Including LGBT issues in the ELT classroom.

Intimate migrations_family (2)Image Courtesy of Intimate Migrations

My first experience of discussing LGBT issues in the ESOL classroom was not a positive one. It became a ‘critical incident’ in my ELT teaching career.  It all started with the film Life in a Day which shows a snapshot of many different film-makers across the globe going about their lives on the 24th of July 2010.  The film has a scene with a same sex couple which got my students ‘talking’ after watching.  When I say talking, I mean screaming that it was ‘an abomination’ accompanied by the beating fists on the table.  The lesson ended with me simply drawing attention to the 2010 Equality Act’s nine protected characteristics and asking students to be aware that in the UK everyone has the right to equal treatment and respect.

This incident really made me reflect on my student’s backgrounds.  The students involved were very religious, and from countries that have severe punishments for being gay.  Of course they’d be shocked at the idea of same sex couples.  That was everything they’d experienced for most of their lives; just like all I’d been taught for my entire life was tolerance and that homosexuality is completely natural.  Was it really my place to try to change their minds?  Was that imposing my beliefs?  But then I also have the duty to promote the Equality Act as part of my role as ESOL Lecturer.  I had some staff room chats and we came to the conclusion that we could make students aware of all the protected characteristics and encourage students to treat each other with respect.

Since then I’ve been finding more creative ways to cover these topics and introduce equality and diversity issues. Mostly, I like ‘drip-feeding’ by mentioning briefly in passing at any available opportunity that relationships can be same-sex.  The first time I do this, I’m often met with shocked looks or sniggers.  The second time with slightly less shock and after a while with just an eye-roll and a ‘Yes, teacher, we know, let’s go back to the lesson!’

Although sex is a ‘parsnip‘ (aka taboo) subject in most ELT coursebooks and published materials, I am thankful that my own Publisher, Academic Study Kit, are forward thinking and allowed the inclusion of equality and diversity within my book.  D is for Diversity is one of my favourite lessons for introducing the protected characteristics.  It gives an example of each and encourages students to discuss how each might face discrimination. F is for Forms doesn’t hold back on the equalities monitoring and allows teachers to introduce diversity from starter level.

I always think that Equality and Diversity should be integrated throughout the teaching programme so I was delighted that Intimate Migrations now also have an ESOL resource pack for promoting LGBT awareness. I have used it in the classroom and can safely say that it was a hit with the students.  I did the lesson on protected characteristics (first using my D for Diversity lesson from the A-Z of ESOL as a warmer) then followed up with Nadya and Marta‘s story.  Introducing the protected characteristics first was a great way to get them interacting with equality issues in general, seeing the bigger picture and reflecting on their own experiences.

Nadya and Marta’s story is a true story of a same sex couple that moved from Poland to Scotland so that they could have the legal right to get married and have children (with both their names on the birth certificate).  The story raised a lot of discussion points, including having the freedom to live as you wish to live, and how same sex couples can become parents (new vocabulary: IVF, adoption, surrogacy).  I then asked students to write about one protected characteristic of their choice and compare how people with that characteristic are treated in their home country and in Scotland.  Interestingly, the majority chose LGBT rights.  The responses were reflective and respectful and at emotional.

If you’d like more ideas on integrating LGBT rights into the ELT curriculum then Laila El Metoui and Derek Philip-Xu have great blogs to check out.

I hope these teaching ideas have inspired you. Do you know of any other ways to teach LGBT issues in the classroom?  What experiences have you had?


Literally Speaking!

Emily and CathyDoes students’ spoken communication leave you at a loss for words? Sometimes it can be difficult to get that quiet student talking and sometimes it can be to harder to get that fluent but inaccurate student to think before they speak!  How do you deal with those situations?  What speaking activities really work in the classroom?

These are some of the questions I’ll be addressing with the wonderful Cathy Glover on the 13th of June at the City of Glasgow College ESOL Conference.  We’ll be ‘Literally Speaking‘ about speaking.  Also on the fabulous line-up are James Simpson, Judy Kirsch, Phil Dexter, Laila El Metoui, Paul Dummett and Nicholas Northall.  It would be great to see you there.




IATEFL 2018 – five things I will do before IATEFL 2019!

head exploding

Every time I go to IATEFL, I leave with a head so full of ideas that I genuinely fear it may burst!  I have so many ideas that they mostly fall by the wayside. Not this time! This time I have my trusty blog – and a list of five things I promise to do before the conference in Liverpool next year!

1. Allow students planning time before a speaking activity. 

Jon Hird spoke about how giving students time to plan before a speaking task really bridges the divide between accuracy and fluency.  He shared some research that showed that students who planned before a speaking task paused less during the interaction and were 11% more accurate than those that did not plan.  My students will be getting more planning time in their speaking classes from now on! You can download Jon’s handout here.

2. Promote the BBC Learn English website with my Eritrean students.

I’m always looking for useful websites that students can use at home.  I often find that it’s really easy to signpost lower level learners that speak Arabic, Chinese or Spanish to online learning platforms (e.g. Babbel).  However, my Eritrean students often miss out.  Not any more!  It turns out that the BBC Learn English Website is also in Tigrinya!  Happy days!

3. Be (more) mindful!

Rachael Roberts, as usual, left me bursting with ideas for the classroom.  In this case, she also left me bursting with ideas for life!  I do endeavor to be mindful.  I really do, but sometimes I can’t turn off what Rachael calls the ‘lizard brain’.  That’s all the negative thoughts ‘Why will anyone want to read my blog?’ and ‘That activity was rubbish.’ are common ones. Just being aware that everyone has a lizard that must be quietened or silenced so we can get on with the fun, happy thoughts is a step in the right direction.  Buddhify and Headspace are apps that Rachael recommended in her talk.


She also recommended getting the class in the right mood for learning.  Starting the class with a calming conversation or a fun puzzle; doing a quick breathing exercise or asking your students to close their eyes for a minute and listen to the sounds to relax them; fostering an atmosphere of positivity… and of course breaking up the lesson with a random fun video of a baby laughing!  Everyone loves a laughing baby video!

4. Appreciate resources.

I teach at a well-resourced Further Education College.  I am lucky that I can pretty much ask for any book (within reason) and it will magically appear on my desk a couple of weeks later (more or less). Dorothy Zemach‘s hard-hitting plenary (how can you mention IATEFL 2018 without mentioning that plenary) really hit home about the squeeze on all involved in ELT publishing.  Teachers want more supplementary stuff, which squeezes publishing companies, who then squeeze authors.  Everyone gets squeezed and nobody wins.  And most specifically, one size does not fit all.  Cleansing coursebooks of all taboo subjects (love, alcohol, tattoos, LGBT, etc) does not promote equality, diversity or inclusion – or indeed help an ESOL student settle effectively in the UK!

5.  Think outside the box (apologies for the cliche)

Steve Brown is a world changer.  Last year he spoke about how we have to embrace the PARSNIPs (taboo topics – Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Narcotics, -isms and Pork) in the ESOL classroom.  I couldn’t agree more.  These are important topics for my learners.  Interacting with these topics helps understand the social intricacies of the country they live in.

This year, Steve once again pushed the boundaries and got everyone thinking.  He questioned whether the activities we give our learners truly meet their needs and truly get them thinking critically about the world around them – and whether the environment in which we operate truly allows us to teach them what they need.  You can watch the full video at the British Council website. 


Were you at IATEFL Brighton?  What five things do you plan to do before IATEFL 2019?






Watch out IATEFL, here I come!


I’m off to wonderful Brighton again for an intense week of inspiration from the world’s most innovative ELT professionals at the IATEFL conference.  I look forward to leaving  bursting with ideas as usual.

For those of you that can’t make it, I promise to share some of those ideas here after the event.  For those of you that can make it, please come and see me at the following times:

My workshop: Sharing Lives, Sharing Languages (Peer Education for Language Acquisition), Room 6, Thursday 12th April from 2.20-3.05pm.  Here I will share all the exciting things that we achieved during the Scottish Refugee Council’s SLSL project 

Book signing: I will be signing copies of my first book, The A-Z of ESOL, at the BEBC stand on Thursday 12th of April from 3.50-4.20pm

I hope to see you there!

The importance of COLA: Creating Opportunities for Language Acquisition.

So I’ve read that blog posts should have snappy titles.  I hope that this one was snappy enough.  I even created a new acronym there!  Gotta love acronyms!COLA

Having taught ESOL for more than ten years, one thing that is very clear to me is how quickly students that are engaged in their community acquire the language whilst more isolated students can struggle with their communication.  I’ve had students that use their English at work, a volunteer placement or a local football club speaking to me in broad and confident local dialect (Glaswegian in my case). It goes without saying that when it comes to my teaching, I’m very much a proponent of getting them out there into the big bad world to use their language.

I’d like to share some tips and ideas that have helped me get my learners out of their ESOL bubbles and into the wild over the years:


Peer Education – The Scottish Refugee Council‘s Sharing Lives Sharing Languages project that I managed last year, was born specifically to get ESOL learners out there.  It basically trains local community members (whether they are native or non-native speakers) to be peer educators and support ESOL learners to get to know people and use their English outside of class.  The pilot project was delivered by organisations in four local authorities, including Dundee International Women’s Centre, Aberdeenshire Workers’ Educational Association, Midlothian Council, and Renfrew YMCA.  Outcomes included the establishment of an international women’s group that meet regularly to cook, chat, meet other community groups and visit local places of interest as well as learners joining local community gardening projects and walking groups.

You can find more information at the link above and I do plan to blog in more detail about this in the future. I’ll also be speaking about this at IATEFL Brighton 2018 (2.20pm Thursday 12th April).  It would be great to see you there!

Promote opportunities – I like to promote any opportunity that get students out there.  This could be volunteering, training or employment.   I like to promote volunteer opportunities with charities in the local area or encourage students to visit their local volunteer centre.  I also like to promote all things that support students to find employment or boost their skills.  Any interesting jobs, courses or support agencies I come across, I promote through a reading lesson with the leaflet, or helping them to write personal statements and covering letters. Whenever I get the chance I’ll get networking to arrange guest speakers.  One of the most recent speakers was Mozafar from a great little volunteer led organisation called Code Your Future, the (free) coding school for refugees.

Social opportunities – There are lots of great community centres and free events out there.  Most students have hobbies, whether it is embroidery, football or African drums. I like to bring in leaflets of events and social clubs in the local area and use them for reading activities or conversation starters. I also recommend helping students search through for local groups that interest them.  Sewing bees have a reputation for being places to have a good natter… so why not get students to go along for a natter and to show off their handiwork?

Class trips – Everyone loves a class trip!  Trips can show students what the local area has to offer and give them the confidence to go there themselves.  Moreover, it’s great team-building for the students and they can practise their English and learn about local organisations, services and places of interest.

While I really enjoy trips to local museums, art galleries and areas of natural beauty, my preference recently has been for places that students don’t have the opportunity to visit outside class time or that increase their opportunities for community involvement.

For example, I love visiting the local fire station because fire prevention is important, knowing when (and when not) to call the emergency services is important and sitting in a fire engine is fun!  I also love visiting places of worship, such as a Sikh Gurdwara or a local Synagogue; because intercultural communication and understanding is essential in a multicultural, multilingual ESOL class.

Language Learning in the Wild – This is a European funded project that has lots of inspiring ideas to get students using their language naturally in the community.  The Icelandic Village, for example, encourages learners to record conversations while they are interacting with sales assistants, librarians and waiting staff (with their permission, of course).  They can then use this to reflect on the interaction and practise their language in the classroom.

Get the A-Z of ESOL – Yes, it is a shameless plug.  But when I wrote the 26 photocopiable lessons, the tenets above were very much at its core and there are loads of lessons that promote all of the above.  For example:

  • K is for Knowing the local community and is based on the context of adverts for social clubs.  It leads on to supportive discussions allowing students to reflect on which local groups they might like to join.
  • S is for Services and is a great lesson to prepare students for emergencies (or for a trip to a local fire station).  Students learn essential vocabulary for emergencies then critically evaluate which emergency service to call (or not to call) in a variety of scenarios before role playing a 999 call.
  • V is for Volunteering gets students talking about volunteering and supports them to complete a volunteer application form.

I hope these hints and tips get your students out there.  Do you have any other ideas? Please share them in the comments.