Climbing above the teaching plateau

Everything is challenging and there are just so many things to keep on top of. With experience, however, teaching gets easier as we find ways of doing things that work for us and our students.

But what if we then get a bit too comfortable? How can we continue to challenge ourselves and grow as teachers? Here are ten questions that could help you climb above that teaching plateau.

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Rachael Roberts - Motivation

I recently started to brush up my German. I last studied German many years ago at school and I can’t say that it was a great success. In fact, I failed the exam and had to retake it. Hardly surprising, as I seem to remember spending a good portion of the exam time writing out David Bowie lyrics!

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Motivating your students to go beyond the intermediate plateau

Students at intermediate, or upper intermediate level start to feel that they aren’t making real progress anymore. They just don’t feel as if they’re getting significantly better, despite putting in plenty of hard work.

Feeling this way can be pretty de-motivating and it’s one of the key reasons why learners often give up at this stage.

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Rachael Roberts: 21st century skills

However, most people would agree that 21st Century skills are those skills which are or will be needed to succeed at work and in life over the coming century.

Traditionally, career progress has been seen as quite a linear thing. One job or role leads to another further up the ladder. However, the workplace is changing. Organisational structures are becoming much flatter. Roles are becoming much less defined, and teams are often dispersed across different countries. I have experienced all of this first hand, working with different publishers through rounds of restructuring.

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Rachael Roberts: Feedback - the most important part of any exercise?

In fact, the moments when you give or elicit feedback on what the students have done may sometimes be more valuable learning opportunities then the exercises themselves. It’s often in feedback that students have those ‘aha’, lightbulb moments when they finally ‘get’ something.

Feedback is an opportunity not just to give students the answers, but to check they understand why an answer is correct or not, or to clear up a long-held confusion, or to pick up on areas that need clarifying in a subsequent lesson.

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Rachael Roberts - A favourite speaking activity

First, think of a set of 10-12 questions that you don’t mind answering about yourself and your life and write the answers on the board (not the questions). The questions will depend on the level and how well the students already know you.

For example, some lower level questions might be:

  • Where do you live?
  • How many children do you have?
  • What countries have you visited?
  • What is your favourite food?
  • What are your hobbies?

Some higher level questions:

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Jumping through hoops?

My experience of being observed was almost entirely positive. The feedback I’d received on CELTA, DELTA and on in-house observations, or observations for British Council accreditation had always been helpful and encouraging, as, I hoped, had been the observations I’d carried out both as a manager and as a teacher trainer.

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Rachael Roberts - Realia

According to Wikipedia, ‘in education, realia (pronunciation ree-ah-lee-ah) are objects from real life used in classroom instruction by educators to improve students' understanding of other cultures and real life situations’. Some people would include authentic texts in this definition, but, for me, realia has to be a physical, tangible object.

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Rachael Roberts - Learning vocabulary through reading

I have no idea where that little gem came from, but I’m pretty sure someone made it up! Experience tells me that we grasp some items of vocabulary pretty quickly, while others slip through our fingers. There are probably various reasons for this: how much we ‘need’ the word, whether it is similar to a word in our own language or ‘makes sense’ to us in some way, how memorable the context was in which we learnt it and so on.

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Rachael Roberts - Planning for pronunciation

‘Mayday, mayday..we are sinking!’ The German pauses, and then asks, ‘What are you sinking about?’

The joke plays on the difficulty some German speakers have distinguishing between the /s/ sound and the /θ/ sound as he mistakes /sɪŋk/ for /θɪŋk/.

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