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
- Take lots of time to plan lessons. Don’t wait until the last minute, and use your weekend time wisely.
- 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.
- Always demonstrate how to do activities for students, and check that they understand.
- Make lessons relevant to students, take time to know the students
- Use the MPF Cycle (This makes sense when you are in the CELTA)
- A picture really is worth 1000 words – use photos, charts or diagrams to replace long verbal explanations.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Speaking too fast, not pausing to give students time to think.
- Asking difficult, open ended questions without any closed (Yes/No or multiple choice) questions.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pronunciation – The CELTA gives a lot of good tips about how to teach pronunciation, beyond the simple “repeat after me” style drilling.
- 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.