15 Criteria for a Good TEFL Workshop

By Alex Case
1. Makes teachers’ lives easier tomorrow As much as we might know going to workshops is a good idea and have examples of ones we have left energised and inspired by, if they mean giving up time off when we are run down for any reason the resulting tiredness could mean that our lessons on […]

1. Makes teachers’ lives easier tomorrow
As much as we might know going to workshops is a good idea and have examples of ones we have left energised and inspired by, if they mean giving up time off when we are run down for any reason the resulting tiredness could mean that our lessons on Monday morning are worse than usual and by the time we are back to normal the message of the workshop is half forgotten. Therefore, at least one focus of the workshop should be to give teachers something that will make up for any loss of energy and planning time due to attendance. If we do this really well, this should make the Pavlovian reaction of teachers seeing a poster about workshops not “Oh well, I really should” but as automatic as reaching for their favourite book of TEFL games. Some of the points explained below help for this. Other hints include giving warmers and fillers and other game ideas, hints on classroom dynamics, and ways of cutting down on planning time.

2. 90% practical/ 10% theoretical
For example, “10 ideas on how to practice the Present Perfect” and then some explanation on why these are good activities and/ or how the Present Perfect is commonly misused and badly taught.

3. Makes teachers’ lives easier in the long term
For example, tips on time management, finding supplementary ideas quickly, ways of reflecting on your teaching, sources of teaching advice, or training your students to be more self-sufficient.

4. Make me a better teacher tomorrow
This is similar to Makes Teachers’ Lives Easier above, but is more about a feeling of satisfaction than of relief or relaxation. Examples include workshops on realising when you are getting into bad habits as a teacher and stopping yourself, ways of realizing something about your students that you hadn’t before (e.g. their learning style), or fun and easy ways of doing something you have always avoided (e.g. using phonics).

5. Continue or even increase those effects long into the future
Like any kind of learning, the effects of what you have learnt in a workshop tend to fade out over time, until in a few years you could quite happily go to the same workshop to learn it all over again. Ways of avoiding this include making what they learn something that they instantly make part of their classroom routine and never stop using, making what they learn something that they notice everyday in the classroom to revise what they have learnt and show its usefulness, or make what they learn something that they will read and speak about in the near future. Tips about some of these individual points are given elsewhere in the article.

6. A system to come up with your own ideas
One way of making the effects of your workshop last is to give attendees a way of coming up with more ideas like the ones you presented. Ways of doing this include showing the methods you used to come up with your ideas (e.g. brainstorming, making variations, combining ideas from several areas), showing what all the ideas have in common and how those factors can generate new ideas, letting them know where the original inspiration came from (e.g. a different field of education you read about or a psychology book), and helping them come up with a couple of similar ideas in pairs or small groups during the workshop.

7. Something new/ preconception busting
Like a good grammar lesson, a good workshop tells attendees not only something they didn’t know but also something that they were convinced wasn’t so. This could be something about how people really speak English, how commonly used grammar rules are not really true, what language teachers really do in the classroom, or how people really learn a language.

8. Positive reinforcement
Teaching teachers something new is perhaps more obvious than something which is at least as important, which is to reassure them when they are doing the right thing and to tell them when all they need to do is more of the same. This boosts their ego, makes them more comfortable and confident in class, and makes them more open to listen to anything you suggest that they are not doing or might have disagreed with before they came to your workshop. How much reassurance they need can depend very much on the teachers- primary school teachers who only teach a few hours of English a month might need mainly reassurance and a whole group of CELTA qualified teachers might mainly want to be told something that contradicts what they have been taught before.

9. A good balance between truth and simplicity
This might seem to be back to the painfully obvious again, but in fact saying something that is true and simple is just as difficult in a workshop as it is in a grammar explanation. Also just like a group of language students, how much the people in the workshop need a complex explanation that covers all bases and how much they need something easy to understand, snappy and memorable can vary a lot- see below.

10. Needs analysis
This can be very difficult in a teaching conference when you have little idea of who will turn up and less of who will choose your presentation rather than others that are on at the same time. Things to think about include relevance to the attendees’ ages and levels of classes, most typical problems, things they often talk about, level of training, and restrictions they face at work. Ways of finding out as much as you can include just writing down yourself what kinds of people are likely to respond to your description of your workshop, attending other people’s workshops that attract a similar crowd, talking to the organisers or a few people you know will be attending, and giving out questionnaires in your workshop to get more information before you do your next one.

11. Comes at the right time for them/ when they are ready
One example of matching people’s needs, and perhaps of how much truth to include, is the zen-like concept of only telling them what they are ready to hear. This could mean talking about real communication as a factor you can include in your classes rather than a principle that should be used in every exercise, or ways of using speaking tasks in a PPP lesson format if people don’t feel comfortable introducing them and changing the whole way they teach at the same time.

12. A good example of the principles you are trying to show people
A way of reinforcing what you are trying to say and showing that you really believe in it is to do what you preach. For example, if you say that teachers shouldn’t be embarrassed about using simple or even terrible drawings in class use your own drawings to mark the different parts of the presentation (e.g. someone your sketch of a stick man wrapping a present for the conclusion), or if it’s all about pairwork get them brainstorming in pairs about how to use pairs.

13. Photocopiable
This usually means photocopiable worksheets they can use in class (a good way of making sure they have something that makes their lives easier and improves their teaching tomorrow), but also can mean having the workshop notes as a stand alone guide to what you said on an easily photocopiable reasonable number of pages so they can pass them on or put them in the teachers’ files or noticeboard at school.

14. Passed on
Other ways of helping make sure that your ideas are passed onto other people are making sure they are topical and so likely to come up in conversation in the teacher’s room and on TEFL Internet forums, suggesting people use some of your ideas to do their own workshops at school, or questionnaires that attendees can use to interview the other teachers or managers in their school.

15. Further reading
This means not just that you tell teachers where they can read more about what you have been speaking about, but also that you actually inspire them, or even almost force them, to do so. Ways of trying to do this include giving them the beginning of an article they can find the rest of on a website that also has lots of other interesting stuff on, or similar things with the analysis of a questionnaire they completed in the workshop, photocopiable worksheets you showed them or gave them copies of they filled in, the continuation of a story you were telling them (e.g. a blog entry the next week on how your confrontation with a problem student’s parents turned out).

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet June 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet

One Comment

  • Nick Jaworski says:

    As I’ll be doing a lot more workshops in the near future, I found this post quite useful. Thanks Alex.

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