CELTA Top 10

This is my own, individual list of observations about my own CELTA performance and others in my CELTA group, I expect every trainee would make a slightly different list, but these are the ones that were important for me. A ‘Top 10’ list is just a way for me to focus on the most important lessons I learned.

10 tips for CELTA Success, 10 common problems, and 10 new skills I learned.

Top 10 tips for CELTA success

  1. Take lots of time to plan lessons. Don’t wait until the last minute, and use your weekend time wisely.
  2. Spoken before written – Students can’t focus on reading/writing and a teacher speaking at the same time, always speak first, then give time for reading/writing AFTER.
  3. Always demonstrate how to do activities for students, and check that they understand.
  4. Make lessons relevant to students, take time to know the students
  5. Use the MPF Cycle (This makes sense when you are in the CELTA)
  6. A picture really is worth 1000 words – use photos, charts or diagrams to replace long verbal explanations.
  7. Use a single context in a lesson – Instead of teaching the isolated meaning of each vocabulary word, always try to connect words / grammar concepts into a single context or storyline.
  8. Use different learning styles – don’t only focus on spoken language, reading, writing, listening. Use lots of different activities, and try to connect them together.
  9. Experiment with new ideas – The CELTA is the perfect time to try new methods of teaching. Try to use ideas from the input sessions – the CELTA instructors tend to grade easier when trainees are trying to be creative.

Top 10 CELTA Problems

  1. Speaking too fast, not pausing to give students time to think.
  2. Asking difficult, open ended questions without any closed (Yes/No or multiple choice) questions.
  3. Un-graded language – Many new teachers either forget to simplify their language down to the students’ level, or they oversimplify their language in a way that can  cause problems.
  4. Teacher Talking Time (TTT) – In the CELTA ‘TTT’ is a bad word. Teachers should only talk when necessary, it’s usually more important to get students talking.
  5. Getting stuck in a rut – Use a variety of activities, don’t always put students in the same pairs/groups to do work. If other trainees teach using one style, make your stand out.
  6. Wasted time – After a lesson, always think about ways time could have been saved. For example, instead of writing correct answers to questions on the board, use answer-sheets, projector slides, or get students to peer-grade handouts.
  7. Too many words – Don’t introduce too many vocabulary words in one lesson. In general it’s a bad idea to cover more than 10 words, unless doing a review activity.
  8. Bad monitoring – When students are working in groups, don’t waste the time by resting or get too involved with one group. Circle the room, listen to students strengths and weaknesses. This can be a good time to take notes on students.
  9. Echoing – A strange habit of many ESL teachers, myself included.  For example a student says “I had a good weekend,” and the teacher says “Oh, you had a good weekend! Good!” This can make students think they said something wrong.
  10. Resistant to change – This is a big problem for experienced teachers. The CELTA methods of teaching can be different from many language schools, especially test-prep schools where many Asian ESL teachers work. Be open to new ideas.

TOP 10 CELTA skills learned

  1. Speaking before writing – This is simple, but was REALLY helpful for me. When starting a classroom activity, DO NOT let students read or write books, handouts or notes while the teacher is talking. If students are reading or writing, they will miss a lot of what the teacher says – plan blocks of time for reading / writing notes that are separate from teacher talking time.
  2. M-P-F Cycle – Short for “Meaning” – “Pronunciation” – “Form”. The idea is that when introducing new words or grammar points, teachers should, generally, first teach the meaning of the word/concept, then teach pronunciation, and only lastly give a written record. This is because students focus better on spoken language when it is covered separately from the written form. There are exceptions, but I found this pattern to be very helpful in my teaching practice.
  3. ICQs – Instruction Checking Questions. It’s easy to forget that even advanced Engslish learners may have trouble understanding a teacher’s instructions the CELTA teaching a method of making good spoken and written classroom instructions, and using simple questions to check student understanding.
  4. CCQs – Concept Checking Questions – This is a method of analyzing the meaning of any new word  or language concept, breaking it down into the simplest possible ideas, and checking that students understand all parts of the new word or concept.
  5. Use gestures for instructions – Instead of telling students what to do, try to use simple body language: point or wave to a student instead of calling their name; when asking students to repeat something, use your hands instead of saying “repeat after me” or similar commands. Gestures don’t break the flow of class and let students focus on the content of the lesson.
  6. Lesson planning – CELTA teaches a very formal method of writing lessons, which includes step by step planning combined with anticipating problems students may have. Most teachers don’t plan in this much detail, but it’s good to practice during the course to understand all parts of the lesson.
  7. Gist, Skimming, Scanning, Detail – This is a very detailed concept, but basically it’s a method of forming questions or activities for reading / listening exercises – start with only the most general idea of a passage, and then work down toward increasing detail – don’t make students read / listen for small details until you are SURE they understand the general meaning of a passage.
  8. Productive error correction – The CELTA teaches a whole bunch of different ways to correct student mistakes and errors – too many to cover here. In general, don’t feed students answers unless absolutely necessary – try to let them find correct answers on their own, or in groups.
  9. Pronunciation – The CELTA gives a lot of good tips about how to teach pronunciation, beyond the simple “repeat after me” style drilling.
  10. Making original teaching materials – The CELTA is the perfect time to experiment with making your own teaching materials. Even if they are not perfect, you can get really good feedback from instructors and peers – you don’t get this type of opportunity in most normal teaching jobs.
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20 Responses to CELTA Top 10

  1. Natasha says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I don’t think I’ll get the certificate. My tutor said that I have too much TTT and there are not enough student centred activities during teaching practice sessions. I am not a creative person and cannot think ‘outside the box’.

    • workislove says:

      Are you taking the CELTA now? How far along are you? Even if you can’t change your approach and don’t get the certificate it’s okay, the CELTA is training for a certain type of teaching.

      We had one person in my group fail – before teaching English he studied physical science, and I think he tried to apply the same rigid style of a math class to teaching a language. Most of his comprehension lessons bombed, but he actually taught two pretty good lessons on grammar that matched his style. I think there’s a place for many styles of teaching, you just have to find a good match between you and the type of students you teach.

      • Natasha says:

        Just survived another Teaching Practice. The Easter holidays has started and let me have some breathing space. I am halfway through my course now but I cannot see light at the end of the tunnel.

        • Julia says:

          Thank you so much for the info shared!!! I’ m digging for different CELTA opinions, thinking over whether to undergo it at all, you ‘ve helped me a lot!!!

        • Duncan says:

          Curious to know if you, Natasha, did indeed complete your one-month CELTA course (your comment was posted 3 years ago) after all…….while RIGHT NOW, October 2015, I myself am halfway through my CELTA course, feeling the strain of the workload…..and hoping that, even though you were despondent, you soldiered on and got your certificate….:=)

  2. Emmanuel Theodoridis says:

    Hi there! Your site looks so nice. It is really informational. I would like to know if there’ s any chance I can get the CELTA certificate and start teaching all over the world. Im a very communicative and creative person. Thanks in advance

    • workislove says:

      You may be able to get a CELTA, they welcome people from all backgrounds and it can really help you learn to teach and get jobs teaching overseas. I’ve written a lot about my experience – look under my tagged CELTA entries for more information, or look at the the CELTA website for more information.

      I’ll be happy to answer any more specific questions you may have in the future :^).

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  4. Josh says:

    Excellent tips, whats your best advice for grammar lessons? Teaching the grammar and also following up on another trainees grammar lesson.

    • workislove says:

      I’ll preface this by saying that my grammar focused lesson was one of my poorer lessons – and most other trainees struggled through it as well. Though hopefully I learned something in my failure.

      I wrote about this a bit in my post on -ed / -ing adjectives.

      I think the main thing is to think through all the potential pitfalls the students may have beforehand – even talking with other trainees to get ideas, especially trainees whose native language is not English – they may remember the types of trouble they had with learning the grammar concept.

      You should also focus on practical examples of how a word is used, rather than just giving a set of rules. Students do need the rules for their notes and self study, but for practicing they really need some good examples of when and how to use a given rule / phrase.

      Also, never rely on if something “sounds right” or “sounds wrong” – that’s the way that native speakers correct their own grammar all the time, and I’ve seen many teachers assume that the ESL students can somehow hear the difference between the “right” and “wrong” grammar of a sentence – that’s a learned skill that won’t develop until they are nearly fluent.

      Finally, try to determine early on if the students are suffering from a lack of knowledge or a lack of practice – this is easier to do if following another teacher. Sometimes students make grammar mistakes because they just don’t know the rules – especially true in beginners classes. In this case, focus on introducing the rules and doing some type of simple drills to get the concept in their head. They won’t perfect the idea, just make sure they can walk away able to recite the basic rules.

      However, with advanced beginners and intermediate students, I often find they know the grammar rules already, they just don’t get enough practice for it to come naturally. For example, many asian languages don’t use anything like English articles (a, an, the), only rarely use pronouns, and sometimes don’t bother to recognize singular vs plural nouns. These languages assume that these facts are obvious from the context of a conversation and either don’t have special words to specify the ideas, or the words they do have are rarely used in conversation.

      Consequently, if you ASK the students about the rules for articles / pronouns / plurals directly, most of them will know them from previous English lessons, and can recite them back like parrots. But when talking they will constantly make the same mistakes. So, if they already know the basic rules, I don’t bore them by re-hashing grammar 101.

      I would rather focus on giving them real-world contexts to use the grammar in. Maybe have them make up a conversation in groups, then have each group critique the conversations of the others – correcting incorrect grammar. This gives them practice and starts to build that internal sense of “right” and “wrong” grammar.

      I might also try to present the rules in a different way. See the post I linked to where I correct my own mistake. Instead of trying to give a long verbal explanation of -ed and -ing adjectives, I thought of making a simple chart that could have served as a simple reference throughout the lesson.

  5. Andy says:

    Not enjoying this CELTA course at the moment. I’m doing it over three months, so big respect to you for doing it over one. I’ve just received my first ‘Below Standard’ on my TP 4 and it really knocks your confidence. The teacher I’ve got at the moment is a right b**ch! She’s really unhelpful, and doesn’t offer her college email to her students, what a joke! (luckily I’ve only got her for one more TP) I really I don’t understand the marking system as well, there’s a guy in my group who can’t even spell properly, I’m really bemused by it all. I submitted two assignments the other day and I just know I’ll get one of them back.

    • workislove says:

      Oh man, sorry that’s been your experience. At least the 3 month version is a bit less stressful, but I’m sure it’s even harder to go through when you can’t work with the instructors well. Where is this CELTA being held?

      In my CELTA course I did respect both the teachers, but one of them was A LOT more personable and helpful than the other one. And I know how a below standard knocks your confidence – I failed my 5th TP and it had me in a bit of a panic. As for assignments, I got 2-3 of my assignments back, as did most of the trainees – don’t let it get you too down.

      Do you mean you don’t understand the TP marking system? I could try to help decipher – if I am able. But in any case, I found my most important criticism came from myself and the other trainees – I knew I had failed my lesson before anyone told me – it sucked, and I took a weekend day afterwards to just forget about the whole CELTA program.

      Just don’t let it get you too far down – the middle is definitely the hardest part, but also really important in terms of evaluation. Overall I think they look for improvement more than perfect skills – so if you can understand what they didn’t like and change it next lesson, then that reflects well on you no matter how poorly they marked the last TP.

      Keep up that 3 month marathon, man! If you remember, let me know how it turns out in the end.

  6. Bhooma TS says:

    I loved your website ]. I am doing my CELTA right now. Survived Week 1. Dreading Week 2. I have completed two TPs and got ‘Upto Standard’ on both. It is really difficult to remember all the rules while doing the lesson – with the tutors staring at you with deadpan faces!! The question on my mind is will I SURVIVE the course? And if I do……Will I get a Pass B?

    • workislove says:

      If you survived week 1, you’ll make it through the rest of the way, though you may wish you didn’t by week 3 ;P. You don’t have to worry about remembering every little thing – I passed handily and still had certain problems by the end. The key thing they are looking for is are you able to understand their critiques and improve a little each week? And can you identify YOUR OWN flaws and come up with solutions. Even if you aren’t perfect by the end, those two skills show that you have the potential to grow as a teacher after the course.

      The big problem for the lowest performers in my group was that they never improved their presentation. They had the exact same problems in week 4 as week 1. One of them at least recognized what his problems were, he just had a hard time fix them – the other guy just refused to recognize any weakness on his part.

      Now, back to work slave! :P. Where are you doing yours?

  7. Eddie says:

    I’m just starting the CELTA and have to admit it’s pretty daunting, but hopefully some of the outstanding tips and info you’ve kindly provided will be of help. So thanks for sharing and I’ve no doubt that this will be invaluable in the weeks to come.

    Eddie (Ireland)

  8. Chiara says:

    Hi 🙂
    First of all, thank you so much for sharing your experience here, it is very helpful as much as interesting, from my point of view.

    I am a CELTA trainee too, I am about to do my TP 4, in 1 day and a half.
    I had a great start – I really want to become a teacher. Never had experience before but I guess there is something inside that “carries me”. I love the students and I am very good in establishing relationships with them.

    I really enjoyed my first TP. I wasn’t nervous, I just picked my Ls inputs and did my best, I had a great FB and lot of fun. Same for the second, wasn’t the best but was at the required standard and pretty smooth.

    Troubles started with my last one. When trying to improve VA, use of technology (as was one of my weaknesses) and absorb/put in practice the inputs from the beginning of the course, I totally forgot my students and lost sense of “what is a lesson”. I tried to stick in an unreal lesson plan, like a robot, with useless aids which led me to a very boring lesson that I stopped few minutes before the time. Was a hard lesson indeed (listening with language analysis) but after 45′ I was just about to get into the details of my TL. I was happy to have learnt and really, even in my self evaluation form, I wrote “I tried. It happens and I will do it better. If I were already a teacher, I wouldn’t have signed for a CELTA course.” I truly thin that.

    Now I’m back with another lesson. My tutor was amazing in helping me with a skeletron of the lesson plan. I have been trying to think about a way to engage my students with the topic for the last 6 hours. I feel demotivated and I know I wanna be a teacher, but really, it looks like I want to give up.

    Do you have any suggestions for me? I really feel lost but I don’t want to lose this opportunity.

    Thank you,

    • workislove says:

      Chiara, so sorry I didn’t review your comment until just now, I’ve been very busy lately. I hope you were able to complete the rest of the CELTA course, wish I could have helped you when you were in the middle of it 🙁

  9. Ness says:

    Hi there!
    Thanks for sharing your experience =) I loved reading about it.
    I am taking the 6 months course and will be done by Christmas.
    I failed one lesson plan, not the written plan, but the delivery.
    What I think is most stressing for me is the guessing game, the instructor doesn’t give clear guidelines and we are supposed to guess what they expect from us… Even on my TP I don’t get very clear feedback. Another thing that I am annoyed at is no positive feedback, one of the tutors focuses on the dark side, ALWAYS! But just with me and another celtee, all the rest of the group gets praised. Even when their lesson isn’t all that.
    I am struggling with the assignments, and have to plan my TP9 1h.
    I wanted to give up a few times, specially after I failed my TP, but I am not a quitter. I got a better grade the next TP.
    One thing that I never thought possible was that a professional teacher/tutor/trainer/professor to mock students/trainees during feedback. But I learned that it does happen, and it’s not pretty.
    Thank you for the helpful information.

  10. Dre says:

    Your blog is so informative! I am about to start taking the Celta course in Jakarta. My grammar is really poor and I am really worried about keeping up with the rest of the students! Thank God we can resubmit if we have to… what were the resubmittings like for you?
    At some point did you fear you would fail? I am really really terrified of that. I have never taught before so I am a blank slate… I know I need to adapt their exact style of teaching. Was there anyone in your celta course that were not up to par on grammar and still passed?

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