ELT terms - defined and referenced!

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

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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.



Entry link: Monitor/monitoring

Peer correction

In ELT this refers to when one learner corrects another learner, maybe spontaneously or at the prompting of the teacher. The correction may relate to the language used or to ideas expressed. When the term refers to giving feedback on writing this is sometimes called peer review.


"Some teachers are a bit wary about using pair peer correction as they’re not sure if the feedback the students give one another is correct or not."

Further reading

Bartram, M. and Walton, R. (1991). Correction. Brighton, UK: Language Teaching Publications.

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

Shaofeng Li (2013). Key concepts in ELT: oral corrective feedback. ELT Journal 67/4. Oxford University Press.





Entry link: Peer correction


A text is a collection of spoken or written sentences or utterances that form a cohesive and coherent whole, which have the features of a particular genre and perform a specific communicative function. Examples of text types are narratives, descriptions, processes.


"Much language teaching used to focus on helping learners produce sentences. Nowadays, though, there is greater focus on the features of texts such as their functions and the grammar needed to express those functions. Narratives for example often follow chronological order and make extensive use of past tenses."

Further reading

Cook, G. (1989). Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

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



Entry link: Text


TPR stands for Total Physical Response, and is a way of teaching language developed by James Asher. It involves learners in responding physically to instructions spoken or stories told by the teacher. Learners are not expected to speak until they feel ready to do so. TPR is often used for teaching younger children.


Last lesson I told my class the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. As I told it they acted out what they heard as I was telling it. They loved it, and so did I!

Further reading

Asher, J. J., "What is TPR?" in TPR-World. https://www.tpr-world.com/

Cook, V. (2008). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Hodder Education.

Larsen-Freeman, Diane (2000).Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T.S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Entry link: TPR


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.




Entry link: Noticing


This stands for English as a Lingua Franca, and refers to the use of English in international communication. Certain scholars have suggested that as English has become a lingua franca between people from a range of L1s, features of its use such as particular pronunciations and grammatical constructions which would previously have been considered non-standard and ‘wrong’ should be accepted rather than corrected, providing they do not cause a breakdown in communication, as they are a mark of the L1 learner’s identity There is much debate in ELT about the research base for ELF’s findings and their implications for the classroom.


If you listened to two non-native speakers of English talking together you might hear them regularly  pronouncing the article ‘the’ as /də/ or /zə/ yet obviously having no problem communicating with one another. ELF proposes that if that’s the case there is no need to insist on ‘correct’ pronunciation with the corresponding loss of learner identity that correction can lead to.

Further reading

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

Jenkins, J. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca from the classroom to the classroom. ELT Journal 66/4. http://www.scribd.com/doc/125335514/Jennifer-Jenkins-English-as-a-Lingua-Franca-from-the-classroom-to-the-classroom

Jenkins, J. (2000).The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walker, R. (2011).Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Widdowson, H.G. (2003).Defining Issues in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Chit Cheung Matthew Sung (2013). English as a Lingua Franca and its Implications for Language Teaching http://jalt-publications.org/jj/articles/3436-perspectives-english-lingua-franca-and-its-implications-english-language-teaching JALT Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, November 2013


Entry link: ELF

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.





Entry link: Lexical set


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




Entry link: Metaphor

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.





Entry link: Mingle/a mingling activity

Word form

A word form is a lexical term referring to the different forms that derive from a base word (lemma) e.g. take, takes, taking, took, taken from the base word ‘take’. Word form refers to form and not to meaning.


If you were trying to work out how many vocabulary items a student knows, would you count just the base word or would you count all the different word forms?

Further reading

Crystal, D (ed.). (1995).The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Hirsh, D.; Nation, P. (1992), ‘What Vocabulary Size is Needed to Read Unsimplified Texts for Pleasure?’ in Reading in a Foreign Language 8/2.

McCarthy, M. (1996). Vocabulary. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Nation, P. and Waring, R. Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists:



Entry link: Word form

Defining vocabulary

This is vocabulary used by people writing dictionaries to write definitions and examples. Defining vocabulary is high frequency vocabulary which is thought to be easily and widely understood. 


Monolingual learner dictionaries make use of a very high frequency defining vocabulary to try to ensure that learners of all levels can understand the definitions and examples.

Further reading

Cowie, A. P. (2000). The EFL Dictionary Pioneers and their Legacy: http://www.kdictionaries.com/newsletter/kdn8-1.html

Fox, G. (1989) A vocabulary for writing dictionaries. In M.L. Tickoo (1989). Learners’ Dictionaries: State of the Art.

Tickoo, M. L. (1989). Introduction.  In Tickoo M. L. (ed.): Learners’ Dictionaries: State of the Art. Seameo (Singapore).



Entry link: Defining vocabulary


This term refers to the core or central meaning of a word, i.e. its direct or literal meaning rather than its meaning by association (See Connotation).


The denotation of ‘Facebook’ is a social media site on which you post things and contact people. Its connotations depend a lot on your opinions. For some it is fun, essential; for others it is intrusive and dangerous; for yet others old-fashioned etc.

Further reading

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

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

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




Entry link: Denotation


This is a term related to word building. It refers to the formation of new words, in English by adding a morpheme to a base word. This sometimes makes the new word a different part of speech from the base word.


Base word











Further reading

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

Schmitt, M.and McCarthy, M. (ed.s) (1997). Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Entry link: Derivation

Inferring meaning

When we infer meaning we work out from linguistic and contextual clues what a word, group of words or sentence might mean. We do this for different types of meaning e.g. denotation, connotation, attitude.


She said the food was great but it was very easy to infer from the look on her face that she really meant it was horrible!

Further reading

Clarke, D.F., & Nation, I.S. P. (1980). Guessing the Meanings of Words from Context:Strategy and Techniques. System/ 8.

Coady, J. and Huckin, T. (eds.), (1997). Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macaro, E., (2003). Teaching and Learning a Second Language. New York: Continuum.

Schmitt, N., (1997). Vocabulary learning strategies. In N. Schmitt, and M. McCarthy, eds. Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Takač, V. P. (2008). Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Foreign Language Acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.




Entry link: Inferring meaning


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: http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415602679/dc-glossary.asp




Entry link: Polysemy


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.






Entry link: Pre-teaching


These are terms used in relation to the language skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. The first two are said to be receptive as they involve absorbing language while the latter two are known as productive as they involve producing language. Receptive skills are sometimes thought of as being passive while productive skills are thought of as active. In fact, this categorisation is rather misleading, as a reader or listener can be very active in their comprehension and interpretation of language while reading or listening, and of course, much reading and listening takes place interactively with writing and speaking.


I think it’s rather unhelpful to talk of listening or reading lessons. I prefer to think of integrated skills lessons where a focus on a receptive skill often leads into and supports the learning of productive skill.

Further reading

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

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

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



Entry link: Receptive/Productive


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



Entry link: Stem


A synonym is a word with the same or very similar meaning to another word e.g. simple / easy; quickly / fast. Words are rarely complete synonyms of one another, differing in style or collocation e.g. to spend time with v to hang out with. An antonym is a word which is the opposite in meaning to another word e.g. rude / considerate; get off / get on, but, once again, there are not many complete antonyms because often they cannot be used as alternatives in all contexts.


There are lots of games, puzzles and exercises in ELT based around synonyms and antonyms. Learning a word’s synonyms or antonyms does give you the impression that you know that word better, in my opinion.

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. London: Macmillan.




Entry link: Synonym/Antonym

Articulators (speech organs)

This is a term from phonology which refers to ‘a part of the mouth, nose or throat which is used in producing speech e.g. the tongue, lips, alveolar ridge etc’ (Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, p.33). Articulators are also known as speech organs. There are two kinds of speech organ: active and passive.


When we learn to speak a foreign language we sometimes need to learn to use some articulators in different ways, for example, to pronounce the /θ/ phoneme in English, many learners have to place the tongue in a way to which they are not accustomed.

Further reading

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

Roach, P. (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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





Entry link: Articulators (speech organs)

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