5th ELT Malta Conference | Learner Engagement in ELT


This month a number of ETI’s staff attended the 5th ELT Malta Conference, organised screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-5-34-05-pmby the ELT Council in Malta. Spread over 3 days, attended by over 250 English Language teachers and consisting of workshops and plenaries run by award-winning trainers from across the globe, this conference gave our trainers a perfect opportunity to network and exchange ideas on teaching methodology , new techniques, resources and more.

ETI Malta’s  trainer, Steve Flinders. an award-winning author and trainer himself, attended the Image Conference held on the 6th October 2016. This conference  dealt with the use of images in English language teaching and learning.  Here are Steve’s thoughts on Dr. Sylvia Karasthati’s workshop.

Despite the forbidding title, Sylvia Karasthati of the Department of English Language and Language Teaching at the New York College, Athens, gave a most interesting and informative talk on Visual Literacy and Ekphrastic Writing at the Image Conference which this year preceded the 5th ELT Malta Conference in Valletta.

One dictionary definition of ekphrasis is ‘a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art’ so, in an educational context, ekphrastic writing is basically writing about images.

Sylvia argued that in the twenty-first century, we need to add to the standard repertoire of skills we teach – speaking, listening, reading and writing – those of viewing and representing. Viewing involves developing a critical vocabulary for dealing with images; and representing involves teaching students how to create images, using the myriad resources available to them. We need these skills since we live in an increasingly visual world, a world which we need to learn to navigate. To support this argument, Sylvia showed how viewing and representing have become a central part of the school curriculum in Singapore.

Turning to ELT, Sylvia demonstrated why visual literacy needs to improve.

For example, while in lower level course eti-malta-elt-conferencebooks images and text tend to be integrated, in higher level course books, imagestend to be purely decorative. She cited David Hill as claiming that few course books use images as a stimulus for activities (while also recommending books like Andrew Wright’s Pictures for Language Learning and James Keddie’s Images which do).

Sylvia told us: “There’s a current idea that seeing does not require effort. We don’t adopt different viewing strategies for different genres.” So how can we develop micro-skills like observing carefully, analysing relations and thinking about main subject and detail? In other words, how can we teach – and learn – viewing?

One source of material which Sylvia suggested comes from the Museum Education Institute Art Beyond Sight project for the visually impaired, and she played us one recorded description of a painting – Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning (1930) as an example of an exercise in how to describe an image: see http://www.artbeyondsight.org/mei/verbal-description-training/samples-of-verbal-description/

After inviting our comments on this, Sylvia asked us to work in pairs with one person describing to their partner the picture she had given out– a challenging and stimulating exercise which can enhance both viewing and speaking skills in the learner.


Peter Hotton

Tyson Seburn, from the University of Toronto, presented ‘Academic Reading Circles with Collaborative Writing‘ which he uses in a foundation course for 1st year students. It involves the intensive study of key texts by giving participants specific roles in an analysis of the language, visual concepts and background as well as possible connections to other course material. Using Google Docs, which allows all participants and the teacher to view contributions simultaneously, students then write up their findings before collaborating to produce a single document summarising their research.The aim is to increase text comprehension and would be very useful for students taking extended exam courses. If  you would like more information  : http://arc.fourc.ca


Niki Stokes.

I really enjoyed the ELT conference this year. Not only did I come away feeling inspired with some new ideas to use in my classes, but I also felt very positive after attending Candy Fresacher’s workshop on optimism and positive psychology. I now feel better able to create a positive atmosphere in the classroom in order to increase motivation and help my trainers learn more effectively.

Kieran Donaghy’s workshop on empathy also left me feeling positive and better able to put myself in my trainer’s shoes, enabling more effective communication in my lessons. It was great to be able to meet him face to face after using his website film-english.com for such a long time.

Valerie Zammit

elt-kieran-eti-maltaValerie too found Kieran Donaghy’s workshop, Empathy in Language Teaching: Stepping into Your Students’ Shoes, motivating and stimulating.

Kieran pointed out that in any situation, showing empathy breeds harmony and contentment, and in a language classroom, this boosts moral and increases motivation levels.The more feelings of empathy are perceived and noted, the more predisposed classroom members (both teachers and students) are to practise it.

Performing roleplays is an excellent way to develop empathy in the language classroom: students should be given a set of questions to help develop their character, such as: 

  • What is this person like, physically, emotionally?
  • What does he do?
  • What does he like / dislike?
  • What sort of things do they know about?
  • Who or what do they care or worry about?
  • What do they believe in?

Empathising with the characters in a role play makes the communicative experience more rewarding and memorable.

Pia Vassallo

Michaela Formosa, the Director of Studies at our sister school, ESE (Malta) and joint winner of the second Inspiring ELT Professional Award, gave a highly engaging plenary, together with Rosabel Azzopardi, called Gap-Fills? No, thanks.

Michaela and Rosabel started off by pointing out the pros and cons of gap-fills. They stated that they are a popular tool that provide a distraction-free, controlled, heads-down activity useful for recalling the target language. They provide the learner with a perfect opportunity to focus on the target language and correction can be reliable and quick. On the other hand, gap-fills do not provide any speaking practice, their emphasis is more on the form than the actual meaning of the language, they don’t promote creativity and critical thinking skills.

They also presented their findings from a number of student focus groups. I was particularly struck by  the negative feeling the majority of the students had towards gap-fills. Students referred to them as boring, not challenging enough, they stated that although they knew the answers they weren’t sure how to use the language in context.

Although gap-fills are normally used as a means to testing or checking a student’s knowledge, Michaela and Rosabel explored various methods to personalise the activities to ensure that the English learner is motivated and engaged. Most of the methods they presented required little or no resources and time to prepare.

One particular method they highlighted was using Dictation. Here are 3 dictation ideas to jazz up a gap-fill activity.

1. Dictate the sentences to the students and replace the missing word with a silly word such as banana. The students in pairs must decide what banana stands for. If the gaps are verbs you may use a silly verb like bamboozle. Dictate the silly verb in the correct from. The students then have to decide which verb it is based on context and explain why it is in that particular form.

2. An alternative would be to dictate the sentence without the missing word/s. The students have to then figure out what is missing and from where.

3.  Dictate the full sentences, some correctly and some not. The students must shout stop when they hear a mistake. They then have to correct the mistake.

If you are interested in refreshing your teaching  then contact us and enquire about our teacher training courses.

I also particularly enjoyed attending Ben Dobb’s workshop entitled, From General English Teaching to Business English Teaching.

Ben is an independent in-company corporate trainer with extensive experience of training internationally. He is a member of the ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management), IATEFL and ELT Ireland and an accredited course provider for the English UK, Trinity College London Cert IBET.

Ben explored the differences and similarities between General English and Business English as well as the differences between teaching, training and coaching.
We proceeded to discuss  the “Big Six” of Business English:

  • Presentations
  • Meetings
  • Negotiations
  • Writing for Business
  • Socialising and Networking
  • Telephoning

and what teachers need to know about teaching these skills as well as what specialised knowledge a Business English teacher really needs.
We will also examined the environments in which Business English training can take place, the motivation and mindset of a Business English trainee and their perceptions of Business English lessons, content and methods.

I found this workshop to be particularly interesting especially as we follow this training philosophy for our Professional English and Business English Communication skills courses. 

Ben Dobbs will be running the Cert. IBET course at ETI on the 16-26 January 2017. For more information on this international qualification, contact us.