles we chose to translate – and diminishing the blog’s person value. I trod carefully in this area, correcting and offering suggestion upon request and devoting classroom time in which I could focus on individual teaching on a one-to-one basis as a way of giving learners a tangible outlet for this. Some of the class decided on the correction which came in the form of a discussion on their posts, which was done through a specially created email address and the ‘save draft’ option on wordpress (necessary to be in line with some of the rules of conduct on student-teacher privacy in place at school).


I will only briefly comment on the nature of this activity as it shall play a big part in a future blog post. After some discussion on how to translate a Spanish phrase correctly into English we decided to put our skills to the test and translate articles from students’ native tongues into English but attempt to be as accurate as possible in terms of tone, register, lexis and syntax.

Poster Presentations

After watching and being quite intensely engaged in a TED talk by Dan Pink on the science of motivation, the class designed poster presentations to adapt the idea to some of our specialist areas. As a listening task, I asked the class to concentrate intensively on one presentation in particular that interested them and to use their notes as a guide to write a review of the talks.

Marketing competition

Researching and working within a framework of constraints, the class designed holidays on a budget of £2500 that embodied the sense of a word they had chosen. All the data had to be researched and checked on the internet and the sales pitch came in the form of a blog post. Unfortunately we ran out of time on this activity and were unable to give oral presentations.

Learner training

I set the task of commenting on other classmates’ blogposts and after inputting their comment into the text analysis. Once inputted, students evaluated their style according to the frequency of the words as they appear in different genres. To some I gave the task of reducing the formality, increasing the formality, or making the comment more of an academic style. To those whose comments had a lower lexical density, using very frequent words and less pre-modification I gave the task of searching for collocates in the ‘collocate’ function on the site.

Perhaps it is idealism to hope that in a few months this group of motivated and fascinating people might look back on the blog they created and open that little window again in their minds. Of course, the process of writing the blog will have undoubtedly been an engaging experience which provided writing practice on a previously unknown social-media platform for some which lent itself nicely to the reflective and interactive content of the class – just imagine that at one point we became engrossed in discussion on the difference between a female escort and a prostitute and the current scandal taking place in France – nevertheless I hope it may play a role in the future for reactivating their learning. Here’s to hope.

Take a look for yourselves

Study Skills High

DELTA Module 1 – Paper 2

Please note: I am very grateful for all the feedback that has been kindly been left on this post. Also, best of luck to all those taking the module one exam. It would be great to include all of these changes in a new and more accurate document for everyone to use.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to make all of these and the current posts will have to remain the way they are. 

Heads met once again for the second installment of the DELTA Module 1 Exam seminars, this time focusing on paper 2.

Paper two is divided up as follows:

Task 1 – 20

Task 2 – 30

Task 3 – 10 

Task 4 – 40

With a large chunk of marks to be gained in the fourth question, there’s no surprise in saying that a large amount of of your time will be allocated to that question. That’s not to say, however, that task 1 and 2 – 50 marks altogether – should be overlooked.

Task 1

In this task candidates are given a test and a student profile. They must evaluate the test for its strengths and weaknesses according to the student’s needs. The question requires you to first identify the purpose of the test, then evaluate its effectiveness according to the learner and the situation using also concepts of reliability, washback and validity. I think it’s important to underline at this point that task 1 does not aim to test how much testing terminology you have learned. Granted, a solid grounding in the concepts of testing will give you an enormous advantage but simply regurgitating testing terminology, however correctly defined, will not get you the marks.

Here is an example question we made to show you structure of task 1

Important points to remember when approaching task 1:

Of course, all the normal rules apply: Do not pre-prepare answers and give generic and seemingly regurgitated pre-learned muck, this will not obtain marks.

  • Use terminology accurately and relevantly according to the student’s needs and the purpose of the test. Keep these in mind at all times, i.e., do not discuss the test’s validity overall but in relation to the student.
  • Make a student needs analysis, practice at this so that it becomes like second nature come the exam.
  • Include answers that look at the style,skills, and spoken situations of the language needed to complete the task and relate it to the context in which the student will be working/studying
  • Use a well-organised and clear layout, making good use of titles for point (P) and application (A) and underlining key terminology when it is used.
  • State the purpose of the test!
  • Do not make terminology your heading, e.g. Negative backwash
  • Negative backwash is not possible  if you are evaluating a diagnostic test.
  • Use different applications for each point.
  • Use terminology judiciously and don’t be afraid of using it in the development of a point or application.
  • You must include six points, both positive and negative. The balance can be 1-5, 2-4, 3-3 although we’d advise either 2-4 or 3-3.
  • Avoid using generica answers, e.g. subjective marking.
  • If it is a speaking test, comment on the difficulty of the role of the interlocutor in both speaking and marking at the same time.
  • Evaluate the test as a WHOLE, not each individual question.
  • Do not repeat motivation, irrelevance in applications. (we repeated motivation once, whoooops).
Here is a model answer that we think demonstrates the above-mentioned points:

Disclaimer: nobody’s perfect, and neither is this answer. We are mere mortals, after all!

It would be foolhardy to say that testing terminology doesn’t play a part in this task. It does. Nevertheless, it’s the understanding of the concepts of testing and their application to the test type and the learner that will help you receive higher marks. Remember, the task is graded; 14 marks (12 for positives and negatives with point and application and 2 for terminology), which means there are 6 marks available in weighting. This question has the potential to nail down 17+ marks in the first 20 minutes of the exam.

Here is another other student profile which to use as practice for the same question:

1. Dee is a ballet dancer from Pakistan who has just moved to London and is currently in the sixth week of her semi-intensive general English course. She has been tested as a low B2 level.  She has expressed that she would like to learn English to communicate better with her dance company, speak to her colleagues and friends, and to find a permanent job in the United Kingdom. Her visa requires that a mid-course report is sent to the embassy and the teacher has selected this test to fit the purpose. 

As we have mentioned, testing terminology helps, so here’s an exercise with what we believe the be the key testing concepts to use in task 1.

Task 2

Task Two

Part A


The text for the task is reproduced below. The purpose of the material in the extract is to recycle and teach the multiword verbs targeted in exercise 4.

Identify the purpose of the exercises below in relation to the purpose of the extract as a whole.

Refer to each exercise at least once.

In this section, it is important to remember that you are required to write about the purposes of a whole piece of material. This means that firstly, you are not required to write about what the student is doing; you are writing about the purpose of the material. Secondly, you need to look at the piece of material as a whole. 

Some areas in particular to focus on are as follows:

  • Look at the subksills on which the extract is focusing on. E.g. reading for gist, reading for specific information.
  • State the target language! Having this point clear will make the purposes easier to find, e.g. focus students’ attention on the target language, check meaning/form/pronunciation of the target language.
  • Stick to the exercises included in the rubric.
  • DO NOT PRODUCE GENERIC PURPOSES! E.g. to prepare students for the language in the next exercises.
  • Focus on how exercises progress; link back and forward – in this way you look at the piece of material as a whole.
  • Aim for around four purposes per exercise.
  • Only comment on the tasks they give you in the rubric. Last year there were some tasks in the rubric that were not examined in part 1, keep an eye out for this!
Here is an example that we feel demonstrates an answer worthy of higher marks:

From our experience of doing the exam and doing these seminars, one of the main complaints candidates have made about this task is that they don’t know the language to express things in the same way under exam conditions. We might suggest that, should this be the case, you might want take some of the phrases you find here, dehydrate them and memorise them to use again, e.g.

Provides practice in X subskill of X skill

Activates procedural knowledge of X or schemata of X

Provides opportunities for X practice

Focuses learners’ attention on meaning/form/pronunciation of target language (state the target language).

Learning these does not mean remembering lots of pre-learned answers. In essence, it’s the same as pre-learning terminology for the exam. As it’s not applied, e.g. provides practice in X subskill, its use will not lose you marks. Make sure you apply it though, of course.

* many of these can be found in the examiner’s report here

Part B

Comment on six key assumptions about language learning that are evident in the exercises:

Exercise 1. p. 122

Exercise 3. p. 122

Exercise 4 p. 122

Exercise 5 p. 122

N.B. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the rubric for this task; chances are that you will be given different activities from those present in the previous part. You do not want to find yourself half way through the task only to realise you have focused on the wrong exercises.

A few tips for this section are:

  • Produce more than 6 assumptions and reasons
  • Label them: Assumption (A) and Reason (R) or underline the because to flag it up to your examiner
  • Underline key terminology
  • Use a variety of assumptions and reasons; we strongly advise you not to repeat.

Here’s a checklist of the most common assumptions present in the materials we use:

  • Personalisation
  • Collaboration/pairwork
  • Visuals
  • Learning styles
  • Language in context
  • Activating previous knowledge or schemata.
  • Integrated focus on skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing)

Nevertheless, avoid regurgitating these at the first opportunity in the exam, even if they are present. Candidates who do well in this task demonstrate that they have looked at the material as a whole, focusing on sequencing, focusing on the increase in challenge, the methods that influence the sequence/flow.

  • Does the focus on meaning come before form?
  • Are students required to look at the form and meaning of the language before practising it?
  • Is the focus on form explicit?
  • Is the material making use of a text for language input? (text as vehicle of information)
  • Is the topic controversial?
  • How are the rules about language presented? What do they require students to do?
  • Are the materials requiring students to use their top-down or bottom-up processing skills? When?
  • Is the language presented in a holistic or atomistic way?
  • What kind of tasks are supporting learners and at what stage?

Here are some sample answers we made for task 2 part b

Task 4

With a high percentage of marks available for this task (40), it’s important to dedicate the right amount of time to completing it. The problem with task four is the question can require you to analyse absolutely anything, which makes it somewhat difficult to revise in the old-fashioned exam preparation method; holistic revision, anyone?

There are three areas you can focus:

  • Methodologies and approaches
  • Second language acquisition theories that influence these
  • Teacher’s role and beliefs

A certain flexibility using the concepts and terminology for these three points will give you an edge in the task 4 section.

Here’s an example question we made:

Look at the two lesson plans below:

Comment on the principles informing the teacher’s approach, the teacher’s role and the appropriateness of the lesson in different teaching contexts. 

The second lesson plan was adapted from

And here are the answers:

What you might notice is that many of the answers are similar to the reasons and assumptions in task 2. This is true, and the answers you are likely to give should reflect task 2 in some way, albiet on a more ‘macro-ELT’ tangent.

For a bit of extra practice, have a think about what theories of second language acquisition are behind the following quotes:

All language – 1st or other – is socially constituted. Dogme is about foregrounding the way language is used & learned in the here-and-now.

Thornbury, S.

Native-speaker teachers – even if bilingual- cannot put themselves into the shoes of L2 speakers of English”

Jenkins, J.

Without grammar, little can be conveyed; without lexis, nothing can be conveyed

Wilkins, D

DELTA Module One Exam: Paper One

Please note: I am very grateful for all the feedback that has been kindly been left on this post. Also, best of luck to all those taking the module one exam. It would be great to include all of these changes in a new and more accurate document for everyone to use.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to make all of these and the current posts will have to remain the way they are. 

Heads met in an epic afternoon-spanning planning sessions yesterday for a module one exam seminar my colleague and I are giving for the DELTA candidates at our school. This sessions will be dealing exclusively with paper 1 of the exam, to be followed by another dedicated to paper two a few weeks after. Basically, there is a way ‘things should be done’ in the exam, which is what we would like to focus on. Obviously, you need to know your present perfect from your ZPD, your subordinating conjunctions from your coordinating, but it would be a shame to see all that knowledge ruined by sloppy exam technique.

Question 1

The most helpful thing to remember for this part is the fact that it contains six marks. Therefore, avoid spending too much time. The fact of the matter is that either you know the word or you do not. A few pointers might consist of:

  • Make sure spelling is correct
  • Have clear layout and only one answer. If you change your mind about a word, make sure it is clearly crossed out.

How many basic definitions can you make for the words in the picture?

Alternatively, if your brain works in a more ‘schematic’ way, i.e. you like learning in mind-map style clusters of information with connections between words etc, you can take a topic area such as ‘pronunciation’ and start with the most obvious definitions like ‘phoneme’ or ‘intonation’ or ‘connected speech’ and then go deeper into each topic, creating more words stems with more definitions relevant to each topic.

Question 2

The secret to this part is clear, easy-to-read layout. Last year my tutor drummed this into me and it stuck. I found the following structure helped me in my exam; it’s very clear and highlights the point made. Make sure you give a key at the top too.

(D)definition; (F)further point; (E)example

With a basic structure down, you’re already half way there. Another important point to make is the candidates often confuse the basic definition with the further point. Make your definition too wordy, for example, and the points you could gain for a further point are already made, leaving you with nothing. Also, get the definition wrong but make a good further point and the marks available for the latter will not be given.

For example:

Audiolingualism: A method of second language learning that emphasises the teaching of speaking a listening over reading and writing (definition), discourages the use of the mother tongue, uses dialogues and drills, contrastive analysis (further point).

To which of the words in the word cloud above does this example pertain? Where is the basic definition/further point/example?

A type of consonant sound that is made through a restricted but not completely blocked release of air to create a turbulent airflow. It can be voiced or unvoiced. Sibilant or labio dental, alveolar consonant sounds. /f/ /v/ /s/ /z/.

There are a few examples on quizlet of how you could write basic definition/further point/example flashcards to help your revision.

Question 3

As the tasks get more complicated, the more one needs to be careful about what information to include and how to structure it. The clock starts working against you and there’s a whole load of information you need to communicate to the examiner. It’s no surprise then that candidates start making more and more mistakes. So, we’ve made a simple list of Dos and Don’ts for this section:


  • Give one example
  • Give a wide variety of features including style, organisation, function.
  • Avoid vague expressions
  • Include very clear terminology
  • Give one feature of writing or speaking subskills that can be grouped under the same heading. E.g. speaking skills- turn taking – language to take a turn.
  • Give very specific examples to the text type.
  • Focus on what the rubric instructs you to.
  • Be very specific and narrow down your point. E.g. Present perfect question forms to talk about life experience.
  • Give a very clear and organised structure.


  • Learn lots of language features that can be given for any question
  • List lots (too many) of features pertaining to grammar and lexis
  • Spend too much time on this task (15 marks remember!)
A good dos and don’ts list of course needs to be followed by some application.

The extract for this task is a writing activity for advanced learners (CEFR C1) level learners. Identify a total of five key language features learners at this level would need in order to complete the activity successfully. Provide an example specific to this activity to support each choice.

Kenny, N., & Newbrook, J., ‘CAE Gold Plus coursebook’ Longman, 2008
A good way to practise this task is to take a variety of speaking and writing tasks and brainstorm with your colleagues as many key language features as possible. What we came up with is in the appendices. Have a look, there are both good and bad examples; try to match the examples to the points on the dos and don’ts list. We’ll have a look at a few examples below:
1. Lexis: Compound nouns related to sporting sporting activities
E.g.swimming pools would be a good addition.
  • Specific point made
  • Clear example
  • Relevant to the task
  • Not relevant to the level: Advanced.
2. Discourse: Hedging devices to give the writer’s opinion
it could be considered beneficial to include a selection of after-school activities.
  • Accurate use of terminology
  • Point is narrowed down; does not seem like pre-learned.
  • Example is relevant to the task
  • Specific to the text type (report – making recommendations – writer’s opinion).
3. learners will need to be able to use the present perfect
e.g. we have seen a drop in numbers recently at the sports centre.
  • Too generic. Not narrowed down enough; it seems pre-learned.
  • Which present perfect? Simple? Continuous? To talk about what? Life experiences? Events relevant to the present? Not enough information.
  • Good example, specific to the task.
Here are all the answers we came up with. We’ve annotated the bad examples.
Practice: take examples from the coursebooks with which you regularly teach. Make extensive lists of key items. Not only will it familiarise you with the task type, avoiding the possibility of applying pre-learned points to the exam, but also there might be knock-on effect on your teaching; you willl know what to expect students to produce in a task and consequently you will be more able to find the holes in their language skill to fill.

 Question 4

The task which contains the most marks in paper 1 (40). Let’s start with another dos and don’ts list for part 4:


  • Include as much information as possible in part B, even if it seems superflous.
  • State the obvious about language
  • Use correct terminology
  • Specify terminology e.g. pronoun  personal subject pronoun
  • Give full names to tenses e.g. present perfect  present perfect simple
  • Use the phonemic script
  •  Comment on style of the text in part A
  • Give an example of each feature
  • Have a clear way of marking connected speech
  • Use subheadings and underlining to signpost
  • Consider doing this task first if you panic or have bad time-management.
  • Spend a large proportion of your time on this task
  • Refer to the context of the language in part B.
  • Consider doing this task first if you panic or have bad time-management
  • Spend a large proportion of your time on this task
  • Use bullet points in part B


  •  Give more than 5 features of the text.
  • Use very generic features
  • Analyse everything: meaning, form, use, pronunciation; only analyse what they tell you to in the rubric
  • Stick to ONLY features of connected speech when analysing pronunciation. Mention sentence stress too!
  • Learn lots of problems students have in general and apply them to each question
Here is a task Giovanni made that resembles Task 4 paper 1.

Part A

  • The danger here is to spend too much time. Make your answers brief and relevant to the text. i.e. don’t reel off a load of generic pre-learned items like “using anaphoric references to make the text cohesive e.g. this and that”. NO.
  • Include one point on organisation or layout. You need to include a variety.
  • This question should not take up more than a page.

Part B

Let’s have a look at what makes a question receive higher marks in this section.
The left hand column represents a set of weaker answers. Can you see which dos and dont’s they include?
  • Less information throughout
  • Not stating the obvious e.g. “third person plural” or “noun, uncountable”
  • The wrong language is analysed e.g. the passive voice instead of ‘due to’.
  • No reference to the context of the language e.g. “Students might fail to recognize the cause/effect relationship between park closures and missile testing, i.e.due to+ noun (prepositional phrase)”
  • Less eloquent grasp of terminology, for example a stronger answer includes “Indicates the amount of people available in the staff (semantic field of the text); subject of the participle clause”

Here is a copy of a ‘higher marks’ answer key and a ‘lower marks’ answer key:
Higher marks
Lower marks

Quick disclaimer: Giovanni used Standard American phonemic script, which is perfectly acceptable in the module 1 exam. Also, we’re not perfect, so you may find some extra points to add to some of these answers. If you do, any feedback would be welcome. We don’t claim to have created ‘the perfect answer’ but a helpful guide to achieving it.

Practice: take a number of texts and analyse them for key features. Make sure you have a variety of genres. That way you build up experience examining texts for their features and improve on noticing the features rather than applying pre-learned features to texts. You could do as Giovanni did and make your own version of part 4, with a good key and a bad key to practice part B. Analyse language, don’t limit yourself to reading grammar books.

Question 5

In task five it’s just as likely that candidates receive a speaking text as a writing text. Make sure you feel very confident about phonology for this question, it could make the difference if it happens to be a speaking text like June 2011.

Part A

As far as organisation goes:
  • Headings for each part. Consider underlining examples.
Here is a copy of the speaking text given in the June 2010 examiner’s report.

Identify three key strengths and three key weaknesses of the text. Provide an example of each strength and each weakness. Your answer should focus on some or all of the areas listed below:

Organisation and cohesion
Accuracy of grammar
Accuracy of lexis
Accuracy of pronunciation: stress, individual sounds and sounds in connected

You may notice that:

  • A strength can also be repeated as a weakness. Look for limitations in the students’ ability.
  • Examples are given with phonemic script. Very important, this one.
  • The topic areas are narrowed down e.g, “accuracy of pronunciation – individual sounds and sounds in connected speech’
  • Only one accuracy of grammar weakness. Try to look beyond grammar and lexis and to discourse/organisation/task achievement (written) or pronunciation/organisation/speaking sub skills (spoken)
There are also four extra marks for stating how strengths and weaknesses could aid or impede the learner. I have listed those below the strengths and weaknesses for you to connect with them. In the exam, it is highly advisable to include them with the strength or weakness.
Here is an example of a set of answers that would obtain much lower marks
The general problems are:
  • Answers are too wordy. The candidate wastes time writing in prose when simple and accurate terminology would suffice.
  • Errors are incorrectly identified
  • The candidate focuses on errors that are not prevalent
  • Candidate does not use the phonemic script
  • Candidate does not give and example
  • Further points are very generic and seem pre-learned.

Part B

 This is the section in which you have to choose an area to prioritise to develop. It’s important to choose a correct area to develop (i.e. one you’re sure you got right!). This part of the exam seems to be one of the only areas in which pre-learned reasons can be applied to questions (although, be careful).
Focus on these areas:

Practice:  record your learners and analyse their language. Take their writing and do the same, prioritising weaknesses to then teach. The positive backwash of this task is that the skills you use in the exam are relevant to your teaching.
A note on validity: we have noticed that a spoken text in the form of a written text is somewhat contrived. The skills it is attempting to examine are done so effectively, as a teacher would have to listen, note down language and analyse it as they hear the learner, not with a transcription in retrospect. A recording of a student would fit the purpose much more. Testing terminology anyone?

Useful websites: 

DELTA flashcards with definition, further point, example

Module 1 examiner’s report for June 2010 and June 2011

Lots of flashcards on quizlet on terminology for module 1

Another set of flashcards

DELTA Module 1

This time last year, my thoughts were mainly concerned with DELTA. A few months down the line I would be sitting the module one exam. So strange is it might sound, here I am again, thinking about the same thing one year down the line. This time however, a colleague of mine, Giovanni @GioLic1976 and I have the task of delivering two seminars to this year’s module one candidates.

A brilliant idea came to us the other. Why not involve our PLN in the planning of the seminar? Since we’re tapping the wealth of the experience and ideas around us, we thought we could also share our project on this blog so our research serves as a resource for anyone to access during their preparation for the exam.

My research questions have been as follows:

  • What sort of exam techniques are there to boost and maximise marks in the exam?
  • What are the dos and especially the don’ts of the exam.
  • Revision activities that you have found helpful in preparation for the exam.
  • Timing, structure, layout: how do you/did you do it?
  • Activities/materials you find useful for teaching exam technique.

So far, I’ve been collating my findings on this google doc. It’s open to the web, so anyone can contribute.

Leave a comment, make a suggestion on the googledoc, tweet us, anything you can, add extra questions you think we’ve missed. We’ll include it in our seminar and add it to the collection here. We hope to build a resource that is relevant for candidates for years to come.

Thanks very much,


Strategies in vocabulary learning

Last week I published a post on vocabulary. I’d like to start out by thanking everyone for their great responses, I came away with a lot of ideas and lots to think about. In the post, I gave a run-down of some of my aims for the next few weeks/months/years. since starting though my focus has taken me off in different directions and I’ve realised consequently that what I will actually publish might not resemble the initial post.

Vocabulary learning strategies are divided into categories by Schmitt (1997: 207-8),  Stoffer (1995), Nation (2001: 218) and Gu and Johnson (1996: 650-651). I came across these taxonomies here on Magda Kadubiec’s wonderful blog and I owe her a reference in this case. For more information I suggest you visit her blog or get hold of any of the literature mentioned above. I have sorted the strategies into a table and put it in the appendix and will try and link the strategies I’ve come across and thought of to this, just to keep it a little bit theoretical.


1. Appealing to the senses

  • This technique works especially well with young learners. A colleague of mine varies the pitch, the volume and the speed of her voice when introducing vocabulary. The difference in sound is thought to increase the chances of vocabulary retention. 
  • Another colleague has young learners spell words on each others’ backs to help solidify the image of a words shape in memory. This technique is also useful with dyslexic learners because the mind creates a link between the sense of the word – feeling the word – and eliminates the block between hearing  or reading a word and making mental image of it.
  • Young learners again: get learners miming actions, miming nouns (eat pizza, take the dog for a walk, do homework).
  • Stange movements, for example, pronouncing a word while doing a funky yoga style movement.
  • Using sounds for abstract concepts like feelings, music works very well for this.
  • Alternatively, instead of making a connection between a word and a sense, you can use a sense to find connections to words. Place learners back in the situation in which they came across new vocabulary, establish how they felt, what they were wearing, how they were sitting, what could they hear. Give them a word that came up in class and see how much they remember. More detail on this idea  here
  • Making a mental image of a word upon encountering it. Take 5-10 seconds just to visualise a scene to connect to the world, then visualise the word and spell it out in the air with your finger. For example, ‘mettere troppa carne al fuoco’ in Italian I made a vision of a bbq with a man panicking because there are too many steaks to fry – the idiom means to have too many things on the go at the same time.

I would categories many of these as ‘Encoding strategies’, ‘activation strategies’ or ‘Consolidation – memory’ strategies.

Organising Strategies

1. Encoding

The strategies below are focused on ‘encoding’ a word over ‘decoding’ a word; going from word level to a higher, more complex level of information. For example, searching for the definition of ‘extreme’ is decoding, while finding ‘extreme weather conditions’ or /ɪkstri:meʒəz/ would fall under encoding. To empower students, work on the following strategies is helpful:

  • Monolingual dictionary training: teaching learners to go beyond just the definition and look for information on collocations, register, frequency, colligation, pronunciation, examples, derivatives and word class. Also, using context to select the most fitting definition, i.e. not taking the first example.
  • Online dictionary training and paper-based dictionary training.Using bilingual dictionaries. Using suitable online dictionaries to find word information (mentioned above).
  • How NOT to use google translate.
  • Training students to use language corpora for their own research into language. Words and phrases is a good place to start. This strategy has the added bonus of providing practice of guessing meaning from context. There are drawbacks, beware of these. You can find many of them here.

2. Finding

  • Practise mining texts for vocabulary in class, sorting them into collocations and storing them.
  • Set homework for learners to find texts that interest them and repeat. It’s also worth highlighting the difference between mining and reading… so that they don’t see every time they read as an occasion for mining vocabulary.

More on texts in this informative and helpful post by Michael Swan 

3. Storing

  • Creating word lists according to theme/topic/ or perhaps wordlists of words more similar to or different from L1 cognates.
  • The writing of vocabulary cards at the end of class, the start of class, during class. Use these as store of vocabulary, available at all times to use as revision. Hand them out during activities for student to record new vocabulary as it emerges, use them for vocabulary input during activities and ask learners to explain to each other after or recall the context in which the lexis was introduced.
  • Training in keeping a lexical notebook. See my post on lexical notebooks previously for more information.

These are strategies for students. I’ll be addressing strategies for teachers in my next post in which I’ll look at the topic under ‘rehearsal strategies’.

Below are a few lesson skeletons if anyone is thinking of implementing vocabulary strategies in their classrooms. If you have any comments or additions to make they’d be very welcome.

Lesson skeleton: Discussing strategies

Preparation: draw up a list of vocabulary strategies suitable for your learners.

  1. Start the lesson by asking learners how they feel they learn English best, how they were taught at school to learn English and how much time they spend learning English outside the classroom. Push them hard to find out any beliefs or habits that might shape their views, e.g. teacher never tests them, learnt words with translations in school out of context, never kept a vocabulary book.
  2. Explain what a strategy is and have learners draw up separate lists of possible vocabulary strategies. Have a representative of each group move another and explain their choices.
  3. Make a consolidated list and compare to the list you have drawn up. Have learners compare and discuss which they think are useful/not useful for them and why. Finish off the activity by having learners make a list in their books of which strategies they are going to try out in the coming weeks.
  4. Provide feedback or examples of any strategies discussed in class or make a list and make it the focus of the next lesson.
  • Having learners discuss strategies raises their awareness of the topic.
  • Discussing the suitability of strategies involves them in the process and means the ones they choose are more likely to be tried.
  • Discussing their previous learning experiences helps you to understand their current vocabulary habits and make appropriate suggestions in feedback.

To consider:

  • Learners may be used to teacher-led instruction on this topic; explain the rationale of the activity before.
  • Don’t expect too much from learners when they draw up their lists. They may simply not have any information to bring to the table. Mingle and input some ideas. 

Lesson skeleton: Lexical notebook training

Ask learners to buy a notebook to be used as a vocabulary book and bring in a lexical notebook of your own (if you have one).

  1.  Ask learners to discuss how they store vocabulary. Do they think it’s organised? Easy to read? What sort of information to they use?
  2. Mingle and discuss, adding ideas.
  3. Draw up a list of: what a good vocabulary notebook should/shouldn’t include. It’s helpful to do this after the dictionary training and discussing strategies as learners will have a better idea of what to include.
  4. Discuss any interesting points like translation, L1 cognates, notes on grammar specific to learners’ difficulties, neat and tidy presentation/structure, use of colours, highlighters, pictures etc.
  5. Ask learners to reogranise some vocabulary they have already stored on the first pages of their vocabulary notebooks they brought to class, input more information about the words and encourage learners to use dictionaries, Google, the internet, to find more examples

Extension: check vocabulary notebooks on a bi-weekly/monthly basis and give feedback on structure and language, make suggestions and add more vocabulary. Use notebooks in class to recycle language stored in them.


  • A vocabulary notebook is a personal thing, therefore its implementation needs to consider also individual learning styles and the final product must resemble these. Each notebook will be different. Discussing this in the lesson helps.
  • Doing this at the start of the course helps make sure learners have a record throughout the course.
  • Fosters independent learning.

To consider:

  • Learners simple may not have time to keep this up outside of class.
  • Different learning styles need to be considered. Allow learners to reject the idea on valid grounds, i.e. not laziness.
  • Lexical notebooks take time. Following up on the lesson is vital. 

Lesson skeleton: Dictionary training

Preparation: Take some lexis looked at during the course until now. Bring in some dictionaries, some paper. Draw up a list of what’s important in knowing a word (see appendix 2).

  1. Give learners appendix 2 and ask them to rank these in order of importance. Discuss answers and provide feedback according to your beliefs about language. I generally rank collocation among the top 3. See if your learners do the same.
  2. Distribute some dictionaries and ask learners where we can find this information. Ask them to use a word they have already studies in class to lower the cognitive burden of the activity and avoid them randomly browsing the dictionary.
  3. Ask them to create a mindmap of information about the word, containing as many categories as possible from the list.
  4. Give feedback on students’ findings. Give them some freer practice of finding words and encoding them with a dictionary.

Extension: Bring dictionaries into class regularly and dedicate 10 minutes at the end of the lesson to encoding new words.


  • Learners realise there is more to knowing a word than just L1-L2 translation.
  • Dictionary trained learners are empowered researchers of language.
  • Reduces the workload on the teacher; learners are more independent.

To consider

  • Monolingual dictionaries could seem a daunting prospect. Introduce them slowly and according to the level.
  • Learners might not see the rationale of the activity; it might be worth explaining.

Appendix 1

Schmitt Gu and Johnson Stoffer Nation
Discovery – Determination Guessing
– Using background knowledge/wider context
Using linguistic cues/immediate context
Strategies with authentic language use Planning
– choosing words
– choosing the aspects of word knowledge
– choosing strategies
– planning repetition
Discovery – Social Dictionary Strategies
-Dictionary strategies for compensation
-Extended dictionary strategies
– looking-up strategies
Strategies used for self-motivation Sources
– analysing the word
– using context
consulting a reference source in L1 or L2
– Using parallels in L1 and L2
Consolidation – Social Note-taking strategies
-Meaning-orienated note taking
– Usage-orientated note-taking
Strategies used for organising words Processes
– Retrieving
– Generating
Consolidation – Memory Rehearsal Strategies
– Using word lists
– Oral repetition
– Visual repetiton
Strategies to create mental linkages
Consolidation – Cognitive Encoding Strategies
– Imagery
– Visual encoding
– Auditory encoding
– Using word-structure
– Semantic encoding
– Contextual encoding
Memory strategies
Consolidation – Metacognitive Activation strategies
– memorising facts linking them to numbers or familiar words
– remembering lists by picturing them in specific locations.
– Establishing an acoustic and imagine link between an L2 word and another
Strategies involving creative activities
Strategies involving physical action
Strategies used to overcome anxiety
Auditory strategies

Appendix 2

1. What the word means.
2. Collocations, .e.g. Take a shower, take a nap.
3. The grammar we often find with the word (e.g. articles, tenses, prepositions).
4. How we say the word.
5. How we translate the word.
6. Is the word formal or informal?
7. Common phrases in which we use the word.
8. Word class (e.g. noun, adjective, adverb).
9. How the word is spelt.
10. A written record of the word.

Vocabulary Habits

Here’s a conversation from a few days ago regarding lexis and grammar:

“I’m sure if you gave on group of them (the learners) a dictionary and the other a grammar book and sent them to London, the group with the dictionary would come back much more fluent” 

So, if it’s true that a well-developed vocabulary paves the way to fluency, how can we increase the odds of getting there? Certainly, learners bring a heap of bad vocabulary habits to the classroom from their learning experiences, baggage that if not examined and dealt with will obstruct them from reaching their full potential in English. The job of getting things in working order lies in the hands of the teacher.

That’s not to say however the whole process becomes a teacher-centred dictatorial mess. But to shake up the system, change needs to come from the top.


  1. How do you board language?
  2. Which vocabulary do you choose to correct?
  3. How do you drill language?
  4. Do you check how learners keep vocabulary?
  5. Do you test them on vocabulary? Do you recycle vocabulary?
  6. Do your learners know how to use dictionaries and research words?
  7. If you said “this is a verb + noun collocation”, would they know what you mean?

What are your vocabulary teaching habits? Try taking a picture of your board every day. Look at what you put on there. Does it reflect the ideals you’d like learners to hold about language?

Here are some questions I aim to answer in the next few posts:

1. How can you equip learners with the right strategies to find, store and learn vocabulary on their own?

2. Which teaching techniques create an optimum classroom environment for vocabulary acquisition?

3. What are the bad habits our learners have and to what lengths do we go in order to help them?

4. How do you integrate teaching pronunciation into vocabulary teaching? Holistic or not?

5. Recycling, revisiting, testing: is this our job to enforce it or to whip up motivation for learners to do it themselves?

The first topic I’d like to tackle regards vocabulary strategies and I’d love to know how you teach/foster these in YOUR classrooms.