Is what you are teaching relevant to what your students need? #ELTchat Summary 23/03/2011

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Is what you are teaching relevant to what your students need? #ELTchat Summary 23/03/2011

This summary was contributed by John Daley – @lysurgis23 on Twitter- an  ESL instructor in Adelaide North Institute, TAFE South Australia. Thank you John for a great summary!!!!!!


The discussion was conducted on Twitter from 1200 GMT Wednesday 23rd March 2011.

You can find the transcript of the Twitter chat here



Most of the people I have met in learning groups – in my current (directly ESL) work in the Australian city of Adelaide, as well as in my previous work (in an “unofficial” ESL environment) in Sydney – are absolutely driven in their quest to develop their English language skills. They see this as a passport to many benefits – education, better work opportunities, better lifestyles.

They usually signal clearly when they do not perceive what they are learning as relevant.  This might not be through direct feedback – indeed, in many cultures there is a reluctance to give such feedback due to unwillingness to criticise the teacher authority figure – but we as teachers usually know when we do and when we do not have the attention even the most overtly respectful learners.

So how do we deal with “relevance”.  Certainly, to help them function effectively in the community. But what of other aspects? Is it giving the learner a grounding in taboo words (October 2010)?  Is it introducing them to topics that might to them seem a wee bit abstract?


Some of the main points:


The concept of relevance has several meanings to #ELTchat participants:

  • As things that help the learner in his/her immediate environment
  • as things that will be of use in the future.
  • as being linked to the formal learning outcomes / curriculum objectives of the learning group.
  • whether there is an examination at the end of the learning period; although this concept provoked some varying and dissenting discussion amongst participants.

So in some earning environments there are elements of negotiation between learning group and teacher; with the teacher asking the group what the group would like to do to achieve the stated objectives of the course, and the teacher then providing the wherewithal to reach this goal / these goals via those steps chosen by the learning group.

The idea of coursebooks took up much discussion.  Some #ELTchat participants loathe them; some grudgingly accept them, albeit in heavily modified activity form. Some involve learners in coursebook selection as part of the negotiation mentioned in the previous point.

There is a recognition that coursebooks do assist in the “time-poor” work lives of many colleagues. However, some feel at the least unhappy about using coursebooks (rather than having to develop independent resources from the ground up). One participant likened coursebooks to fast food (see tweets below).

Needs analysis was also discussed – as an exercise undertaken at the start of a learning period (and indeed before, as prospective students are interviewed), and as an ongoing process affecting where the learning group goes in its time together.

There is also the question of “unpopular” topics that might nonetheless be useful knowledge / information for a learner – especially with young learners / high school students who might perceive a particular lesson as irrelevant when it is dealing in something useful. (We have this debate from time to time in Australia, not in the ESL field, but in the area of “civics” – how government works, the republic v constitutional monarchy debate, and so on.)


A selection of comments:


With such a vibrant discussion, it’s almost impossible to do it justice in a summary, but I’ve picked out some of the comments that caught my eye.


englishraven: @barbsaka Yes, relevance in terms of content, skills, goals, learning styles, etc… #ELTChat

yearinthelifeof: @barbsaka When suggesting this topic I was thinking in terms of ‘relevant to future needs #ELTchat

JoshSRound: @barbsaka: I guess my first question is what do you mean by “relevant”? > what will help ss to use Eng effectively in own lives #eltchat

edumazing: We need to ensure relevance to current needs before applying it to future needs #eltchat

barbsaka: That’s another one–revelant to the assigned course goals (like not getting off track). Slippery word, relevant 🙂 #eltchat

edumazing: I use the 3Rs in my work – Relevant-connected 2 student, Rich-deep in content, Real – related to their world #eltchat

esolcourses: @yearinthelifeof @barbsaka agreed… think there has to be an element of negotiated learning (their wishes + prof. guidance) #ELTChat

bcnpaul1: often YLs need to be trained (very slowly) to identify their needs, which shd be a part of the course content (learner training) #eltchat

esolcourses: Think delivering what learners need is ultimately down to teachers, but teachers rarely get full say in deciding what to teach #ELTChat

ddeubel: How many teachers get the support / time to do a proper needs analysis? #eltchat

waykatewit: #ELTchat @ddeubel needs analysis is a continuous process – at every lesson, maybe

worldteacher: @englishraven Agreed – YLs have to be handled differently, but, with adults, my most useful lesson is the 1st one – needs analysis. #eltchat

esolcourses: @ddeubel IME, the expectation is that teachers will do a needs analysis, but it’s a very time-consuming process to do properly #ELTChat

Marisa_C: RT @JoshSRound: What abt the part tutorials can play in identifying learner needs? – Indiv Learning Plans anyone? #eltchat> A v good idea

Marisa_C: @JoshSRound Tutorials need to be structured in some way – that’s what we have found – otherwise turn into aimless chats #eltchat

englishraven: @BrunoELT Maybe we should also back ourselves as Ts and not always take Ss’ perceived needs as the best/only indicator. #ELTChat

worldteacher: @sandymillin RT How often do you reassess syllabus? #eltchat It’s a continuous process except for exam courses, but even those are ‘tweaked’

grahamstanley: RT @azangolszekely: #eltchat coursebooks… are hardly ever relevant… >agreed, but few teachers have time to prepare lessons without one

Marisa_C: Have you ever asked your Ss to choose their coursebook? I have done it and it works really well #ELTchat

yearinthelifeof: @Marisa_C Some weeks it’s a bit of a drag but worth it. A class of 18 ss is full of 18 people with diff needs #ELTchat

englishraven: @Shaunwilden Funny how often I’ve let classes choose the coursebook, and then want to ditch it three weeks later! #ELTChat

esolcourses: @Marisa_C Don’t use coursebooks, but often give learners a choice in topics/activities we do in class… find that works well, too #ELTChat

Shaunwilden: RT @englishraven: Another option is having Ss go through the coursebook and rank units in order of interest/relevance. #ELTChat gd idea

englishraven: RT @grahamstanley: #eltchat coursebooks are the fast food of ELT : attractively packaged, quick and easy to consume, and leaves you feeling full but guilty

sandymillin: @chucksandy @waykatewit Think unpopular topics are an issue w/ teens whn you should teach thm about world too e.g. ‘serious’ topics #eltchat

englishraven: RT @yearinthelifeof: @Marisa_C We all need safety blankets sometimes – perhaps coursebook publishers rely on this fact #ELTchat

CeciELT: RT @EclipsingX: Needs Analysis are not only at the beginning but continue throughout the course. You change based on your learners needs. #ELTCHAT


As ever, some great links were shared:



RT @ddeubel: I think Richard’s ideas on adapting the textbook are relevant to meeting student’s needs. #eltchat


RT @teachingenglish: ideas for setting homework for young learners. #teachingenglish #britishcouncil #TESOL #eltchat #efl #esl


@JoshSRound : There’s a good prelim questionnaire in CUP’s “Learner Autonomy”; & ask abt short-, med- & long-term goals. #eltchat


RT @ddeubel: Sue Swift has an awesome presentation on needs analysis – #ELTChat – Thx! =)


How I developed an academic vocabulary syllabus based on ss long-term needs #ELTchat


Why teaching formulaic writing doesn’t meet long-term needs – good article Baaddd 5 parag essay #ELTchat


My Writing Curriculum page: #eltchat


@edumazing I have link to mine handy (for YLs) (lots of samples to check out) #eltchat

[NB: Link is to the Let’s Go! Course]

by John Daley


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