Monday, 28 September 2020, 10:14 PM
Site: NILE
Course: NILE ELT Glossary (NILE-ELT Glossary)
Glossary: ELT terms - defined and referenced!


Polysemy is a lexical term referring to the many meanings that some words can have. These meanings usually derive from one (possibly remote) core meaning  e.g. table as in the piece of furniture, a grid, a group of people sitting round a table and the verb meaning to present something at a meeting.


I’m not sure if polysemy makes words easier or harder to learn. You could argue that it confuses learners e.g. left as an adjective, noun, adverb v left as a past participle. But maybe it actually helps learners because they’re already familiar with the sound of the word. I’m not sure and I don’t know of any research telling us about this.

Further reading

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

David Crystal’s Introduction to Language:





A portfolio is a collection of a learner’s work submitted as a whole and sometimes organised with an index, agreed assignment components and reflection sheets. In ELT, portfolios can contain written work such as essays, emails, reports or video and audio recordings, project work and PowerPoint slides. Portfolios are mainly used for assessment. They are also sometimes used in teacher development. A teacher portfolio might contain a CV, some lesson plans, a statement of beliefs about teaching, an action plan, reflections.


"An advantage of portfolios is that they allow the learner to express themselves more fully and the teacher to get a fuller idea of a learner’s performance than tests can reveal.  A disadvantage is that they can take a long time to mark."

Further reading

European Language Portfolio

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.'s-Box-for-Spanish-Speakers-Language-Portfolios/?site_locale=en_GB&currentSubjectID=2562984



Portfolio assessment

Portfolio assessment involves the assessment of a portfolio of work submitted by a learner. The portfolio may contain compulsory components or be decided on by the learner. The components may include both oral and written work as well as reflections on that work. Assessment criteria are usually used to guide the marking of portfolios so as to stop the marking becoming too subjective.


"For my Spanish course we had to submit a portfolio – I put in it all the reports I’d written as well as corrected versions of them, videos I’d shot as part of my project, and all my project work – questionnaires, tables of findings, photos I’d taken, recordings of interviews. I felt it gave a really rounded view of what my Spanish is like."

Further reading

Hamp-Lyons, L. and Condon, W. (2000). Assessing the Portfolio. New York:  Hampton Press.

Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for Language Teachers, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

O’Malley, J. M. and Valdez Pierce, L. (1996). Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners: Practical approaches for teachers. Boston, MASS.: Addison-Wesley.




See Pronoun


This acronym stands for Presentation-Practice-Production. PPP is an approach to language teaching that was very popular in the 1980s. The approach involves first the teacher presenting the form and meaning of new target language to students in a meaningful context (presentation), then giving learners the opportunity to do controlled practice of the target language (practice), then finally letting students use the target language in freer, less controlled activities (production). The rationale for PPP is that learners need an accuracy-focussed stage in which to practise the language in relatively error-free conditions before using it in less guided conditions. This is so as to give them the opportunity to build up good habits and avoid errors, a platform from which they can then engage in more fluency-based activities. The approach has been criticised for being too restrictive and rather artificial, but attempts have been made to respond to these criticisms by making its activities more meaningful and communicative. It currently survives in more subtle forms in many ELT classrooms and materials.


"Some of my students really like PPP-type lessons – I think they like to be guided before jumping into using the language without support. Other students I have clearly find it limiting and a bit meaningless. It depends on their learning styles, so I try to vary the approaches I use across my lessons."

Further reading

Burns, A. and Richards, J. (2012) Pedagogy and Practice in Second Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

Scrivener, J. (2011). Learning Teaching, 3rd edition. Oxford: Macmillan.

Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.




This is the study of the meaning of language in context. It looks at how language is interpreted in particular situations. Its focus is not semantic meaning but contextual meaning, as contained in e.g. setting, the relationship between speakers, and knowledge of the world.


In this dialogue, the response ‘Excellent news’ seems to indicate that the woman is pleased that Helen is sick. Another possible interpretation is that in fact the woman is pleased for another reason – that Helen has finally decided to take days off when she’s ill. Pragmatics would study the situation in which this dialogue took place to explore possible interpretations.

Man: Helen’s sick. She’s having the day off.

Woman: Excellent news – about time too.

Further reading

Bahtia, V., Flowerdew, J., Jones, R. (2007).  Advances in Discourse Studies, Oxford: Routledge.

Grundy, P. (2008). Doing Pragmatics. Oxford: Routledge.

Houck, N.R. and Tatsuki, D.H. (eds.) (2011). Pragmatics: Teaching Natural Conversation. Virginia: TESOL.

Rose K.R. and Kasper, G. (2001) Pragmatics in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tan, P. (1994). Key concepts in ELT: pragmatics. ELT Journal 48/1.

Thornbury, S., Slade, D. (2006). Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.




This is when we express approval or admiration of something, for example, This meal is absolutely delicious. Well done, cook! Teachers are often encouraged to praise their students but there is quite a lot of debate about what is the most productive and effective type of praise.


"My teacher always used to praise us, saying things like Very good or Well done, even to students who gave the wrong answer – I found it rather confusing."

Further reading

Chaudron, C. (1988) Second Language Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gebhard, J. and Oprandy, R. (1999). Language Teaching Awareness.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scrivener, J. (2012). Classroom Management Techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ur, P.  (1999). A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




This is a stage in a lesson in which the teacher introduces vocabulary that the learners will need in following stages of the lesson. This stage is often associated with reading, listening or integrated skills lessons but can also occur before speaking or writing activities. The teacher generally sets up the context of the following activities then introduces the new vocabulary within that context. The idea behind pre-teaching vocabulary is to lessen the load of unknown words the learner has to deal with later on in the lesson.


For many years teachers were recommended to pre-teach vocabulary before working on texts. Nowadays though, some question this, suggesting that the contexts that teachers are able to set up for pre-teaching are rarely meaningful and that pre-teaching in fact prevents learners from developing the attack strategies they need for dealing with challenging texts.

Further reading

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

Scrivener, J. (2011). Learning Teaching, 3rd edition. London: Macmillan.




See Affixation


Preposition is a grammatical term for a word that shows a relationship between events, people or things such as time, proximity, place. Prepositions represent a word class/ part of speech. In English they are numerous, usually come before nouns or pronouns and can be used literally or figuratively.


Prepositions can be easier to learn if they are taught as part of a chunk e,g, on time, at home, in pairs, look forward to, but unfortunately they are not all or always used in common chunks or collocations.

Further reading

Lindstromberg, S. (2010). English Prepositions Explained. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.



Prepositional phrase

See Phrase


Prescriptive is a word used to describe an attitude to grammar that says what grammar should be used. Prescriptive grammars are based on an idea of what grammar should be used rather than what grammar is actually used. ‘Prescriptive’ is often contrasted with ‘descriptive’. Descriptive grammars describe how grammar is actually used.


Prescriptive grammars of English used to tell us things like: you can’t use verbs of feeling in the present continuous, you can’t put a preposition at the end of a sentence, you can’t use that as a relative pronoun to refer to people. In fact, when you hear people talking they do things like that all the time e.g. I’m loving it, I don’t know which class she’s in, the student that I need to talk to is….….

Further reading

Cameron, D. (1995).Verbal Hygiene. London: Routledge.

Huddleston, R. (1984). Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Strevens, P. (1978).In Honour of A.S. Hornby. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.



Principled eclecticism

See Eclecticism

Process writing

Process writing is an approach to writing that deliberately incorporates a focus on the stages in producing a piece of writing rather than focussing just on the product of the writing (product writing). The stages involved in writing are generating and developing ideas, planning and organising, drafting, editing, redrafting, proof-reading and publishing (i.e. making public). Many experts believe that by focussing learners on the stages of writing, process writing helps learners become aware of what writing demands of them, and what enables good writing.


"One of the big problems my students have with their writing is not planning properly and not editing or proof-reading. When I introduce them to process writing it really seems to help them write better."

Further reading

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

Hedge T. (1988). Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kroll B. (1990). Second Language Writing: Research insights for the classroom. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press

Raimes A. (1983). Techniques in Teaching Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

White, R. and Arndt, V. (1991). Process Writing. Harlow: Longman.



Product writing

See Process writing

Professionalism/professional/professional skills (n/adj./n.)

The concept of there being particular strategies and approaches that help teachers to improve their own work and also to develop their department, school or the whole profession. Some definitions of these terms also include skills that are not teaching skills but which could help teachers do their job better, for example interpersonal skills or computer skills, while others add generally desirable employee characteristics such as reliability, honesty, conscientiousness and a suitably smart appearance.

John is the most professional teacher I have ever met. So can you timetable him to be teaching in that room opposite the Head’s office when the inspectors come next week? ‘Cos they’re bound to pop into that room. 

Progressive aspect

See Aspect


A pronoun is a word that is used instead of a noun to represent that noun. In English, pronouns are a word class/ part of speech and there are several kinds: subject (e.g. he, they), object (e.g. him, us), relative (e.g. that, which), reflexive (e.g. ourselves, itself), indefinite (e.g. no one, none), possessive (e.g. our, their), interrogative (e.g. which, what), demonstrative (e.g. this, those), reciprocal (each other, one another), quantifiers (e.g. all, one).


Students often don’t realise how important pronouns are to understanding spoken or written language or to expressing themselves clearly, particularly in writing. Pronouns are really important in establishing the cohesion of a text.

Further reading

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (1997).About Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.



Pyramid (n.)

A classroom interaction pattern in which learners work in twos on a task and then come together with another pair to compare and reach a consensus on their results. Each group of four then joins another group of four and the group of eight must negotiate to produce a result that represents both groups of four. Finally, the products or outcomes of the work are shared in plenary.

Robert wanted them to come to a decision about the class outing while practising their English and decided that he would set up a pyramid task to achieve both aims.