Letters to future students

I finished a course last Sunday with a lovely group of teens preparing for IELTS. Sunday groups are special: they are often miserable at the start of the day (Sunday! Morning! Nooo!), so it’s an interesting challenge to make sure they learn well and have a reasonably good time doing it. For the final reflection, I asked them to write letters to the future Sunday group, and here’s what I saw:


I think it illustrates their conflicting views on the course very well 🙂

“from now on you will have to do all the homework and work a lot. … I hope we inspired you to be a nice student of Kate’s class. P.S. She’s very great and informative”

“If you read this you are a victim of IELTS test… If you start this course from the beginning, never you hear NEVER allow yourself forget about homework.”

Now they are saying they should have done their homework!

“You should be concentrated…. Your lessons will not be tedious, I promise… Your teacher is a really proficient and friendly” “You’re very lucky person because you take part in effective course”

The ‘effective’ course taught them nothing about articles!

“Remember, you should write tedious vocabulary tests about graphs… Also, you’ll do worthwhile tests for for reading and listening but of course it will be funny because Kate is so friendly teacher”

Nice vocabulary, but where are my articles?

“The whole ritual of waking up early is actually worth the course. … Most of the times the more boring the task is, the more info and practice it gives you… Watch out for vocabulary tests, they are pretty annoying”

Ha, ha 🙂

So, my conclusions?

  1. Next time, I need to have a better mechanism for accountability, to give them extra motivation to do their homework on time and not regret it later
  2. Do more vocabulary work so that they learn a few more words apart from ‘tedious’ – and more tasks to practise articles!
  3. Continue to annoy them with tests 🙂

To get more out of it, I would also provide a bit more scaffolding for this activity. Here, for example, is a useful post by Jen Wieber with templates for younger kids that can be reworked for language learners. As it is, I had to have another reflection task to focus on the contents and tasks of the course in more depth, whereas better scaffolding might have saved the time.

And what about you, do you ever ask your students to write letters to future students? Do you give the future students the letters afterwards? I certainly will.



Owning your teaching mistakes


Owning your mistakes – this is becoming an impromptu series! Here is a very interesting reflection by Sam Pullan which has surfaced on Twitter today (sorry for skipping the ‘via’ reference, I usually go to the original posts straight away – as I expect everyone to do when you read something on my blog :)). Anyway, he remembers how many years he didn’t call out a student who said something really wrong, why he did it and what consequences it had for his teaching.

Makes me think about how many instances like this we don’t even notice when we teach… The teachable moments that are lost forever, the indifference we sometimes demonstrate even if  we actually care, and care very much.

The word of the year: 2019


I can’t believe it’s my third post about the word of the year 🙂 Incidentally, it’s Kate’s Crate’s second anniversary: I started this blog a few days before the New Year in 2017. It’s been really rewarding in many ways – but this post is not about blogging, it’s about what lexicographers have chosen as the most significant word for the whole world this year. So, without further ado:

Oxford: climate emergency

Cambridge: upcycling

Merriam-Webster: they (the link is to the behind-the-scenes video explaining how they chose the word – so cool)

Collins: climate strike

Dictionary.com: existential

P.S. You can compare this to the words of the year in 2018 and in 2017.

P.P.S. What’s your word of the year? And what would you like your 2020 word to be?




Ways to look back


You must have read Chia Suan Chong’s latest – and, sadly, last – post for the English Teaching Professional. If not, do check it out. For starters, the ETp’s resident blogger looks back on eight years of writing for the magazine, and links to some of her best posts. It’s a fantastic retrospective! Secondly, she reflects on how much blogging helped her develop professionally, and it’s very inspiring and definitely rings true to me. Yes, blogging helps you clarify your thinking about your work, take and keep notes and meet an incredible number of interesting people – and these are just three of her 10 reasons. So, in fact, be careful when you read that post: you might end up starting your own blog!

Exit highs and lows


Here’s a very good description of several end-of-lesson reflection activities from Catlin Tucker: ‘highs and lows’ (when the learners share which tasks they feel the most positive and the most confused or frustrated about), exit tickets and other useful strategies, including sketching and tech solutions. The descriptions are very practical and can be taken into the classroom straight away – and there is a bit of theory behind it, too.

P.S. I’ll definitely add it to my collection of exit strategies! Looking forward to doing another training session on this.

A placemat for revision


Here is another serendipitous find: a set of revision questions that can be used as a poster or, indeed, a student’s placemat, to encourage them to remember and connect what they learned before. Just imagine if you could have reflection questions on every desk in the classroom – and who knows, maybe at the school cafe too?

The placemat is very general, so can be applied to almost every context, including ELT;  Blake Harvard (the author of the post where I read about this) lists other advantages. For example, it can form good study habits and generally encourage the learners to pay attention – all because they know they will be asked to build connections, remember keywords and generally reflect on their learning.

P.S. This activity is a bit similar to the ‘connecting question’ I linked to here; and if you’re considering how to introduce more retrieval practice into your teaching, the article in this post is a must read.


Reading Stevick 2 of 10


When Stevick writes about communicative and linguistic competence as the learner’s goal, there are no surprises: we all know that the students need to know what to say and how to say it. However, there is also a third competence, which he calls ‘personal’ and lists several levels to it:

1) mastering techniques like using flash cards or making vocabulary notes (just another name for ‘learning how to learn’ skills, isn’t it?);

2) knowing which techniques work specifically for you (learner self-reflection?);

3) understanding the process of mastering a new technique (this is a bit vague for me, but it’s close to reflection and metacognitive processes);

4) knowing how to deal with emotions as they arise in the process of education (EQ?).

So, how does the teacher go about developing all these competencies? Give the students enough different options for (1); allow them to experiment for (2); comment on their progress, but don’t “talk it to death” for (3) and modify their teaching to deal with negative emotions, but remember that “you are dealing with a group of other humans who may be quite unlike each other” to help with (4).

Funny how people used to speak about the same things in ELT even 40 years ago!

Reading Stevick 1 of 10

I’ve always wanted to find an excuse to write more about Earl Stevick! Now that I mentioned humanistic approaches in two previous posts, it seems there’ll never be a better chance 🙂


So, here we go: Teaching and Learning Languages by Earl W.Stevick, my favourite ELT writer of all times. First published in 1982, but still very relevant – at least that’s what I think. By his own admission, Stevick wrote this tiny book as something practical, but not a ‘how-to-do-it’ book. He was focusing on the principles of teaching, on thinking about ‘how-it-works’, beginning from the first words the teacher says when they enter the classroom.

And here’s my favourite quote for today: “When you called the people there in front of you ‘class’, you accepted for yourself the role known as ‘teacher’, and along with it an obligation to help your students to move toward the goals that they brought with them.”

Quite a lot to unpack here: the advice to find out about the learners’ needs as soon as possible, the understanding that calling yourself a teacher means taking on a huge responsibility… Does this quote speak to you as well?

Choosing priorities: what happens if it doesn’t happen?


Another of my favourite authors is David Geurin (you may have read the posts Passion or proficiency? or Teachers as warm demanders): his texts are sometimes controversial, but always encourage reflection. And this post, “What would happen you weren’t successful?”, seems a great find for the coming New Year and the plans we’re setting ourselves. There’s too little time and no enough resources to do everything, so how do you choose your priorities? David suggests thinking about the consequences of not doing what you have in mind. If nothing really horrible happens – well, then perhaps it’s not the biggest priority, and vice versa.

What do you think, would this work for you?



Questions around communities of practice


You must have heard of Communities of Practice before: it’s people doing something similar (not necessarily together), sharing knowledge and supporting each other. This literature overview by Catlin Tucker dots a few ‘i’s’ for me and yet brings up even more questions: a community of practice has to be something recognised by all its members, and there have to be some results, a repository of resources developed over time. So, when teachers form a community in the teachers’ room and share resources, is this a community of practice yet? Or should we provide a more formal structure for that, a way of communication, and some place to store and organise professional knowledge? (And when does an informal community of practice become too top-down for its members to enjoy?)

So, if you’re reading this, do you consider yourself part of a community of practice? How is it different for you from a group of people sharing a common interest?