Things to include in a TEFL workshop
1. Welcome/ intro/ why it’s important
Hopefully, you’ve explained all this in the information people get before they arrive at your workshop (otherwise you might see people sneaking out in the first 5 minutes- not necessarily a bad thing if they really chose the wrong one) but even so it is worth laying out right at the beginning why everything you are going to say is relevant to those teachers and their students. If you find this difficult to write, maybe your whole workshop is actually not as relevant as it could be and needs changing!
2. A warmer
As the aim is for people to really learn something in your workshop, not just to hear something or understand something and then forget, a warmer can be just as useful in teacher training as it is in your lessons. This is particularly true at the beginning of a conference when people need some icebreakers to set a nice atmosphere for the day and get them chatting in a way that hopefully continues during the breaks, but also when people have been to a few workshops already and need waking up. If possible, make your warmer something that links into the next stage of the workshop, e.g. by illustrating a point about teaching (e.g. the power of questions to get people speaking) or by having the same topic as the next point (e.g. stretching exercises followed by discussion of teaching body parts vocabulary to preschool children). If the people attending the workshop are people who could use your warmer in their own classes or who could usefully learn how effective warmers can be in making people alert for future learning and how useable they are even in adult classes, the importance of this stage becomes even greater. Even more so than in your classes, though, keep warmers as short as you can, i.e. concentrate on providing the maximum amount of warming up in the minimum time.
3. Your personal experience and opinions
My least favourite TEFL presenters are ones who elicit so much from the crowd that you hardly know what they think about the topic themselves, and my favourite ones are ones who are impassioned about their topic and tell you why. Even if you don’t share their feelings about what they are talking about, you can’t help but be swept along by their enthusiasm so that the workshop seems much shorter than it really is, and of course everyone is interested in hearing people’s personal stories. For example, I can still remember 10 years later one presenter’s story of how she had a Paul on the road to Damascus conversion to the Lexical Approach, even though I have yet to have such a flash of inspiration myself. This point can easily be combined with point 1 above.
4. Break the point down
For example, what does teaching speaking actually consist of or what are all the things your brain is doing as you listen to a foreign language. This helps make the topic seem logical and manageable, gives the people attending a framework within which to come up with their own ideas, and can make the topic more memorable. As those two examples in the first sentence should make clear, however, this is a stage that could easily take up the whole 30, 60 or even 90 minutes. Ways of cutting it down whilst still retaining its strengths include using visual methods such as mind maps, introducing some teaching ideas that illustrate the various aspects first so that the analysis is easier to elicit after, or just giving the analysis and only asking the people attending to come up with examples.
5. Some reassurance
TEFL teachers tend to come out of even the least original of workshops feeling much better due to thinking “Well, I’m doing all of that already”. Whilst we don’t want to make our whole workshop have only that impact, that is a positive thing that can make teachers more receptive to the more controversial or original ideas that come before and/ or after. Ways of bringing in this aspect include brainstorming, telling them about what other teachers in your school or previous workshops said or did, presenting results of questionnaires given to teachers, and running through what well known teaching books and famous researchers say on the subject.
6. Something they would never have heard of or thought about before/ Something counterintuitive/ Something controversial
As I said before, the worst thing possible if for anyone to leave your workshop thinking there was nothing new in it. Ways of making sure that doesn’t happen include bringing in the very latest research, ideas from a book that has just been published, an adaptation of a recent scientific idea from another field, an idea that is so old and obscure that almost no one has heard of it, your own research, finding parallels between two seemingly unrelated things, or something that hasn’t been translated into English before. Even if your own conclusions on the subject are that we need to get back to basics or just use our common sense, mentioning some ideas that are the complete opposite (e.g. seemingly eccentric) will at least give everyone the feeling “Well, I’d never heard that before!”
Another way of looking at the point above is to tell them something that goes exactly against what most people consider common sense- something that is surprisingly often true in recent theories in neurology, physics etc. Again, this doesn’t even have to be something you agree with or something directly related to language teaching (it could be a news story from New Scientist that inspired you to look at your teaching another way), but it will be something that has impact when you say it to them and that will hopefully make them think about and remember your workshop for weeks, months or even years to come.
7. Practical ideas
Another way of making a workshop come back into people’s brains again and again is to get them doing something you mentioned or inspired them to think of in their next class and then in many classes after that. Some ideas include ways of adapting textbooks, warmers, practice activities, more interesting ways of doing homework, and discipline and motivation ideas. Another way of looking at making it practical is how to make it part of their (perhaps fairly fixed) syllabus and adapting textbook to put that factor in. A similar point is talking about making it relevant to all their students/ classes (by level, learner style etc).
8. Some theory/ A system
Despite what I suggest above, a whole workshop of teaching ideas is unlikely to stick in people’s memories for long as there will be too many ideas to try and not enough variation in the workshop to make the most important ideas stand out. Linking those ideas together in some way will both make them easier to remember (similar to teaching vocabulary by topic or using timelines in our classes), but will also help people come up with their own similar ideas.
9. What people usually do and other possibilities/ What things are usually neglected
For example, the results of a questionnaire or observations that shows that teachers use one kind of classroom question much more than another, sales figures from a bookshop that shows that graded readers are becoming less and less popular (no idea if this is really so, just a made up example!) or a look at the public school syllabus to see what is missing. This is something that can be included in almost any TEFL workshop, and can be combined with talking about typical student mistakes and difficulties, another important and productive topic.
10. Self-study skills/ What Ss can do outside the classroom
One thing that is often neglected in workshops that are nor specifically about these topics is how whatever the workshop is about can be brought into what the students do outside the classroom. To put it another way, although most TEFL workshops are not teacher led and involve plenty of the people attending coming up with their own ideas, they do tend to be mainly about what the teacher does rather than what the students should do, i.e. more about teaching than learning.
11. Their ideas and your ideas
The reasons for using brainstorming and pairwork in our classes are also relevant to workshops, e.g. that making the people attending active makes the content more memorable and helps them continue to come up with their own ideas once they leave. This can be taken too far, however, and every brainstorming and pairwork stage should finish with them hearing something they could never have thought of for themselves.
Like warmers, this is something most of us take for granted in our classes but often neglect in our workshops. Uses for it include filling time if you get fewer questions than you expected to, and replacing a longer stage that you realise you won’t have time for. Possibilities include asking them to roleplay being a teacher and student and do what you have just talked about, brainstorming in groups or all together before giving your own ideas, having extra teaching ideas ready to extend that practical part of the workshop, and using an extra quote or anecdote at the end of the workshop.
13. Q and A
The difficulty of this stage is that you might get more questions than you can cope with or you might get none and have to waffle on for the next 5 minutes (see Filler above for how to cope with that). Ways of prompting questions at the end include asking them to write down their questions about the topic near the beginning of the workshop (individually or in groups) and then ask any questions that weren’t answered until that point.
14. Something to take away
For example a summary or conclusion that sticks in their minds, something they really don’t agree with so that they can continue arguing it through in their heads, worksheets they will use in their classes, a point to think about, an action plan for their own teaching, an idea to use on Monday morning, something they really will read on the train home, or teacher training worksheets they can use with the teachers in their own school.
15. Further reading
This is important because it will remind them of the content of the workshop when they read it, will take away the pressure to cover everything in the workshop, can guide them to even further reading, and can help you deal with “mixed levels” (having people in the workshop that know a lot or very little about the subject you are talking about). Further reading can be given as an article, a list of teaching ideas, an example lesson plan, some discussion questions to think about, quotes from other literature on the subject, or just a list of links and recommended books and articles.
Brian Doebbeling says:
Although I do not lead TEFL conferences, you have given me several things to think about for our monthly teacher training sessions. I particularly liked the idea that the teachers need to be part of the brainstorming a topic to feel like they have something to say, but they also need to hear something from the leader so they get the feeling they have learned something totally new.
I am looking forward to reading future entries,