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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Lexical set

A lexical set is a set of words that all relate to the same topic or situation, for example, words for furniture, words for describing graphs, words for describing different kinds of movement. Vocabulary teaching at beginner or elementary levels is often based around lexical sets.


"Here are some possible words from the lexical set for reading: books, blogs, text, to read, to skim, to scan, page, print, ink, printing, font size, glasses."

Here are some for the lexical set for cooking: boil, stir, stew, burn, mix, saucepan, bowl, recipe, spoon, oven.

Further reading

Nation, P. (2011). Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines. TESOL Journal 9/2.

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

Wells, J.C. (1982). Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






A lexicon is the set of vocabulary that makes up a language. The grammar of a  language and its lexicon are often considered its key components. Different professions and subjects are also said to have their own lexicon, as are individual children and language learners. Some experts only include individual words in a lexicon, others include chunks and collocations.


"A young child’s lexicon will be very different from that of an adult language learner."

Further reading

Fitzpatrick, T. and Barfield, A. (2009) Lexical Processing in Second Language Learners: Papers and Perspectives in Honour of Paul Meara (Second Language Acquisition. Multilingual Matters.

Nation, P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





Likert scale

A Likert /ˈlɪkɜt/scale (devised in 1932 by organisational psychologist Rensis Likert) and also known as a ‘summative scale’, is a bipolar psychometric scale used in qualitative research to record responses along a range which captures intensity of feeling about attitudes to a given issue. It is regarded as a balanced method of data collection as it features an equal number of positive and negative responses, usually separated by a neutral response in mid-position. However, some researchers prefer to produce a ‘forced choice’ by omitting the middle option. Generally, five possible responses are set along a horizontal line (although some practitioners use as many as seven, or even nine, which gives more scope to respondents who like to avoid extremes!)

A typical five-item response line is:

Strongly disagree  -  Disagree  -  Neither agree nor disagree  -  Agree  -  Strongly agree

As well as levels of agreement, Likert scales can also be used to record other variable responses:


Very frequently  -  Frequently  -  Occasionally  -  Rarely  -  Never



Very important  -  important  -  moderately important  -  of little importance  -  Unimportant


Almost always true  -  Usually true  -  Occasionally trues  -  Usually not true  -  Almost never true


Strictly speaking, a Likert scale is the sum of responses to a number of statements (‘Likert items’) and refers to the range of potential scores. So, in a 5-point range like the one below, if scores of are distributed in a range of 1-5, the Likert scale is 5-25:

Strongly disagree                   1

Disagree                               2

Neither agree nor disagree       3

Agree                                    4

Strongly agree                        5


To report on a Likert scale, the values for each separate option should be summed and a score created for each respondent. Scores can then be used to create a chart showing the distribution of opinion across the target population. Scores are very often plotted and reported using diverging stacked bar charts (see Robbins & Heiberger 2011). For results to be meaningful, all the items selected should belong to a similar category, so that the summed score produces a reliable measurement of the particular behaviour or attitude being investigated.

The advantage of Likert scales is that they provide quantitative data about personal attitudes whilst allowing for degrees of opinion (or no opinion). Possible drawbacks are ‘central tendency bias’, where respondents avoid the extremes, ‘acquiescence bias’, where they simply agree with the statement presented, and ‘social desirability bias’, where they give the response that they think represents them in the most positive light. Another potential disadvantage is that few options are on offer, and respondents may not easily be able to align themselves with any of them.  There may also be a problem within sets of items, whereby respondents are influenced by their own answers to earlier questions, either remaining consistent out of habit, or deliberately breaking the pattern. These issues can be resolved at the design stage by means of carefully designed and sequenced questions.

[Alan Pulverness]


"Example Likert Scale" by Nicholas Smith http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Example_Likert_Scale.svg#mediaviewer/File:Example_Likert_Scale.svg

Further reading

Bertram, D. “Likert scales…are the meaning of life” http://poincare.matf.bg.ac.rs/~kristina/topic-dane-likert.pdf

Bryman, A. 2012. Social Research Methods.  4th ed Oxford: Oxford University Press

Denscombe, M. 2014 The Good Research Guide: For Small Scale Research Projects 2014Maidenhead: Open University Press

Likert, R. 1932. “A Technique for the Measurement of Attitudes” Archives of Psychology, No.140.

Robbins, N. B. & M. R. Heiberger. 2011. “Plotting Likert and Other Rating Scales” https://www.amstat.org/sections/SRMS/Proceedings/y2011/Files/300784_64164.pdf

Uebersax, J.S. “Likert scales: dispelling the confusion”  http://www.john-uebersax.com/stat/likert.htm

Lingua Franca

A lingua franca is a language which is not the first language of the speakers in an interaction, and that is used by them to enable communication between them. Pidgins and creoles often act as lingua francas, and nowadays English often does, too.


When Jimmy went to Morocco, he sometimes ended up speaking with people in Dutch, though his language was English and theirs was Arabic or Berber. He’d learnt Dutch while living in Holland as had his Moroccan friends. Dutch became their lingua franca.

Further reading

Jenkins, Jennifer. 2007. English as a Lingua Franca: Attitudes and Identity. Oxford: Oxford

University Press.

Kachru, B. (ed.). 1992. The Other Tongue (Second edition). Urbana and Chicago: University

Of Illinois Press.

McArthur, T. 1998. The English Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McKay, S. 2002. Teaching English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University

Phillipson, Robert (1992), Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

Seidlhofer, B. (2005) Key concepts in ELT: English as a Lingua Franca. ELT Journal 59/4.




Linguistic landscape

The linguistic landscape, sometimes known as 'environmental print', is the text and accompanying images which can be seen in (usually) urban environments on the streets, shops, vehicles, and people (e.g. t-shirt slogans; tattoos). It is a rich source of contemporary language use, and can have a multitude of functional purposes, e.g. to advertise, to warn, to entertain, to inform. Several studies (e.g. Sayer, 2010; Chern & Dooley, 2013), have related the use of English in non-English-speaking environments to cultural and socio-economic factors. Drawing students' attention to how language(s) can be used in the linguistic landscape can promote 'noticing' and lead to discussion and debate.


"I always ask my students to take photos of the linguistic landscape which surrounds them as they walk to and from the language school."

Further reading

Check out the NILE Norwich Linguistic Landscape blog (coming soon)

Chern, C. & Dooley, K. (2013). Learn English by walking down the street. ELTJ 68 / 2 pp. 113-123

Gorter, D. (ed). (2006). Linguistic Landscape. A New Approach to Multilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Lopriori, L. (2011). Buzzword of the day: Linguistic Landscapes. TESOL Italy Newsletter Vol XXI, No. 5, p.3

Sayer, P. (2010). Using the linguistic landscape as a pedagogical resource. ELTJ 64 / 2 pp. 143-154



Loop input

A method of carrying out teacher training / development sessions in which the trainer carries out activities for training that have the same design and focus as activities for use in the language learning classroom. For example, a training course could start off with a Find Someone Who activity about teachers’ use of ice-breakers and mingling in class. The trainer would then go on to refer to this activity when discussing the use of icebreakers / mingling activities / communicative activities. Loop input mirrors the activity in focus and allows participants to experience it and reflect on that experience.


"On my training course the teacher once made us do an activity in which we had to put cards into two different categories: advantages and disadvantages of doing categorising activities.  She then suggested how we could use categorising activities in class and asked us what our opinion of doing them had been. I later found out that this was called a loop input approach to training – it’s a method that really helps you understand and evaluate different techniques."

Further reading

Woodward, T. (1991). Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodward, T. (2003). Key concepts in ELT: loop Input. ELT Journal 57/3.





Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS)

Thinking skills are often divided into higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and lower order thinking skills (LOTS). Lower order thinking skills include remembering, understanding and applying. Generally speaking, LOTS involve focussing on and absorbing information, and less manipulation of information than HOTS do. (See Higher Order Thinking Skills). The division of thinking skills into HOTS and LOTS was made initially in the late 1940s by a committee of educators in Boston, Mass. chaired by Benjamin Bloom and colleagues. This taxonomy (known as Bloom’s Taxonomy) has been revised several times.


"‘Tell me what you did in the holidays’ or ‘Describe your family’ are typical ELT LOTS questions. An example of a HOTS question might be ‘What do you think of that film’?’ or ‘Compare your town with London’. You don’t need to think so hard for LOTS answers and the language you need to use is often simpler."

Further reading

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J., Wittrock, M. C. (2000). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Pearson, Allyn & Bacon.

Biggs, J. B. and Collis, K. (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: the SOLO taxonomy. New York, Academic Press.

Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Dale, L. and Tanner, R. (2012). CLIL Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






Main clause and subordinate clause

A main clause is one that contains a finite verb (See Finite Verb) and is able to be used independently i.e. by itself because it makes sense by itself.

A subordinate clause is a clause of time, result, reason, concession, etc which qualifies a main clause and cannot stand by itself (in writing) as its meaning is incomplete.


In this sentence the part in bold is the main clause and the parts in italics are subordinate clauses.

Even though she thought the book was very expensive she decided to buy it so that she could study it easily at home

Further reading

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

Cambridge University Press.

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






Mandative subjunctive

This is the use of the subjunctive ‘in a subordinate clause that follows an expression of command, demand, or recommendation’ (http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/Mandative-Subjunctive.htm), for example: they recommended that he get some work experience /she suggested he dress more smartly. It is formal in use and contrasts with the formulaic subjunctive in which the subjunctive is used in a chunk as part of a fixed expression e.g. heaven forbid, so be it, come rain come shine.


The mandative subjunctive is rare in English, but not in some other languages. You really need to get a feel for when to use it – in romance languages it’s often used to express doubt, wishes or commands. Is it used in your language? When?

Further reading

Chalker, S. (1995).Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press.

Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. (2003). A Communicative Grammar of English, 3rd edition. Oxford:Routledge.






A process in which a participant in an interaction is not concerned with expressing their own views, opinions etc., but accepts the role of facilitator, helping to facilitate the communication between interlocutors who are having difficulties, for whatever reason, in communicating with one another. In ELT, mediation can refer to aiding communication between learners, to learners helping other learners to communicate, to focussing on the role of mediation involved in certain jobs (e.g. relaying messages) or to the teacher adapting imported cultural teaching techniques and methods to the culture of the learners.  In 2001, the Common European Framework of Languages included mediation as a component of communicative competence.


"When I went on a training course in the UK, there were things about everyday living there that were different from what we do back home. Our teacher was always willing to answer questions about cultural differences we’d noticed. She acted as a bridge between us and the culture, mediating between the two."

Further reading

Cook, V. in Odlin, T. (ed.) (1994). Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Council of Europe. (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, G. (1996). How culturally appropriate is the communicative approach? ELT Journal 50/3.





Metacognitive strategies

These are the learning and thinking strategies we use in order to choose which lower level strategies to use to achieve something. A visual learner might, for example, decide that they would learn much better from looking at a diagram about a process rather than by reading the accompanying text about the process. In this example, looking at the diagram is a comprehension strategy, whereas choosing to look at the diagram is a metacognitive strategy, i.e. thinking about the best way to learn. The main metacognitive strategies are planning, prioritising, setting goals, and self-management.


When teachers teach metacognitive strategies they need to be aware that learners have different learning styles, so what is the best strategy for one student to learn may not be best for another.

Further reading

Cohen, A. D. (1998).Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. Harlow, England:Longman.

Hismanoglu, M. (2000) Language Learning Strategies in Foreign Language Learning and Teaching. http://iteslj.org/Articles/Hismanoglu-Strategies.html

Oxford, R. L. (1990).Language Learning Strategies: What every teacher should know. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Oxford, R. (2003). Language Learning Styles and Strategies: An Overview.


Swan, M. (2008).Talking sense about learning strategies. RELC Journal,39 (2). 




The language and terms that we use to talk abstractly about language and language learning. This covers terms for grammar, vocabulary, phonetics, discourse and learning strategies. Teachers may use some metalanguage to talk to their learners about language or language learning e.g. ‘This is an indefinite pronoun’, ‘Try to work out what the best vocabulary learning strategies are for you’. Some learners, though not all, appreciate learning some metalanguage as they think it helps them to learn better.

The NILE Glossary contains many terms which make up the metalanguage of English language teaching, as does Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT.


"His lessons were full of so much metalanguage that I really didn’t have a clue what he was talking about."

Further reading

Allford, D. (2013). Vygotsky, metalanguage and language learning. The Language Learning Journal, 41/1.

Andrews, S. (2007). Teacher Language Awareness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.t

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





A figurative use of language in which one thing is described as another to bring out its characteristics, e.g. in he has a really hot temper, hot is metaphor for quick and fierce. Metaphors can be culturally specific and are therefore important for learners to be aware of and learn. Some experts maintain that some cultural metaphors strongly influence the way we see the world.


"People sometimes use a range of metaphors for talking about lesson planning, for example: a route map, a straightjacket, a photograph, a sketch, an instruction leaflet."

Further reading

Holme, R. (2004). Mind, Metaphor and Language Teaching. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Lazar, G.(2003). Meanings and Metaphors. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Littlemore, J. and Low, G. (2006). Metaphoric competence and communicative language ability. Applied Linguistics 27(2).

Thornbury, S. (1991). Metaphors we work by. EFL and its metaphors. ELT Journal, 45/3. Oxford University Press. http://www.scottthornbury.com/articles.html





A method is a recognised and acknowledged set of teaching techniques and procedures that put into practice a set of beliefs about teaching and learning. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with approach, while others reserve approach to refer to theories and principles of language teaching. Richards and Rodgers (2001) say of the two ‘a method is theoretically related to an approach, is organisationally determined by a design, and is practically realised in procedure’ (p .16). Some prominent methods in English language teaching include Total Physical Response, Task-Based Learning, Grammar Translation. A teaching method covers syllabus, materials and classroom activities.


“Some teachers prefer to teach eclectically, taking techniques and activities from a variety of methods rather than rigidly sticking to one. This is often because they think that different learners learn language in different ways.”

Further reading

Celce-Murcia, Marianne, ed. 2001. Teaching English as a second or foreign language, 2nd edition. Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle.

Lightbown, P. and Spada, S.  (2006). How languages are learned, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




The typical practices, procedures and techniques that a teacher uses in the classroom, and that may or may not be based on a particular method. Methodology can also refer to the study of these practices, procedures and techniques and of the beliefs and principles on which they are based.


"The methodology of the Structural Approach consisted mainly in listening to and repeating strictly graded grammatical structures."

Further reading

Kramsch, C. and Sullivan,  P. (1996) Appropriate pedagogy. ELT Journal 50/3.

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swan, M. A critical look at the Communicative Approach (1). ELT J (1985) 39 (1): 2-12.

Waters, A. (2012) Trends and issues in ELT methods and methodology. ELTJ  66 (4): 440-449.

Widdowson, H.G. (1985) Against dogma: A reply to Michael Swan. ELT J  39 (3): 158-161.




Micro-teaching (also known as peer teaching), which originated at Stanford University in the 1960s, is a practice now widely used in general, as well as ELT, teacher training contexts worldwide. Micro-teaching practices vary in some respects, but essentially the procedure consists of teachers trying out short lesson sequences for an audience of their peers, some of whom adopt the roles of learners. These lesson sequences may be video-recorded, and the teachers receive oral feedback from peers and / or a supervisor, and written feedback from the supervisor.  In some versions of micro-teaching, teachers are given the opportunity to address the issues highlighted in the feedback stage by re-teaching the same lesson sequence.

[Alan Pulverness]


“I’m finding that, on my present course, the sessions in which we ‘workshop’ lessons as a group in a micro-teaching format, with the trainees teaching their colleagues and me intervening as they do so, are both less stressful for the trainees and (I think) more productive in terms of their developmental outcomes.”  from An A-Z of ELT, Scott Thornbury’s blog https://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/p-is-for-practicum/


Further reading

Bailey, K.M. 2006. Language Teacher Supervision: A case-based approach.Cambridge:   Cambridge University Press.

Brown, G. 1975. Micro-teaching: A programme of teaching skills. London: Methuen.

Geddes, M. & H. Raz. 1979. “Pupil-Teacher Interaction”. In Holden, S. [Ed] Teacher Training. London: Modern English Publications.

Gower, R., D. Phillips & S. Walters. 1998. Teaching Practice Handbook. Oxford: Heinemann.

Moore, A. 1979. “Microteaching without video”. In Holden, S. [Ed] Teacher Training. London: Modern English Publications.

Richards, J. 1998. Beyond Training. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roberts, J. 1998. Language Teacher Education. London: Arnold.

Tanner, R. & C. Green. 1998.Tasks for Teacher Education: a reflective approach. Harlow: Longman.

Wallace, M.J. 1979. “Microteaching: Skills and strategies”. In Holden, S. [Ed] Teacher Training. London: Modern English Publications.


See Skills

Mingle/a mingling activity

In this activity several/all the members of a class get up and go to a free space in the classroom. They then carry out a communicative task (e.g. a survey, Find Someone Who) which requires them to talk to all other members of the group, and often to note down answers.


"On the first day of our course the teacher gave us a worksheet then asked us to all get up and complete it. We had to go round talking to every other student to get personal information about them. It was a great ice-breaker."

Further reading

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

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






See Error/Mistake/Slip

Modal verb

A modal verb is a verb which expresses an attitude or wishes about the meaning in the main verb, or a statement of its likelihood or possibility. The modal verbs in English are: may, might, can, could, must, should, will, would. These modal verbs have distinctive forms, too: not taking ‘s’ in the 3rd person singular of the present simple, not having an infinitive or a participle, and forming the question form of the present and past simple through inversion of the subject and verb, and the negative simply by adding ‘not’.


The underlined verbs in this sentence are modal verbs:

We had to move country even though it seemed the future would be difficult. But we couldn’t stay where we were. Now we can’t go back home but we may be able to at some point in the future.

Further reading

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

University Press.

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

Cambridge University Press.

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



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