Workshop design - What can a workshop be about?

In her second article in this series, Tessa Woodward looks at possible ideas for workshop themes and materials.

The idea and topic for a workshop can arise naturally from many different sources. Participants can be asked for suggestions in a face to face brainstorming meeting, via an open letter, or by using a questionnaire designed to find out what topics participants would like to engage with and how.

In order to be able to offer and respond to a wide variety of different topics in a workshop or workshop series, we teacher educators need to open our own eyes to the many content options available. This is especially true if the workshops we are used ourselves to have been predictable and rather mundane. Below are some possible focus points for workshops. Some are connected to the sharing of knowledge or information, some to the improvement of the target language or the craft or skill of teaching, others raise awareness and build a professional identity. I have thus tried to give examples of workshop topics that include working with knowledge, attitudes, skills and awareness. 

Possible topics

Participants in a workshop can be invited to focus on:

  • the language students in the institution, their age range, cultural background and mother tongue and how this might relate to their being in school and learning English
  • working with heterogeneous classes
  • a language area, its form, meaning and use and different ways to teach and learn it
  • a language skill (reading, writing, listening, speaking, being vague, turn-taking) and how to work with it at different language levels.
  • a teaching resource, how to analyse it, adapt it, supplement it and use it in class
  • a micro skill (such as the teacher’s use of wait time, the use of concept questions, the clear organisation of display surfaces) and how to improve at it.
  • analysing and adapting a language learning activity
  • encouraging students to make a cartoon, a blog or a dialogue journal 
  • recording, analysing and reflecting on a critical incident in teaching,  
  • telling and listening to stories about teaching and learning experiences
  • what everyone in the room is learning at the moment (other than teaching) 
  • what to do before, during, and after a peer observation classroom visit
  • recognising what we do in class and why we do what we do
  • meeting a completely different teaching method/style/approach and noticing what this tells us about our own teaching method.
  • meeting a framework from a discipline other than language teaching and seeing what ideas for the classroom it sparks.
  • reading, using or writing an article from a teachers’ magazine
  • looking closely at school inspection reports or student feedback questionnaires to see what can be learned from them and what changes might be advisable as a result
  • working with a concept (e.g. creativity, autonomy, spontaneity, the five senses, art, burnout) define it, decide if it is a good or a bad thing, and how we can get more or less of it into our work.

The topic that you choose for a workshop may be very different from the ones above. In fact, as a teacher educator, you might like to go through the workshop topics above, noting which ones you have worked with, which ones you haven’t, and which ones you wouldn’t touch with a bargepole! It may be interesting to note too whether, if you run workshops regularly, you tend to work most on knowledge, attitudes, skills or awareness.

If you don’t know much about the topic that is chosen for the workshop, you will need to do some research in articles and books or search for information on the internet. Alternatively enlist the help of colleagues/teachers who know more about the topic than you do. Showing, as a teacher educator, that you are still learning is important to those around you.


The materials for your workshop will depend on the topic chosen and how you intend to work on it. They can come from many different sources. You may already have some materials that you can adapt. Podcasts, videos, articles, sections from teacher resource books can all be used too, supplemented and adapted.  But many materials can come from the participants themselves. Here are some examples. 

Participants can be asked to read something and tick what they agree with in a text, put a cross by what they disagree with, a question mark for things they are not sure of, and an exclamation mark by any surprises. They can be asked to watch a podcast or video,  prepare questions or comments, come up with a puzzle, a case study, an anecdote or a story, take photos of their display surfaces, gather samples of student writing, come ready to demonstrate a classroom activity, or to show an object that they either could not do without in their work or that represents something they have left behind in their current work style. Participants can be asked to visualise their perfect classroom and describe it to others. All these are resources that you can call on before and during a workshop. They are local, relevant and encourage interaction between participants. They are also inexpensive.

In order to be able to rely on participant materials however, your instructions and reminders to participants will need to be clear and encouraging. You will also need to provide back-up materials yourself in case participants who said they would contribute cannot attend or have not prepared adequately. 

About the author

Tessa Woodward is an ELT consultant, teacher, and teacher trainer. She has trained teachers in Japan, Switzerland, the UK, USA, and in many European countries. She is the founder editor of The Teacher Trainer journal (Pilgrims), Past President and International Ambassador of IATEFL and founded the IATEFL Special Interest Group for Teacher Trainers (now the SIG T Ed/TT). She is the author of many books and articles for language teachers and teacher trainers. Tessa is also the founder of The Fair List

Read the other articles in this series

Workshop design - A workshop? Why a workshop?

Workshop design - How can I put it all together?

Workshop design - Have I forgotten anything?

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