A web site for the developing language teacher

October 2000 - issue 9/00


Welcome to the Newsletter. If it has been the time of year for holidays where you are, I hope you are rested & ready for the academic year ahead.

This month's theme about study skills links into the start of courses in this part of the world. Although it is an on-going process study skills tend to get a high priority at the beginning of a course.

I was reading through the Guardian Weekly the other day & came across the article below & I was so bowled over by the sheer size of Nanayakkara's classes that I had to publish it again here for you all to see. If you ever think you've got a tough job just think of Nanayakkara!

We're starting a new section devoted to helping you with any problem areas you have with your teaching. Send in your questions & we'll answer them in the newsletter.

Contributions to any of the sections are very welcome - e-mail them to

Happy teaching!







Breaking The Rules With A Class Of  600

By Christopher Tribble - from the Guardian Weekly 21-27 Sept 2000

Any Thursday morning, if you happen to be in Sri Lanka, go to Kegalle, a small town halfway between Colombo and Kandy, the centre of the country's tea industry. As you walk past pepper vines and coconut trees you will hear Susil Nanayakkara's English class. You can't help but hear the class because there are 600 stu-dents in it. On the morning I visited they were all saying: "I'll come if I have time;" in response to Nanayakkara's question: "Can you come to see me this evening?"

Crammed into the cement block and corrugated iron auditorium the young men and women in the class have worked through five of the levels in Nanayakkara's 10-level course. They are a small part of Nanayakkara's "tutory" network. Over the past 20 years he has built up a committed following of satisfied customers, and at present he teaches around 5,000 students a week.

For 10 months of the year, seven days a week, Nanayakkara tours improvised teaching cen-tres providing English lessons for a student body that continues to grow. The students pay about $2 a month for their classes, and the majority are studying to improve their job prospects in a cruelly competitive job market.

Nanayakkara only had a brief period of part time training as a teacher before starting work in a secondary school. He moved into the private sector in 1976 and since then he has written a series of 10 courses books that take stu-dents from zero to Sri Lankan "0 Level" standard and it is a programme which seems to work in the context. Nanayakkara accounts for his success by saying that he "focuses on vocabulary, grammar and sentence patterns, and uses a simple repetition and drill methodology that meets student expectations". He gets round the problem of super-large classes by "putting students into groups of 20 for parts of the lesson and ask-ing better students to lead dialogue practice". But this does not explain the success of his operation.

Watching him teach, and talk-ing to his students afterwards, it became clear that his success has little to do with a theory of grammar or a patent methodology. His secret lies in his personal com-mitment and enthusiasm that can hold his students' attention and motivate them to come back for more, week after week. (If you are involved in training teachers, this would make a good springboard into discussions on teaching approaches.)

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2. THEME - Study skills

A few ideas:

- Vocabulary notebooks - encourage clear & comprehensive notes: the word with the stress marked, the part of speech, a definition, a sentence with the word in it, any collocations.

- General notebooks for lesson records. Get your stds to systematically make records of work covered.

- Note-taking - introduce mind maps as an alternative way of taking notes & brainstorming lexical areas. A programme that helps you to draw mind maps on your computer. A great addition to your worksheets & general note-taking records.

- Brainstorming - giving ways & encourage pre-lesson & pre-topic storming.

- Reviewing work covered & the role of memory - show them how little is remembered with the absence of systematic reviews.

- The importance of reading & how to go about it - the sub-skills (e.g. skimming, scanning, SQ3R for going about reading a lengthy text - see the Virginia Tech site below for an explanation.) Essential for vocabulary expansion & language development in general.

- Setting goals & monitoring progress - give regular tutorials to assess & re-set short-term goals.

- Introoduce study aids & how to use them - grammar books, dictionaries & the coursebook. To help your stds find their way around the coursebook - see the Weekly Tip

- Introduce language terminology to help learners understand the structure behind the language & to give them useful shortcuts -see the grammar matching task.

- Discussion about how language learning is an 'active' activity & connect it to discussions about what makes up a 'good/effective' learner & how they might improve their approach.
Younger learners could design a superlearner robot - they make one & give it a variety of superskills - it can learn 100 words a minute, read a book in five minutes & then go on to show them how they might help themselves.
For adult learners they could discuss how they went about learning different skills (riding a bike, driving a car, swimming) & then relate it to language learning.

- A couple of other similar ideas:
Get your stds to complete the following stems, compare what they have & then have a general class discussion:

Language learning can't...
Language learning must...
Language learning mustn't..
Language learning should..
Language learning may ...

Two classes write a series of learning tips which they swap & comment on. Instead of writing you could tape the class discussion & play them to the other group.

- Check out 'Learning to Learn English ' by Ellis & Sinclair (CUP) - this is an excellent book all about study skills & autonomy, mainly designed to be used over a year long full-time course but it's easy to use. Near the beginning there are a variety of study skill themes such as quiz 'What sort of language learner are you?' & motivation charts. Then each skill is given a chapter.

Here are some web sites that deal with study skills:
From Virginia Tech in the US there's an excellent 27 page tour through the advice they give to their students. All applicable to our language learners. Here's a story from one of their pages:

Frank L. Tibolt tells this story:
One day a management consultant, Ivy Lee, called on Schwab of the Bethlehem Steel Company. Lee outlined briefly his firm's services, ending with the statement: "With our service, you'll know how to manage better."

The indignant Schwab said, "I'm not managing as well now as I know how. What we need around here is not more "knowing" but more doing, not knowledge but action; if you can give us something to pep us up to do the things we already we ought to do, I'll gladly listen to you and pay you anything you ask." "Fine", said Lee. "I can give you something in twenty minutes that will step up your action and doing at least 50 percent". "O.K.", said Schwab. "I have just about that much time before I must leave to catch a train. What's your idea?" Lee pulled a bland 3x5 note sheet out of his pocket, handed it to Schwab and said: "Write on this sheet the six most important tasks you have to do tomorrow".

That took about three minutes. "Now", said Lee, "number them in the order of their importance". Five more minutes pass. "Now", said Lee, "put this sheet in your pocket and the first thing tomorrow morning look at item one and start working on it. Pull the sheet out of your pocket every 15 minutes and look at item one until it is finished. Then tackle item two in the same way, then item three. Do this until quitting time. Don't be concerned if you only finished two or three, or even if you only finish one item. You'll be working on the important ones. The others can wait. If you can't finish them all by this method, you couldn't with another method either, and without some system you'd probably not even decide which are most important". "Spend the last five minutes of every working day making out a "must " list for the next day's tasks. After you've convinced yourself of the worth of this system have your men try it. Try it out as long as you wish and then send me a check for what YOU think it's worth".

The whole interview lasted about twenty-five minutes. In two weeks Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 - a thousand dollars a minute. He added a note saying the lesson was the most profitable from a money standpoint he had every learned.

Did it work? In five years it turned the unknown Bethlehem Steel Company into the biggest independent steel producer in the world; made Schwab a hundred million dollar fortune, and the best known steel man alive at that time.''
The IATEFL special interest group - Learner independence. If this area interests you get along & join in.
A section in the learning English on the BBC World Service site. There's a learning style quiz, a section on study skills & tips for passing exams, which includes recorded interviews with Tony Buzan.
Use Your Head by Tony Buzan (BBC) is an excellent practical book about study skills. One of the main areas is the note-taking tool of Mind Maps & this is his web site. - a series of instructions on how to go about building your own mind maps. There are also sections on the history & applications of mind maps. He has also written several other related books. If interested in developing memory techniques the Use Your Memory is your book but not for the faint-hearted though.



This is a new section devoted to answering any questions you have about English language teaching. Send in your questions & we will select & answer those through the newsletter that we think will be applicable to a wide range of readers. Questions could be asking for teaching ideas, grammar problems, anything. We will also post questions for you to send in answers to.

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Courses running in the near future at the British Language Centre in Madrid:

CAMBRIDGE CERTIFICATE IN ELT - CELTA Full-time four-week courses: November & January

CAMBRIDGE DIPLOMA IN ELT - DELTA Full-time eight-week courses: January - March Part-time six-month course: October to Easter

You can see brief descriptions of all of the current courses on the BLC web site

The postal address of Teacher Education at the British Language Centre is Calle Bravo Murillo 377, 2, 28020 Madrid, Spain. The phone number is (00 34) 733 07 39 & the fax number is (00 34) 91 314 5009. The e-mail address is


A site that gives you any quote you could need. You can search by subject, author, or word. Get the ball rolling with a new theme by giving your students a series of quotes. Or choose five for use in a warmer - e.g. match with speaker & discuss meaning/situation.
I'm sure you've found yourself hunting through old magazines in search of articles to use in classroom - a very frustrating pastime. Here's a site to take away all the hassle - MagPortal. You can search, for free, a wide range of publications such as Atlantic Monthly, Christianity Today, Entertainment Today, Forbes, Fortune, Golf Digest, Internet World, Ladies Home Journal, New Republic, PC World, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, Sports Illustrated, Time (including the Asia and Europe editions) and Wired -- about 150 in all. New articles are posted each day & when you have found an article you are can also click for a list of similar articles. There's also a 'collect' icon that looks after the articles you want to go back to. An English language teacher's dream!

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If you want to develop your teaching but can't make it to a face-to-face course then this is for you. Each course is personalised to take into account each participant's teaching experience, you can take your time with each module & fit it into your weekly timetable as you want & you get lots of personal feedback by e-mail. Get along to the page & check it out.



Free weekly practical teaching tips by e-mail. Sign up!

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8. PS
Download your personal free firewall & remain invisible while connected. This little programme is getting a high profile everywhere on the net. It takes a few minutes to download & it's easy to install. As others try to get into your computer Zone Alarm blocks them & tells you when it does. If you want to feel a little safer & more anonymous then this is for you.
My father put me onto this. He's a Telegraph reader & every Thursday they have a Connected supplement with a column entitled Boot Camp. All of the back issues are on their Electronic Telegraph web site. Follow the links to the Connected section. The Boot Camp series is, as you might imagine, designed for the novice computer user in mind - it's all very clearly explained & with lots of information for the not so new computer user. Last time I looked they were on week 141! There's a lot more on the Telegraph site so have a hunt around while you're there.

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