CELTA Tips

I did my CELTA with the Campbell Institute in Wellington, New Zealand in 2013 and was awarded Pass A, the highest grade which was was awarded to only 5% of CELTA trainees that year.  Despite the fact that the course was every bit as intense as I thought it would img_4400be, it was an extremely positive experience.Our teaching practice groups (elementary and intermediate levels) have been patient with us and enthusiastic about learning. We had the most amazing tutors on this course: Mo Killip, Jo Leach and Annie Marenghi – collectively and individually -were everything a teacher trainer should be: patient, encouraging, extremely knowledgeable, inspiring and supportive. When I enrolled into the course, I had been teaching for about 5 years and I still learned loads and loads of things as well as made some great friends among my fellow trainees that I keep in touch with to this day.

Reflecting on my experience, I came up with some tips on doing the CELTA – and some lessons I learned from my own experience on the course. I suggest reading these tips prior to the course and then going over them again once you start on the course and learn about the things I mention here.

Tip #1. Make CELTA your one and only priority

If you are doing a full-time face-to-face CELTA course, forget about working and possibly socializing. You won’t be much fun to socialize with anyway because nobody will want to hear about how cool Cuisenaire rods turned out to be or how you learned to write awesome concept-checking questions for grammar and vocabulary which by then you will be referring to as CCQs, further confusing your friends and family.

When I did my CELTA, I didn’t have a full-time job because I was staying in New Zealand temporarily. My husband Michael and I came to Wellington so that he could finish his MA in TESOL in Victoria University (at that time I hadn’t done enough reading and research to get excited over the fact that Avril Coxhead of the Academic World List fame was one of his professors there), and for me to do my CELTA. Before I started the course, I was doing freelance translation and Skype lessons, which I stopped completely once the course started. I was in school Monday-Friday from 8 to 5, attending input sessions, doing teaching practice and observing my peers and experienced teachers. In the evenings I prepared for my teaching practice. Lesson plans were just as time consuming as the written assignments. However, you do need to find the time to relax and unwind. I loved going out with my fellow ‘celties’ and hiking (or tramping, as they call it in New Zealand) around Wellington.

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Hiking around Red Rocks in search of a seal colony

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Hiking around Red Rocks in search of a seal colony

Tip #2. Do your background reading before the course

Once you are accepted on a CELTA course, you`ll be provided with suggested reading. But why read before the course? Because once the course starts, you won’t have much time to read – trust me on this! In addition, you will find that some of the things you will read in the books will be repeated on the course and that’s a good thing! You’ve heard that repetition is the mother of learning, right? My absolute favorite methodology book for CELTA was Scrivener, J. (2011). Learning Teaching: The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching. MacMillan.

If you are a native speaker, I especially recommend reading up on grammar. As a non-native speaker, I have had the advantage of learning English myself, so I was familiar with the metalanguage when I started teaching. The word metalanguage sounds scary, but all it means is the words used to describe a language. For example, terms like present simple tense, bilabial consonant, passive voice are examples of metalanguage. You will find that a lot of adult (and often younger) learners are very familiar and comfortable with using metalanguage and will casually throw around phrases like ‘Do is an auxiliary verb for present simple tense in affirmative sentences’. If this sentence makes no sense to you, get a grammar book right now!!! I suggest starting with something meant for language learners – this way you will see what sort of language is used to explain language items to learners of different levels. Also, when you do your teaching practice, it is much easier to figure out how to teach your learners a certain grammar point if you first don’t have to spend ages figuring out what present perfect continuous is and how it is different from present perfect simple or present continuous.

There are lots of grammar reference books out there – in addition to grammar sections that are included in textbooks, but here are some of my favorites:

Murphy, R. (2004). English Grammar in Use: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Students of English: With Answers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oxford Living Grammar series

Further reading:

Uncovering Grammar – an article by Scott Thornbury http://www.onestopenglish.com/methodology/methodology/methodology-articles/pdf-content/uncovering-grammar/153825.article

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English language teachers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (1999). How to teach grammar. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Tip #3. Follow the CELTA format!

While doing the course, you will notice that some requirements of how you plan and teach lessons are somewhat exaggerated, e.g. all your instructions have to be followed by ICQs (instruction-checking questions) or you have to explicitly state which learning style an activity will suit (learn how to spell kinesthetic while you are at it!). You might get frustrated thinking how out in the real world, you will never have time to write a 5-page lesson plan detailing every word you say and with every second of the lesson planned out but remember that there is a reason why it is necessary to have such rigid requirements. The more you think about these things now, the more likely it is that they will ‘stick’ and become automatic for you. Think about how we teach learners to produce the th sounds: we get them to stick their tongues way out, we encourage them to get silly, to watch themselves in the mirror, we wag our own tongues around before clamping them between our teeth and almost spitting on everyone in the process. Will they do the tongue show every time they have to say ‘the’ or ‘thank you’? Definitely (and hopefully) not, but this whole exaggerated process will help make the process of producing these sounds more salient in the learners’ minds.

This is probably the most important point and will be easy for you to do if you have never taught before. If you have some teaching experience, you are probably used to doing things in class a certain way but keep an open mind – even the most experienced teachers can always learn something new! This is why you are thinking of doing CELTA in the first place, right?

Tip # 4. Plan your lessons in detail – not only what you will do, but how you will get the learners to do it.

Err would you mind just looking at this page for me if that’s ok just open the book it’s page 9 I think that’s right page 9 so go on open them” – said to a group of elementary learners who stared in horror and confusion at the person in front of them. While you don’t want to resort to pidgin English (You book open, OK?), remember to grade your language (i.e. make it appropriate for the level of learners without compromising its grammar) and think about what you will say to the learners in your teaching practice. I would suggest actually writing out your instructions and instruction-checking questions and practicing on your peers – do they understand what they need to do or do you have to keep helping them and explaining what to do as they are doing the task? In fact, run through your whole lesson before you teach it to help you get an idea of how long things will take but also to see if you have missed anything – i.e. you plan to give your learners a vocabulary exercise – but did you plan a way to check the answers?

Here is one of my lesson plans. I am posting it just for you to get an idea of what sort of lesson plan you are expected to produce. It is by no means perfect or exemplary and you should definitely NOT copy any part of it – Cambridge is extremely strict about plagiarism.

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Tip # 5. Keep your cool during observed teaching

During the course, you will teach several lessons during the teaching practice (TP). Your lesson will be observed and assessed by your tutors and your peers. You might think that it is easier than it sounds. As I mentioned before, I had a significant teaching experience before embarking on CELTA and I have always loved being in the classroom. There’s something magical about standing in front of your class. However, being observed can make even the most confident teachers nervous. Your mentors will have impenetrable poker faces. Your peers might smile or nod encouragingly but it’s hard not to get distracted by wondering what they are writing in their notes. In short, try not to look at them at all.

It is especially tempting to look at the observers to gauge their reaction when something goes wrong. The stickiest moment for me was when I told students in the intermediate group that they would roll a die (singular for dice, not usually used in New Zealand) and was met with blank looks from everyone and a horrified reaction from a Russian student called Liuba who heard the word ‘die’ and got scared. But since I had the DIE in my hand, I was able to clarify what I said fairly quickly and once the students were on task, and I went and quietly reassured Liuba that no actually dying would be involved in the activity.

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I hope this post helps you succeed in your own CELTA course! Good luck and you CAN DO IT!

And if you have already done CELTA – what are some things that helped you? Leave a comment below!

Here are some photos from my course:

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