The teacher as catalyst

Written by: Simona Anca Mazilu [toc class=”toc-right”]
Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated:

“What lies behind and what
lies before us are tiny matters
compared to what lies within us” (1)

and the wisdom of his words has never faded. It has also continued to reveal another outstanding yet simple truth: we are the only ones who can use our ability. It is at this level of self-realization that the teacher’s role can work wonders in terms of teacher-learner development, and furthermore, in terms of long-term human growth for both.
In this light, teachers have an awesome responsibility: they will be the ones “to plant” a series of hope, success, happiness, faith, and enthusiasm “seeds”; to “water” and “fertilize” these seeds and even add a few more. By the end of school, the “crop” will be ready for “harvesting” to the degree and in the amount expected as a result of the teaching acting as catalyst throughout. Mention should be made that this is a P.M.A. (Positive Mental Attitude) approach, or rather a P.L.A. (Positive Life Attitude) one. It is the power of positive believing which is the necessary ingredient for converting positive thinking into positive action.This the only way to have complete success – which I will define and address as we go along.
I am not implying that the tips in this article will change the history of the teaching world or that their effect will be a soon-to-see dramatic one. And yet, they will do the trick for us; they will work…magic. On one condition, though: we ourselves, as teachers, need to be an integral part of this programme. That is, if we apply it, first and foremost, ourselves. If we understand that we need to move away from being mere “preachers” or theoreticians. Unless our students perceive us as persistent and consistent DOERS of the “numbers” of our own programme first,the miracle will never happen. And that, for a good reason, obviously.
Until we face the reality of how we affect others, we may continue to find out that our teaching – or even life itself -are not what we want them to be, and then it is easy to be seduced into blaming everything and everybody else (the course-book, the syllabus, the class size,  the students, or the education system itself). It is human nature to do so. We are constantly under pressure and our life is hectic most of the time, but the biggest problem of all occurs when we externalize inner issues, and when we continue to search on the outside for solutions that are on the inside.(2) Therefore, it is imperative that we start with ourselves. The following words were written on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in the Crypts of Westminster Abbey:

“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now as I lie on my death bed, I suddenly realize: ‘If I had only changed my self first, then, by example, I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed the world.”

In other words, a teacher’s “responsibility” si first of all their “response-ability,” their own behavioral patterns and  types of reaction to the various stimuli and life’s distractions on the way.
To enable a better grasp of the teacher-as-catalyst issue, I will start from a vision that I have shared with my students in one of my teaching activities. It is from Zig Ziglar’s See You at the Top (3), an inspirational best seller whose strong motivational quality is bound to do a lot for any one person who reads – and applies! – its principles. It not only pumps our learners up, it builds them, truly affecting their lives in a positive manner.
Draw the following picture in your mind: facing the student is an elevator to the top, which reads OUT-OF-ORDER, and a stairway to the top (which can be symbolic of self-accomplishment in life itself).
The stairway is made up of several steps, each bearing a specific name. They read:

  • Self-image
  • Relationship with others
  • Attitude
  • Work
  • Desire.

Facing the highest step, there is a door, above which there is an inscription in bold letters: TOMORROW. On the door, one can read:

  • Health
  • Wealth
  • Happiness
  • Friends
  • Growth
  • Peace
  • Security
  • Leisure
  • Freedom
  • Opportunity.

Of course, any other dreams can be freely added to the list, according to one’s personal value system. They are likely to turn into dreams come true sooner or later, provided one dares to make their own decision. They can choose to wait until the elevator gets repaired ( which may take for ever) or they can resolve to use the stairway to the top, climbing one step at a time, till they reach their destination.
Are they going to stare up the steps, or step up the stairs? It’s all in their hands, and it only takes an option – the right one… for them under our guidance as catalysts. This vision or mind picture will make the framework of the matter we are looking into, so that everything falls into place and makes sense. Our role as catalysts ( i.e.”persons who are acting as stimuli in bringing about or hastening a result “- Webster; or persons precipitating a change – Oxford Reference Dictionary) will start with the self-image step, which is not by chance placed at the foundation of our stairway to the top.


  • academic achievements or school records;
  • mathematical, linguistic, musical, artistic, physical, interpersonal, intrapersonal skills – corresponding to the seven intelligences, according to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences;
  • appearance;
  • attitudes;
  • personality;
  • initiative, etc.

Even though it is the first in the flight, it will continue to make itself noticed and influence the “climb” either way (upwards or downwards) throughout their entire life. The importance of our students’ self-image comes into play from their very first school day, leaving a particular mark on their “response-ability.”
It will thus be all the more reassuring to make it a point of helping them realize, as they take the first step up the Stairway to the top, that they are stepping out of the crowd at the bottom. The next step will be easier and the view will be better, as the perspective, even though not yet dramatically changed, will never be the same.
Here is what I did and worked wonders in terms of a healthy self-image for both teachers and students..
Apart from providing them with the necessary information about school, classes in my teaching assignment, timetable, textbooks and state expectations
(i.e. “the multi-layered goals in education <4 >), I imparted to them the great feeling of relief that set in when I began to understand that a youngster needs more than just subject matter. I know English well, and I teach it well, and I used to think that was all I needed to do. Now, I’ve grown to teach children or teenagers or young adults, not English, and I accept the fact that I can only succeed partially with some of them.
When I don’t have to know all the answers, I seem to have more answers than when I tried to be the expert.
We teach students a host of different issues in the curriculum, but do we also teach them WHAT THEY ARE? We should say to each of them:
Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. You have the capacity for anything.”

Henry Ford once stated:

“Whether you think you CAN or you think you CAN’T, YOU’RE RIGHT.”(5)

The teacher as manipulator will have to concentrate on instilling in their learners the “I think I can” philosophy.

“Where success is concerned, people are not measured in inches, pounds, or college degrees, or family  backgrounds; they are measured by the size of their
thinking. How big we think determines the size of our accomplishments.Philosophers for thousands of years have issued good advice :’Know Thyself.’ But most people, it seems, interpret this suggestion :’Know Only  Thy Negative Self.’ Most self-evaluations consist of making long mental lists of one’s faults, shortcomings, inadequacies.”(6)

Though it is well to know our inabilities, for this reveals to us areas in which we can improve, knowing only our negative characteristics will turn our lives into a mess and point out our smallness.
To eliminate this negative thinking and make room for the P.M.A. and P.L.A., which occur at a superior level of the Stairway to the Top – after working with our students in order for them to build their relationships with others as   well as their goals and thus climb the next three steps  towards the door that opens up to a bright Tomorrow – the teacher as catalyst may conduct the following two exercises at the onset of  the teaching adventure with their students, or any other time when thought necessary :
1)   The “I Can’t Funeral:” teachers fill pieces of paper with “I cant’s,” fold them in half and bring them to the front, where they place their “I can’t” statements into an empty shoe-box, for example. The teacher will put a lid on the box and remove it from sight;
2)   The activity entitled: “You’re Bigger Than You Think”
Teacher to class: Determine your 5 chief assets. Invite some objective friend to help – possibly a teacher – some intelligent person who will give you an honest opinion. Examples of assets frequently listed are: Next, under each asset, write the names of three persons you know who have achieved large success, but do not have the particular asset to as great a degree as you. When you have completed this exercise, you will find out that you outrank many successful people on at least one asset.
There is only one conclusion you can honestly reach: YOU’RE BIGGER THAN YOU THINK. So, fit your thinking to your true size. Think as big as you really are, and never, never, never, sell yourself short!
Therefore, the first exercise is meant to clear students’ mind of its negative thinking through an attempt to physically get it out of their system, whereas the second is done to help them measure their real size through depositing only positive thoughts in their memory bank or by counting their blessings.
Once we see a student’s self-image start to improve, we will notice significant gains in achievement areas, but even more importantly, we will discover a person who is beginning to enjoy school more as we move further on.

Note: A “Self-Esteem Inventory” (see the accompanying sample, a product of the SEA/Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous Program) administered at the beginning of the teaching journey with one class or another – especially as advisory teachers – may prove to be a valuable tool for discovering our own students’ positive or negative self-evaluations. After taking measures in order to significantly improve their perception of themselves, via activities similar to the two exercises mentioned above, the same “Self-Esteem Inventory” will be administered for comparison-contrast reasons. It will be interesting to find if they have changed their answers as a result of the transformation they are expected to have experienced under the guidance of their teacher. In case there is evidence testifying to such a change, then, indeed, their teacher has acted as catalyst. That will be one of the true, palpable measures of successful teaching. Needless to say that, using their own ingenuity and creativity, teachers will be able to devise and/or conduct activities that will make a whole world of difference in their students’ lives.

Relationship with Others

Inseparable from their self-image, stemming from it and constantly feeding on it, is students’ relationship with others, especially with their peers and with their teacher as partners who share a common goal in the educational process.
The significance of this “second step” on the stairway in our vision of success becomes particularly conspicuous
when teacher and students gradually build a relationship conducive to learning, via counselling.
In Donald J. Schon’s view, this “begins with the explicit or implicit establishment of a contract that sets expectations for the dialogue: What will’teacher’ and ‘student’ give to and get from each other?How will they hold each other accountable? These questions are not answered once and for all at the beginning (although early interactions may set the tone for later ones) but are continually being raised and resolved in new ways…”(7)
Person-oriented, both prospective (guiding towards future patterns of behaviour) and retrospective (sensitive to existing attributes and concerns), counselling is a means of assisting an individual in the correction or development of their learning skills and habits.Yet, “in whatever field it is applied, it also has the important
connotation of therapy, making well or offering mental ease”(8), thus involving the notions of diagnosis ( based on HORACE: Hear- Observe – Record – Analyse – Consider- Evaluate) and remedy.
If the teacher succeeds as therapist, their students will discover that learning is more fun when they are planning, working, and even performing with a peer who truly cares about what happens on the way, out of a sense of belonging to a team pursuing a common goal.

The next step on the Stairway to the Top is represented by goals.                         MAY…
The teacher as catalyst:  CAN…             be an
SHOULD…     inspiration, a
role model
If students know where they are going, they are half-way there. In the game of life, they will discover, as they set their goals and unlock their mind, that the world will unlock its treasures and rewards to them. Realistically, most locked doors are in the mind. If they want to reach their goal, they must see the reaching in their mind before they actually arrive at their goal. We should emphasize that what they get by reaching their goals is not nearly as Important as what they become by reaching them. With the completion of  this segment, we are on step number four.


Things are not only possible but entirely probable with the right mental attitude. We should foster the opinion that their attitude, as they undertake a project, is the dominant factor in its success. In short, their attitude is more important than their aptitude. There are many facets to the subject of attitude. One of them concerns optimism: An optimist is a person who, when he wears out his shoes, just figures he’s back on his feet.”
A positive attitude on the part of the teacher will have positive results on students, because attitudes are contagious. One such attitude is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is not just a feeling; it is a moral duty and a way of life. Both teachers and learners need to stay excited on their way to the top. Each one faces frustration, heartache, disappointment, despondency and defeat. The difference in accomplishment is the result of a different reaction to the negatives of life: it’s the when-you-get-down-get-up type of attitude or “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Now, students are well on their way up, and they are enjoying every step of it. And this progress is only possible as a result of the long-term work, persistence and consistence of both teacher and students, through  steady counselling and dedication to a common goal.


It is the ingredient that makes the difference between an average performer and a champion. The big day has arrived, at last! There they are standing in front of the glass doors of TOMORROW. All they need is a little push to open them. Indeed, success is a journey, not a destination. I would like to conclude with a poem that I find particularly revealing for the teacher-as-catalyst issue:

On Learning

Learning is finding out
what you already know.

Doing is demonstrating
that you know it.

Teaching is reminding
others that they know it
just as well as you.

You are all learners.
doers, teachers.

(Richard Bach)


  1. Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top ( Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 1996 ), 9.
  2. Adrian Underhill, Teacher Development, ( Plenary Talk, Best of British ELT, T.D. Newsletter ), 17.
  3. Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top
  4. Angi Malderez, “What Is Pre-service Teacher Education?” Together, 1997: 3;1996:4
  5. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, Chicken Soup for the soul (Florida: Health Communications,1993), 153.
  6. David J. Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big (New York:Simon & Schuster, 1983), 66.
  7. Donald J. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner ( London, Temple Smith, 1983), 27
  8. Roger Bowers, Developing Perceptions of the Classroom, Verbal Behaviour in the Language Teaching Classroom ( University of Reading:Ph.D Thesis, 1980) 56.
  9. Richard Bach, On Learning, Chicken Soup for the Soul ( Florida:Health Communications, 1993) 121.

Business English Teaching and The Internet

Written by:Maria Momchilova, Sofia University, Department of Language Learning
Download: New Media Your School and its Web-site
One of the most exciting areas of development in English language teaching combines teaching Business English and the use of The Internet in the face-to-face teaching program.
The end of the 20th century was marked by globalization and technological revolution. The need for quick adaptation to the ever-changing local and global social environment created a new generation of learners of foreign languages who know specifically why they are learning a certain foreign language. Time and money constraints created the need for cost-effective courses with clearly defined goals. Learners demanded English language courses tailored to their specific needs – working abroad, immigration, continuing their education in another country, participation in EU projects, etc. The motivation was strong and clear – adequate functioning in a target situation.
The foreign language teaching and especially the English as a foreign language teaching situation in Bulgaria has changed a lot over the past ten years. With the positioning of the country among the other countries with developing market economy the need of English speaking professionals has increased drastically. Professionals with a certain knowledge of English need to develop further their language skills in the specific area of their work. Therefore, the 21st century Bulgarian companies and their employees want English language courses to be very practical and work-oriented. Working adults choose the Business English courses because in them their work-related language needs are being fulfilled. The Business English teacher and her/his students become partners in the business of learning.
And what is business today without The Internet? Every employer wants the employees to be Internet-literate. Even small businesses nowadays have a web site. Written communication between companies within a country relies almost on e-mail. Snail mail (letters and documents on paper) remain for government and official correspondence only and the fax looses its priority and popularity.
The Internet definitely changes the way people and businesses communicate. New types of skills, including language skills, have emerged during the technological revolution. The concern of the English language teacher now is how The Internet influences the development of both the English language and the ways in which it is taught. Therefore, a teacher of Business English in particular, should be Internet-aware. S/he should use efficiently and effectively the rapidly changing technology to create motivating activities for the language learners. A good foreign language teacher must never forget that her/his students are active computer users and their computer skills shouldn’t be isolated from their language learning skills.
The aim of these presentations is to raise the awareness and stimulate Business English teachers, as well as English language teachers, to actively use The Internet in the language classroom. As good professionals we must not remain isolated from the latest trends in technological development but we must actively seek the possibility to use The Internet in the language teaching process. There is no excuse for not doing so. Foreign language teachers today must acknowledge that there is a different environment for the FL learners and it is the WWW, not the blackboard, even if it has been upgraded into white.

Materials and Methodologies for English in the Primary School

Written by: Nikolina Tsvetkova (DIITT, Sofia) & Syana Harizanova (NBU), managers of the British Council Partnership project
With the rapid advance of high technologies and especially IT, when virtual reality is seen by many as more real than actual reality, and when we are literally drowned in the ocean of information, is it possible that someone should still be inspired by something as old and familiar as a folk tale? Is it worth trying to translate into English and adapt traditional Bulgarian folk tales in order to use them for teaching English to young learners in Bulgaria?
As a matter of fact, the tremendous potential that storytelling has for the development and education of small children anywhere in the world is beyond any doubt. It is through stories that children first feel and indulge in the beauty of their mother tongue. Also, the structure, organisation and rhythm of the stories are subconsciously acquired by children and become the foundation on which they gradually build their own skill for retelling – orally as well as in writing. Children’s active vocabulary grows and expands naturally because words and phrases are found in a meaningful context and create concrete images. Another extremely positive effect of stories is that besides imagination and emotion they strongly stimulate children’s thinking abilities. Children analyze characters, predict their beaviour, suggest alternative endings, etc. From stories, children learn about various patterns of behaviour and interaction, about moral values, about human virtues and vices. As for traditional folktales, they have one particular quality that makes them an indispensable educational tool, namely, their national ‘colour’. They inspire in children a feeling of national belonging and help them understand national traditions and values. In the era of cross-cultural communication when people of different nationalities meet, study, work and live together, it is of paramount importance to be aware of one’s own cultural peculiarities and to be able to understand and accept other cultures.
This overview of the effect stories have on forming the mind and character of small children is far from exhaustive, yet it throws light upon the multifold and long-term role stories play in education.
It is quite natural then that primary teachers, and particularly teachers of foreign languages to young learners should resort to stories to achieve their main goals. As it is well-known, small children acquire language indirectly and subconsciously rather than consciously. What matters most of all at this stage of their education is that they should be attracted, even enchanted by what is going on in the classroom and that this interest and enchantment should be sustained as long as possible. Only then can the teacher rely on the children’s willingness to participate actively in the lesson which, on its part, will guarantee the development of concrete skills and competences in a foreign language in young learners.
Over the past ten or fifteen years more and more FLT specialists have reached the conclusion that stories can and should have a central role in the process of foreign language teaching due to their powerful enchanting and multilateral effect, but also because of the possibility to build an endless variety of activities and tasks around them. It is not accidental that The Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers (Ellis and Brewster, 1991) has  become an indispensable guide for many English teachers of young learners in many countries throughout the world. It contains numerous original ideas for using stories in foreign language teaching. One single story can be exploited in a variety of ways and for a variety of teaching purposes – to introduce or consolidate new vocabulary or structures, to develop a topic or topics from the syllabus, to teach the foreign language across the curriculum, to cater for mixed abilities and multiple intelligences etc. Children dramatize or mime the stories, suggest their own versions of the story (modern, horror, comics etc.), make illustrations, masks, puppets, create crossword puzzles and play other games with the main vocabulary of the story… The list of useful and enjoyable story-based activities cannot be finished. Every single child and person in general, can excel in a different area depending on his or her type of intelligence  (a natural ability to perceive the surrounding world and a specific learning style determined by one’s predominant receptors).
Gardner (1983) speaks of at least seven ‘intelligences’ – linguistic, logico-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, bodily-kinnesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. The implications for teaching are that classroom activities should be organised in such a way that every child is guaranteed an active involvement and tangible progress irrespective of their type of intelligence. Is there any better or easier way to achive this than stories? On the one hand, every good story can be adapted to match a variety of levels and ages. On the other, stories are liable to such interpretations and improvisations which can make the content alive in many different ways – through words, pictures, sounds, music, movements, rhythm, interaction, etc. In this way stories become a powerful ‘vehicle’ (Garvie, 1990) in the process of foregn language acquisition.

…Once upon a time… there was an education partnership project of British Council Bulgaria for developing materials for TEYL. But these were not ‘just’ materials. They were Bulgarian folktales simplified and translated into English. Folktales like those that our parents once told us. Folk tales that they, in their turn, had heard from their parents…
As it happens with most bright ideas, this one was turned into reality with the joint efforts of many devoted individuals – British Council specialists, Bulgarian teacher trainers, teachers and pupils. They were all inspired by the idea to enhance the teaching of English to young learners in the country…

The result of all these people’s joint efforts were the book of The Blackbird and the Fox retold in English by Keith Kelly as well as The Blackbird and the Fox and Granddad’s Glove Big Back-to-back Book told in English by Julian Whitney and accompanied by detailed session notes. Besides, at the world of teaching English to young children came a disc of the two specially composed songs to go with the stories. What is amazing about this book is that it is big enough for everybody to look at it while the teacher is reading it in class. All exercises, songs, games, dramatizations to go with it are no less valuable especially because they have been trialled out with Zhivka Yancheva’s third-grade students from the Antim I primary school in Sofia. There they studied the stories, learned to count, learned the days of the week, sang the songs, performed on the stage – in short – had great fun working with the tales. This is how two enthusiastic foreigners supported by no less enthusiastic Bulgarians, managed to put into practice the idea of using familiar folktales in teaching English at Primary, while the Antim I children had all the pleasure of the successful experiment.
Nothing unusual up to here, one might think. What is remarkable comes later. Since September 2003 the Materials and Methodologies for the Primary Project has arrived at a new stage, namely the stage of disseminating the ideas of teaching English in meaningful context, through activities, rhythm and melody with the Big Back-to-back Book.
The Project’s main aim is to support the effective teaching of English to primary kids through materials based on favourite Bulgarian folk tales and accompanied by relevant methodological suggestions. Its idea is to create a working story-telling model of TEYL drawing on Bulgarian children’s literature and the existing in the country expertise and good practices of TEFL, which is to be disseminated among teachers and students all over Bulgaria.
As a result of the carrying out of a trainer training programme 23 people were acquainted with the above ideas and equipped with a model of training teachers on their part. This group comprises the teacher trainers from various regions, mentors and primary teachers of English. In turn, they carried out seminars with teachers all over the country and this project activity led to:

  • Developing teachers’ skills to use stories when teaching English to primary children as well as boosting their professional confidence, both of which were demonstrated through participation in competitions (for the most interesting activity, designing a lesson/series of lessons based on the Big Book)
  • Improving Students’ language skills and enhancing their motivation to study English, proved, for example, through the students’ ability to retell the story in their own words, to create a short story of their own, similar to one they have studied, to participate in dramatizations and other activities based on the tales
  • Achieving parents’ positive attitude to their children’s learning English through their being encouraged to visit demonstration lessons, dramatic performances, school concerts at which students demonstrate the skills they have acquired working with stories.

All the above aims and objectives were achieved by means of the carefully thought out trainer training seminar during which the Big Book trainers could observe and take part in a succession of Big Book activities aimed at developing children’s language skills. Apart from first-hand experience they received a copy of the Book together with a disc or tape with the songs and the whole text read out by J. Whitney. One of the most important consequences of this seminar was the fact that it actually prepared the trainers for the organization of similar seminars with primary English teachers from their regions. (Appendix 1 – Trainer Training  Seminar Notes.)
Another important feature of the project was the feedback received from both trainers and teachers. This was done by means of collecting individual questionnaires (Appendix 2) on the one hand, and on the other, by encouraging them to share their experience with the Big Back-to-back Book.
It is the summary of these questionnaires that makes us categorically state that the Project aims have been fulfilled. Moreover, the dissemination programme has reached 620 teachers of English among whom there are kinder garden teachers, teachers of English at the primary level, primary teachers who teach English as well from Sofia and the region, Petrich, Pleven, Vratsa, Gabrovo, Plovdiv, Vidin, Shumen, Smolyan, Pernik, Blagoevgrad and the region, Varna, Dupnitsa, Kyustendil, Montana (Appendix 3). As evident from the appendix, there are several regions where the number of trained teachers is especially high. On the one hand, this is due to the trainers’ personal qualities such as initiative-taking and, of course, the greater number of trainers and teachers in the Sofia region and on the other hand, it is born out of the good cooperation achieved between Project management team and the Regional Inspectorates of the Ministry of Education and Science. Held in a ‘friendly atmosphere’, marked with ‘enthusiasm’, the seminars “stirred the trainers’ activity”, served as “mutual enrichment” for trainers and teachers alike, “built confidence” in their training/teaching competence, showed “good examples of varied classroom practice”.  Some trainers went even beyond that – videoed their own lessons or the training seminar, like Lilly Petrova from Vtatsa or Maria Dimova from Petrich who even turned it into a media event. We can find evidence of the teachers’ “stirred activity” and heightened professional confidence in their students’ participation in the Big Book poster and dramatization competition organized by the British Council (Appendix 4).
The fruitful cooperation among several institutions – British Council, Department of Information and In-service Training of Teachers (Sofia), New Bulgarian University and the regional inspectorates of MoES are of no less importance to the realisation of the project aims. Each of these partners had its share in the dissemination of the Big Book and its programme of teaching a foreign language to children through familiar Bulgarian folk tales.
In the context of compulsory learning of a foreign language in the second grade, which was introduced in 2003 as well as that of a want of fully-qualified teachers capable of handling this enormous task, we sincerely believe that the Big Book appeared on time. Together with the accompanying teaching notes and training programme it meets an immediate need – that of a working model of good teaching practice aimed at developing young learners’ all language skills, at catering for the different type of intelligence and at making sense of unfamiliar language structures in familiar context. As we already mentioned, this model can be adapted to the needs of a certain group of students or to the work with a certain textbook, at the same time outlining a possible map of the process of teaching English in the primary classroom even when no textbook has been chosen. This model is a successful one because it relies on the best practices offered by Bulgarian and foreign methodological traditions.


Ellis, G and J. Brewster 1991 The Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers. London, Penguin
Gardner, H 1983 Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences New York, Basic Books
Garvie, E. 1990 Story as vehicle: Teaching English to young children Clevedon: Multicultural Matters, Ltd
Brumfit, C.J., J. Mood and R. Ton (eds.) 1991 Teaching English to children: From practice to principle London: Harper and Collins
Williams, M. Ten Principles for Teaching English to Young Learners (article) IATEFL Newsletter 142, April – May 1998

Appendix 1

Trainer training seminar notes

  • To introduce to the trainers the Big Back-to back Book
  • To introduce to the trainers the key stages of the Dissemination and Implementation Project
  • To demonstrate methods and techniques of teaching English through stories in the Primary
  • To equip them with a step-by-step training seminar scenario

Duration: 2 ninety-minute sessions
Session One

  • Ice-breaking/introductions (fairy character)
  • Discussion on the value of using stories in the primary classroom and on what we teach through stories in the primary English language classroom
  • Micro teaching:

Days of the week
Names of animals
A chant (On Monday – a mouse, On Tuesday – a frog, etc.)
Sounds they make (+ chant extended: On Monday – a mouse – squeak-squeak etc.)
Basic structures (May I come in? Please come in. This is a nice house. and I see – I saw)

  • The song
  • Drama

Session 2

  • Introducing science in the primary English language classroom
  • Summing up + reflection
  • Other approaches to and activities to go with Granddad’s Glove (elicit from trainers – groups of 4/5)
  • Discussing various approaches to the second story –  topics and structures elicit from trainers
  • Elicit from trainers how we can involve teachers in working with the Book and stories as a whole (sending accounts of evidence – lesson notes, pictures, drawings, students’ stories… to the BC web- page; organizing a competition for a chant, children’s drawings, posters, etc based on the book…)
  • Tеachers fill in the feedback sheet

Appendix 2

To the teachers
What we would like to know

  • How old are your students?
  • How long have you been teaching English in the primary?
  • Do you teach other subjects? If yes, which ones?
  • Will you use the Book in your classes?
  • When?
  • Which of the demonstrated activities are suitable for you students?
  • Which of the activities included in the Teacher’s notes are suitable for your students?
  • What can you do to show the parents/ colleagues what the results from your working with stories in your classes are?
  • How has attending this particular seminar contributed to your personal professional development?

Appendix 3

Big Book Methodology seminars

Place Number of teachers trained
Sofia and the region 135
Russe 44
Petrich and the region 23
Pleven 21
Vratsa 47
Gabrovo 65
Plovdiv 27
Vidin 45
Shoumen 36
Smolyan 15
Pernik 19
Blagoevgrad and the region 50
Varna 30
Montana 29
Dupnitsa 21
Kyustendil 13

Appendix 4

Big Book Competition results
Poster Competition
I place: IV class – “P. Volov” school  – Shoumen
II place: III class –“Iliya Blaskov” Primary School – Shoumen
III place: IV class – “Ivan Vazov” primary School – Vratsa
Dramatisation Competition
I place: 141 Primary school – Sofia
IIplace: “Petar Beron” School – Cherven Briag

English through origami: teacher-developed materials for the primary classroom

Written by: Maria Ivanova Ivanova, Plovdiv
The idea was to prove the statement: ”The more enjoyable and fun the teaching process is, the better the results are.” It had two parts. The first one was “Teaching the English alphabet (activities and games shared during the Summer school in Kiten 2003-mainly Elitsa Radeva’s ones). The second part was “English through origami”- presenting how origami and other materials can be used in the teaching process and make it enjoyable and fun.
I Teaching the English alphabet (activities and games)
(Shared ideas during the Summer school in Kiten 2003- mainly Elitsa Radeva’s ones)
1) Activities for practicing the recognition of the letters by sight and sound

  1. Point to “A” (on the wall)
  2. We put letter flashcards on the wall, on the door, on windows ( by using Bluetac). The teacher says a letter (for example “A”) and the students have to point to it. Later a student can say a letter and the other students have to point to it.

  3. Circle /Touch the letter first
  4. There are two teams, a start line and two sets of letters in a different order on the blackboard. The teacher says a letter and the students have to circle or touch the letter. The faster scores a point for his/her team.

  5. Stand up if you hear your letter
  6. The teacher gives every child a letter-flashcard. Then he/she says a letter and the pupil who has got the card with the same letter stands up and shows it to the class.

  7. Hop/ Fly/Swim to the letter (on the floor)
  8. Flashcards are put on the floor randomly. The teacher gives commands: “Swim to the letter “B!”; “Hop to the letter “G”!”;” Fly to “K”!”. The children  can be in a circle or  they can play individually. The aim of the game is the children to go to the letter by hopping/ flying/swimming etc.

  9. The alphabet by hands/ body
    Guess! What am I doing now?“A” sit on the chair, “b”- up, “c”-on the chair, “d”-up …. or
    “a”- arm horizontal position, “b”-up, “c” –horizontal, “d” –up,….
    The code is :If the letter is small and we write it  in the line, our hand/body is like this(horizontal position/sit on the chair). If the letter is a “tall” one, our hand/ body is up and if the letter has got a tail our arm is down or we crouch.
    This is an excellent way of using the space horizontally ;-)!

2) Activities for practicing the sequence of the letters in the alphabet

  1. Say the alphabet in a chain
  2. Children say the alphabet in a chain.

  3. Buzz game
  4. This game can be played both with letters and with numbers. The students start saying the alphabet in a chain  by saying buzz instead of every second letter. At the begging the alphabet poster can be used for help.

  5. Decoding words
  6. Can you guess what is written here? These are three separate words.
    2/1/7   2/15/24  13/15/15/14
    The numbers correspond to the number of the letter in the alphabet. Students can use the alphabet poster to find out which word is written by numbers. They have to decode the words.

  7. The Speaking computer
  8. Imagine that the alphabet poster is a computer keyboard. When the teacher presses a letter- the students have to pronounce it.
    What’s this?…….lunch box, apple,..

3) Activities for practicing the relationship between letters and sounds

Chants are excellet for practiting the relationship between letters and sounds. An example borrowed from Elitza Radeva is:
Big A, small a, /a/, /a/, /a/, apple, ant, alligator.
Big B, small b, /b/, /b/, /b/, backpack, bus, book.
Big C, small c, /c/, /c/, /c/, cat, conoe, castle
Chants from English Together-Starter, Longman
A-apple, B-ball, C-cat
Apple, ball, cat (2) Apple, ball(2) Apple ,ball, cat
A favourte chant of mine, practicing numbers:
The teacher gives students numbers and then (s)he starts chanting:
Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?
A: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Was it you number 2?
B: Who me?
A: Yes you!
B: Couldn’t be!
A: Then who?
B: Number 4!
A: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?
4) Activities for practicing writing the letters

  1. Writing the letter in the air/on your partner’s back
  2. The teacher writes the letter in the air. The students have to recognize and pronounce it. It can be played as a  pair work as well- students write letters on their backs.

  3. Letter-colour dictation

Every child has to prepare some felt pens (coloured pencils)-red, yellow, green, blue,… The teacher says: “ Write down a blue..(there are two or three seconds here, so that the children can pick up the blue pencil) “A”/ei/. The children write the letter  “a” in blue colour. The letters can be small or capital.
5) Activities for practicing recognition and production orally

  1. Flashing the letter card
  2. The teacher flashes the letter card slowly and the children have to pronounce it. Gradually (s)he increases the speed. Later a student can flash the card.

  3. Guessing game
  4. The teacher hides a letter and the students have to guess which letter is hidden. The student who guesses correctly hides the next letter.
    Which letter is this? Guess?
    Is it “A”?
    No, guess again!
    Is it “C”?
    That’s right! You’re turn!

  5. Mosquito game
  6. There are letter-mosquitos on the board. A fly swatter is given to a child  and  (s)he is asked to swat the letter “C”. While the child is looking for the letter-mosquito, the teacher and the rest of the class are making furious mosquito buzzing noises until the letter-mosquito has been swatted.

II English trough origami

  1. Visual materials
  2. Using visual materials helps children a lot in remembering the correct way of spelling, writing or pronouncing a difficult grammar item. A fun way of teaching confusing prepositions is by using pictures.
    Drawings were shown:
    A lady waiting on the bus stop.  and  A  lady waiting at the bus stop.
    A book for animals.   and  A book about animals.
    (Pictures were borrowed from Elitza Radeva)

  3. Origami –the fortune teller

  4. Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. (Ori  means fold, kami-paper). The fascination of the art is in making something beautiful from something as ordinary as everyday paper. What more can be added to this fascination is to involve origami in teaching. A good start can be the fortune teller or the instruction machine. (A handout with instructions for the instruction machine were given; a big fortune teller, practicing the “going to” construction, was demonstrated).

  5. Flying birds
  6. Two big “flying” birds were demonstrated. The aim is the children to communicate by playing and  enjoying themselves. They can practice basic questions and make their animals friends.
    “Hello. What’s your name?
    Where do you come from?
    Do you like pizza?
    And later some more  informal questions like:
    “ Have you got a girlfriend/ boyfriend?”
    A rhyme can also be practiced:
    “Two little birds
    Sitting on a hill.
    One named Jack
    And one named Jill.
    Fly away Jack.
    Fly away Jill.
    Come back Jack.
    Come back Jill.
    This is a good way of improving speaking skills by creating cooperative and friendly atmosphere and making cross-curriculum links.

  7. Jumping frogs
  8. A jumping frog competition was shown.
    Two plastic cups and two small green jumping frogs . The aim is to try to put the frog in the cup by repeating something, saying the alphabet or counting. It can be used as a relaxing activity as well.

  9. Pocket books
  10. Reading can also be combined with origami. There are so called pocket books , which the children have to fold and cut in order to make a book and read it. (Samples were given) The next step is that they can make their own books from a blank sheet of paper.(Student-made books, describing experience from green schools, were shown and written)
    Finally, we can use origami as a reward. Samples of what I give as a reward were shown

  11. Flashcards
  12. An easy way of making flashcards is by cutting pictures and laminating them. An alphabet poster can also be cut, stick on cardboard or laminate. Examples of Old McDonald’s farm’s animals and other drawn  flashcards  were shown.

  13. Rubbers and other materials
  14. All that helps in teaching English can also be used- rubbers, toys and other materials.
    Fruit and vegetable rubbers were shown and put under coffee plastic cups.
    “What fruit is it? Guess?” The children have to guess what the fruit is.
    The Bulgarian version of this is “Tuka ima, tuka nema:;-).
    Eight intelligences were also mentioned.
    As everybody was very happy at the end of the workshop” The happy song” was sang:
    If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands .(2)
    If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it.
    If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.
    Slap your knees.
    Stamp your feet.
    Snap your fingers.
    Say OK.
    Do all five.

Children learn better when they enjoy themselves.
The more enjoyable the teaching process is the better the results are.

Standards in intercultural education

Written by: Violeta Dimitrova Karastateva, Senior Lecturer in English
Department of Foreign Languages, Technical University – Varna
Intercultural Education and Intercultural Learning Materials – Background
In recent years the priorities in ELT and FLT in Bulgaria have changed a lot towards satisfying learners’ needs, addressing mainly the quality of language education and culture-specific aspects. The number of language teaching professionals who do not dare doubt any more the importance of Cultural and Intercultural Studies as a component of language instruction or the necessity of quality insurance when teaching or evaluating students’ performance has drmatically increased.
The importance of Intercultural Education and Intercultural Communication is rooted in the demand for skills that enable persons to take part in constructive communication. For more than three decades now the different aspects of the above issues have been evolving and the concept of intercultural education is no longer limited to ethnicity or nationality but includes issues that deal with age, gender, social disadvantage, religious beliefs, regional specifics, etc.At the same time learning materials should face modern reality and address both the goals of intercultural education and the students’ and teachers’ needs.
At present quality and standards in language education are applied mainly to the testing and evaluation procedures and there are different projects, which have led to the establishing of relevant criteria in Bulgaria in accordance with the requirements of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages; learning, teaching, assessment. The Bulgarian Association for Quality Language Services (OPTIMA), being a member of the European Association of Quality Language Services (EAQUALS), has proved to be the driving force in introducing The European Language Portfolio and sustaining the unified European standards in the Foreign Language Training in Bulgaria.
Although teaching culture is in the focus of educationalists’ interest all over Europe the question if it can/could be subject to standardization has not been answered yet. Near-native proficiency for integrative purposes is no longer sought for its sake but English is viewed as a tool for cross-cultural communication. Working towards students’ communicative competence incorporates the following sub-competences: grammatical, sociological, discourse, strategic and, last but not least, intercultural competence. The latter is an important concept in psychology and communication studies and inevitably necessitates the presence of the so-called cultural component in teaching materials. Textbooks should reflect a range of cultural contexts and include intercultural elements. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Some textbook evaluation checklists do not mention culture. In others it is implicitly present or questioned by drawing attention to separate aspects such as values, stereotypes, cultural setting, etc.
To this end the criteria for intercultural learning materials have emerged. It should be noted that those criteria are not set in stone but are constantly refined, tested and evaluated. Every teacher, who is aware of the problems of intercultural education, might have asked themselves the following questions:

  • Do culture-specific educational standards exist?
  • Why do some textbooks and teaching-and-learning materials give priority to the target culture /Culture 2 (C2)/, while others concentrate on the home culture /(C1)/?
  • How do we qualify the “interculturally sound” learning materials?
  • What are the criteria they should comply with? Who sets those criteria?

Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials
To answer the above listed hot issues in intercultural education a Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials was set up on 17 January 2003 in Bulgaria as an NGO, supported by The British Council. It appeared in the context of the Comenius DIMPLE project aimed at the implementation of Helpdesks for intercultural learning materials in European countries. Nine partner countries participated in the DIMPLE project: Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden thus ensuring the large European context in which the Bulgarian Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials is placed.
There are several  key factors which emphasise the need for setting up such a Helpdesk. Often teaching materials do not reflect the actual state of affairs
concerning cultural and social diversity, meaning that certain groups in
society are not represented at all. Because of this students might easily obtain a biased view on complex issues like ethnicity, gender, class, etc. Learning materials at once represent and re-create existing conflicts and prejudices – interethnic, religious, generational, societal, xenophobia, etc. The Helpdesk is thought to provide guidance to authors and publishers in the process of developing learning materials that take into account a multicultural and diversified society, as well as to inform and guide the teachers who use them. The Helpdesk activities are aimed at raising awareness of discrimination and marginalisation issues that could sometimes lead to racist messages in teaching aids. Examples exist that unintentionally lead to discrimination or prejudice against members of an ethnic group on account of origin, language, customs, appearance, etc. Instead of emphasizing cultural traditions (folklore), which over the years has proved to be a rather old-fashioned approach, attention should be focused on the dynamics within and interactions among cultures, social and gender groups, generations, etc.
Moreover, there is a growing interest toward cultural diversity and
intercultural education which aims at preparing students for living in a
diverse environment. The idea about a new Europe, which brought about European educational projects, as well as the changes in Bulgaria, which made it possible for more and different voices to be heard, are important factors that enhance the development of intercultural concepts and practices in the country, successfully exemplified by the activities of the National Helpdesk..
More information about the Helpdesk mission statement, evaluators’ team, current activities, publications, etc. could be found at the following address:
One of the tasks of the evaluators’ team within the Bulgarian Helpdesk project was to devise criteria and ideology statements for evaluating the existing teaching materials. The evaluators coming from different teaching backgrounds – secondary and tertiary level – took the decision to evaluate the textbooks for the 9th grade of the language schools. Consisting of specialists in biology, psychology, history, English language, geography, etc. the evaluators’ team, possessing multiple expertise, was subdivided into groups who had about five months to work on the respective textbook reviews. Different stages were passed in the process of selecting, formulating, reformulating, ranking, grouping and regrouping the criteria, as well as eliciting the existing terminological overlaps and discrepancies in the literature.
As a member of the so-called English team, which worked on the “Moving On” textbook for the English Language medium schools, the author is going to focus in more detail on the way the cultural component in textbooks was understood and specified by listing the respective criteria. After reading various publications concerning the specifics of intercultural communicative competence and how it should be reflected by textbooks the English team came up with the following suggestions.
Teaching materials should provide opportunities for developing learners’ intercultural communicative competence including:

  • knowledge and understanding of
    • diversity
    • social justice and equality
    • globalization
    • peace and conflict
  • skills
    • critical thinking
    • ability to challenge injustice and inequalities
    • ability to argue effectively
    • co-operation and conflict resolution skills
    • autonomous learning
    • ability to make informed choices
  • values and attitudes
    • sense of identity and self-esteem
    • tolerance
    • solidarity
    • empathy

To achieve the above aims teaching materials should meet the following criteria:

  • diversity
  • equality and non-discrimination
  • multiperspectivity
  • avoidance of stereotyping
  • suitability
  • language usage
  • cross-curriculum approach
  • layout

These criteria match to a great extent the criteria for interculturally sound learning materials (Sercu, L. (ed), 2002, pp.42-46) clarity regarding the nature of the learning text; clear distinction between primary sources and author’s comments; multiperspectivity; promotion of autonomous learning; avoidance of stereotypes. The above mentioned publication gives also recommendations for authors and publishers helping to translate the general educational principles into concrete suggestions for cultural sensitive teaching-and-learning materials: cultures and individuals; us and them; language usage; context and topic; integration; division of roles; power and racism; learn how to learn critically.
Different classifications and listings of criteria focusing on the cultural content could be referred to when talking about textbook evaluation. M.Byram (in Hinkel,1999, p. 203) mentions: social identity and social groups; social interaction; belief and behaviour; social and political institutions; socialization and the life cycle; national history; national geography; stereotypes and national identity. The latter is present in different ways (also as avoiding (relativizing) stereotypes by raising awareness) in the different sources touching upon the treatment of cultural content in textbooks. It is worth mentioning this terminological difference as the English team finally focused on exploring how awareness of existing stereotypes is raised and further overcome through the potential of the “Moving On” textbook. The Bulgarian version of the review is available in the working Portfolio of reviews published in May 2004 by the Helpdesk while the English version is still being revised. Both texts will be accessible on-line at the above-mentioned Internet address.
All the reviews included in the portfolio followed the Evaluation Model designed by the Helpdesk evaluators’ team with the help of the project consultant Richard Fay, School of Education, University of Manchester. The Model comprises two major parts (boxes) listing the Objectives of intercultural education in the Bulgarian social and educational context and the Zones of focus and resources to be evaluated. The Helpdesk is concerned with evaluating the potential of the teaching and learning experience for supporting the intercultural objectives of: reflecting and constructing the social diversity of societies; being inclusive of all social groups; enabling pupils to feel comfortable with their own complex and deeveloping situations and identities; encouraging pupils to empathise with the complex and developing identities and situations of others; providding multiple perspectives on the subject matter; challenging stereotyping; promoting the acceptance, in a spirit of equality, of the sicial diversity of societies; promoting respect for otherness; promoting non-discriminatory perspectives; and promoting active citizenship. Manifestations of each of these objectives are traced in the sub-zones of content, activities, language and visuals provided by the respective textbook. The different objectives and zones are inter- and intra-related therefore reviews reflect the highly complex nature of teaching materials, as well as the different levels at which they function.
For the short period of its existence the Bulgarian Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials has tried to explore the present-day teaching-and learning situation in terms of  the ensurance of intercultarally sound  teaching materials for the Bulgarian learners. It has attempted to present the professional audience with a different view of a textbook review revealing the potential for intercultural communication in the existing teaching materials. Being a pioneer in the field of promoting intercultural education in Bulgaria it has raised a number of hot issues referring to the relevance and necessity of setting criteria and standards in intercultural education. The Helpdesk activities are also recognised and supported by The Bulgarian Ministry of Education, which is indicative of the positive impact that this organisation can have on intercultural learning processes in the country. We strongly believe that the Bulgarian Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials will find more partners in the future and will continue to be an agent of change on the national educational scene.

  1. Byram, M., 1993 in Hinkel, E. (ed) 1999 Culture in Second Language Teaching and Learning, Cambridge University Press
  2. Georgieva, I., Karastateva, V. Moving On: ot osaznavane na nasloeni stereotipni predstavi kam obosnovanoto im othvarliane  v:  Konsultativen centar za antidiskriminacionna ocenka na uchebnite materiali Portfolio (raboten variant), maj 2004,
  3. Grozdanova,L., Georgieva, M., Nedkova, 1988 M. Moving On In a world of English  (1& 2) Letera, Plovdiv
  4. Helpdesk, 2004 Evaluation Model,
  5. Homan, H.(ed.) DIMPLE, Dissemination and Implementation of Helpdesks for Intercultural Learning Materials, 2003, PAREL,Utrecht
  6. Konsultativen centar za antidiskriminacionna ocenka na uchebnite materiali Portfolio (raboten variant), maj 2004,
  7. Sercu, L. (ed), National Helpdesks for Intercultural Learning Materials A guideline, 2002, Utrecht:PAREL

Traditional Bulgarian Stories

Written by: Tanya Ivanova |
Zhivka Yancheva | Because this writing uses advanced formatting, it’s also available for download in MS Word .DOC format
(Some ideas and activities based on Granddad’s glove and the Blackbird and the fox)
Ice breaking (introducing) greeting each other
Zh:  BC’s project and Zhivka’s participation in it (a few sentences)
T:  But why stories? Please look into your handouts and number the advantages of using stories starting with the most important one:

  • Provoke imagination
  • Evoke spontaneous reactions
  • Influence the intelligence
  • Bear specific cultural values and beliefs
  • Keep the melody and rhythm of the language
  • Offer meaningful context for teaching and practicing language and structures
  • Develop skills and learning strategies
  • Provide opportunity for various types of activities
  • Provide cross-curricular links
  • Other advantages (please name them)

Traditional stories create a special magic in the language classroom. These traditional stories:

  • Have proved that children love listening to them
  • Give children a possibility to concentrate on the use of language rather than try to understand a totally unfamiliar story in foreign language
  • Increase children’s motivation to participate
  • Make children feel more confident – traditional stories are part of each child’s own world
  • There is no need to use the mother tongue  – familiar story line help children acquire the new language from the context
  • Bridge child’s own world to the world of English making cross cultural links

Most of these stories are popular not only in Bulgaria. Most of them are popular all over the world – Goldilocks and the three bears, Little hungry caterpillar and many others.
Zh: Have you ever used a traditional story; story that children have known in their mother tongue in your language classroom? Which ones: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Zh: As I told you two years ago I had the chance to work with BC’s methodologists and experiment adapted by them “The Granddad’s glove” and “The Blackbird and the fox”. Please listen to the story and list as many topics as you can practice at different stages and levels of teaching young learners.

  • Numbers

–         Numbers . . . . stand up (1st grade) T.
–         Potato game (2nd grade) T.
–         Fizz-buzz (3rd grade)     T.

  • Animals

–         1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – once I caught (1st grade) Zh.
–         Word search – word snake (2nd grade) Zh.
–         Mish-mash animals (3rd grade)  Zh.
–         Guess the animal that’s written on your back asking Yes/ No questions (4th grade)   Zh.

  • Days of the week

–         Chant (2nd grade)         T.
–         Story book (3rd grade) T.

  • Polite requests

–         Robot game (2nd grade) T.
–         Pass word    (2nd grade) T.

  • Irregular verbs and word order

–         Sailor’s chess    Zh.
–         Alive sentences Zh.

  • Cross-curricular link with science. Make a project. Use: Where do these animals live? What do they eat, etc.?
  • Create your own story

–   Choose and describe character (handouts T.)
–         Picture story (handouts T.)
–         Story wheel (handouts T.)

  • Dramatize the story. Zh.

All of us are familiar with the famous story about the Blackbird and the Fox. Please recall the story in your minds and suggest as many topics as you can practice using this story.
T: In the end we can add that all traditional Bulgarian stories could be adapted and be used effectively in the foreign language classroom. They can be used over and over again depending on our teaching objectives at different levels and ages.
Zh: At the same time they won’t become boring because of variety of suggested interesting activities and games; different topics that are practiced through them. In this way children acquire and remember the language in a natural way.

Testing spoken interaction

Written by: Lucie Betáková, English Department
Pedagogical Faculty, University of South Bohemia
Jeronýmova 10, 371 15 České Budějovice, Czech Republic
In this paper I would like to say a few words about my experience with testing speaking skills of advanced learners at the university level.
I usually teach practical English courses to students in the final year of their studies. There are two major types of courses- pre-service courses for future teachers of English and courses for people who learn two languages-  English and German or English and French for either business  or the administration of the European Union. It is important to say that the course I teach is a GPE (general purpose English) course, the language of their specialisation (either for teaching, business or administartion) are taught in specialised courses.
At the end of the course there is an exam, the final language exam in the study programme. The aim of the test was to test overall language proficiency of the learners whose level should reach the level of CPE (Cambridge Proficiency Exam) or at least be somewhere between CAE (Cambridge Advanced English) and CPE. For the test I chose a test battery which (according to Underhill) usually consists of several tests of different kinds- structure, extended writing, listening and oral test. The test I designed consisted of a listening task (a multiple choice exercise), a reading comprehension test (open-ended, or short answer  questions), writing an essay based on the reading passage and a test of communicative performance.
Some information on the  oral test is the main aim of this contribution.
Oral tests

There exist many formats for testing speaking. We can devide them according to the type of interaction which takes place during the test.
There are in fact four basic possibilities for the interaction taking place during the oral test. According to Underhill:
a)      The testee speaks to an interviewer who is also the assessor
b)      The testee speaks to an interlocutor, who is not involved in assessment
c)      The testee speaks to another testee
d)     The testee speaks to a group of testees.
(Underhill p.7) then explains the terms interviewer, interlocutor and assessor. Instead of the word testee he uses a term learner which does not, in his words, imply being only an object of testing.
An interwiever is a person who talks to a learner in an oral test and controls to a greater or a lesser extent the direction and topic of the converstaion. He may intervene but not talk too much. An interwiever also takes the role of the assessor .
Interlocutor – Some oral tests have a person whose job is to help the learner to speak, but who is not required to assess him. An interlocutor is a person who talks with a learner in an oral test , and whose specific aim is to encourage the learner to display, to the assessor, his oral fluency in the best way possible. An interlocutor is not an assessor.He may be known to the learner, for example as his teacher.
An assessor is a person who listens to a learner speaking in an oral test and makes an evaluative judgement on what he hears. The assessor will be aided by pre-defined guidelines such as rating scales , which give considerable help in making these judgements. Ultimately, the decision is a subjective one, which is to say that it is a human one made on the basis of judgement , intuition and experience.Having more than one assessor usually means a more reliable judgement.
The roles of  the interlocutor and the assessor may be combined. This is the most common and most economical arrangement , but as Underhill points out it is difficult for one person to concentrate on assessing effectively while at the same time trying to appear interested in what the learner is saying and involved in serious communication with him. This dual role is particularly tiriing , and frequent rest breaks are necessary. (Und.28)
Learner-learner interaction

As has been pointed out the testee can either speak to the interwiever who  also serves as the  assessor or speaks to the interlocutor who is not directly involved in assessing the testee. For the learner it does not have to make much difference. The important thing is whether the person who communicates directly with the learner pays enough attention to what the learner is saying. The learner should be informed beforehand what the roles of the two people, interlocutor and assessor, are going to be in the test. The assessor usually takes notes to remember the learners‘s mistakes. I think it is also important to tell the learner that the notes will be taken but tell him at the same time that the assessor does not only consider the weakneses but that he also notes down the strengths of the learner’s speech. So it does not mean that every note the assessor is taking represents one mistake in the learner’s speech.
Another possibility for oral testing is the learner talking to another learner or to a group of learners. Then we speak about learner/learner interaction.
The idea is that two learners speak together to carry out a set task, while the assessor listens without intervening.The asessor then can fully concentrate on the performance of the learners because he does not have to worry anymore about keeping the conversation going and about eliciting the language.
The advantage of this type of interaction is that the learners may feel they are talking to someone whose language level is approximately the same and whose interests are very similar to their own, unlike the possible interests of the interlocutor or assessor.This can make the communication more fluent, natural and authentic. In my experience it makes the learners (with only a few exceptions) quite willing to speak.
Authors dealing with testing oral interaction suggest that some care has to be taken in pairing the learners because of their personality (extraversion and  introversion) and interests and especially their language level. So the suggested technique is to put together learners of the same or very similar level of proficiency.
Techniques for testing learner/learner interaction

Discussion, conversation
Underhill points out that this is the most natural thing in the world- two people having a conversation on a topic of common interest.It is also the hardest to make happen in the framework of a language test, it can only occur when both parties are relaxed and confident , if they have something to contribute to the conversation . Then the conversation itself becomes dominant and the real purpose of testing is only subordinate.The oral test then reaches the highest degree of authenticity. The learners here, unlike in the interview, have the initiative in bringing up a new topic , developing it or bringing it to a close.The directions taken by the conversation are the result of the interaction between the people involved in a negotiation process.
In practice, this success depends very much on the ability of the interwiever to create the right atmosphere  and is the question of the personality of the interviewer but i think also the learners and their mutual relationship. When authentic conversation takes place, says Underhill, a test suddenly becomes a human encounter, a meeting of three people. It is true that only learners with quite a high level of proficiency are equipped linguistically enough to feeel at ease.
Other types of activiites for testing spoken interaction can include
learner/learner  decision making, discussing various types of  input (e.g. a video seguence, a reading passage). The task usually involves taking information from written documents and coming to a decision or consensus about certain questions through discussion.
Another useful technique for testing spoken interaction is role/play.
If it is used well it can reduce the artificiality of the classroom and can provide a reason for speaking , especially a reason for talking to other learners. The situations and roles must be selected with the needs and interests of the students in mind.
A possible problem of role-plays is a possible reluctance of the learners to participate because it implies pretending either to be someone else or pretending being in an imagenary situation and it might be quite difficult for some learners to simulate such a situation. Some people are willing to pretend, others are not. Especially unpleasant is role-playing with the assessor or teacher because first of all they are not at the  same level of language proficiency but also because the assessor is always in a power position so for the learners it might be particularly difficult to pretend they are friends or colleagues, if required. I have some experience with using role-plays with advanced learners. I would say the activities were usually very successful but it is also important to say that it took the students some time to get started. At the beginning they are usually shy, they do not want to be the first to speak. It usually helped when I took a funny role myself, it somehow broke the ice at the beginning. I only used more complicated role-plays and simulations with highly motivated and really advanced learners. I would also like to point out that the success of this type of activity depends very much on the atmosphere in the class, the relationships among the members of the group. The group has to be supportive, the people I used it with had known each other, including me, for some time.
With less advanced and less motivated learners it is better to use more controlled role-plays in which the students are told at least in general terms what they should say or if they have a model conversation. All these facts , I think, speak against the use of role-plays for testing purposes, I myself would probably use it only for testing simple conversational routines.
Most teachers will agree that assessing or marking spoken language or even spoken interaction is a real pain. In subjective tests as speaking or free writing both inter and intra marker reliability are rather low. It does not mean, on the other hand, that we should not test free speaking and writing. Within the communicative method,  oral communication is crucial, so we should not be afraid to test it. If we decide to test spoken interaction we should have in mind the importance of validity and  thus design a test which will really measure spoken interaction, it means which will involve the participants in meaningful and authentic spoken communication with other participant(s). It means to  devise a subjective test but make it reliable , i.e. producing consistent results.
There are two ways of marking productive skills – either global or analytic marking. Analytic marking means for the assessor to have  a set of categories (criteria), and give a separate mark for each category.
The most commonly used criteria for assessing spoken interaction are the following:

  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Pronunciation, stress, intonation
  • Style and fluency
  • Content
  • Underhill  suggests his performance criteria:
  • Size (length) of the speech
  • Complexity (whether the learner attempts to use complex language or not)
  • Speed of the speech
  • Flexibility (whether the learner is able to adapt to changes in topic or task)
  • Language accuracy
  • Appropriacy of the language
  • Independence
  • Repetition (how often does the question or stimulus have to be repeated)
  • Hesitation (How much the learner hesitates).

We can see that some criteria can be assessed quite objectively, others cannot.
The advantage of analytic assessment is that it is  up to the assessor to choose the criteria corresponding to the aims or purposes of the test.
On the other hand global or impression marking means that the assessor awards a mark on the basis of the learner’s overall performance without examing any special features. It is especially useful for categories which are very difficult to measure but very important for successful communication like fluency, authenticity, naturallness of speech etc.
My test

For my oral test I chose interaction between two students, myself being both interlocutor and assessor in one person. The reason was that I wanted the interaction to be as natural as possible. I wanted to engage the students in real discussion. I was sure that in case I had been the only partner in the discussion the students would have been shy, they would always have given me the right to speak and would have  said much less that they do when they speak to a mate. In such a situation the students  might  even avoid some topics they would find most controversial.
I also wanted to avoid to engage a formal assessor because I feel that it would make the situation more formal and the students would feel less at ease.
In this case I let the studets speak to each other and I only  reacted to what they said or if they asked me a question. At the end I asked both the students some questions because I usually found what they said quite interesting so I wanted to clarify something or to find out more about the issue and I also wanted to show them that I was listening carefully and was interested in what they said.

For the format I chose a discussion. The reasons have already been stated. Discussion is very natural, in comparison with role-play students feel more at ease and it is also much easier to prepare. To elicit enough language from the students I decided to base the discussion on controversial statements the students would discuss. On the other hand, from my practice I know, that some controversial statements from textbooks are very much hated by the students and that often they have nothing to say. Other topics, on the other hand, are very successful. That is why I decided to give the students topics which would correspond to their knowledge and interests. I asked the students in one of our language sessions to carry out a brainstorming activity which would produce 20 controversial topics for the exam discussion. Here you can see the list of topics the students had produced:

  1. Mobile phones are a real nuisance and should be banned.
  2. Men and women solve problems in a different way.
  3. We can never understand our parents and they can never understand us.
  4. The ideal partner should be first of all intelligent. (or handsome, or rich, etc.)
  5. Christmas is all about money.
  6. Nowadays, people are not able to appreciate the beauty of nature.
  7. Are we becoming a nation of hypermarkets?
  8. Teaching is art, not science.
  9. Being single is in, marriage is out.
  10. What should be an attractive woman like? Always young and anorexic?
  11. Men should participate in running the household.
  12. Young people don’t read any more. They watch TV.
  13. Internet helps us  find useful information.
  14. Drugs should never be legalized.
  15. I am proud of being Czech.
  16. Culture shock: does it exist?
  17. There is nothing like a national character.
  18. There is a lack of communication among people nowadays.
  19. What is the role of the mother tongue in our society?
  20. English should become a compulsory language for all basic school children.

Giving the students the topics beforehand means giving them time to prepare. Is it good or bad?
Underhill in his book asks this question. He believes that the  advantage of test preparation is that it promotes learners’ confidence. On the other hand , the more learners are allowed or encouraged to prepare for a specific test the less their performance will represent their ordinary oral ability in a natural situation. The best test is so authentic and flexible  that the only preparation possible is successful learning and learning just for the test becomes impossible.
I expected the students would have a chance to look up some topic-related vocabulary which would enable them to speak about the topic in depth. What they really had done, I realised later, was that they had discussed some of the topics they had found difficult to speak about. They had not rehearsed anything, they had just spoken about the topics in pubs or coffee shops. It was really interesting because it made their oral production even more natural as they could start the conversation with statements like:Well, we spoke about this problem yesterday and we thought, or we had totally different opnions, or we found out that etc…
So I realised that the exam did not push the students so much to work on the language but it pushed them to think about many problems of modern life, which, I think, is not a bad by-product. The students’ preparation for the test also showed that such a test could have a very positive wash-back effect on the preceeding autonomous learning of the students, which means getting engaged in natural discussion and that such a test might promote discussion not only in English but also in the students’ mother tongue, which is also valuable. The discussion does not only involve presenting one’s one opinions but also listening to other people’s opinions, giving them a chance to speak, to express themselves.The test format I have chosen appeared to be quite successful as can be hopefully seen from the accompanying video.
An oral test at a higher level of the language proficiency will take longer because the learners will need more time to demonstrate the greater proficiency and it will especially take more time to express ideas. A test based on more general aims will require more time to generate a big enough sample of language to base the assessment on.
According to Underhill the best test lasts as long as it takes the interwiever to form a confident judgement. My test was over when the students had nothing more to contribute, they felt happy with what had been said and I had big enough a sample to be able to assess them.
In case it happened that one of the pair spoke much less than the other I always asked him/her some questions to make sure I elicited enough language.
Bachman, L. F. Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hughes, A. 1989. Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge Unievrsity Press.
Underhill, N. 1987.Testing Spoken Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Weir,C.J. 1990. Communicative Language Testing. Prentice Hall International.

A terminology-based approach to ESP teaching

Written by: Boyan Alexiev, Department of Applied Linguistics
University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy
Over the past 20-30 years the teaching of ESP all over the world has been developing within the framework of the communicative methodology in specialised FL learning. The latter can be defined in simple terms as the design of ESP courses in special areas of knowledge that utilize classroom techniques ensuring maximum approximation to the real activities performed by the respective subject specialists. We can exemplify the achievements in applying this approach by tracing the major development stages in the ESP methodology:
Two types of syllabuses for ESP courses appeared on the market almost simultaneously. In the function-based syllabuses [1] the teaching material is designed to introduce students to the main communicative functions, e.g. describing shapes, component parts, function, purpose, making definitions, etc. of scientific writing. The teaching material in the notional/concept-based syllabuses [2] is designed to introduce students to the main ways in which essential scientific concepts, e.g. properties and shapes, location, structure, measurement, process are expressed in scientific English. The Reading and Thinking in English series [3], consisting of four books, viz. Concepts in Use, Exploring Functions, Discovering Discourse and Discourse in Action illustrate a combined notional-functional approach. Since 1990, that is, since the book Genre Analysis was published the scientific genre became the pivotal point around which ESP courses started to be organised. The teaching material in these syllabuses is designed to introduce students to the discourse structure of a particular genre in scientific English (e.g. research article, academic textbook, technical manual, etc.).
The aim of this paper is to suggest an approach to the practical use of mini term banks (TBs) in the ESP classroom as aiding tools in real communicative tasks. The paper is some kind of an interim report on a joint project being implemented by a team of five lecturers from the Technical University – Sofia and three lecturers from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in cooperation with Dr. Blaise and his team from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology within the framework of a World Bank sponsored project scheme. The basic assumption is that our approach is eclectic in character, i.e. it is a combination of those mentioned above, including the utilisation of rhetorical devices (coherence, cohesion, etc.) but having a new perspective on a scientific text. The latter is seen as a web/network of concepts and relations identified by some basic terminology principles. Below we present these principles and suggest a methodology for utilising them in designing an ESP course, exemplified by a model structure of a teaching unit in the field of Nuclear Power Engineering.
Some principles of terminology
Principle 1: Terms represent concepts
Principle 2: Concepts can be broadly classified into:

  1. Entities (material and abstract objects)
  2. Activities (processes, operations and actions)
  3. Properties (with which we differentiate among entities)
  4. Relations (between the other three types of concepts)

Principle 3: A concept consists of a genus characteristic (usually type or part) and species characteristics. Some of these essential characteristics are given in the term/concept definition.
The following are the most common relationships between concepts:

  1. Generic – X is a type of A
  2. Partitive/whole-part – X is a constituent part of Y
  3. Complex – cause-effect, material-product, material-property, material-state, process-product, process-instrument/apparatus, process-method, phenomenon-measurement; object-counteragent; object-container, object-material; object-quality; object-operation; object-characteristic; object-form; object-place.

Application of terminology principles in designing an ESP course
Two stages are suggested in designing an ESP course in a particular subject area, namely, preparation of input teaching materials and designing classroom activities.
1. Preparation of input teaching materials

  1. Texts selection based on main topics in the respective subject (e.g. Building Materials; Timber, Plastic and Steel Structures; RC Structures; Foundations; Construction Elements; Bridges; Construction Design; Construction Technology; Building Mechanization – for Structural Engineering, a 60-hour module)
  2. Text processing – simplification, shortening, NOT adapting (terms and structures preserved)
  3. Mini Term Bank designed on the basis of terms contained in the texts.

TB contains the following info: term, definition, broader/superordinate term, genus-species relation, other relations, translation equivalent, and possibly visual presentation. The TB data are presented in a tabular form.

  1. Selection of suitable topic-based audio/video materials

2. Classroom activities:
Warm up
What do you know about nuclear reactors?
Can you give examples of nuclear reactors?
A. Skim the text below to answer the following two questions:

  1. How is heat generated in the reactor?
  2. What is the basic principle of operation of a nuclear reactor?

How a Reactor Works

A nuclear reactor consists of a containment vessel which surrounds the reactor vessel, a number of Uranium fuel assemblies inside the reactor vessel, a loop of pipe that carries water from the reactor to a steam generator and back to the reactor by means of a pump, another loop of pipe to take steam from the steam generator to the turbine generator and then take water back to the steam generator to be made into steam again by means of a pump. The key to the process is the heat generated in the reactor by the fissioning of Uranium235. The reactor is started by slowly withdrawing the control rods from the core to get the nuclear chain reaction started. The fuel begins to fission, each atom of U235 that is struck by a free neutron in turn produces free neutrons, which strike an atom of U235 to continue the chain reaction. The water in the reactor acts as a moderator to slow the neutrons and make it more likely that they will cause fissioning. The control rods can be moved in or out of the reactor to slow down or speed up the fission reaction. The control rods contain material that absorbs neutrons, such as cadmium or boron. When enough neutrons are absorbed, the reaction stops. In addition to moderation the reaction the water acts as coolant to control the temperature of the core and prevent the fuel from melting. The system operates under pressure, something like a kitchen pressure cooker. This allows the water to reach much higher temperatures, nearly 300°F, than it otherwise could without boiling. When this superheated water reaches the steam generator the cool water in the secondary loop is immediately brought to a boil and converted into steam to turn the blades of the turbine and generate electricity. This is the same principle that is used in plants that burn oil, coal or gas, the heat is used to boil water and turn a turbine, the only difference being the source of the heat. There are a number of different reactor designs in use. The various configurations and moderator/coolant combinations all operate on the basic principal of heat produced by a nuclear chain reaction being used to turn a turbine and generate power.
B. Scan the text to identify the technical terms (Note for teacher: the underlined words are terms to be hyperlinked for multimedia presentation in a 2nd check version of the text so by clicking once on the respective term it colours in blue thus allowing students to check their score)
C. Use the term bank to determine the genus and species characteristics of each concept expressed by the respective term in the text (Note for teachers: Students are supposed to have been acquainted in advance with the info presented in a TB and how to access it. The database of each term is entered by clicking twice on the respective term in the check text)
Example: Core – the central portion of a nuclear reactor containing the fuel elements, moderator, neutron poisons and support structures

  • Genus – central portion of nuclear reactor (partitive, i.e. whole-part relation between core and portion of reactor)
  • Species – contains fuel elements, etc.

D. Try to specify the relationships between the concepts presented by the terms in the text in a linear order. Give them as a list. (Note for teacher – before setting this activity it is advisable to make a conceptual discourse analysis, possibly assisted by a subject specialist)
1. Control rods (X) – Core (Y) = object-container (X withdrawn from Y)
2. Control rods (X) – Nuclear chain reaction = cause and effect (withdraw X to get Z started)
E. Make a list of the expressions signalling the relationships specified in D.
Examples (follow the text):
1. X consists of Y = whole-part
2. X surrounds Y = object-place/location
3. X carries Y by means of Z = process-instrument/apparatus/device, etc.
F. Draw a diagram of the operation of the nuclear reactor (Note:Engineering students have experience in drawing diagrams and generally like this activity)
G. Compare your diagram with the one shown on the screen (Note for teacher: the diagram will be shown through a projector on a screen)
The Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)

The Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)
The Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)

G. Complete the table using information from the text and the definition of the term that you think is presented in the table. Search for the definition in the mini term bank (Note for teachers: The definition of loop is given below only for exemplification)

Reactor component Position Function
Carries water from reactor to steam generator and back

In a pressurized water reactor, the coolant flow path through piping from the reactor pressure vessel to the steam generator, to the reactor coolant pump, and back to the reactor pressure vessel.
H. Watch the video and note down …/fill in the gaps, etc. (Note for teacher:
Depending on the audio/video material teachers can design a number of various viewing activities)
I. Translate the following text into Bulgarian using the mini TB
Additional text on nuclear reactors – could be that part of the original which was cut off to obtain the working text above.
In conclusion we should point out that the communicative activities presented above are only a small part of the possible activities which can be designed following our approach. For example, a teaching unit would benefit a lot from involving contextual reference tasks since coherence (logical links) and cohesion (linguistic links) are a very important component of the overall structure of a scientific text. We hope that after completing successfully the project and testing the teaching materials, we will be able to prove our thesis that the terminology-based approach to ESP teaching proposed can facilitate the language-mediated disciplinary enculturation process that ultimately renders ESP teaching to all students at tertiary level truly meaningful.
1. Allen P. & Widdowson H. (ed.).1970-1980. English in Focus series, OUP
2. Bates M. & Dudley-EvansT. (ed.).1970-1980. Nucleus series, Longman
3. Widdowson H. (assoc. ed.). 1980. Reading and Thinking in English series, OUP
4. Swales J. 1990. Genre Analysis, CUP
5. Sager, J. 1990. A Practical Course in Terminology Processing. John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam/Philadelphia

Young learners deserve the best teachers

Written by: Syana Harizanova, Deshka Maragaritova
What makes a good teacher is a question asked too often to sound exciting. Yet we still find it quite topical and thought-provoking as it is a public secret that the number of all practicing teachers exceeds, sometimes significantly, the number of good practising teachers. In Bulgaria this is especially true for subjects like English, and even more true for English in the Primary. Why is this so?
Let’s look at this question from two different angles. First, who is considered qualified to teach English in the Primary? Second, who actually does it?
Officially, until very recently the only people who had the right to teach English at school in Bulgaria were university graduates for whom English was their first or second major. (Whether and to what extent these people are trained to teach young learners in particular is a question that we shall deliberately not touch upon now.) Not surprisingly, only a few of these graduates choose to become primary teachers of English. At the same time, the need for such teachers is constantly and rapidly growing. This has led to a situation where by and large English language teaching is intrusted to people with questionable qualifications.
When, four years ago, the Ministry of Education decided to include English in the national primary curriculum, methodologists, teacher trainers and mentors were faced with the necessity to prepare urgently enough English teachers for grades 1–4. Some universities then started new four-year programmes for qualifying primary teachers who would be able to teach English together with the other subjects in the curriculum. But four years were too long to wait. The first graduates would be getting their qualification only in 2002, and the situation needed an immediate solution.
Then, in 1998, New Bulgarian University invited practising or newly qualified primary teachers with little or no knowledge of English to apply for a one-year retraining course where they could acquire an adequate proficiency level of English, and would be trained how to teach English to young learners. (For a more detailed description of the course see Figure 1.)
Sixteen applicants were admitted and graduated the course – eight coming from the capital city and eight from other towns in Bulgaria. Three of them were fresh graduates, ten were practising primary teachers and three were on their maternity leaves.
Starting in October, the sessions took place on Thursday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Sometimes there were lectures on Sunday mornings, too. Retrainees came for six 40-minute lessons per day. During the Easter and Christmas holidays, as well as in June and July (when the primary school year was over) retrainees studied 6 hrs every day of the week and had the weekends free. The final exams were in the last week of July.
One can’t but feel the intensiveness and toughness of the course. It took tremendous efforts on the part of all trainees, especially of those who were combining studying at NBU with teaching at school or/and looking after a family. Yet, on the whole, the course proved to be really successful. Not only from the point of view of the retrainees, who explicitly said so in their post-course evaluation but more particularly for the outcomes which were achieved. 63% of the retrainees (10 out of 16) scored excellent in English. Most of them developed a genuine feeling and a knack for teaching children English. All of them started teaching English in the primary immediately after graduating the course. Another important asset of the course was the spirit of cooperation and collaboration which grew during the year’s hard work and which didn’t fade away upon graduation. Most of the retrainees still keep in touch to exchange ideas, concerns, information, etc.
What made the course a success? Why did teachers from other parts of Bulgaria apply for it the next year and the year after next in spite of the expensive tuition fee? (NBU is a private university and fees are considerably higher than those at state universities.)
To start with, the duration of the course (just one year) makes it more convenient than other existing alternatives. What is more, it is scheduled in such a way that retrainees who are practising teachers can combine studies with work without having to go on a leave. Thus they don’t lose their jobs and keep receiving their salaries. Besides, the fact that the course is designed for people who already have sound theoretical and practical knowledge of teaching children makes it possible to optimise the content of the methodology module and to put a strong emphasis on the English language module.
Needless to say, the success of the course has been largely due to the right kind of trainers and lecturers. The team consists of people who are highly qualified and have been involved in preservice and inservice teacher training for many years. Two of the methodologists are also responsible for the bulk of the English language teaching as they have vast experience in teaching adult learners on intensive English courses. Thus the retrainees have the opportunity to see their trainers teach English and benefit directly from their knowledge and experience, references being constantly made to FLT in the primary classroom. Another fact which has proved to be quite beneficial, although initially seen as a threat by most retrainees, is that the lectures and workshops are conducted in English. This is yet another way of exposing the retrainees to English, as well as feeding them necessary and useful professional terminology in English.
Generally, the methodology module aims at combining the theoretical input with workshop-format sessions where retrainees experience techniques and activities and reflect upon them from the perspective of TEYL. The positive feedback we get from retrainees and their 100% attendance come to prove that we have more or less succeeded in hitting the right balance between theory and practice. As a particular strength of the course retrainees also point out the classroom observation and the teaching practice organised for them in several primary schools in Sofia. The objective behind these two is to provide a framework for thinking about the relationship between theory and practice. Undoubtedly, it is extremely important that our retrainees work together with mentors who have gone through preliminary training in mentoring at NBU. Thus the retrainees acquire hands-on experience in lesson planning and teaching, preparing and adapting materials, post-lesson self-evaluation, etc.
In spite of the achievements we pride ourselves on, the initial version of the course has undergone a number of changes. We have tried to make it more flexible and to answer more fully to the needs of the retainees. We have also tried to deal with some of the problems which we experienced during the first and the second year of its existence.
The biggest change is that the course has been extended from two to three semesters. This was provoked by two factors: first, the necessity to relieve the heavy load of intensive study, and second, the impossibility to organise the state exam (a lesson delivered in front of an examination board) within the same academic year. As the end of primary school year precedes by nearly three months the end of the academic year, our first group of retrainees had to take their state exam as late as September/October of the next year, when children were back to school. In the new version of the programme both the teaching practice and the exam happen during the third semester.
We also agreed that it would be more efficient to schedule the course in Testing, Assessment and Evaluation during the third semester, when the retrainees have finished the Primary TEFL methodology course, so that they were more prepared to understand the principles of assessing young learners.
Another big change was that the teaching hours for English have been reduced to 720 as this was considered a reasonable number for taking our retrainees from beginner to solid intermediate level. At the same time, the number of hours in the methodology module has increased by ninety with all the respective consequences. (For specific changes in the course outline see Figure 2.)
The admission procedure has also been changed. Initially, only primary teachers with beginner level of English had the right to apply. They had to write an essay (in Bulgarian) ‘Why I want to teach English in the Primary’, and shortlisted were invited for an interview. Now any qualified teacher can apply for the programme. There is also a new opportunity for teachers with pre-intermediate or intermediate level of English to apply for the course. They only do the methodology module and may join in the ELT module at level 2 or 3, depending on their competence in English.
As someone might have noticed, Figure 2 is called ‘latest’ and not ‘last’ version of the course, which speaks for itself. The syllabus of the course and the methodology of the training are under constant development. There is always something to improve or simply to do differently.
Today, with retraining programmes going on at many universities in Bulgaria, NBU programme remains an unbeatable option foranybody who is looking for professional development

Programme:               Teaching a Foreign Language to Young Learners

(initial version – academic year 1998/1999)

Aim: To provide adequately prepared qualified FL teachers for the primary schools in Bulgaria

  • to initiate and build up in trainees a FL competence
  • to make them aware of the key aspects of the FL teaching/learning process
  • to give them theoretical  as well as practical knowledge and skills for teaching a FL to YL.

Course Outline: The course runs in two modules and takes 2 semesters:

  • an intensive FLT course (840 hrs) divided into 4 levels:

–          Levels 1 and 2 (240 hrs each) are done during the 1st semester.
–          Levels 3 and 4 (240 hrs + 120 hrs) are done during the 2nd semester, together with the methodology module.

  • a methodology module (180 hrs).

Content of the methodology module:

  • Primary FLT methodology                                     60 hrs
  • Textbook evaluation and materials design             15 hrs
    • Testing, assessment and evaluation                        15 hrs
    • Audio-visual and information technologies           15 hrs
    • Lesson observation                                                 15 hrs
    • Teaching practice                                                   60 hrs

Teaching mode for the methodology module:
Modes of Assessment:
– for the language course:
participation in discussions
written assignments
3 progress tests (after Levels 1,2 and 3)
Final test (at the end of the course)
– for the methodology module:     The course in Primary FLT Methodology is followed by written and oral exams. As part of the oral exam, trainees have to do a problem-solving task taken from the teaching context.
After the course in Audio-Visual Technologies the trainees have to present (in a written form) an original idea for applying the new technologies in a specific teaching situation.
After the course in Textbook Evaluation and Materials Design trainees have to either evaluate a primary English coursebook (local or other) not discussed previously, or suggest self-designed teaching materials to complete a named coursebook
The Testing, Assessment and Evaluation course is followed by trainees’ producing a self-designed testing material, which they elaborate on orally. (Type, purpose, duration, etc. of test + age and level of children should be specified.)
The Teaching Practice ends up with delivering a self-prepared E. lesson before an examination board.
Some issues for the Primary ELT methodology course:

  • How children learn foreign languages (introduction, awareness-raising)
  • The four language skills
  • Teaching the different aspects of language (vocabulary, grammar, spelling)
  • Making EL learning fun (using songs, games, puppets, etc.)
  • Classroom management (lesson planning, classroom organisation, pairwork/groupwork, etc.)
  • Integrating EFL into the primary curriculum
  • Teaching culture
  • Books for children, storytelling




Programme: Teaching a Foreign Language to Young Learners

(latest version – academic year 2003 – 2004)
Aim: unchanged
Objectives: unchanged
Course Outline: The course runs in two modules and takes three semesters:

  • an intensive FL course (720 hrs) divided into 3 parts (240 hrs per semester)
  • a methodology module (270 hrs) consisting of 7 components covered throughout the three semesters

Content of the Methodology Module:

  • Primary FLT methodology                                     60 hrs
  • Lesson observation                                                 15 hrs
  • Textbook evaluation and materials design             30 hrs
  • Testing, assessment and evaluation                        30 hrs
  • Audio-visual and information technologies           30 hrs
  • Children’s literature in English                              45 hrs
  • Teaching practice                                                   60 hrs

Teaching mode for the methodology module: unchanged
Modes of Assessment:
– for the language course:

  • participation in discussions
  • written assignments
  • progress tests (throughout the semesters)
  • 3 end-of-term tests
  • Final State Exam

– for the methodology module:

  • unchanged + an exam in Children’s Literature
    The Children’s Literature course is followed by an oral examination: trainees answer one theoretical question and then tell a story of their choice, suggesting ideas for presenting/using it in the primary classroom.

Some new issues added to the Primary ELT methodology course:

  • Approaches and methods in FLT
  • How children learn foreign languages
  • Teaching YL pronunciation, intonation and rhythm
  • Teaching the alphabet (ways of introducing letters, teaching handwriting, etc.)
  • Classroom language
  • Error correction
  • Visual aids in TEFL to YL