CELTA Course: Week 1

Three days after arriving in London, I headed down to Oxford Street for my first day of Oxford House College‘s Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course.

(Brief background on why I’m taking this course: I have a lot of teaching experience from Peace Corps but no piece of paper that certifies me as an EFL/ESL teacher. I don’t want to do EFL/ESL teaching as a career, but having a certificate will certainly help me earn some extra money on the side as I go through graduate school. This course is also a bit of a space/time-filler, as I’ve applied to MA programs in English literature — already accepted to one of them! — that don’t start until September.)

General Info: I am taking the part-time course, which meets every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evening (630-930pm) and every other Saturday (1030am-5pm) for 13 weeks. There are twelve of us in this course, all of different nationalities and backgrounds — a great representation of how international London is. We were born in the following countries:

  • America, Somalia, Poland, Slovakia, England (London and some other parts), N. Ireland

It seems like many of us have done some teaching before, though it is not a requirement for the CELTA course. The age range of participants is early 20s (at least one guy is younger than me) to (I’d guess) mid-40s. I’ve chatted with a few people about what they want to do once they obtain the Certificate; quite a few have said they want to go teach English abroad (Russia, Turkey, and Asia were mentioned). I look forward to continuing to chat with my classmates and get to know more about them.


Monday (Day 1): The last hour of the first day was reserved for us to learn an “unknown language.” That piqued my interest and I eagerly awaited 8:00. Fillipo entered, babbling in a foreign language; it didn’t take me long to figure out that he was speaking Portuguese and would teach us in total immersion fashion. I think I had a silly grin on my face for the entire hour. Immersion learning? No problem — I underwent three months plus an additional two years of that in Ukraine! Being familiar with immersion language-learning made me feel so much more relaxed than I remember being at the beginning of PST in Ukraine. I felt bad for some of my classmates, who seemed quite confused and more than a little stressed about it.

So why did we learn Portuguese for an hour? For a few reasons:

  • to demonstrate that learning a totally new language is not easy
  • to show us that teaching beginners is not easy. As Fillipo pointed out, many new teachers think that teaching English to complete beginners will be a walk in the park (“No grammar? Awesome!”). But this is not so, as I discovered in Ukraine working with 2nd- and 3rd-formers. The teacher must put so much energy into a lesson for beginners and must have an insane amount of activities planned in order to hold interest and continually test and re-test words and skills learned. Plus, many English teachers work with multilingual classrooms; that is, students (especially here in London) will not necessarily share a common first language. So there is little, if any, room for translation — the teacher of beginners must hold the entire lesson in English and make large use of gestures and repetition and flashcards to make him/herself understood.

I loved this “unknown language” activity and think it was really effective in demonstrating that we teachers must at times work harder than our students to keep lessons interesting and keep students engaged and learning.


Tuesday: We spent most of this session talking about the roles of a teacher and classroom management. There are eight roles that one teacher can (and should) inhabit, depending on the situation/activity/goal during a lesson: Controller, Organiser, Assessor, Prompter, Participant, Tutor, Resource, Observer.

Our last activity of the day prompted a really interesting discussion, both within our small groups of three and in the whole-group session afterwards. We were given a sheet of paper with ten statements (about teaching and lessons) and had to discuss how far we agreed (or disagreed) with them. We all heartily disagreed with a few of them: “In new work, always ask students ‘Do you understand?'” and “The overhead projector is only useful for showing pictures.” NO! But a few others sparked some discussion; each person backed up his/her arguments well. Some of the more controversial statements were: “I like busy lessons, with as little silence as possible”; and “The teacher should be speaking about 50% of the time.”


Thursday: Lesson observation. My small group of six observed our tutor, Bobby, teaching an hour-long lesson to the upper-intermediate level group. (Since we “CELTees” are not yet certified teachers, we’re not allowed to teach people who pay, so Oxford House College offers free group English lessons for us trainee teachers to get our teaching practice.) I was pleasantly surprised at how high the level of the upper-intermediate students was; I had not expected much. After Bobby taught for an hour, we got to mingle and chat with some of the students; the group will not be the same every week, as some people are just in London for a short time and some may not come to every free lesson. It should be fun; I look forward to working with this level as their level of fluency is already quite high.


Saturday: A long day. We learned about the elements of a good lesson: Engage, Study, Activate (ESA). We talked about how to write a super-detailed lesson plan, which we’ll have to do for each lesson we teach during the course — as some of you know, this is not my favorite thing to do, but I know that it is useful and, though time-consuming, does help me design a thorough and balanced lesson. We also had a session on teaching reading skills: the seven stages of a reading-focused lesson and the four subskills of reading (skimming, scanning, reading for detail, and reading for inference). My favorite part of the day was our “language awareness overview,” which was basically a brief session on grammar terminology (I rocked at verb forms — thanks, Ukraine! — and learned the difference between gradable and ungradable adjectives).


Overall, it was a really good first week of the course. We start teaching on Monday, so stay tuned for more updates!

[Enjoyed this post? Click through to read about Week 2…]

18 thoughts on “CELTA Course: Week 1

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