CELTA TP Potholes - anticipating problems

How to anticipate problems
If you want some top tips on how to anticipate problems that might happen in class, then this video is for you!


As an experienced CELTA trainer, I see a lot of trainees falling into very predictable pot holes in teaching practice. Mistakes that are easy to make but also easy to avoid if you can see them in advance. If you want a road map to avoid one of the BIG ones, keep watching!

I’m Jo Gakonga from ELT-Training.com – I’ve been a CELTA trainer and assessor for over 20 years and I make videos to help people like you through what can be the pretty intense business of a CELTA course. If you enjoy this, I’ve got a whole series of videos for you on these kind of avoidable mistakes on my site- and don’t forget to like and subscribe- I make a new video every week.

One of the things that your trainers will talk about is ‘Anticipating Problems’ and it can be a bit difficult to know what’s meant by this. In one of the very first courses I taught on, a trainee wrote on his plan ‘I don’t anticipate any problems’. Now this was optimistic, it has to be said, but anticipating problems isn’t about worrying whether it’ll all be ok or about whether you’ll teach in a good way. It’s not about YOU, it’s about clearly seeing what's inherently difficult for the LEARNERS in two areas. The first of these is the tasks you’re going to get them to do. The second is the language you’re teaching. If you can see the problems that they might have, you can also think about and plan how you’re going to address those in advance and not be left in front of the class with your mouth open and your mind racing when someone asks a difficult question or things don’t go according to plan.

So let’s take these two areas one by one.

1. Anticipating problems with tasks.
Some tasks in class are pretty straightforward and don’t need a huge amount of thought but others can be trickier. Let’s have a look at some examples.

Maybe you have a reading task and some questions – it’s pretty obvious, if you’re a learner, what you have to do here, but what about if you don’t understand all of the language in those questions? You can’t answer them if you don’t understand them. So take a look through, see what might be problematic and pre-teach it, or add a glossary.

Another example- You’re gong to do a jigsaw reading (if you don’t know what this is - I have a video for you here). This is quite a complicated task with different texts and different groups doing different things – grouping and regrouping. There’s plenty of potential for confusion here. So plan how you’re going to give instructions and think about how you can label groups (e.g A,B,C) to make things run more smoothly.

A few more possible examples- think about the different learners in your class and how their abilities and personalities will affect the activities. If you do a reading, some people will read faster than others- what can you do about this? If you have a speaking activity, some people will be more confident and might dominate- what can you do about that? Maybe the coursebook listening is very fast and you think they’ll have trouble understanding, what can you do to support them?

Seeing these potholes gets easier with experience, of course, but a useful way to see what the problems might be is to try the activity out- enlist the help of a friend or two if you can, but otherwise at least do the task yourself, imagine the learners doing it or say the instructions out loud (in your head doesn’t work as well) to check that you can make it clear. Write these anticipated problems on your plan in the procedure part- and don’t forget to include the solutions you’ve thought of, too!

OK, let’s move onto our second area.

2. Anticipating problems with language
If you’re teaching language in your lesson - vocabulary or grammar- then you also need to think about what’s difficult about it so that you can help your learners. Let’s look at some examples again.

Let’s say that you’re teaching the word ‘embarrassed’ to Spanish speakers. What’s going to be tricky? It’s a false friend for them- embarazado’ means pregnant- so you want to make sure they don’t mis-understand.

Maybe you’re teaching the past tense, they need to know that lots of common verbs are irregular, so it’s ‘went’, not ‘goed’.

Maybe you’re teaching the present continuous for arrangements - ‘I’m seeing him on Sunday’- they might find it confusing that they already know the present continuous for actions around now - I’m speaking to you now’ - but this is different.

So anticipating problems with the language you’re teaching means KNOWING about that language so that you can see what might be difficult and being able to help learners to overcome those problems.

I’ve got two pieces of advice for you on this one- the first is to research the language well. You can use the back of your coursebook for this- there’s usually a grammar section there, or a grammar book, or if you like my approach, you’ll find my courses Grammar for Language Teachers and Language Analysis Made Easy useful for this. If YOU know it really well, you’ll feel more confident about teaching it and answering their questions.

And that brings me on to my second piece of advice- and that’s to do the controlled practice exercises yourself. You’ll find these in your coursebook and they’re usually gap fills or multiple choice questions. Make sure you can answer them yourself (that bit should be easy!) and then, more importantly- make sure you can answer the question ‘why is that the right answer?’

Here’s a classic example-
'I went/ have been to America last year'.
You know the answer is ‘went’ but why is it? You need to know (and elicit from them if you can) that it’s because we use the simple past tense, not the present perfect with specific times like ‘last year’.

I hope that those thoughts help you with your teaching practice (and your teaching after CELTA) and check out the links below for other useful material from my site. See you soon, Bye.

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