Why is grammar-translation so persistent?

Today I’d like to share with you some questions and — possibly wrong — ideas I had last week, during our Delta preparation week. One day we were reviewing the development of methodologies in language teaching (from grammar-translation all the way down to humanistic approaches and so called post-communicative era) when I realised how most teachers in state schools here in Italy are still using grammar-translation as their main teaching method.

So the question followed almost naturally: why is grammar-translation so persistent? Audiolingualism seems to have disappeared (at least in my experience and in ELT), but grammar-translation is still playing a big part in children’s and teenager’s foreign language education in Italy. Why?Read More »


On Dogme and how a world map transformed my lesson

I have already discussed on this blog how I love the idea of materials-light teaching and how I am experimenting with an unplugged approach. So it comes as no surprise that last week I decided to unplug one of my intermediate-level lessons to see where it would go. The result was amazing to me.

Some background information before I start: this happened while I was teaching a mini-class of four adult students who have been studying together for about seven months now, meeting once a week for a two-hour lesson. Since here in Italy the summer holidays are getting closer, I decided to centre the lesson on the topic of travel and holidays. I selected and adapted an activity from Teaching Unplugged that included using a world map as stimulus for conversation. So I took down the only decent world map I found and, after greeting the students and asking them about their weekend (a warm-up I generally use with all my Monday students), I put it at the centre of the classroom.

What happened next made me believe a totally unplugged course can be possible and is in fact the best solution – at least with some learners.Read More »


The problems I see with flipped, game-based teaching

A few days ago I read with some interest this article by Paul Rogers on how to flip the classroom and use games to motivate learners. I have to admit the whole ideas sounds really exciting to me: let the learners do the input at home, at their own pace, and use classroom time to practice, clarify and use the language — with games! What more could I ask for?

I am sure this approach is based on sound theoretical — and practical? — knowledge, and it could very well be that once I try it, I’ll completely change my mind. So take this post for what it is: a collection of my own personal thoughts when, reading the article, I put these ideas next to my everyday teaching situation. Read More »


Materials-light teaching

I briefly mentioned on this post how I love activities which are materials-light and conversation-driven. I might not have acknowledged it fully, but I’m starting to suspect Dogme has seriously influenced my teaching 😎. Anyway, last Sunday I tried to follow #AusELT chat on teaching materials-light, and even though I missed the time and couldn’t join the conversation, it still made me want to write about it.

I don’t know why, but ever since I teach, I have always dreaded the task of preparing teaching materials. I don’t mean handouts or worksheets, which I actually enjoy creating and adapting to my classes when I have the time to do it. I mean “extra” materials such as laminated cards, games, posters and the like.Read More »

‘Something I’: a speaking activity

Today I would like to share with you an activity I love to do in both 1:1 and group classes. I love it because it has three very special ingredients that few activities have all combined:

  1. it’s flexible, it can be adapted to almost any level and any class;
  2. it’s fun, so far all my students, teenagers and adults, have enjoyed it;
  3. it’s materials-light and conversation-driven, which make it perfect for many different purposes (warm-up, speaking practice, tenses revision… More on this later on).

The activity, which I called Something I…, was inspired by reading Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury’s Teaching Unplugged, and in particular by their activity Something we did (page 36). Here it is.Read More »


Are we getting it all wrong?

I recently read a not-so-recent article about a group of UK teachers who went to China to try to understand the secret to the high performance of Chinese students in international tests. The alleged results came as quite a shock.

According to the article, the “traditional” methods used in China — the same  that the West has been disregarding as useless, obsolete and counter-productive for decades — such as teacher presentation, memorisation and drilling, could be exactly the reason for Chinese students success in education.

If I draw to my personal experience, I remember when I was studying Mandarin in China: every teacher’s lesson started with reading and repeating vocabulary, then reading some sample dialogues or texts and memorising them in pairs. I remember hating that method and thinking how useless and boring it was for me as a student.Read More »

To coursebook or not to coursebook? That is the question.

I decided to write this post after reading Sandy Millin’s post and thinking: “wow, that’s exactly what I think!”. I apologise if this is more of a random collection of thoughts, but again, Sandy’s post reminded me of how putting your thoughts in writing sometimes can help to clarify your mind and put things into perspective.

You should know that this year I have become increasingly uncomfortable with textbooks. This is not to say that the ones we use in our school are poor in quality, on the contrary: I have chosen them exactly because I think they are one of the best alternatives found in the market today. Yet, I found myself “covering” less then half of the coursebook by the end of the year, and drifting away very often by choosing topics and lessons not based on the book units.Read More »

The role of translation in the language classroom

I know a lot of teachers and trainers have already written about this. In the past, translation was a big part of language learning, but now it has become a secondary — if not frowned upon — activity in the language classroom. And I was one of those teachers who believe translation only gets students too attached to L1 to speak or write fluently.

But something that recently happened in my beginner classroom made me think differently about translation, so I have decided to share this experience and what it taught me on this blog.Read More »