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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This is the way in which parts of speech are arranged in fixed sequences in sentences in order to make grammatical structures and meaning. What is acceptable syntax varies from language to language. An example of syntax in English is the inversion of subject and verb in question forms, or the order in statements, the positioning of adverbs or adjectives.


"The grammar of some languages relies heavily on morphology to show meaning, whereas other languages make greater use of syntax to achieve this."

Further reading

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

Swan, M. (2005). Practical English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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





This is when the learner assesses their own performance, the strategies they have employed to do something or their attitudes.  Self-assessment is often a part of formative assessment and is used to enable the learner to become more autonomous in their learning. Self-assessment is often guided by checklists to help learners know what criteria to use for their evaluation.


"Students don’t always like doing self-assessment at the beginning., but in my experience they get used to it bit by bit and come to see the value of it."

Further reading

Harris, M. (1997). Self-assessment of language learning in formal settings. ELT Journal 51/1. Oxford University Press.

Scharle, Á., and A. Szabó. 2000. Learner Autonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tudor, I. 1996. Learner-Centredness as Language Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

British Council. Peer and Self Assessment https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/peer-self-assessment


Schema theory

Schema theory maintains that we develop frameworks in our heads for making sense of and organising information about different concepts, topics and phenomena in the world, and that these frameworks influence how we understand new information. If we can find a link between our schemata and new information, it helps us to process it. For this reason, many lessons include a warmer activity on the lesson’s topic that aims to activate and bring to mind learners’ knowledge, attitudes towards, and experience of the topic.


"We had to do some comprehension work on a text about Charles Darwin. So, I did a warmer activity to help activate my learners’ schemata about him. But what I found was that no one had ever heard of him or what he did. That made the comprehension work much more difficult as the students couldn’t really relate to or see the relevance of what we were reading."

Further reading

Carrell, P.L., Devine, J. and Eskey, D.E. (eds) (1988). Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cook, G. (1997). Key concepts in ELT: schemas. ELT Journal 51/1. Oxford University Press.

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

Widdowson, H.G. (1983). Learning Purpose and Language Use. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





Objects from outside the classroom that the teacher or learners bring into the classroom in order to illustrate meaning or prompt communication or learning. They include anything portable such as household items, clothing, things related to travel (tickets, brochures, credit cards, leaflets), toys, photos, newspapers. Nowadays in some teaching contexts realia are often replaced by PowerPoint images and visuals on interactive white boards.


"Primary school students are often very motivated by working with realia. They love doing things like counting different fruits or putting models of different kinds of animals into different baskets as a way of categorising them."

Further reading







Range is a term used in assessment criteria and in syllabus design to refer to the breadth and variety of language (grammar or lexis) that is appropriate for use in a particular genre. For example, the range of language appropriate for use in a text message to a friend about when and where to meet up next is likely to be much narrower than the range needed in a tourist leaflet describing the attractions of an historic town. Teachers are also often encouraged in syllabuses to teach their students the features of an appropriate range of genres.

The semantic range of a word refers to its occurrence across several subsections of a corpus.


"I’ve just marked Pedro’s essay – his grammatical range was really quite impressive-he used all the tenses he needed to use, simple and complex sentences, and a variety of conjunctions and discourse markers - just what was needed in that kind of formal essay."

Further reading

Nation, P. & Waring, R. “Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists” http://www.fltr.ucl.ac.be/fltr/germ/etan/bibs/vocab/cup.html



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.




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.





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 http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/elp/

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






Phrasal verb

Phrasal verbs are items made up of a verb and one or more particles (adverbs or prepositions). You cannot always work out the meaning of phrasal verbs by looking at the individual words e.g. look after, hang in. In English some phrasal verbs are informal or neutral in register. They may have more formal equivalents often coming from Latin e.g. get off/alight, make up/compose, look at/regard.


"Learners often think phrasal verbs are difficult to learn, but if they learn them as lexical items rather than as grammatical items they’re not so hard."

Further reading

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

McCarthy, M. and O’Dell, F. (2004-2007). English Phrasal Verbs in Use (Elementary/Intermediate/Advanced). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




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.






This is a grammatical term for a word which has little meaning attached to it and does not obviously belong to any of the parts of speech but performs a grammatical or formal function. Examples of these in English are not and the prepositions or adverbs that are in phrasal verbs e.g. look up, look after.  We can see that in this context they don’t perform their usual grammatical function or retain their usual meaning.


"In Chinese there are particles that show that a sentence is in the past or is a question."

Further reading

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





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.





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.





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.






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.





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.





Lexical cohesion

Lexical cohesion refers to the lexical devices used in spoken or written discourse to help join texts together. These devices include lexical chains, lexical sets, repetition of words, substitution and ellipsis.


"The lexical cohesion in this sentence is in italics: I went to Paris as a child. I remember it as a very lovely city. Cities though are full of problems these days so I imagine the capital of France is too now."

Further reading

Flowerdew, J. and Mahlberg, M. (2009). Lexical Cohesion and Corpus Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Halliday, M.A.K; and Ruqayia Hasan (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Hoey, Michael (1991): Patterns of Lexis in Text. Oxford: OUP.

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




Lexical chain

A lexical chain is a series of words used in a text that are linked to the same lexical field, including synonyms and related terms. A lexical chain is one source of cohesion in a text.


"In the sentence 'Elephants have long trunks and tusks, which distinguish elephants from many other animals’, ‘elephant’, ‘trunks’, ‘tusks’, and ‘animals’ all form a lexical chain in that they all relate to the lexical field of elephants."

Further reading

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

Thornbury, S. (2005) Beyond the Sentence. Oxford: Macmillan.




Learning outcome

A learning outcome is a statement (often in a lesson plan or syllabus) of what a learner is expected to know or be able to do, and to what degree, at the end of a lesson or course as a result of successful learning of the focus of the lesson or course. Learner outcomes can be used to tell learners what they will be learning. They are also used to shape lesson activities and guide the content of assessment.


"Thinking about learning outcomes when you are planning your lesson and writing a lesson plan really helps the teacher to see if what they intend to teach is at the right level for their learners."

Further reading

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

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





Learner training

Learner training involves teaching learners how to carry out the strategies that enable them to become better learners, and often more autonomous learners. Examples of these strategies are: writing down new words on vocabulary cards, taking advantage of all opportunities to use the target language, repeating new words to yourself, listening out for specific grammatical features.


"I once had a student who needed no learner training - she already kept beautifully organised files, noted down new words, asked questions when she didn’t understand, listened to all available radio and TV programmes, had an English study buddy etc etc. She was remarkable and made very rapid progress."

Further reading

Ellis, G. and Sinclair, B. (1989). Learning to Learn English. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Griffiths, G. (2007). Language learning strategies: students' and teachers' perceptions. ELT Journal 61/2. Oxford University Press.

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





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