Materials and content

New routes to fluency
This talk explores how the model of phrasebooks and the metaphor of London taxi drivers doing “The Knowledge” can be used to explain why we should be using more dialogues and chunks to develop students fluency – instead of falling back on the traditional grammar + vocabulary approach to language. It also involves a short workshop element.

Exams, grammar and lexis: debunking the myths
This talk suggests that our idea of what exams – and particularly the Cambridge suite of exams – test is often at variance with what is actually tested. By looking at examples of such common tests of proficiency as FCE and IELTS, we find that the verb phrases that dominate most EFL courses have only a small part to play. The importance of lexis and lexico-grammar will then be explored and it will be proposed that in robust proficiency exams, exam skills should have little value. Finally, we will look at some ways our teaching might focus better on exam needs.

Grammar is dead, long live grammar!
This talk explains how and why certain kinds of grammar – and in particular the verb phrase and a focus on tense – have consistently remained king despite changes in methodology and corpora-driven findings into the nature of language. There will be a discussion of the problems that result from the status quo and we’ll then move on to explore how recent corpora-based findings about the nature of language necessitate a major change in the kind of language we spend classroom time looking at. Finally, we’ll discuss the practical classroom implications of this view.

Teaching spoken language means more grammar, not less
In this talk, we explore some fundamental problems with the way grammar is all-too often thought about and presented to students – and we report on what can happen to students as a result. We shall then look at ways in which a more serious consideration of how language is actually used when we speak can lead to a much more sensible, practical attitude to grammar in the classroom.

Choosing vocabulary to teach
This workshop shows how many of us have a limited grasp of the frequency of vocabulary because of what’s known as ‘an availability bias’. It also shows how lexical sets can often quickly lead to the teaching of language that is infrequent and not very enabling for the kinds of communication and reading students need to do. We suggest ways to ensure students get more exposure to high frequency language, and look at how teachers can better consider the examples they give, can adapt or create different lexical sets and can make full use of dictionaries, texts and word lists.

Teaching the know-alls: what do advanced students really need?
Advanced students can have a ‘been there, done that’ attitude, which many coursebooks seem to counteract with heavy literary texts, ‘difficult’ vocabulary and tasks akin to applied linguistics. In this talk, we question if this is what advanced-level students really need either academically or socially, and outline how you could take a different tack. The talk aims to show that you don’t have to resort to either the academic or overly idiomatic to provide something new for advanced students to learn.

Making life easier for low-level students
This talk begins with a personal discussion of second language learning experiences and compares this with how first languages are learned. While acknowledging the limits of L1 learning as a model for L2 learning, it emphasizes how the limits placed on presenting grammar in EFL limit the kinds of conversations students are allowed to have. By focusing on short conversations and exchanges, and making use of students’ own ideas, we can teach low-level learners more varied and real conversation and enable students to deal better with grammar at a later stage of learning.

What are texts in the classroom for?
The idea of teaching receptive skills has become widely accepted, yet neither research nor classroom experience nor students’ own needs offer much in support of the concept of skills training. This talk argues we need to rethink the content of texts as materials for the classroom and to reconnect them more explicitly to language teaching.

Taboo or not Taboo: that’s in the question.
This workshop explains how publishers and to some extent teachers avoid taboo topics, but also considers the problematic idea of basing whole lessons around “taboo’ subjects and forcing students into certain positions. The talk argues how we might write material and ask questions about language in textbooks which will leave space for discussions to emerge, if students are interested.

Stereotypes and racism in ELT
This talk looks at how different nationalities are often represented in EFL material and talked about by ELT practitioners. We suggest that stereotypes are often reinforced and that – at worst – statements about culture and learners can often be racist. We then outline some ways for teachers to guard against this, and ways of raising awareness of such issues on teacher training courses. Finally, we explore how we can all teach language to challenge stereotypes and combat generalizations.

Bridging the culture gap
Culture in the classroom causes more confusion and conflict that almost anything else. What should we be teaching students about culture? And whose culture should we be focusing on? What does intercultural competence mean? And how do we teach it? I aim to answer all these questions and more!

Does the CEFR require different teaching and materials?
This talk presents concerns many teachers have about the Common European Framework, and explains the basic idea behind the framework. It shows how it is not dogmatic about approaches to teaching and content, but does raise many questions that can challenge existing coursebook / grammar dominated approaches to ELT.