ELT terms - defined and referenced!

Welcome to the NILE ELT Glossary


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We hope this is useful for you and your NILE Online course.

(Definitions written by Mary Spratt, edited by Alan Pulverness)

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Short-/long-term memory

Our memory system is able to store memories for shorter or longer periods. Our short-term memory (also called working memory) is limited in capacity and only retains information for a short period of time, while our long-term memory is much larger and retains information for longer.


"I have a wonderful short-term memory for things like the prices of items I bought yesterday, what my family were wearing yesterday and how long it took me to do things, but my long-term memory is poor – I have few recollections of my childhood."

Further reading

Bilborough, N. (2011).  Memory Activities for Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The theory in practice. New York: Basic Books.

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stevick, E. (1976). Memory, Meaning and Method. New York, NY: Newbury House Publishers.




This acronym stands for Special Interest Group. These groups, often set up by participants, are formal or informal and interact to focus on a mutual interest. There are many SIG groups for teachers of EFL. They allow teachers to pursue their interests and engage in continuous professional development.


IATEFL (See IATEFL) has a list of SIGs here: https://www.iatefl.org/special-interest-groups/sig-list


Further reading










See Role play

Skewed input

This  is a characteristic of input language to which learners are exposed. Skewed input refers to particular language features occurring regularly or unusually often in the input rather than the input being varied in the language features it contains. Research is trying to establish whether skewed or more balanced input is more beneficial to language acquisition.


In materials following the structural approach to language teaching, you see inauthentic  texts in which many examples of a particular structure have been deliberately included so as to provide students with multiple exposure to that structure. This kind of repetition of a structure can occur in authentic texts but is less common. Some researchers are trying to find out whether multiple exposure to the same structure, i.e. skewed input, helps learners to acquire language.

Further reading

DeKeyser, R. (2003). Implicit and explicit learning. In J. and Doughty & M. Long (Eds.),

Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford, MA: Blackwell.

Goldberg 2006 Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalisation in Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robinson, P. and Ellis, N. (2008). Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. London: Routledge.




Skills are the way in which language is used. There are four language skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking, the first two of these being known as productive skills and the latter two as receptive skills. To use these skills we employ a number of microskills. These are sometimes called subskills or strategies. They include for example, reading for gist, speaking intelligibly, writing coherently, listening for specific information.


Some people argue these days that we don’t need to teach learners the subskills of language skills as they already use them in their own language and can just transfer them across. I’m not sure how true this is.

Further reading

Johnson, K. (2002). Key concepts in ELT: Language as Skill. ELT Journal 56/2.

Juan, E.U. and Flor, A.M. (2006). Current Trends in the Development and Teaching of the Four Language Skills. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

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

Scrivener, J. (2005). Learning Teaching, 2nd edition. Oxford: MacMillan.

Thornbury, S. and Watkins, P. (2007). The CELTA Course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




See Error/Mistake/Slip

Slot and filler

This term refers to a description of how elements of language can be organised and used to substitute for one another. These elements may be grammatical, functional or lexical.

The term is also used to refer to a technique for laying-out language on a page to prompt exercises or aid guided writing or speaking.


This is an example of a slot and filler table for use in the classroom.

There are










can be


(Language for Thinking, John Clegg)

Further reading

Krashen, S., & Terrell, T. (1983). The Natural Approach. Oxford: Pergamon.

Lewis, M. (1996). The Lexical Approach. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Lewis, M. (1997). Implementing the Lexical Approach. Boston, Mass.: Thomson Heinle.

Thornbury, S. (1997). Reformulation and reconstruction: tasks that promote ‘noticing’. ELT Journal 51/4.

Willis, J. and Willis, D. (1996). Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Oxford:Macmillan Heinemann English Language Teaching.


Cook, V.J. (1989). The relevance of grammar in the applied linguistics of language teaching. Trinity College Dublin Occasional Papers, 22





The stem of a word is the part that never changes and to which any inflections or affixes are added. A word stem may or may not have the same form as a word’s lemma. (See Lemma). A lemma is the citation form of a word so it always looks like a word, whereas a stem is the part of the word that is added to. For example, take is a lemma, but tak- is the stem for this word, but for the word run both the lemma and the stem are run.


To have an idea of what a word’s stem is can be useful for producing correct spelling. You add –ing to tak, for example, not to take to make the –ing form of take.

Further reading

Carstairs McCarthy, A. (2002). An Introduction to English Morphology: Words and Their Structures. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Matthews, P. (1991). Morphology 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



You Tube Video: http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/seminars/spelling-myths-and-enchantments



Strong/Stressed and Weak/Unstressed Syllables

A syllable is a unit of speech which in English consists of a vowel sound or of a vowel sound and one or more consonants. A syllable can be divided into three parts: onset, nucleus and coda/final. Word stress operates on the different syllables in a word. In terms of pronunciation, syllables can be stressed, weakly stressed or unstressed. A stressed syllable carries the main or secondary stress in a word and is pronounced with greater loudness and length and higher pitch. A weakly stressed syllable has little sound prominence and an unstressed syllable receives no prominence. The amount of stress given to a word and the syllables within it depends on how important it is in conveying essential information.


Here are some words showing typical English syllable patterns:

a (indefinite article) – a syllable consisting just of a vowel sound

am – a syllable consisting of a vowel + a consonant sound

jam – a syllable consisting of consonant + vowel + consonant sounds

tram – a syllable consisting of consonant + consonant + vowel + consonant sounds

And here are some words showing different degrees of stress on different syllables:

|on|ly – main stress on ‘on’ and weak stress on ‘ly’

|phone – one main stress

|station – main stress on ‘sta’ with weak or no stress on ‘tion’

|Un|nec|es|sari|ly – main stress on 'sar', weak stress on 'un', 'nec', 'ess', 'ly'; weak or no stress on 'ri'

Further reading

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, 4th edition. Harlow: Pearson.

Stirling, J. (2011). Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners. Lulu.com

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









This term is used in ELT to refer to types of assessment in which the assessor needs to use their judgement as to how correct an answer is, because the answer is open-ended and can be evaluated according to various different criteria. Speaking tests and essays are examples of subjective assessment formats. Two people listening to the same student speaking might grade him/her differently because they are listening for different things or because they give importance to different aspects of speaking.


"I was worried about doing an interview as part of my test because I didn’t like my grade depending on the examiner’s judgment. But then they explained to me that the examiner had to work with specific defined criteria when grading, and that another examiner would be present to grade as well, so I realised my grade wouldn’t be subjective."

Further reading

Davies, A. Brown, A. et al. (1999). Dictionary of Language Testing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Spratt, M., Pulverness, A., Williams, M. (2011). The TKT Course Modules 1, 2 and 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Subordinate clause

See Clause


See Skills


This term refers to a grammatical process through which lexical items or grammatical structures are replaced in texts by other lexis or structures in order to increase the cohesion of the text, or avoid repetition.


The words in bold in these sentences are all examples of substitution:

Ben saw Kate last night. She was on the same train as he was. (lexical substitution)

Some say that the earth will be destroyed by global warming. I find this so difficult to take on board. (grammatical substitution).

James lost his job and so did I. (grammatical substitution).

The minister’s press secretary always worries about reporters but it seems the minister rarely does. (grammatical substitution).

Further reading

Albery, D. (2012). The TKT Course: KAL Module. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2ndedition. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2005). Beyond the Sentence – Introducing Discourse Analysis. Oxford:  Macmillan 2005.

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




Substitution drill

A substitution drill is one in which students replace one word in a sentence by another word/ other words of the same part of speech. The substitute word is given to the students as a prompt by the teacher. Substitution drills formed an important part of the audio-lingual method. They provide controlled practice and it was thought they gave learners the opportunity to learn new language by repetition.


Here is an example of a substitution drill:

Teacher: Can you repeat after me ‘The girl is walking’.

Students: The girl is walking.

Teacher: singing

Students: The girl is singing

Teacher: doing her homework

Students: The girl is doing her homework


Further reading

Baker, J. and Westrup, H. (2003). Essential Speaking Skills. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

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

Spratt, M., Pulverness, A., Williams, M. (2011). The TKT Course Modules 1, 2 and 3.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.








See Affixation

Summative assessment

The assessment of learning that takes place at the end of a course of learning to see how much of the syllabus covered each learner has learnt.


"It’s quite difficult to design summative tests – they’re meant to reflect what you have taught from the syllabus, but some things are really quite difficult to test, so the test doesn’t always reflect the syllabus well enough."

Further reading

Bachman, L. (1990). Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

Monitoring learner progress through formative and summative assessment:



Summative assessment (n.)

Teacher assessment that is carried out at the end of, or after, a training course. Its purpose is to see how much the teachers have learned from the course.  

Sue decided to test the teachers on their knowledge of lesson planning by getting them to fill in the forms they had studied in the course for their next lessons, and she would grade them. She thought that would provide appropriate summative assessment. 

Summative evaluation (n.)

Evaluation of a training course at the end of, or after, the course. Its purpose is to find out how effective and/or successful the course was.  

The ministry conducted exhaustive summative evaluation of the new teacher training course using a variety of instruments, some on the last course day, and others by email to the participants three months after the course.


A superordinate is a lexical term. It refers to a word which is the name of a category, for example, fruit is the superordinate for oranges, apples, bananas, melon, strawberries etc. The things which make up the category are called hyponyms (See hyponym)


Lots of games you play in class are based on superordinates. There is one called categories for example, where you give students a grid with a list of superordinates, then call out a letter of the alphabet. The first person to complete the grid with words beginning with that letter is the winner. Here’s an example of the grid:


























You can see the superordinates at the top of the columns. Mind maps are often based on superordinates too.

Further reading

Berry, R.(2010). Terminology in English Language Teaching: Nature and Use. Bern: Peter Lang.

Cook, V. (2013). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Routledge.




Supervisor (n.)

A name often found in the literature of lesson observation for a person who knows how to analyse teaching and learning, and who works in a professional way with a teacher, observing a lesson or lessons, and giving feedback to the teacher. The goal of the supervision process is to help the teacher reflect fruitfully on their teaching in order to modify or improve it.   

A teaching practice supervisor is supposed to be able to observe and assess student teachers objectively. 

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