Children love games but adults spending hard earned money and time on language card-game-cards-gambling-102107classes are not always so happy at the idea of ‘frivolous’ games.  We haven’t stopped the activities but we have banned the word ‘game’ from planning and the classroom replacing it with ‘language practice task’.  We encourage teachers to state exactly what type of practice they are giving the learners and why it is needed. The effect of this has been that learners are happy to do fun tasks if they understand the learning point and the teachers focus on task language aims which generally leads to less downtime and better lesson balance.



Active listening for a DOS or trainer is a key management skill. It allows you to build positive, more collaborative working relationships with all stakeholders, resolve conflict more easily, increase goodwill and garner valuable information about your school giving better decision-making tools.

Active listening is using all your senses, giving your full attention to helping the speaker feel heard and valued, it demonstrates respect and a willingness to take on board another persons ideas and thoughts. It’s a process through which you can learn more about what is happening in your school. People who feel heard are more likely to drop a complaint, contribute and participate than those whose negative feelings continue to build perhaps even exacerbated by a poor listening situation. Active listening leads to happier, more involved stakeholders and quality information about your school. It’s the foundation for an effective participative and collaborative working atmosphere.

Despite being high-value active listening can be quite hard work, it takes time, energy and a lot of concentration. If you are an active, problem-solving type of DOS, you might find it difficult to focus on the listening rather than finding immediate solutions for problems. At times it seems counter-intuitive to listen rather than to do, but keep in mind that it is the process of listening that is often more valuable than the actual outcomes or solutions. On the other hand, If you are a more laid back listener it can be a strain to actively listen, to engage, rather than be passive in the process.

Steps to great active listening:

Get Calm

Step back and breathe. You need to be mentally and physically calm and quiet to listen, you can’t do it if you are wound up or feeling attacked.  Calmness is catching too!  An anxious speaker will relax more quickly if you set a calm tone. Try to detach from emotionally engaging with the content. For example, if you feel the speaker is completely unreasonable, or highly personal focus your thinking on the process of listening rather than the ‘merits of the case’, try to close down your internal dialogue.

Don’t problem solve

Your goal is to listen and hear, not win the argument, be right or defend the school. Detach yourself from trying to allocate blame, find a solution or dismissing the issues as unimportant. There is no need for you to provide solutions, clarify misunderstandings or put things right within the listening process – these can be done later. Focus on listening and really hearing what is being said.  Most problems are greatly reduced or even disappear if the speaker feels they have been heard.

Don’t Judge

Avoid judgment.  You need an open mind to actively listen, to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and possibilities. Even when good listeners have strong views, more experience or knowledge they suspend judgment, hold their criticism and avoid arguing

Make space

Find an empty room, create a comfortable space and turn your phone off.  If it’s feasible, offer to make a drink for the other person.  Take an attitude of them being the priority and deserving full respect.  Ask if they are comfortable and if they need anything. Tell admin to see that you are not interrupted.  Try to tune out all distractions. Ask permission to make notes as a just in case, so you don’t miss important points.

Choose your time

A lot of feedback is very immediate, situations can be rushed and time is short. However, if you feel a situation needs active listening it’s ok to defer the conversation.  Say “ What you are saying is very important and I really need to listen, but that is difficult at the moment, can we meet up at….”   Most people will appreciate your offer of full attention over an immediate, rapid response.

Show gratitude

Giving feedback can be stressful, people tend to brace themselves, plan and rehearse how they will say things and then have to wind themselves up to actually say what is on their mind.  As a listener acknowledge that they have trusted you enough to share their thoughts, say ‘thank you’ for the effort they are making. It is better for someone to tell you how they feel than to leave the school and tell everyone else!

Use wait time

Make time, be patient, it might be difficult for the speaker to talk about this so give them time, extend your wait time so they can form their thoughts into words, essential if you are not both working in your mother tongue.  As in the classroom, make the wait time a comfortable, easy space rather than you showing your impatience. Try not to:

  • anticipate the end of their sentences
  • rush or interrupt
  • ‘top up’ responses (adding your own information).
  • jumping in before they finish with your questions
  • thinking ahead about what you will say next
  • overuse fillers such as ‘indeed’
  • fiddle with pens or check your phone

Give the speaker your full attention

Interest can be shown through verbal and non-verbal messages.  Seat yourself so you can see the other person, maintain eye contact, nod your head, smile or make sympathetic faces.  Agree by simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘mmm’ to encourage them to continue.  Keep your body open, try not to cross your arms or legs, unclench fists.  Keep shoulders and arms loose, and lean in slightly toward the speaker.

Check your understanding

You need to find the balance between letting the speaker say what they need to, without interruption and checking that you have understood correctly.  The trick is not to jump in too quickly with clarification questions and when you do, keep it gentle and not take the tone of an interrogation!  You can check you have understood correctly by paraphrasing or repeating back the key elements.

At the end see if the speaker agrees with your summary. You can use language such as:

Tell me if I have got this right

Is this a fair summary?

 Closing down the conversation

After summarizing your understanding it can help, if it hasn’t already been covered, to ask the speaker what course of action they would like to be taken and if they have any suggestions as to how to improve the situation.

Thank the speaker for their time and for sharing with you.  Create a follow-up plan, which may be ‘I’ll get back to you when I have spoken to…’ or ‘let me have a think and get back to you after the weekend …’


Useful Links



 On starting out, many teachers struggle with eliciting.  The first issue is that they often Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 12.45.16believe it is quicker and more efficient just to tell learners the meaning, often regardless of the learners level! We push new teachers to ‘ask before tell’, and to be very wary of planning comments that start with the words: Explain, Inform or Tell. These words tend to lead to a teacher monologue with low learner engagement.

New teachers have learnt that they are supposed to elicit, to ask the learners questions, but lack the ‘how’ of it or its precise purpose.  They tend to ask learners to guess what the teacher is thinking, particularly in the area checking meaning. Consequently, quite a lot of early elicitation is slightly random, it can be repeating what the teacher says, only tenuously connected to the topic or often it becomes ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’.

Good elicitation is checking learner knowledge of language based on a developed, meaning rich context.  The context could be developed with pictures, gestures, realia, situation etc. However it is done, in an ideal world it will effectively demonstrate the meaning of the target language.  The context will be so clear that even if the learners can’t answer the elicitation questions they are able to use the context to develop their understanding of the language.  An experienced teacher will also be able to utilize the context to deepen, convey and check the learner’s grasp of the language. So, with a clear context the meaning is evident and it’s just the language the learners don’t have.

However, ‘guess what I am thinking’sometimes amounts to a psychic test for the learners! The teacher gives so few contextual clues that learners can start randomly guessing. Then, when the teacher does give the language they have little chance at grasping the meaning or how to use it.  A simple example below:

Scenario 1 – Guess what I am thinking

Teacher:       What is a small red fruit called?

Learner:        Strawberry

Teacher:       No, it’s smaller than a strawberry

Learner:        Plum?

Teacher:       No, it’s more like a strawberry

Learner         Orange? (Now guessing wildly and probably has no idea what a raspberry is)

Teacher:       No, the word I want is ‘raspberry’.


Scenario 2 – Elicitation for meaning

Teacher:       (Holds up a picture of a raspberry).  What’s this called?

Learner:        Don’t know

Teacher:       Raspberry


In scenario 2 the class have been engaged, the teacher knows if the learners have understood the meaning, and can also assess some of the learner’s ability to pronounce the word.

Tips for lesson observers

If your teacher is eliciting by ‘guess what I am thinking’ get them to write down the key meaning elements of the target language then ensure that all these elements are incorporated into the conveyance.

Note that experienced teachers have good wait time when eliciting and are able to give learners time to formulate responses, they don’t jump in with an answer too fast.

Very skilled teachers are also able to move past the first wave material they elicit from learners and bore down, pushing for more accuracy and a better understanding of what the learner does and doesn’t understand.

The best teachers are also able to incorporate what they elicit into the next stages of the lesson, using the elicited material as a reference point rather than just to acknowledge it and move on with their own prepared commentary.

Below are suggested commentary notes that can be adapted and used in written and oral feedback on the topic of elicitation.

Suggested Commentary Notes 

Positive comments Areas for development
It’s great to see you tie what you elicit to the next stage, which gives meaning and purpose to the elicitation. Your learners see that what they say has value and they have been heard which is very motivating You elicited the different language well but then needed to do something with the words in order to create purpose for the elicitation.
Its good to see you eliciting target language meaning, which is much more efficient than asking: What does X means? Work from meaning to word rather than asking questions like: What is a plaster?  Remember that to answer this type of question is difficult and doesn’t give the teacher very accurate information about the learners actual knowledge of the language.
Well done for establishing such a clear context from which you could elicit so much from and keep learners engaged. Create meaning rich contexts so that it is easier to elicit the target language. If learners don’t know the language you can use the context to convey the meaning.  It moves the activity from ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’ to being an effective assessment tool.
You were right to ignore the first wave of material you elicited and bore down for the sketchier knowledge, the place where the learners are less fluent and need input. Try to filter what you elicit more.  Learners tend to give the easy, well-known stuff first. Acknowledge the contributions but then bore down and challenge them so you can expand what they already know.
You have great wait time, which allows students the time they need to formulate language and respond to your questions. Try to increase your wait time to give learners much needed time to formulate their responses. Remember that at this level it is very hard to produce immediate responses to anything.



Take one stressed teacher, a fairly random group of learners, add a new person in the 500_F_34333839_nK1vFrLmpwZTTnhwhVp1txh2VpOm5AVjroom, perhaps a dash of technology and lesson mishaps shouldn’t really be a surprise.

I once observed a teacher spend 6 minutes doing a complex reseating task, where everyone moved but ended up sitting next to the same people!  The best bit was that everyone got the giggles as they realized what had happened.

No teacher ever gets every aspect of the lesson right every time.  As a lesson assessor, one way to deal is to look at how well the teacher reacts and recovers when things go wrong. Firstly note if they are aware there is a problem and then if they can respond rather than just keep pushing on.   Check if they can they reboot, adapt, modify a task on the spot or drop it if needed. This ability usually shows experience. It takes confidence and knowledge to quickly and even seamlessly adapt a task to a group, especially during a stressful observed lesson.  If you are watching a very good teacher you may need to refer to the plan to pick up adaptations.

Sometimes things have gone so far awry that adaptation is not going to work. In these cases can the teacher laugh an error off, or even keep going when all they really want to do is leave the room and have a good cry?  Recovery is a part of being flexible, responsive and professional, and therefore a skill to be highly valued. As an observer give weight to the ability to recover, at least equal to whatever caused the problem in the first place

For feedback below is suggested commentary – adapt at will!

Positive feedback comments Areas for development
Well done, for making such a smooth recovery. It’s normal in any class for things not to go quite to plan but you showed yourself to be flexible and able to deal with the unexpected It’s not the end of the world if things don’t go to plan and sometimes is ok to say ‘whoops’. Our learners don’t expect teachers to be perfect. Don’t focus on the problem, just move on and try something else.
I like that you didn’t get flustered when it all went off plan. Your sense of humor and patience really helped to keep things moving. If things go pear shaped try to slow down, sit down and reboot or just acknowledge it didn’t work and try the next task. Students are very forgiving and you can always come back to something in the next lesson.
You answered all the questions on the target language in an informed way. With that complex student question, I feel you were right to say that you would come back to her in the next lesson once you had checked it yourself. Much better to defer an answer than to give an inaccurate one The unexpected is always going to happen!  If you are not sure what to do or say just breathe and take some time to think how you will respond.  It’s ok to defer your response. It’s fine to say: I’ll deal with that later when I have checked the answer.



 The ranking task can be used as a summative record of the lesson and or a springboard for discussion with group or one-to-one (including peer) observations. The task headings can be changed according to your context.  You may want to rank the actual headings in order of importance, as the different headings invariably don’t carry equal weight. Note, that some teachers will focus on the ‘end score’ by adding up the totals, which can distort the trainer’s message. I would suggest using the ‘overall comment’ box at the end to make the main message clear.

The ranking task can be managed in different ways:

  • For a group observation it can be interesting if everyone completes their own and then compares at the end
  • Complete the table in pairs and compare and discuss any differences or similarities with the trainers sheet
  • For individuals the table can be completed by the teacher as a post lesson reflection task which is then compared with the trainers


  • Agree strongly with the statement
  • Agree with the statements
  • Neutral
  • Disagree with the statement
  • Disagree strongly with the statement
The teacher had good rapport with the learners. 1     2    3     4     5
Instructions were clear, learners knew what to do. 1     2    3     4     5
Materials and tasks were appropriate. 1     2    3     4     5
Learner groupings were appropriate. 1     2    3     4     5
Lesson pace was good. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher used the board well. 1     2    3     4     5
There was a range of student interactions. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher elicited well. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher monitored effectively. 1     2    3     4     5
Learners enjoyed the class. 1     2    3     4     5
Students learnt in the class. 1     2    3     4     5


Overall Comment






Many new teachers struggle to create effective instructions.  On our courses we say that verbsall classroom task instructions should start with a verb.  For instance, ‘sit down, stand up, do exercise 6’ etc.

It’s a simple but really effective rule. It takes out all embedded language, complex polite forms, and reduces rephrasing. Some trainees find the directness feels rude but as a trainer you can demonstrate that tone and attitude can convey politeness and that for learners the priority is to understand the task.