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.

This feedback task works best with a group observation. Divide the observers into teams question markor pairs, including the teachers who taught.  Give the group 10 – 20 minutes to predict what you, the assessor, considered to be the top three positives and developmental points of each lesson.

The board is divided up equally so that each team has space to write their answers on it.  Decide if you want to start or finish with the positives. A representative from each team writes up the top 3 points, ideally, they should write at the same time as each other so they can’t modify their answers when they see the other responses!  The tutor checks through the comments for any clarification. At this point, the board is covered in lesson feedback.

The tutor reads out their own three developmental points and the teams decide which team got closest to the assessor’s points and is, therefore, the ‘winner’. Repeat the process for the other points.

Generally, a really useful discussion ensues which is a good time for you to explain how you reach your decisions and what are priorities in a lesson. This task is also a great tool for assessing where the group is and what they consider to be a priority.

We sometimes add an element of ‘spice’ by the ‘losers’ agreeing to provide the ‘winners’ with a small service, for example, to make coffee in the morning, do some photocopying, or give extra support.

Peer observation involves teachers sitting in on each other’s lessons. This works particularly well if teachers share a class, as it allows them to see how learners respond to each other’s styles. The level of observation formality can vary depending on need. The process can be managed by the DOS, who decides who goes where and when. To reduce teacher speculation it pays to be transparent about how choices are made. Alternatively, the DOS can encourage teachers to organize it and to decide for themselves who they would like to work with. On the positive side, peer observations can be less stressful than DOS observations and they can often be arranged quite quickly. However, it’s worth noting that if the organization of observations is left to the teachers, there is a risk they drag along or won’t happen. This is because people tend not to want to ‘put upon’ another teacher, or have to give possible negative feedback to a peer. Moreover, if there are interpersonal tensions in the staffroom, it may be wiser for the DOS to manage the process.

Whoever organizes the observations, it is important for the DOS to advertise the ‘rules’ of observation: the observer should be quiet, keep a low profile and not disturb or engage the learners or the teacher. If teachers will be giving each other feedback, the DOS should highlight the ‘sandwich’ principle: ‘first, mention something good, then propose something to work on, and finally close with another positive point’. Finally, the observing teacher must understand the importance of being discreet about what they have seen.


Before setting up peer observations, consider the following questions:

  • Does the other teacher’s class need cover?
  • Is there a cost/budget for the class cover?
  • Is the observer expected to report their observation, or elements of it, to the DOS or the other teacher (or both), and if so, in what form: oral or written?
  • It is necessary to allow time for the observer to give feedback to the teacher after the lesson?
  • Is the observer watching the teacher who best suits their particular needs?
  • Is one teacher being observed more or less than the others?
  • Will the teacher being observed be expected to produce a plan for the session?
  • Does the DOS have a mechanism for closing down the peer observations? For example, asking the observing teacher to summarize what they have learnt from the experience, or putting up a big note board where teachers can write compliments for each other.


This feedback task works well with a group or individual.

The trainer re-teaches a section of the observed lesson and the observers have to decide what the differences are between how the trainer taught and the teacher taught.  With luck, this will demonstrate how things can be improved. If the observers are stuck and unable to articulate the differences put some keywords on the board to help them focus on the issue you are trying to demonstrate.  Be warned you may have to do it several times.

The main issue with this feedback is that on initial training courses you will usually have to do it straight after the observation so no preparation time and you will have to do it with the trainees rather than learners so forgive yourself if it doesn’t go perfectly to plan.  I have ended up trying this and made a worse job of it than the teacher!