Like winning the lottery (Stephen Dodd)

I won the Teacher Development Scholarship Award which was a great surprise! I decided to apply for it as I had never been able to attend the main IATEFL conference but had had a taste of previous smaller conferences and really like the vibe around them. To win the scholarship for the whole week felt like I had won the lottery!

Tony Picot from Manchester Metropolitan University, with Stephen Dodd and his certificate

Tony Picot from Manchester Metropolitan University, with Stephen Dodd and his certificate

I was invited to the Pre-Conference Event on the Monday before the start of the main conference. I went to the Teacher Development (TDSIG) and Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) one and I really enjoyed how that was organised and run. What I really got out of the day was how teachers don’t necessarily realise how supported they are or can be. Being able to be a member of this group really motivated me to get more interested in how teachers can keep on improving throughout their careers, for example by joining one of the many SIG groups or by forming groups in the workplace to bring about change from within. Throughout the day we spoke about how managers need to give teachers both time and also the money to develop in their workplaces. It was great to delve into the details of how teachers can continue developing throughout their careers. Watch this space!

I think the conference helped me understand better what type of teacher I am and what I stand for. Specifically, it highlighted the ongoing debate about course book use and how we should re-address the use of them in class how we should readdress the use of them in class. This was the subject of a fantastic plenary by Dorothy Zemach. My own perspective is that we should not be using course books to the extent that we do as it stifles teacher development and hinders student progress. Ironic to think that something many people see as a good thing (the course book) could be something so detrimental to a student’s progress. No SLA [Second Language Acquisition] studies support the grammar syllabus that course books offer so why are we using them on such a wide scale?

The most moving part was meeting all the other scholarship winners as we were such a diverse group of people. The presentations were excellent but by far the best part of the entire week was the spontaneous meetings with other teachers and getting to chat to them and see what they do. I even met a lovely group of Welsh teachers who were at the conference to gain insights into how they can improve their teaching of Welsh to English speakers! Who’d have thought it?

I left the conference reenergised and with many thoughtful insights into the possibilities of PBL (Project-Based Learning). I saw Vicky Saumell’s excellent presentation on her step-by-step guide to introducing PBL and how it was met with approval from the students and their parents and teachers. My own experience of PBL has been a revelation. In PBL, students have to pose a question, then discuss how they are going to find the/an answer to it. One such PBL project was carried out recently in my school where the students asked ‘Why are there so many homeless people in Liverpool?’ The next step is to test and/or revise their own investigations, before applying the new information to solve a real-world problem. So in this case, it involved creating questions to ask the general public’s opinion on the homeless, as well as that of the city council and of the people who are homeless themselves. This generated a lot of language from the students and many possibilities to give language input as and when required. Once they had the answers to their questions, students had to think about how to present the information clearly and concisely as well as trying to come up with some real ways to tackle homelessness. Given such freedom the students learnt a lot more than just language. Sessions on PBL at the conference and the disapproval of course books in general which I noticed highlights how we can initiate change for the better, but we need to start somewhere.

Overall, I feel that bubbling away under the surface teachers are starting to question some of the ways they teach. The conference also helped me see that we are really part of a family of teachers with a common aim and despite our different contexts we are all passionate about our jobs. Do apply for a scholarship as you will have an unforgettable experience!


Steve Dodd

Stephen Dodd is a teacher of some twenty-five years’ experience. He is currently director of English in Liverpool, a private school specialising in Project Based Learning (PBL).

He completed his Trinity Cert TESOL and went on to gain a distinction in The Licentiate Diploma in TESOL. Stephen has a keen passion for educational technology and so studied for the online ICT Cert in Teaching English with Technology (The Consultants-E) in 2011 and has started an MA in Education Technology at Manchester University.

He is also a teacher trainer and has considerable experience in designing bespoke teacher training courses for more experienced teachers. He has presented at various conferences and has a special interest in language learning and technology and Task-Based Learning.

Currently, he is working on an idea for an online platform for newly-qualified teachers who need support and guidance related to correct classroom practices.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Stephen’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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My Brighton experience – reflections on a scholarship (Julia Alivertis)

What encouraged me to attend the IATEFL Conference this year was a combination of things: last years’ experience in Glasgow, an idea for a joint presentation that became a labour of love, dedication to our profession and the instinct for seeking continuous professional development. What literally brought me to it was the Macmillan scholarship for first-time IATEFL presenters, which I won. It came as an unexpected gift in a lot more ways than the generous financial aspect. I felt lucky and deeply honoured to have been chosen among a large group of candidates, but I couldn’t have expected all the help and support I got from the IATEFL Scholarship committee and the Macmillan crew. Not only did they make sure that I would not encounter any problems during my preparation for the Conference, but they did their best to make the Brighton IATEFL Conference a valuable personal experience, taking good care of me and giving me a lot more attention than I could have hoped for.

The idea to send a proposal was born when my co-presenters and I started a discussion on how interesting and fruitful it might be to combine learning technologies with a plan to build empathy in the ELT classroom, to re-examine how we can teach our students to care for each other in a rather impersonal, data-driven world and, finally, to share it with colleagues from different contexts and see if it would also appeal to and work for them. In our view, empathy can prove a useful tool when efficiently activated and developed as a fifth skill, through cognitive and metacognitive processes.

It seemed that the IATEFL Conference would be the ideal opportunity to do this, as it is attended by colleagues from all over the world, teachers trying their best to teach English in situations very different from our own. Moreover, we hoped that the Learning Technologies and Global Issues Special Interest Groups would provide us with more insight into developing the concept of ‘Techno-Ethics’, a set of principles that we want to share with and instil in our students. With these in mind, a workshop titled ‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep? – Digital Empathy in ELT’ was created by three friends, Vicky Chionopoulou, Eftychis Kantarakis and myself, all members of TESOL Greece and sharing the same values and educational philosophy. I believe it was the excitement of the venture and the faith in its possibilities for classroom use within the ELT community that actually gave me the strength to apply for the scholarship, though at that moment it seemed like a very long shot.

During the presentation, with the help of our audience, we tried out a lot of e-learning activities in an attempt to redefine the ‘e’ to mean emotion, empathy and ethics. One example was ‘Empathy Bingo’, a fun activity that helped our audience recognize empathy demonstrated through short dialogues. Instead of the winning numbers of the classic Bingo game, the audience was trying to predict the order of a number of responses that could be mistaken for empathy and identify them for what they truly are. An electronic handout, which was given as an expansion of our activities, can be accessed here:

Empathy bingo QR code

Empathy Bingo winners

Empathy Bingo winners

The feedback we got after the presentation was more than encouraging and we all seemed to agree that by explicitly teaching students to be more conscious of other people’s feelings, we can create a more accepting and respectful school community. We hope that in the long run ‘digital empathy’ will inspire students to stand up for something, not just stand by, and communicate more effectively by embracing differences, building relationships, gaining a global perspective.

The presenters during an activity

The presenters during an activity

The conference was huge, but somehow managed to remain intimate and friendly as we kept bumping into people we know from other events and through networking. It engaged our cognition and emotion through a wide variety of topics, while the exhibition captured all our senses with the vivid colours of the stands, the abundance of materials, the buzz of the people, the pop-up events, the scent of coffee…but what was really great about the conference was meeting, spending time with and learning from other colleagues. I attended a lot of interesting sessions, some by famous speakers, and others by less well-known promising young teachers, or passionate experienced practitioners. They all gave me food for thought and a broader perspective to reflect on.

One of the highlights for me was Brita Fernandez Schmidt’s plenary during which she introduced Women for Women International, providing insight into how education plays a key role in making Global Goals, as agreed by the UN in 2015, a reality. In total accordance with our workshop, she linked the ELT world represented by the IATEFL conference with the real world, reminding us all that, besides teachers, we are global citizens and our classrooms are communities that can take action to make the real world a better place.

Attending the IATEFL Conference as a scholarship winner has offered me a lot more than ‘means, motive and opportunity’ to experience a major ELT Event. The main thing I have taken home with me is hope for the future of ELT and its role as an agent of change for the better. Meeting so many dedicated teachers of all ages was empowering. My presentation, focusing on the need to develop Empathy in the ELT classroom and the digital world our learners interact with, was a small contribution to the broad range of sessions dealing with World Issues and Learning Technologies. Next stop: Liverpool!


Julia Alivertis

Julia has been a teacher of English for more than 25 years and a part-time trainer for state school teachers, as well as a volunteer teacher for underprivileged students. A firm believer in life-long learning and CPD, Julia is currently pursuing an M.A. in TESOL focusing on Intercultural Issues in ELT and is an active member of TESOL Greece. She has co-organized the three TG International events in Preveza, Greece, where she lives, and has taken part in many international ELT conferences as a speaker.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Julia’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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What does IATEFL really stand for? (Anastasia Khodakova)

Part 1: The road to the conference

I’ve had a passion for English since I saw my first word of it – surprisingly enough, it was ‘pillow’ on the poster of some children’s magazine. I swallowed every English book I came across during the pre-Internet ’90s. Luckily, I had the best English teacher imaginable who tried to satisfy my hunger for learning languages despite the lack of modern textbooks and language practice. I entered the department of my dream – the foreign languages department in Tula, Russia – and dived into ‘the brave new world’ of the English language and culture. But I didn’t plan to become a teacher – journalism was my second passion.

In 2004 I won a scholarship to study journalism in the USA, at Eastern Michigan University. The year passed quickly and I flew home to get my degree in Education and then realized that my real passion is teaching.

My teaching career brought me to the USA a few times, all over the European continent – from Spain to Poland – and all over Russia – from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. I coordinated two national EFL volunteer projects about fostering tolerance and cultural awareness through English classes. I presented and shared my experience at various conferences, seminars and training sessions in many parts of Russia. Thanks to the IATEFL scholarship, I was able to share the results of this extensive work at IATEFL Brighton 2018.

Anastasia in Brighton

Part 2: Pre-conference event “Global Issues Special Interest Group”

I have participated in many conferences other than IATEFL, including TESOL in the USA but I’d never even considered pre-conference events (PCE). This time thanks to the GI SIG scholarship I attended GI SIG PCE and found it very worthwhile.

First of all, you have intensive sessions on the topic of your interest, which makes the learning focused and builds on the techniques you learn or ideas you develop. Second, it gives you a chance to interact with like-minded professionals for a more extensive period and network more as you are with the same people for the whole day. Third, you’re able to gear up before the main conference starts as if you were driving at a special track before attempting to turn onto the main highway.

What sessions did I find especially useful? Nearly all of them! Exploiting visuals or google arts or films to teach global issues is something that anyone can take and use in their classroom. One of my favourites was Margarita Kosior’s idea about using the short film “The Conditioned” (2014) to teach tolerance towards homeless people.

Part 3: The IATEFL 2018 conference

To predict the future you have to create it.

For the whole week I indulged in the linguistic paradise which is called IATEFL. And I actually mean it. The IATEFL experience is special. It is when you wake up at dawn and rush to the How to’s in the morning to listen to the gurus. It is when you are moved to tears and stand up to applaud at the plenary like in the theatre, because a plenary is not just a talk, it is a professional performance intertwined with linguistic intricacies  and teaching wisdom.

Brita Fernandez Schmidt delivering her plenary

Brita Fernandez Schmidt delivering her plenary

It is when you jump like a chimpanzee at the workshop trying out energizers or draw past perfect continuous (who would have thought it is even possible!) or write English sentences with Cuisenaire rods or line up at one stall after an inspiring session on teaching teenagers to buy the author’s book.

Using Cuisenaire rods to make sentences

It is when you discuss learning objectives with famous authors having a glass of wine in the evening or share your stories with other teachers in the hall during the break.

Anastasia with Shay Coyne

Anastasia with Shay Coyne

It is when you realise that English teachers are superheroes without capes because they shape minds, work to collaborate, to personalize, to localize and globalize at the same time. They work for peace and understanding. They work for reducing prejudice and empowering their students.

Teachers as superheroes

This is what IATEFL really is:

I – Interactive

A – Active

T – Tremendous

E – Empowering

F – Flourishing

L – Learning experiences

And yes, it is also when you have to buy an extra suitcase and repack a couple of times at the airport because you couldn’t resist the temptation to buy some extra books or games.


Anastasia Khodakova

Anastasia Khodakova, PhD, is an associate professor in Tula State Lev Tolstoy Pedagogical University (Russia) and the head of the language center Hi Time. She initiated and coordinated local and national EFL projects on creating tolerance-related materials in 2011-2015.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Anastasia’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Hooked on IATEFL (Belén Albarracín)

Belen Albarracin

Juggling motherhood and professional career: why IATEFL means so much to me

It’s funny the way things turn out. If you had asked me a year ago where I was going to be in April this year, the image that would have come to my mind was something close to this: a Sarasvati-like goddess juggling family, professional career and friends.

But the truth is I don’t get to be that Goddess with perfect balance. And I don’t have that peaceful face all the time. Far from it. One of the things I have learnt through experience, a.k.a. aging, and motherhood is that you have to use time wisely. Winning the ELC Brighton – Robert O’Neill Scholarship is in fact a combination of those two factors plus a passion for teaching using tech.

When the head at my school, Pat Sala, sent an email and challenged all teachers to apply for the IATEFL scholarships I felt it as a dare. “Have you got what it takes?” Those were the words she used. I’m always up for a good challenge. I told myself I had to go back to that email and read it in detail. I didn’t even open the link because I thought I would have time later.

So life went by and two days before the deadline I went back to the email and opened the link. My eyes opened wide and there I told myself in a sort of epiphany: “I should have read this a long time before now!” But the challenge was burning inside and I felt I had something to share.

I had had this idea of “Technology in Service” in mind for several months by then, and I thought that if I sat down and shaped it with solid content, it definitely had some potential. Besides, I love considering new ways of integrating technology in the classroom setting. There’s so much to be done in this field. I think it’s more about connecting with others and making the world smaller, it’s about bonding in meaningful ways, creating significant experiences for students and empowering them, and shifting the leading role to them. It’s also about teaching and sharing values. The scholarship required the presentation of an action plan to benefit my community with reference to the involvement of technology. I felt “Technology in Service” and the ELC Brighton – Robert O’Neill Scholarship were a match made in heaven. They just clicked. I told myself “It’s now or never!”

So I used all my energies and focused deeply for the next 2 hours. My two kids, Nacho and Santi, were running wild around me while I was typing passionately. I re-read the bullet points trying to make sure I covered every single aspect required. I made sure the action plan conveyed was clear and to the point. And then I pressed enter. That was it. I took that long deep breath one usually takes before clicking something important. I told my husband when he came home that I had applied for a scholarship and my question was suspended in the air “Can you imagine if I won that scholarship? Can you just imagine that?”

This scholarship means so much to me on so many levels. It’s a professional opportunity that will enhance my career prospects. It represents a validation of my beliefs as a teacher in the field of technology and its use. As a first timer, I´m eager to know the latest trends as regards ICT and network with teachers who have the same passion and drive. I want to get to know the IATEFL community and ideas. I have no doubts I will use my time wisely.

Hooked on IATEFL: nobody warns you about this

Belen Albarracin with the IATEFL 2018 map

The IATEFL conference has left in me a deeply nostalgic effect that is difficult to rub off. Even now, weeks after the conference, where is one going to get such academic adrenaline and such a global degree of exposure about worldwide trends in education? The diversity that permeates this conference is unique and as a first timer, I guess it is quite a cliché by now to call the whole event a mind-blowing experience.

In my personal experience, I really found what I was looking for. I had the fantastic opportunity of attending the Pre-Conference Event on Learning Technologies. With Sarah Rogerson opening the event with an introduction to VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) and their use in education, I immediately realised that was where I was supposed to be. It’s a challenge to integrate this technology in education in Argentina in a meaningful way, not just for the sake of having a fun experience with no real pedagogical benefit. Sarah also shared the research her team carries out at Cambridge English Language Assessment and the use of immersive 360º interactive videos to, for example, order food at a restaurant. Paul Driver’s presentation was incredibly enlightening as regards the use of VR in teacher training, both to monitor remotely or to reflect on performance. Teachers are given the chance to develop reflective skills and re-watch their groups of students or themselves. The agency to re-explore the classroom using this technology is a real breakthrough in education. As regards content, Paul’s design of an interactive crime scene for students to solve a murder mystery was next level. It really inspires you to create your own material. Thomas Strasser’s presentation gave full meaning to integration of tech by being very critical about its use. His motto “Don’t believe the hype!” plus the pencil metaphor were challenging as to where we stand regarding technology and its use.

Belen with Thomas Strasser

Belen with Thomas Strasser

Last but not least, Nick Robinson gave a very interesting talk about future trends in education. In a nutshell, he stated that whatever a teacher does that is repetitive can be automated, and thus it is likely to be replaced. This leads us to evaluate our own performance: what activities are we doing that can be replaced by software? A characteristic that is not replaceable in teachers is that of being creative, having a creative and adaptive mindset.

Belen with Nick Robinson

Belen with Nick Robinson

Thinking about my own project, “Technology in Service”, it basically consists of connecting schools in Argentina and empowering students through peer teaching with minimal teacher supervision. Remote teaching will allow students to connect with both public and private schools with different social realities in my country. The British Council Signature Event at the main IATEFL conference, “Remote Teaching – Bridging the Gap”, was really inspiring and aligned with my project. I had the opportunity of sharing my idea for “Technology in Service” with Graham Stanley, the Country Director of the British Council and Plan Ceibal. He found it very interesting and traded cards to keep in touch about who to contact to carry the project through. That is probably the best place to start to pave the way for “Technology in Service” to become a reality.

My next step in the short run is to define the web conferencing software my school can use to create custom learning experiences and engage students through interactivity and collaboration. Secondly, I need to contact schools that are willing to participate in this project. Simultaneously, the idea is to train a group of students in the upper forms in the use of remote teaching tech and how to go about a 30-minute lesson. For this project, students will be engaged in volunteer work. We are going to focus on how to share projects we  have worked on and to design and adapt a specific lesson for students in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th forms from other schools. We could start with one pilot lesson per month and then increase its regularity as more lessons are designed and more students recruited. I believe that in Montessori’s words, the greatest sign of success for the Project “Technology in Service” will be when I get to say: “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” 

I had a fantastic experience in Brighton. The truth is that one is left wanting more. A week is not enough. Weeks after the conference, you find yourself going over your notes and photos, and checking out links, emails, blogs and websites, to keep that feeling going. You keep in touch with those professionals who were also scholarship winners, with whom you bonded instantly during the Scholarship Gathering and shared an unforgettable night because chemistry was in the air. They are the same professionals with whom you spent the rest of the conference week meeting up, hanging out, describing and sharing the reality in your countries as regards education and who understand this feeling. You even have a WhatsApp group that reminds you every now and then how cool the whole experience was and keeps you on your toes about proposal deadlines and current events.

Where are you from? Where did you start your journey?

IATEFL sets the bar high in professional training and you end up with the feeling you don’t want to miss out from now on. So it’s no surprise that by the end of this reflection, I will find myself checking out flights from Buenos Aires to Heathrow in 2019 to make sure I’m there in Liverpool too.

IATEFL Liverpool 2019


Belen trying out a VR headset

Belén Albarracín is a teacher and sworn translator. At present, she teaches the subject Global Perspectives at Bayard School in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She won the Robert O’Neill scholarship for the Project “Technology in Service”. She’s into integrating technology at primary and secondary level.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Belén’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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F-L-I-P your low-tech classroom (Saima Abedi)

Working as an ESL and EFL teacher for last 15 years, I am determined to contribute to educational reform. To learn more and more, develop ELT material, train teachers, carry out action research and participate in conferences nationally and internationally are some of the goals of life that I am presently immersed in.

A new beginning at IATEFL, Brighton Centre

A new beginning at IATEFL, Brighton Centre

The 52nd International IATEFL Conference was my first IATEFL adventure and it stretched for five fun-filled, fertile days. Being the winner of the Macmillan Education Scholarship and a presenter plus participant, I enthusiastically seized the plethora of opportunities to achieve, excel, get inspired and be acknowledged at the event. Not only that, I revisited my learning; reflected on teaching practices; expanded my network; gained international recognition; went sight-seeing and made some life-long global friends.

2 Enjoying the networking opportunity with ELT from various regions

Enjoying the networking opportunity with ELT from various regions

This journey started when I presented at the NELTA (Nepal English Language Teacher Association) conference back in 2016, where I expanded my network and added a few Nepalese teachers to my contacts, who nursed the idea of applying for IATEFL. The scholarship forms are comprehensive; there is step-by-step guidance to help you fill them in.You may apply for as many scholarships as you want to. All you have to do is to focus on your strengths, and be enthusiastic about mentioning your achievements and count on your luck (Yes, it does work sometimes!). Once you win the scholarship, your job is all done (believe me) because the IATEFL team and your sponsors (like mine when I won the Macmillan Education Scholarship) are right there to constantly assist you. Before even reaching the venue, I was fortunate enough to be prepared for my presentation on ‘Flipped Learning for Low Tech Classes’, as it was reviewed, re-reviewed and even rehearsed. Therefore, I received an amazingly incredible audience response.

With the Macmillan Team

With the Macmillan Team

The flipped classroom model actually revolutionized my teaching-learning process as it inverted my teaching procedures by shifting the instructions from a group to an individual learning space. In other words, I introduce materials and tasks to students outside the classroom and the learning process has become dynamic and interactive, enhancing a wide range of skills. When we think about the flipped classroom, the first idea that enters our mind is the use of technology. The most popular online tools to flip classes are:

  • websites, such as online exercises/quizzes
  • recorded lectures
  • supplementary videos, either instructional or content (TES Teach, TED Talk, You Tube)
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
  • podcasts
  • e-books
  • blogs
  • simulation games
  • teaching channels
  • and the list goes on…

However, from a global perspective, one of the notable hurdles for learners and educators like me is teaching in classes with limited or no access to technology. To be precise, public schools and low-income households in developing countries struggle to bridge the digital divide. So how can you flip low-tech classes?

Firstly, I employed four basic principles for inverting low-tech classes, starting with the four letters of F-L-I-P. Here ‘F’ is for ‘Flexibility’ of the given material, as it should cater for different learning preferences that ensure setting of students’ own learning pace and time. For instance, use of text or reference books, customized hand-outs (like Mind Maps / Story Maps), magazines, newspaper articles or reports, comics, television programmes (drama, cooking shows or documentaries), pictures, charts, maps, posters, interviews, songs and surveys. Students are provided with a couple of options to select the mode of acquisition according to their own preferences, at the most convenient place or time. Equipped with the required information, they apply the concepts in the class and receive teachers’ prompt and constructive feedback.

Presenting at IATEFL Conference

Saima presenting at the IATEFL Conference

The second principle ‘L’ emphasises ‘Learner-Centered’ classes in which the role of students is active and the teachers’ job is as a facilitator. Being inquisitive, students bring along queries or problems to be solved in the class. It is possible that some students might come to the class unprepared (in the beginning it does happen; remember everyone isn’t the same!!!) and they would look for ‘just-in-need teaching’. If the mode of interaction in the class is pair or group work, such issues are automatically resolved. For example, I have so many students who love to teach others. Based on research, the average retention rate of new information is 75% for practice by doing (National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine), and is increased to 90% by teaching others. This means that diligent pupils will get an edge here.

The next principle, starting with ‘I’, focuses on ‘Interactive Content’: incorporate motivation by providing a real purpose, a meaningful task for exploration of the given content. This enables learners to build up curiosity and connections with their prior knowledge.

Lastly, ‘P’ is for ‘Practice by Doing’, as the class time will be utilised in applying and checking the concepts for deeper understanding and greater retention. Some of the engaging activities that I use for my low-tech classes are theme-based board games, debates, puppetry, discussions, field trips, creating PowerPoint presentations, digital storytelling, use of smart phones for making short videos, podcasting using Audacity and rap songs using the Smule AutoRap app. I found these teaching tools great for ensuring active learning in a flipped learning scenario. Trust me: these strategies can be easily adapted and implemented in any EFL and ESL class.

To access or download my full presentation you can click on the following link:

Don’t wait…. Just apply for this enriching and life-changing experience.


Receiving paticipation and presentation certificate

Receiving participation and presentation certificate

Saima Abedi, currently working as an EFL and ESL teacher, is a seasoned educator with 15 years’ teaching experience. She has a professional degree in education, as well as multiple Masters, postgraduate certification in Critical Thinking from Oregon University and the ICELT from Cambridge University (via SPELT). Determined to revolutionise the education system, she has been designing ELT content and conducting workshops nationally and internationally for a few years. She has received numerous awards and scholarships for being an innovative and enthusiastic teacher.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Saima’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Sirhajwan Idek and the wonder of IATEFL: Celebrities, concerts & comrades (Sirhajwan Idek)

I remember telling someone that I wanted to attend and present at IATEFL two years ago when I first visited the UK. I was attending a two-week summer course in Norwich Institute of Language Education (NILE) as a prize for winning Macmillan’s ‘Teachers at the heart‘ competition with this entry. The United Kingdom has been always a popular dream destination for Malaysians but I never had the chance of studying there during my university years since I was not offered with any scholarship and the UK is such an expensive place to visit. Nevertheless, I didn’t give up pursuing my dream of going to the UK, especially when I eventually became an English language teacher and enjoyed the profession. When I learnt about the IATEFL scholarships, I knew that these scholarships were my opportunity to make it to the IATEFL conference. I applied for the first time in 2016 but I didn’t make the cut. I attempted it for the second time the following year with a clearer and more focused written essay and I won!!! I won the Express Publishing Scholarship and I was so excited to find out that I was the first winner for this scholarship since it was their first time sponsoring a scholarship.

I know it might sound like a cliché for me to say that the IATEFL conference was the best conference I ever attended but it is the truth. I have attended many conferences in Malaysia and in other countries, but I have never been to a conference with such a lot of amazing sessions that it was so hard for me to make up my mind which one I should attend. I was impressed with the number of delegates, exhibitors and speakers who were at this conference and the level of energy and enthusiasm that everyone had was superb. I was so thrilled too as many world-renowned scholars and educators in language education were present at this conference and I was able to meet some of them, like Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer and David Nunan. To me, they are “Celebrities” in the ELT world and I can now brag to others that I have met these celebrities in person. In fact, Scott Thornbury was appointed as my mentor for my presentation. I found it so hard to believe! I studied his work during my bachelor’s degree and master’s study, I cited his papers for my research, I applied his theories in my teaching approach, I always admire his work and I want to be like him! He is incredibly fantastic. So imagine how happy I was when he was assigned to mentor me! It was like triple blessings: winning the Express Publishing IATEFL Scholarship, being able to present my work there and having Scott Thornbury as my mentor. Not to mention the conference, the city and the people were so amazing! I felt like asking myself: what did I do to deserve all of this?

Since I had to present my winning project at the conference, I had all these questions on my mind: Would I have any audience? Would people be interested in listening to my topic? Would they like my talk? Would they give me feedback? And most importantly, how would they react when I told them about what inspired the name of my project, Wonder Zone (Alice in Wonderland and Britney’s In the Zone album). I was so relieved and excited to discover that the audiences were very supportive, positive and enthusiastic. They gave great feedback too! Scott Thornbury, Natassa Manitsa from Express Publishing and Maureen McGarvey, the coordinator for the IATEFL Scholarship Committee attended my slot. They told me I did great and it was such an honor for me to receive such acknowledgment and feedback from them and the audience. It was a humbling experience too.

I presented my winning project known as Wonder Zone. It is an educational outreach programme where we initially select a particular primary school and my students, in pairs, choose a specific issue such as health, hygiene, literacy, sports and environment that they would like to focus on. They develop their projects for the pupils at the selected school according to the chosen theme. They independently design and experiment with their ideas before they carry out these projects when we visit the school and interact directly with the pupils. This approach is consistent with project-based learning as the process of planning and developing the project provides the students opportunities to develop their English language skills, creativity, communication and collaboration skills. I narrowed the language focus into four types of sentences that they can practice through this programme: declarative sentences (statement), imperative sentence (command), interrogative sentences (question) and explanatory sentences that my students can use to interact with the children during the educational outreach. For example, they need to describe the task to the children using declarative sentences (this is a red ball, there are three animals in the farm), they ask the children questions using interrogative sentences (what do we call this? What was the name of the boy in the story?), they give the children instructions using imperative sentences (draw the house, cut the boxes) and they use exclamatory sentences to encourage the children (That is wonderful! Keep up the good work!). The students can practise these simple sentences to improve their fluency and to interact effectively with the children. Since I am teaching in a vocational school, this approach caters to the students’ needs to learn English for Specific Purpose (ESP). It enables them to practice the language in a meaningful and authentic manner that helps them become aware of the significance, relevance and practicality of the language.

I attended many slots during the conference and I became very interested in the concept of gamification since I believe it is an emerging approach in language education. I learnt that gamification is different from game-based learning and I also discovered that gamification was not as hard as I thought it would be to implement in classroom learning. I gained many tips and strategies on how to incorporate gamification into English lessons. Since I love writing stories and poems, I attended some of the talks on using stories in teaching and I am glad that story-based learning continues to be relevant and useful. I definitely need to find ways on how to deliver such approach effectively in my class. To sum it up, my IATEFL Brighton experience further confirmed my opinion that I made the right choice to become an English language educator.


Sirhajwan Idek

Sirhajwan Idek is an English language teacher at Keningau Vocational College, Sabah, Malaysia. He was born and grew up in Sabah, the most isolated state of Malaysia, located on the island of Borneo. He graduated with Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree from UiTM [Universiti Teknologi MARA System] in 2011 and 2015 respectively. He loves coaching his students for English competitions like public speaking, debate and poetry. He also helps his students take part in innovation and entrepreneurship competitions. Since he is teaching in a rural area, he finds it important to expose his students to the outside world through these extracurricular activities. As an English language educator, he attempts to integrate English language into these activities and make his students more aware of how important the language is and how easy it is for them to learn and use it fluently.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Sirhajwan’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Q&A from Elizabeth Bekes and Marcela Carrasco’s webinar on International English and its Implications for Teaching and Learning

On 3rd February 2018 Elizabeth Bekes and Marcela Carrasco presented the following IATEFL webinar:

International English and its Implications for Teaching and Learning

English is the world’s second language: for many teachers it is their native tongue, for a lot more it is an additional language. The global nature of English requires new approaches. Instead of the elusive “native speaker”, the norm is increasingly the “fully proficient speaker” using an intelligible version of English spoken by interlocutors for whom English is the chosen means of communication.

In the webinar, we will look at what the spread of International English implies for teachers in several key areas, e.g. pronunciation, language proficiency and classroom methodology. The challenges may be different for native and non-native English teachers, but there is a paradigm shift that is worth reflecting on in order to align our teaching and learning with the new priorities.

If you would like to watch the recording, you need to be a member of IATEFL (find out how to join), but even if you’re not a member, you can read Elizabeth and Marcela’s answers to some of the questions and comments from those who attended the webinar.

Elizabeth and Marcela: Thank you for coming to our webinar. It was a first for both of us, so our management of the technology involved was wobbly at times (our moderator, Ania, did her best to help us though). Also, the children were playing outside Elizabeth’s house and not in Marcela’s. Thank you for bearing with us – hopefully you were able to listen again (if you wanted to) and had the gaps filled in.

We are sorry if we couldn’t answer all your questions. If you look at the references, you might find some answers there, and our book is also available (see end of post for details).

Questions and comments from the webinar

Q: The fact that the number of non-native speakers outnumbers native speakers of the English Language means that English does not belong to its owners any longer. If this is the case, how is it possible to integrate such an approach into our daily teaching practices without having to deal with political issues?

A (E): We believe that English as an International Language belongs to everybody, a little bit like Latin used to belong to everybody who spoke it in the Middle Ages. “Outnumbered by far” would be the correct expression as the ratio between NS/NNS is 1:4.

Your question is very important, because we need to decide how we treat English: is it a killer of other languages, or is it an enabler that brings people closer together. We think that our task is to teach English in the best manner we can (and, specifically, for international communication) and use this language to break down barriers, sensitising our students to global issues and giving them the tools to share their culture with people who come from other parts of the world.

Q: Can you enlarge on the concept of ‘glocal’?

A (E): In our understanding, it is a combination of ‘global’ and ‘local’. It means that you are rooted in your own, local context and learning English helps you to explain that experience to outsiders. My Achuar students did not need the image of the red phone booths or the black cabs in London. They needed to be able to talk about how they have large families (having 8-10 siblings is not uncommon), how they hunt and fish and what customs and traditions they have. Global means sensitivity that there is a world out there, one that starts with a flight for the Achuar, as you cannot walk out of the jungle or get out by boat. Global also means the tourists who come and visit and talk about other lands where it snows and there are houses with running water and electricity. And the beauty of it is that these two worlds can talk to each other, there is an acceptance and responsiveness on both sides.

Q: What about the textbooks when you consider English as Lingua Franca?

A (E): The fact of the matter is that, as Penny Ur says, you need a “standard” from which you can deviate. English as a Lingua Franca has some specific features, but it is so fluid that any attempt to describe it would inevitably fail. We think that it is probably a good idea to stick with the two major variants (AmE and BrE), especially in the written form, which is more prescriptive, and is required for written communication of any sort and academic writing especially. There are also situations where there can be no margin of error (air traffic control and medicine, just to mention two). English as an International Language does not imply that anything goes, randomly… It is more of an effort to come to an understanding and not insist on just one variant of English. Textbooks should be written following standard American and/or British English, but also presenting non-native speakers as possible models / interlocutors.

A (M): The content has to include other cultures from the expanding circle.

Q: Why is it that people who have completed their education from native English-speaking countries get better jobs and more respect than non-native?

A (E): There can be a number of reasons: people still believe that native speakers or near-native speakers are by definition better teachers than non-native speakers. To be honest, both Marcela and I think that as regards pronunciation (so long as it is intelligible) non-native speakers are the best models. However, we have always maintained that a decent level of proficiency (minimum B1, preferably B2) is required. That level of linguistic proficiency and good methodology can do wonders, especially if the teacher continues to be a lifelong learner. Here are some ideas from Robin Walker:

Q: If you wanted to study Japanese, would you rather study from an educated native-speaking Japanese teacher, or from a Swedish person who learned Japanese after the age of 16?

A (E): This webinar may go some way towards answering that question:

During our webinar, Laura Patsko said this: I think this point about learners wanting to learn Japanese from a native Japanese speaker is an unrealistic/unfair analogy. This presupposes that a native speaker is the best representative of that language’s use. That may be true for Japanese, which isn’t widely spoken outside Japan, so one Japanese speaker might be reasonably claimed to be representative of the language use within that one homogeneous group, but English can’t be described the same way. It’s not spoken by only one relatively homogeneous group in one fairly small geographical location. So the logic being followed by a learner who wants an “educated native-speaking teacher” is faulty if the L2 in question is English.

Q: Do you feel there is any advantage to native-speaking teachers?

A (E): It depends what English is being used for. If your student wants to speak a version of English that is spoken by 2% of native speakers in the British Isles (Queen’s English), that would probably require a native speaker, but that native speaker would also need to be an excellent teacher. Even then your student won’t ever be able to speak like a native speaker, because she/he was not born and educated in that language community. High levels of proficiency are achievable, but that you can learn from a highly proficient and motivated non-native speaker as well. The issue is that for international communication, native speaker skills are not only not achievable, they are redundant and, on occasion, unhelpful. Marcela and I are happy with being proficient and proud of our multilingual backgrounds. Would a Director of Studies rather employ a native speaker with a Delta? Perhaps. But they would be missing out on the first-hand experience of learning English that a non-native speaker can offer…

Q:/Comment: Perhaps I’m biased, growing up and being educated in England, but I think native speakers have the advantage of a lifetime of absorbing and assimilating the subtleties and nuances of the English language in a way that is almost impossible for a non-native speaker to be able to understand and convey to learners.

A (E): Agreed. However, those subtleties and nuances are not only not required for international communication, they often actually get in the way. Since life is short, there is never enough time, especially in an EFL context, to get to those fine points. We must prioritise and teach the basics, strategies to overcome linguistic deficiencies, accommodate, listen out for key information, adjust and use any means possible in order to make yourself understood.

Q: /Comment: I agree also (with the previous comment), though I think it depends why someone is learning English. If it’s to live and work in the UK, the USA or another Anglophone country, an NS teacher is going to be a plus. If they plan to function in an international business environment with other non-native speakers, it may be that it doesn’t matter whether their teachers are NS or NNS.

A (E): We believe that even in the US or Canada, there are so many different kinds of accent that any that satisfies the intelligibility criterion should be perfectly workable.

Q:/Comment: I think it’s much, much easier for children to acquire reliable usage patterns of articles and noun forms than it is for adults because of the years of exposure to thousands of patterns. Many non-native speakers of English acquire these patterns quite readily, but this process usually begins at a very early age. Reliable usage of articles and noun forms in generalizations are notoriously difficult to acquire, so I believe that the age of the learner is very important.

A (E): Agreed. The issue is really that we do not need perfect use of articles and noun forms for English as an International Language. We are comfortable with ‘informations’ and ‘homeworks’. We know exactly where our interlocutor is coming from. She/He comes from a place where these nouns (in their first language) are countable. And nobody dies.

Q/Comments: Some adults do achieve native-like accents in a new language; it is possible.

A (E): Indeed. However, they are, by far, the exception. And, again, which native accent are we talking about? That native accent might be limited to a region or a certain social stratum. If reaching native level is such an impossible and demotivating goal, why don’t we spend our time on expanding vocabulary and giving our students tools to communicate without native-like “perfection”?

Q/ Comment: I think word stress is important, for example present (here) and present (a gift).

A (E): Agreed. Where stress is a marker of two different meanings, it is undoubtedly important. But when the word can be stressed in different ways without the loss of meaning (e. g., “satisfactory”), it is not a mortal sin. We would need to focus on something that is really important.

Q: Surely stress timing is essential for understanding natural spoken English?

A (E): Agreed. Students need to comprehend stress-timed English, but they may not be able to produce it easily. Instead of stress timing, I often teach chunks and insist that my students should hold those multi-word units together.

Q:/Comment : I disagree about word stress; my German-speaking students sometimes are hard to understand because of an incorrect syllable stressed. This is very confusing for listeners.

A (E): The fact of the matter is that the listener needs to be trained as well. It takes two to tango. Your students need to be good speakers AND good listeners.

Q: Phonetics transcriptions are very common in my context in Initial Teacher Education (for future EFL teachers) Do you think transcriptions are still a valuable task?

A (E ): I am absolutely fanatical about phonetic transcription (given the idiosyncratic spelling in English). Students can pronounce words without you! This does not imply that they will pronounce each and every sound correctly, but they will aim at approximation. You can find Adrian Underhill’s introduction to the phonemic chart below if it’s something you have trouble with:

Q/Comment: Chinese pronounce “Thanks” as “Sansique”

A(E): And once you understand that “thanks” is “distorted” in this manner, you have no problem.

Q: Intonation is not important?!

A(E ) : I would refer you back to Robin Walker’s session (see above). As per Jennifer Jenkins, differences like rising / falling and falling / rising are not important when using English as an International Language.

Q: I think perhaps this forum is about the many charlatan unqualified native speakers who masquerade as English teachers, but as the speaker said, today there are very qualified native speaker teachers who are very useful for students who want an authentic learning experience.

A (E ): Agreed. Silvana Richardson has a brilliant webinar on this:

Q: Native English speakers with experience working in other cultural and language situations are just as capable, since they will also have been involved in learning other languages.

A (E): Agreed, but we mustn’t forget that non-native speakers have an unquestionable advantage over native speakers: native speakers have never ever learnt English as a second / foreign language!

Q: What is the difference between cultural awareness and intercultural awareness?

A(E ): I would say that cultural awareness implies that you are aware of the unspoken social and behavioural rules of your own community, while intercultural awareness means being sensitised to cultures other than yours. The problem with cultural awareness is that because it is ingrained, sometimes we are not consciously aware of the “rules”. They are “blind spots”, as it were, and we also believe them to be “universal”. This is where intercultural awareness comes into the picture: learning that there are other ways of showing respect, expressing gratitude or complaining, for example. Body language, physical distance, the concept of time and how time is managed are aspects of such an intercultural approach and understanding.

Q: What is the role of international proficiency tests in the context of English as a global language?

A (E): We think that this aspect is not fully reflected in the international proficiency tests that are being used now. Here’s an article that might give you some more info: Reimagining Language Competence: On professionalism by Ahmar Mahboob, University of Sydney.

Q: I’d like to know what should we focus on when teaching English in a village.

A (E): Well, all we would say is that focus on the local context. What would your students like to share if they ever met a foreigner? Do those village kids watch TV and have access to Internet? The latter could be a game changer.

Q: But I think non-culturally rooted language is almost impossible?

A (E): Agreed. This is why you need to teach students how they can become multicultural: responsive and accepting as well as ready to share their own culture. Kids, under natural circumstances, do this kind of sharing all the time.

Q: Were all students you mentioned adults?

A (E): No, my students’ age ranged from 13 to 18. They were Grade 7, 8, 9 of elementary and Year 1, 2, 3 of Bachillerato (secondary school education is 3 years in Ecuador). But I did teach about 20 adults at the eco-lodge in small groups.

Q: Did these students learn from textbooks?

A (E): In actual fact, I created most of my materials, but at some point I got hold of a book that was commissioned by the Pachamama Alliance. I had some copies made: the book was created based on the Achuar experience, even the names were those of the people around us (this, of course, changed later). The units in the books spoke about the Achuar communities, their lives, the way they received foreigners, etc. Not perfect, but very good material.

Q: Talking about language and communication as its first aim, how did you manage to teach them the very first words and idiomatic sentences so that they could express what they wanted to say?

A (E): If you were asking about the indigenous students, we started with very simple things, like: My name is …. I live in …. community. My father is a …. My mother is a … I have … brothers and sisters. I love my family and my community.

The Achuar students knew a little bit of the above, since I was not the first volunteer teacher there; we used Spanish, realia and images/pictures/drawings for the rest.

Q:/Comment: A very important pre-condition for learning is the student’s literacy in her own first language.

A (E): Indeed. I had further problems with my Achuar students, because their mother tongue was not the language of instruction, which was Spanish.

Q:/Comment: This webinar was usefully thought-provoking and I love the combination of both groups in your school, Marcela – both linguistically and cross-culturally. And Medgyes’ book ‘The Non-Native Teacher’ echoes a lot of what you say (I’m prejudiced as the publisher!)

A (M): First of all, I believe that the idea of proficiency is important. NNESTs have to have continuous professional development, which should include language training and language improvement. Both NESTs and NNESTs must have intercultural training and understand the background that the students have and the difficulties that they might encounter.

Q: What is your view about teaching English from birth and at the latest from preschool so that all children can be bilingual before they reach their teenage years?

A (E): I wish it was possible. However, it would require immense resources, because teaching English to very young learners is not very effective unless it’s full immersion. And if it’s full immersion, you’re probably talking about bilingualism. Even then you usually have one language that is slightly stronger than the other. Learning International English is not rocket science in a world where billions of people are multilingual and are very used to negotiating meaning by hook or by crook.

Q: Intercultural awareness & engagement are essential. What does that mean? How do we extract the components of those definitions that can become part of teacher training, and how do teachers actualize / operationalize them?

A (E): An example can be found in ‘The A-Z of Intercultural Communication’ by Rudi Camerer & Judith Mader, published by Academic Study Kit in 2016, which contains twenty-six photocopiable activities to raise intercultural awareness.

Q: As a teacher for an online school, I was wondering about the role of online learning in Ecuador. Is it growing and do you see this is a solution to some issues?

A(M): Online learning is growing everywhere, and Ecuador is no exception. Nevertheless, language teaching/learning is still difficult through this medium, especially at the beginning. Based on my experience, I still believe that human contact in language acquisition is more effective.

Q/ Comment: Thank you so much, for this inspiring and very relevant webinar. All of us teach not only mixed-ability groups but also groups composed of students coming from different cultures so we need guidance. What’s more, all of the groups which I teach are mixed-ability and 90% of them are composed of students coming from various cultural backgrounds. Thank you, again, and I will be looking forward to some more webinars in this area.

Elizabeth and Marcela: Thank you! What a pleasure and a privilege to have you all in our cyber space classroom! Take the time to research the students’ backgrounds. It will help you adjust to their needs and it will enrich your own knowledge.


Elizabeth Bekes

Elizabeth Bekes is a Hungarian English teacher and teacher trainer currently based in Ecuador. She worked for the BBC’s Hungarian Section, spent three years in Ethiopia setting up English Language Improvement Centres, taught English in the Amazonian jungle and worked with refugee children in Greece. She writes regularly for EFL Magazine.

Marcela Carrasco

Marcela Carrasco is an Ecuadorian English teacher, who grew up in diverse places and cultures like Ecuador, Iran and the United States. She ran a highly successful language school, and is currently setting up a language unit at the Catholic University of Cuenca. Among her professional interests are identity, International English and multiculturalism.

Elizabeth Bekes and Marcela Carrasco’s book Why NNESTs? International English and the implications for teacher development (2017) is available as an e-book: or as a physical book from Cambridge International Book Centre.

Thank you to all who attended the webinar and special thanks to those who provided questions and comments. Thank you to Elizabeth and Marcela for answering these questions for the IATEFL blog.

Contribute to the blog or present a webinar

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We are also looking for people to present webinars. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Things can always get better – teaching associations change lives (Božica Šarić-Cvjetković)

I live in a small town in Serbia and I’ve been teaching English as a foreign language to young learners for more than ten years. I still teach in the same school where I first got the job, in a village near my hometown. Even though teaching children is full of surprises and no two days are ever the same, after a couple of years I started wondering if there was more to teaching than that. Around that time a colleague asked me if I wanted to go to a conference in Belgrade. I went, and a whole new world of knowledge opened in front of me. Since then, my life as a teacher has never been the same.

That first conference I went to triggered some kind of addiction in me and I soon started to look for more and more events like that. Most of my colleagues at school were not involved in any kind of professional development and that’s why whenever I attended a PD event I had the feeling of being among friends, a feeling of understanding and not standing out. In the meantime, I discovered ELTA (English Language Teachers’ Association of Serbia) and became a member. At the following year’s conference, simply out of curiosity, I decided to attend the ELTA AGM (Annual General Meeting) held by the ELTA Board. I was really wondering who all those important people were. I was wondering who was behind all these conferences and PD seminars I’ve been attending so far. To my surprise, I found out that they all were “just” teachers, teachers like you and me.

My journey through PD continued at the same pace and a couple of years later, during the AGM at the conference, ELTA Board announced that they were looking for Regional coordinator for Srem region (the part of Serbia where I live). There were a lot of people attending the meeting but nobody volunteered. Even though hardly anybody knew me, I slowly started to feel as if all the eyes were looking towards me. My hand went up. That’s how in 2012, six years after entering the classroom for the first time, I became ELTA Regional coordinator, responsible for organising TD events and sharing information about ELTA throughout the region.

From 2006 to 2012 I attended numerous teacher development seminars, webinars, workshops, summer schools and conferences. At that point I mostly saw professional development events as a chance to learn from, listen to and meet native speakers. Even when the topics were not that interesting I would still go and attend a workshop or a talk held by a native speaker. Then, at 2013 ELTA Conference it happened that an afternoon slot was shared mostly by Serbian presenters. Most of them I knew from PD events I had attended throughout the years and many of them were my social media friends. I felt I should go. Attending that workshop made me realise that my very own fellow colleagues had something very important to say. I realised that their perspective was more realistic and closer to my heart as we share the same teaching conditions and similar surroundings. It also made me think about my own teaching experience and ideas from a different perspective.

I soon started working on my first presentation and when I was done, I thought “Now, what?” Not long after that I saw that ELTA was looking for an official representative to give a presentation at 2014 TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Annual Convention. I applied, thinking “No way they will choose me, I’ve never presented before!” but when I received the confirmation email I was overwhelmed with joy, enthusiasm and fear at the same time. The room was full and the audience was supportive. Not knowing that it was just the beginning, I thought it was the best experience I could ever have. I met so many great colleagues with whom I’m still in touch.

After that, my PLN (Professional Learning Network) started to grow, I presented at several conferences both in Serbia and the region, won a scholarship from the American Embassy in Belgrade for a ten-week online PD (professional development) course, completed a Trainer Development Course at British Council Serbia and continued my voluntary work as a regional coordinator. Then in March 2015, when I thought things couldn’t get any better, an email came from ELTA office saying that I was recommended for a position as an ELTA Serbia Board Member. Once I had wondered who they were and I never thought that I could, and would, become one of them. It was an honour and a huge step in my professional life. ELTA officially became my second family.

In 2016 I became an IATEFL member and I was lucky enough to attend the 50th IATEFL Conference in Birmingham as the ELTA Serbia Associates Representative. I had never attended an event of such size and significance before and I didn’t know what to expect. When I got there, I was overwhelmed and I felt like a child in Disneyland. It was the experience of a lifetime. There were a lot of teachers whom I had met at conferences before and it was a great chance to catch up with them. I also had the opportunity to meet in person many colleagues with whom I was in touch through social media. I made new friends and my PLN grew even more. For me, the conference in Birmingham was all about people. It was so welcoming and I had the impression that I became part of a huge ELT family.

At the IATEFL stand in Birmingham

At the IATEFL Associates stand in Birmingham

Later that year I applied for one of the IATEFL scholarships which included a presentation at the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow. I didn’t win the scholarship but my speaker proposal was accepted and in April 2017 I presented at IATEFL Conference for the first time. Another once in a lifetime experience! Once again it crossed my mind that things can’t get any better.

Since 2015 I’ve been spending most of my time trying to do my best as part of the ELTA Serbia Board (organising the annual conferences and other PD events, organising different competitions for teachers and students, writing projects, co-managing our facebook page and responding to hundreds of emails). Even though at some points it seemed that ELTA could become “a full time job”, I tried not to neglect my own professional development. For the second time I won a scholarship from the American Embassy in Belgrade for an eight-week online course. I applied for the IATEFL Conference in Brighton and my speaker proposal was accepted.

2018 got off to a great start. As a follow up to the conference in Glasgow I was invited by IATEFL to contribute to a webinar Tips for First-Time Presenters at International Conferences, which is available for both IATEFL members and non-members to watch. It was a completely new experience and with 381 people attending the webinar I can say it was a success. Not long after that I received a proposal for giving an informal interview at the Brighton IATEFL Conference as well as an offer to volunteer as an interviewer. I accepted both wholeheartedly even though I had never interviewed anybody before. It was an opportunity not only to learn something new but also to grow my PLN and have fun at the same time. My talk also went well and there’s another webinar on the horizon!

Bozica with Shaun Wilden at our “filming studio” at the 52nd IATEFL Conference in Brighton

With Shaun Wilden at our “filming studio” at the 52nd IATEFL Conference in Brighton

I hope that my further journey through ELT will bring me more “Things can’t get better” moments and more proof that they can.

Fifteen years ago, I didn’t even know that the world of teaching associations existed. Now I can say that TAs change lives. They changed mine, and only in positive ways. So, my advice is: get involved, share what you know and learn from others, do your best and you’ll see that things can always get better!


Božica Šarić-Cvjetković

Božica Šarić-Cvjetković has a BA in English language and literature and more than ten years of experience in the classroom. Based in Serbia, she teaches young learners and teenagers in a state primary school and works with students with special learning difficulties. She’s also a teacher trainer and has delivered workshops and talks both locally and internationally.

She currently serves as ELTA Serbia Vice President. In her free time she enjoys reading, gardening and playing with her cats.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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My dream has come true! (Julia Koifman)

My first steps in teaching and immigration

I have been teaching English for 26 years now. I started my career in Simferopol, Ukraine and taught English at the junior-high school. I also worked as a translator and taught Business English at a university. In 1999 I emigrated to Israel and continued teaching at junior-high and high school. Now I am an English Coordinator at Beit Ekshtein high school in the settlement of Rupin. Beit Ekstein is a chain of Special Education Needs (SEN) schools in our country that use Learning Technologies (LT) in teaching.

Like many immigrants, I had ups and downs in my teaching career. Mainly I faced a culture shock at the beginning and sometimes I was at a loss because I did not know what to teach and how. I had worked at quite a lot of schools before I was employed by Beit Ekstein in 2006, where I still work. I realized that I was good at teaching kids with specific educational needs, so I started looking for ways to develop professionally in SEN and started finding contact with other teachers like myself. Step by step I got used to many new things, attended some local conferences and took numerous in-service and online courses. Finally, in 2009 I became the English Coordinator at our school.

The chance of a lifetime

In summer 2014 I found out about IATEFL by chance and decided to participate in its conferences. I applied for the 49th conference in Manchester and forgot about it almost immediately. I lack words to describe how excited I was when in November 2014 I got an email that my proposal had been accepted. I realized that it was the chance of a lifetime and decided to go to Manchester in April 2015 even though I had to pay for the flight and the hotel myself. Presenting at my first international conference was one of the best things that could have happened to me personally as well as professionally.

Me, David Crystal and Marina Kladova

Me, David Crystal and Marina Kladova

The results of the conference exceeded my expectations. I met Marjorie Rosenberg, David Crystal and some other organizers and made friends with colleagues from all over the world. I am still in touch with them and I have realized that IATEFL is a great place to make international friendships. In addition, when the conference was over, I received numerous offers to publish my articles in different magazines, with the result that I have made about ten publications in three years. Moreover, my salary in school has increased due to publications and presentations.

My first IATEFL presentation

My first IATEFL presentation

Recently I joined TESOL. I have not attended any conferences in the USA yet but I hope to do so one day.

My further professional development

After my first IATEFL conference in Manchester I participated in both international conferences and local ones, including SIG [Special Interest Group] events in different parts of Europe. For instance, in November 2015 I attended the Learning Technologies (LT) SIG conference in Dublin. I have benefited not only from meeting great educators from all over the world, but from webinars as well. I have taken some international courses, including CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). My short articles have been published in IATEFL Conference Selections. When I presented on ‘Building fluency and comprehension in dyslexic readers’ in Glasgow in 2017, my session was filmed so you can watch it if you want to.

I have applied for a scholarship three times but I failed. Finally I wоn the LT SIG Diana Eastment scholarship last year and my dream came true. Since I am a member of LTSIG, the main requirement of this scholarship, and participate in the SIGs a lot, I realized that I had a chance to win. In addition, my presentation at Brighton 2018 is going to deal with using LT in teaching SEN students, so I am going to share my experience with colleagues from all over the world.

I was very happy to become a scholarship winner. It is going to be my fourth international conference, so I won a scholarship on the fourth attempt. I know that it is possible to win a scholarship only once, but it helps a lot because flying and staying in the UK is quite expensive. Besides, I am highly motivated to give a brilliant presentation and to mentor those who are going to present for the first time.

What is my advice on how to win a scholarship? First of all, don’t give up. If your speaker proposal or article for publication has been rejected, try again. Ask your colleagues and IATEFL consultants for help, attend webinars, take courses and you will improve your skills. If your proposal has been accepted, but you still have not won a scholarship, try again next year. Practice makes perfect. In my case being a member of some SIGs, such as LTSIG, IP & SEN SIG (Inclusive Practices and Special Needs), YLTSIG (Young Learners and Teenagers) and others, helped me to win the scholarship later. In general, my advice is – get involved, take a chance, never give up in case of failure and never stop in your professional development.

Next year I will not have the right to apply for a scholarship. Nevertheless, I am not going to stop attending IATEFL conferences, even if it is quite expensive. Since I am an English Coordinator, I should train my co-workers and share new materials and ideas with them. Besides, they sometimes refer to my publications while doing research and I am sure that my articles help them to succeed in their careers.  I am sure that we, teachers, learn from each other a lot.


Julia Koifman

Julia Koifman has been teaching for 26 years. She holds an MA degree from Simferopol State University, Ukraine. She started her career in Ukraine, where she taught English in junior-high school and in a university. In 1999 she moved to Israel and completed a TEFL training course for immigrant teachers and CELTA. Now she is an English Coordinator in Beit Ekshtein high school for special education in Rupin, Israel. Professional development is an essential part of her teaching job. She is a member of IATEFL, TESOL and ETAI (English Teachers’ Association in Israel). She has presented at local and international conferences and published some articles in Israeli and international teachers’ magazines. She won the Learning Technologies SIG Diana Eastment scholarship for the 52nd IATEFL Conference in Brighton in 2018.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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The IATEFL membership officer (Natalie Chambers)

When I started out, I was immediately thrown in at the deep end as the 2017 Annual Conference in Glasgow was only 4 weeks away! Not only was I getting to grips with a new role but I was then put in front of over 3000 delegates, trustees and volunteers really trying to make a good impression. I was trying to remember who everyone was, how the conference worked and what I was meant to be doing…. it was exhausting!!! Having said that it was great, as I learnt so much and a year on I can safely say I have taken ownership of my role as IATEFL Membership Officer and can’t wait to get stuck in at Brighton (as this time I am definitely more prepared).

So what does the Membership Officer do?

No two days are the same in the life of the Membership Officer. Even though there are specific tasks carried out throughout the month, depending on the time of the year, there is a lot of variety. My general responsibilities include processing memberships, producing monthly reports, sending renewal reminders, submitting periodical reports to publishers and preparing the monthly webinars, to name a few. I am also one of the five members on the Membership and Marketing Committee. As well as all this I like to try and keep you up to date with all things IATEFL via our social media platforms, so don’t forget to look out for our posts on Facebook and Twitter.

As the conference is fast approaching, it is a busy time and it’s all systems go. I have been sending out the invitations for the IATEFL Associates’ Day, which is held on the same day as the PCE’s [Pre-Conference Events]. It gives the nominated representatives the opportunity to network with other IATEFL Associates from all corners of the globe.

One of the final preparations for the conference will be the delegate badges. Once the online registration closes on 22nd March 2018, I will gather all the information and begin producing them ready to take with us in April. Don’t worry if you missed the deadline, you can still book your place onsite in Brighton!

One of the best things about my job is the opportunity to meet and talk to so many different people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Of course it wouldn’t be the same without working with everyone at Head Office on a daily basis. There are only nine of us but I think we make a pretty great team.

If you have any questions about membership feel free to send me an email or come and see me in Brighton. Even if you just want to say ‘Hi’, it’s always great to put a face to a name. You will see me behind the registration desk or on the IATEFL Stand in the exhibition. If not, I won’t be far away!


Natalie Chambers

I started my role as IATEFL Membership Officer in March 2017, having had previous experience in administration, database and systems analysis and customer service. I love to travel and one of my biggest passions is dance, having started my working life as a performer, choreographer and dance teacher.

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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