IATEFL 2015 – summaries

Posted: April 16, 2015 in Conferences
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This year I was very lucky to go to Manchester to attend the IATEFL Conference. While there, I wrote up summaries of over 20 talks and workshops – I’ve decided to sort them by topic area and put the links in one post to make them easier to navigate.

Apart from reading summaries on blogs, you can watch lots of interviews and some of the sessions that were recorded and will be available on IATEFL Online site for at least a year. I would especially recommend watching the incredible plenary by Harry Kuchah. I missed the plenary by Ann Cotton, but judging by what people who’d seen it said, this was also one of the highlights of the conference. Another unmissable talk was Appropriate strategies for teaching grammar – a Dave Willis retrospective by Jane Willis.

So, here are links to my summaries.

Materials writing

Most sessions I attended on material writing were part of The Material Writer’s Essential Toolkit – MaWSIG Pre-Conference Event). The event featured eight information-packed sessions and workshops focusing on practical hands-on ideas useful for any materials writer, no matter how experienced you are.

Sue Kay: ‘Writing multiple-choice questions’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Sue Kay gives a checklist of potential pitfalls to avoid when writing multiple-choice questions and shares several very useful slides with suggestions how to reformulate language from the text in the questions.  

Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones: ‘Maximising the image in materials design’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones show that images can be used a lot more productively than just as a pretty picture displayed next to the text. They also share lots of image stocks where you can find different types of images, as well as tips how to navigate those stocks to get exactly what you need.

Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher: ‘How to write ELT activities for authentic video and film’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher explore the changing role of video in ELT and share lots of ideas for activity types that can be used with video content.

John Hughes ‘Writing ELT audio and video scripts: From basic principles to creating drama’ (MaWSIG PCE)
John Hughes shares insight into writing scripts for videos,  focusing specifically on the ways to make them sound natural. He also shares some techniques for making scripts interesting, referring to none other than Kurt Vonnegut and his 8 tips for writers. Material writers are writers too!

Sheila Thorn: Practical advice on creating authentic Medical English listening materials  (recording)
Sheila Thorn, who previously produced a wonderful listening coursebook series aimed at general English students, talks about how she successfully created authentic Medical English materials in the situation when it’s virtually impossible to obtain recordings of medical interactions between patients and doctors. She also shares insight into the exercise types that students need to fully benefit from authentic listening materials. 

Julie Moore ‘Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Julie Moore demonstrates how indispensable a corpus is for creating grammar and vocabulary materials – and also talks about the limitations of corpora.

Evan Frendo ‘Tailor-making materials from an ESP author perspective’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Evan Frendo talks about what an ESP materials writer must do before creating materials. Materials in this context will aim to enable the learners to become successful communicators (as opposed to ‘improve their language level’), and, since ‘successful communication’  means different things in different settings, materials needs to be informed by the conventions of the company/field and by top sources of difficulty in intercultural communication. 

Christien Lee ‘Adventures in self-publishing’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Christien Lee tells us the story of his (mis)adventures in self-publishing. Along the way, he shares some very useful tips and tools for creating practice tests for high stakes exams – specifically, how to make sure that they are close in difficulty to the original tests. 

Technology for materials writing

Nick Tims: ‘A technological toolkit for material writers’ (MaWSIG PCE)
Nick Tims gave a wonderful, lively session in which he makes a very strong point that whenever you find yourself frequently doing a certain action in several clicks, you should find a tool that does that action in one click. He also shares some great browser extensions that allow you to control and analyze your time spent online.  

Paul Sweeney: Course (be)ware: key lessons in online course development
Paul Sweeney asked people who had created 13,000 hours of online course content between them: ‘What were the five biggest problems you faced?’ If you are starting out on the path of creating online courses, you should really read his paper when he writes it – but for now, check out the summary of this talk. 

Humanistic teaching

Lizzie Pinard: Fostering autonomy: harnessing the outside world from within the classroom (though better read Lizzie’s own write-up of her talk on her blog).
In her great talk, Lizzie Pinard shares her top seven tips for how to win the students over to the idea of practicing language outside class, support them, and really make them feel in charge of their learning, both in and outside the classroom.

Kirsten Waechter: Your class is your resource – making use of learner styles
Kirsten Waechter talks about the dangers of ignoring the learners’ learning preferences, and shares ideas how to find out learner styles and what activity types to use with learners of different styles to really help them to learn. 

Madeleine du Vivier & Jo-Ann Delaney: Lessons learned as a language learner
Madelaine du Vivier and Jo-Ann Delaney share how their language learning experience made them question their assumptions about what should be happening in classroom and made them much more aware of their learners and their individual preferences. 

Jason Anderson: Lying is the best policy… to get learners speaking! (Update: Jason’s own write-up is available here.)
Jason Anderson shares lots of game-like activities that involve deception, and also reflects on how ‘lying activities’ benefit learners in general, e.g. by developing higher order thinking skills and learning to adjust and read intonations and body language.

Robert Zammit: Structured spontaneity. Unleashing participants’ spontaneity and creativity for role playing
This was a workshop on psychodramaturgy during which we created human statues and shaped invisible people with their lives and histories and emotions, and then became those statues and people and talked through them. It was a hopeless idea to capture that session, but it was a very different experience, so I wanted to share it. 

Luke Meddings: People, pronunciation and play
Writing this workshop up was an even more hopeless idea than writing up the workshop by Robert Zammit. We laughed (and laughed and laughed) and played and relished language. Still, maybe this post will inspire you to play too, so I’m sharing it anyway. 

Continuous professional development

Dita Phillips & Ela Wassell: Better together: peer-coaching for continuing professional development
Dita Phillips and Ella Wassell share their experience peer-coaching each other and the benefits this brought to their professional development. They share lots of tips for how to set up a similar project with a colleague you trust. 

Marisa Constantinides: Evernote for teacher observation and teacher development
Marisa Constantinides shows how she uses technology to capture and convey her lesson observations a lot more powerfully than mere notes ever could. 

See also Madeleine du Vivier & Jo-Ann Delaney: Lessons learned as a language learner above.

Language & methodology

Candy van Olst: How does just chatting become a purposeful conversation? (recording)
Candy van Olst outlines a list of skills that skillful conversationalists employ and translates those skills into specific grammar areas that learners need to learn and practise in order to be able to have purposeful, rich conversations of the kind they might be having in their mother tongues. 

Chia Suan Chong: The pragmatics of successful business communication
Chia Suan Chong shows examples of how different cultures may read different meaning into the same language and interaction patterns and gives examples of activities that language trainers can use to sensitize learners to those differences and thus help them become more successful communicators.

Pamela Rogerson-Revell: Research into practice: revisiting some ‘old-fashioned’ notions in pronunciation teaching (recording)
Pamela Rogerson-Revell draws on phonological research to formulate some concrete tips for how to create successful drills, minimal pairs activities and target intonation in class.

Paul Davis: Grammar: deixis – pointing this way and that
Paul Davis points out that a handful of grammar areas account for a vast majority of learner mistakes, and therefore those areas need to receive a lot more attention in class than they might currently be receiving. He also suggested some activity types to nail those slippery areas.  

My workshop: Authentic listening: stepping from bottom-up decoding to understanding
We started by listening to examples of features of authentic speech that may cause language learners a lot of listening difficulties, even at post-C2 levels. I then show how to use free technology (youtube and Aegisub) to help learners cope with those features and share my typical listening lesson plan. In my slides you’ll find the audio and video snippets we listened to, and a link to a wide range of videos that this lesson plan can be adapted to.


Christina Rebuffet-Broadus: Market smarter to sell higher as a freelance trainer
Christina Rebuffet-Broadus pinpoints things that freelancers often say to potential clients which hurt them by sending the wrong message, shows how small differences in the way you market your services might have a big impact on how they are perceived, and shares her experience creating value for potential clients so that they want to hear from you when you are ready to offer them a service. 


Lots of people blogged about the sessions they attended this year. Here are a few great sources (please feel free to share other links in the comments):  

Lizzie Pinard wrote up over thirty sessions – indexed in this post on her blog.
IATEFL online roving reporters Csilla Jaray-Benn and David Dodgson shared their impressions from about ten sessions here.
Mark Hancock shared some reflections on the pronunciation sessions he attended on his blog.

  1. […] index of the sessions at IATEFL, take a look at Lizzie Pinard’s excellent archive and Olya Sergeeva’s equally comprehensive summaries. Ladies, I’m not […]

  2. […] I only went to one of the same talks, so there’s a lot to catch up on! Olya Sergeeva also has an index of the posts she wrote about the sessions she went to, including some which I’ve linked to […]

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