ELT terms - defined and referenced!

Welcome to the NILE ELT Glossary


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

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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.




This is the way in which we express our attitude to what we are saying. We often associate modality with verbs (obligation, possibility, ability, necessity etc) but modality can also be expressed through adjectives, adverbs and nouns. This latter is called lexical modality.


In the sentence He may come tomorrow we see modality expressed in the modal verb may. We can use lexical modality to express this too e.g. Perhaps he will come tomorrow (modal adverb), there’s a chance he will come tomorrow (modal noun), it’s possible he’ll come tomorrow (modal adjective).

Further reading

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

Fachinetti, R., Krug, M.G/ Palmer, F.R. (2003) Modality in Contemporary English. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

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




This term has two distinct meanings in ELT. The first comes from one of the five hypotheses that make up Krashen’s input hypothesis, a theory of language acquisition in which he maintained that when a learner is monitoring their use of language, they are focusing on accuracy and inhibiting acquisition. In this use monitoring means the learner checking and evaluating their own language output, as they produce it, whether it be speaking or writing.

The other meaning of monitoring refers to the teacher observing and assessing learners in class.


"I find that when I monitor my own language use as I speak, it really slows me down and makes me hesitate and make mistakes."

Further reading

Doughty, C., & Williams, J. (Eds.) (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krashen, S.D. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.

O’Malley and Chamot, A. (1990). Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Monolingual learner dictionary

This is a learner dictionary (a dictionary that is graded to suit the learners’ language level and needs) in which the dictionary entries, explanations and examples are all in the target language.


I have tried hard to encourage my students to use monolingual learner dictionaries so that they just think in the target language, but they keep using bilingual dictionaries instead. They say they find them more helpful.

Further reading

Chan, A. (2008).Why do learners prefer bilingualized dictionaries to monolingual dictionaries, or vice versa? Oxford University Research Archive.

Cowie, A.P. (2013). English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schmitt, N. (Ed.) (2010). An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2nd edition. Abingdon: Routledge.





Morphemes are the smallest meaningful and grammatical units in a word.  A morpheme ‘cannot be divided without altering or destroying its meaning’ (Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, p.375). For example, phones contains two morphemes – phone and s; helpless contains two morphemes – help and less; table contains only one morpheme. Many morphemes are suffixes or prefixes, but there are also grammatical morphemes in English such as 3rd person singular s,  past tense –ed, and –ing in a gerund or present participle.


In many vocabulary books you can find activities on word formation that in fact are based on morphemes e.g. deciding on the right prefix, matching parts of compound words, making opposites by adding the correct suffix.

Further reading

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

Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2010). Harlow: Pearson.





This is the study of the use of morphemes (See Morpheme)  to form words. Morphology shows us how different kinds of morphemes combine or operate singly to form words.


Here are a few things we learn from morphology:

-          words can contain just one morpheme e.g. dictate, book, compare, persuade

-          words can contain more than one morpheme e.g. dictation, books, comparison, persuaded

-          morphemes may or may not be able to stand alone e.g. these morphemes can stand alone: on, net, can; these morphemes can’t stand alone : im-, -tion, -ed

Further reading

Carstairs McCarthy, A. (2001) An Introduction to English Morphology: Words and Their Structure. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (1988). Vocabulary and Language Teaching. London and New York: Longman.

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

Schmitt, N. (2000). Vocabulary in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



’ology 80s retrieved from



Multi-word unit

A group of words (e.g. a verb + adverb particle or preposition) which has a meaning as a whole and for which the meaning of the whole group of words is different from the meaning of each individual word. Multi-word units are often phrasal verbs, idioms, compounds. Examples of multi-word units are fall in love, a hand-set, once in a blue moon, to look after. It is useful for learners to learn these units as chunks rather than piecing them together from individual words. Multi-word units are sometimes referred to as polywords.


"Learners seem to learn phrasal verbs more easily if they see each one as a multi-word unit which is a complete lexical item in itself, rather than as a verb + an adverb or preposition."

Further reading

Laufer, B. (1997). What’s in a word that makes it hard or easy: some interlexical factors that affect

the learning of words. In N. Schmitt and M. McCarthy (ed.s) Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition, Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lindstromberg, S. and Boers, F. (2008). Teaching Chunks of Language. Helbling Languages.

Nattinger, J.R. and DeCarrico, J.(1992) Lexical Phrases and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





Needs analysis



Needs analysis is primarily a process of investigating the specific linguistic needs of learners in order to design or adapt a course specifically for them. Needs analysis can also be used to find out other information about your learners including motivation, preferences, and learner styles which can help design or tailor the course to the profile of the learner. Data collection can be done through formal and informal interviews, questionnaires and questions will often relate what kind of things the learner will ultimately do with the language which can help formulate learning objectives


I used the results of my needs analysis to create my speaking and listening course from scratch

Further reading 

Harding K (2007) English for specific purposes; Oxford 

Jordan R.R (1997) English for academic purposes; Cambridge University Press 

Evans T and St John M (1998) Developments in English for Specific Purposes; Cambridge University Press 




Negotiating Meaning

This refers to the process readers, writers, speakers and interlocutors engage in in order to make sense of and clarify what is being said/ written. It can involve asking for clarification, repeating, paraphrasing, checking understanding.


Information gap activities help learners to learn and practise negotiating meaning, as they often find themselves not fully understanding what their partner has said or not being able to express themselves clearly. As a result the listener may ask for clarification or question what was said, and the speaker may paraphrase or repeat to get their message across more successfully.

Further reading

Bygate, M. (1987). Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Philp, J., Oliver, R. , Mackey, A.  (2008). Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Johnson, K. (1995). Understanding Communication in Second language Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Young, R. (1983). The negotiation of meaning in children's foreign language acquisition. ELT Journal 37/3.





This is a term which refers to the process in which a learner, consciously or unconsciously, notices or becomes aware of an item or aspect of language in the language input that surrounds them. This may involve noticing spelling, word stress, meaning, grammar, collocation or other language features. Noticing is believed to be the first stage in language learning, sometimes but not always triggering further stages of acquisition.


"She’s a visual learner and when we went to Russia together she was always looking at Russian script on signs, notices, advertising etc, trying to work out what each letter was. I didn’t even see the script myself, I just didn’t notice it – it didn’t register."

Further reading

Batstone, R. (1996) Key concepts in ELT: Noticing. ELT Journal 50/3. Oxford University Press.

Lightbown, P.-M. and Spada, N.(2006). How Languages are Learned, 4th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schmidt, R. (1990). 'The role of consciousness in second language learning'. Applied Linguistics 11.

Van Patten, B. (1990). Attending to form and content in the input. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 12.




Notional syllabus

A syllabus that is organised according to the grammatical notions (concepts) that a learner might need to express (e.g. cause and effect, frequency, pastness, agency, duration, quantity) rather than according to structural or task progression. Notional syllabuses were particularly influential in the 1970s and were often linked with functional syllabuses, making for notional-functional syllabuses, in which the language needed to express particular functions was focussed on.


"Because of its focus on abstract categories like pastness, uncertainty, comparison, it is quite hard to make a notional syllabus seem real, achievable and motivating to students."

Further reading

Abbs, B. and  Freebairn, I. (1979). Building Strategies. Harlow: Longman.

Howatt, A. P. R. and Widdowson, H.G. (2004). A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van Ek, J.K. and Trim J. (1998) Threshold 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilkins, D.A. (1976). Notional Syllabuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Noun phrase

See Phrase



This term has two main meanings in ELT, one related to assessment and the other to lesson planning. In relation to assessment it refers to types of assessment for which there is only one correct answer and for which the assessor doesn’t therefore need to use their judgment to decide on the value of the answer. Examples of objective test formats are True/ False, multiple choice, matching, gap-fill.

In relation to lesson planning, an objective is a specification of what a teacher intends the learners to have learnt, or be able to do better, by the end of the lesson. It is sometimes used interchangeably with learning outcome in this meaning.


"The advantage of objective tests is that each item is short and clearly targeted, but their disadvantage is that they don’t really test use of the language." 

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.

Richards, J. (2013) Curriculum approaches in language teaching: forward, central and  backward design. RELC Journal, 44/1.

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




Open pairs

This term is used to refer to a classroom interaction pattern in which two students talk to one another across the class so that other students can listen to what they are saying. This pattern is used particularly to demonstrate how to carry out an activity or task, or to act as feedback on an activity or task just completed.


"I often use open pairs in my class before the learners start an activity. I ask two students to carry out the activity in front of everyone else. In that way the others see what to do and also hear what language they could use."

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.




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