Category Archives: Thoughts

Conference Triumph instead of Conference Fatigue*

Don’t lose your marbles!

Make the most of the ELT conference

With so many talks and workshops on offer, how do people decide which to go for? Do you choose topics that are within your field of expertise to find out what others are doing and thinking, or do you go for something you know absolutely nothing about? Do you choose talks that you think will present a solution to a problem you have in the classroom or something that will fill in a knowledge gap? Maybe you want to find new ways of doing or teaching something because you feel like you’re in a bit of a rut. What about choosing presentations because they have interesting or humorous titles? Or do you go to a talk because your colleagues are going too?

Looking at the conference programme or timetable, some talks may stand out as things you definitely want to attend. At other times, you scan the long list of options and become overwhelmed, and then later on realise you missed something you had earmarked as vital.

Conference survival tips 


What do want to know? 

Think about your professional goals before attending the event. Make a list of what you want to come away with, be it new ideas, skills or even contacts. Having some objectives in mind can really help when faced with choosing one out of 15 parallel presentations which all sound pretty interesting.

Have a look in advance at any conference materials that are available. When you find talks that appeal to you, research the speaker and find out what their background is. You may be drawn to the talks by the big names, without realising that there is something much more relevant to your needs going on somewhere else at the same time.

Add a bit of variety to your choice and consider how the information you’re hearing could be adapted to suit your context. Would that project with teens suit adults and what would you have to do to make it work? Note down the speakers contact details. You can also shoot off a quick question or comment to them via email or Twitter  when you are at home going over your notes or planning how to use their ideas with a particular group of students.

Presentations by first time speakers or on special interest topics might attract smaller groups which can mean greater opportunity for participation. So, participate!

Don’t be afraid of asking a question, making a comment or giving a suggestion. Conferences are about sharing knowledge and experiences, and interacting with speakers and fellow attendees is a great way of getting the ball rolling. It helps break the ice with others in the room and in general, I think most speakers appreciate the input.  The world of ELT is so huge and diverse, I try to remind myself that ‘we’re all in it together’ and that working in such different contexts, we can learn from each other regardless of whether we’re there as presenter, author or participant, native or non-native speaker, novice or experienced trainer, with a TEFL cert or PhD. It may sound obvious, but we can all find ourselves feeling a bit intimidated or shy outside of our own environment.

Say Yes to the social events. From evening events and dinners to concerts and city tours, these have been carefully planned by the conference organisers, who know what teachers are interested in. You have the chance to enjoy good food, a glass or two of wine, learn something about the city you’re in and get chatting to some new people. You may not know anyone there, but most people are in the same boat. Be prepared to make the first move and introduce yourself and see where it goes from there.

The food is great, isn’t it?

Keep in touch. 

When you get home, pull out the business cards you collected and send a nice follow-up email or make contact via social media. A short note to say how nice it was to meet them is all it takes. You can jog their memory by mentioning something specific such as the talk you attended together or the conversation you had. I’ve started making little notes on the backs of the business cards I’m given or in the notebook I usually carry round at conferences, and at social events I often take photos of the people I end up chatting to and add those to their contact info in my phone’s address book. The notes may be things like ‘Spanish man I met on bus to event’, or ‘works in London, has 2-year old twins’ – notes that only make sense to me, but it all helps later. You never know when your paths might cross again.

These tips are sure to help you achieve conference success!

who am i
conference confusion

Final thoughts: If, however, you’re someone who has ever secretly thought ‘Without my lanyard I feel naked’,  I can’t help you! What you actually need to take a break from all things conference related.

*Is ‘combat fatigue’ even a thing?

Thanks to everyone at IATEFL Poland, organisers and attendees, for making this year’s conference such a fantastic event. I’m looking forward to 2016 already.

Are you encouraging students to be late?

Evening classes with adult learners can be a real joy. Unburdened by the pressure of exams or a set curriculum, students and teachers are free to explore topics of current relevance or of interest to the individuals in the group. Class sizes range from 4 to 8 students, motivation is high and students share their own experiences adding relevance and life to the lessons.

There are, of course, some challenges. One common problem here is punctuality. As students are coming to class straight from the office, a meeting that overran, a last minute conference call or an accident on the motorway all cause delays. Teachers often start these classes off by asking students how their weekend was, if they are busy at work or what plans they have for the coming weekend. The logic is that it gives students a chance to warm up and settle in, while allowing time for late-comers to arrive before the real business of grammar or vocabulary begins. You go around the class and ask each of the 4 or 5 students present for their contribution. It might only take a few minutes, but it might also throw up some interesting vocabulary or grammar review opportunities.

I’ve seen the ‘How was your weekend’ Warm-up in numerous lesson observations and experienced it as a student in evening classes for Spanish. I do it myself from time to time. But if punctuality is an issue, you might have to reassess the impact this low-key, relaxed intro is having on your class. What message does this type of warm-up activity give?

Starting the lesson with general chit-chat can signal to students that it is OK to arrive late. If the actual ‘teaching’ does not start for 10 or 15 minutes, they may feel that being a little late will not hinder their progress. After all, they are not missing much.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.14.37

To counteract this, we should ensure that the content of the class is just too important to miss.

I read somewhere about a study in America which showed that introducing some type of mental warm-up at the beginning of every class increased the number of students arriving on time. An example would be a question or dilemma for them to work out alone or in pairs. This ‘Welcome – Get Working’ intro has more of an impact.

Here is a selection of easy tasks to get students working as soon as they sit down. They can be done as 5 minute writing activities or pair work discussions. Adapt them to suit your lesson objectives. If you choose the pair work option, assign students partners as they come in. ‘Hi Stefan, nice to see you. You’re going to work with Tina today.

This prevents them from all sitting in exactly the same seats every week,  working with the same partner and rolling their eyes in despair if you ask them to try out a different seat/vantage point sometime. (Do all adults do this or is it just a local phenomenon?)

1. What’s the question?

Students come up with inventive ideas for questions that can be answered with the word given. Write 3 ‘answers’ on the board, or give them one ‘answer’ and ask them to come up with 3 questions. The answer is ‘often’. What’s the question?

The answer is ‘before you go’. What’s the question?

The answer is ‘with a monkey’. What is the question?    

Suggested solutions: Have you ever tried kangaroo meat? When should you apply for a visa to visit China? How did the man get the coconuts down from the tall tree?

2. Dilemmas

Jot down some ideas and then discuss with your partner.

Would you rather be good-looking or rich?

Which is better: the power to read minds or the power to be invisible?


3. Brain teaser

There are a lot of sites dedicated to these online. Look for brain teasers, riddles etc.

What 5-letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?

The more you take, the more you leave behind. What are they?

It’s a stormy night and a plane takes off from JFK airport in New York. The storm quickly worsens and the plane crashes – half of it lands in the United States and the other half lands in Canada. In which country do you bury the survivors?

(Answers are at the bottom of the post.)

4. Review of last lesson

List three things you remember from the last lesson/ 3 key words from the last lesson. Share with your partner and explain why you think they are important.

5. Ideas for introducing the topic.

Pairs. Put 20 words on the board, somehow related to topic or taken from text you are going to read together. Students make as many pairs as they can in 2 minutes. Must be able to justify each pair. Justifications can be simple (both start with an s) or more complex. They then try to guess what the topic is.

Topic Test. A word or phrase related to the lesson on the board. Students have one minute to write down words related to the topic or facts they already know about it.

Missing letter note. Ask students to rewrite a note/sentence without using a particular letter. Example:

Rewrite ‘Your dinner is in the dog’ without using the letter ‘d’.

Rewrite ‘Don’t dare touch my pint‘ without using the letter ‘t’.

Suggestions: Your evening meal has been eaten by our canine pet. Rover, our animal pal, was scoffing your lovely supper.

Laying a finger on my lager would be a serious error. Hands off my beer.


These type of intros grab people’s attention, get them immediately interested and active, and show students that by being late they are missing out.

What kind of intro or warm-up do you do?

Post a comment to add to the list.

Punctuality never goes out of fashion.
Punctuality never goes out of fashion.


While I’m at it, here are some activities to end the lesson with. Continue reading Are you encouraging students to be late?

Aim high with your e-portfolio

Sometimes I get the feeling my students don’t feel as enthusiastic and passionate about English as I do!! For my students pursuing degrees in Marketing and Media, or Tourism and Event Management, English is a compulsory course. Some, while acknowledging that it is the language of business or travel, don’t see the immediate relevance for them and being first years, have yet to shake off the bad studying habits they may have picked up at school, i.e. do enough to get by and cram before the test. The language levels within the groups can range from those who say they’re not very talented at languages to those who’ve spent a year backpacking around Australia or have an English-speaking parent or two. This mix of abilities can have advantages as well as disadvantages, and of course, mirrors more accurately the situation they may end up working in once they have left university. In most cases, graduates in Germany applying for office jobs are expected to speak English regardless of the position they are interested in, and some companies,  particularly those with international teams, insist that formal meetings and presentations are carried out in English rather than German. This means English is likely to become an important part of their day to day working lives. How do we prepare these students for this reality? How can we make their English course more relevant, more engaging? How do we help weaker students while still challenging those with advanced or near native skills? Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well throw another challenge into the mix. How do we encourage students to take ownership of their work, to ensure that what they do in class is the best quality they can produce, rather than something thrown together in order to just get the task done? After mulling it over, I am going to give something new a try: An electronic portfolio. A space that allows students to record their achievements, display the work they have created or co-created and document their development. This e-portfolio can be shared with family and friends or kept private, but could also be used later when applying for jobs where English is essential, as a means of proving language skills by showcasing their original work.

Created using Pathbrite
Created using Pathbrite

I think students will be more conscientious if they see that, rather than just a text or task to be handed in, corrected and forgotten about, the work they do in class can be part of something that shows their language ability, allows them express their creativity and actually says something about who they are. (Am I being wildly optimistic here?!) I spent an hour playing around with Pathbrite and think it could work well for what I plan. It didn’t take long to figure out how to use it,  adding different types of media was easy, and I’m happy with the end result. I think it looks good, and can image my students feeling quite proud of their work when presented so stylishly. It will motivate many to take that extra step, be it one final edit or spell-check, having a classmate take a quick look over it and give feedback, or adding a nice concluding paragraph before submitting a text. At least that’s the hope… let’s see how it works in practice! If anyone has experience using e-portfolios with EFL students, I’d love to hear about it. We create podcasts and infographics, digital posters and presentations as well as writing various types of texts. The e-portfolio can link these things together and serve as a record of the hard work and effort the students put into their work.