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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Subordinate clause

See Clause

Entry link: Subordinate clause


See Skills

Entry link: Subskills


See Skills

Entry link: Microskills


See Transitive / Intransitive

Entry link: Intransitive


See Washback

Entry link: Backwash


This is a term (in the US more commonly referred to as Backwash) used in testing and assessment to describe the effect on the classroom of tests that the learners will take. Washback may affect e.g. the syllabus, methodology, interaction patterns, attitudes to learning etc., and can be positive or negative.


In some countries education authorities deliberately introduce new elements into tests so that they will be used in the classroom. In other words they are relying on the washback effect of a test to bring about change in the classroom. Examples of this might be the introduction of speaking tests or the use of tasks in speaking tests. Washback is sometimes known as ‘Backwash’ and is contrasted with ‘Impact’.

Further Reading

Bachman, L and Palmer, A (1996) Language Testing in Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hamp-Lyons, L (1997) Washback, impact and validity: ethical concerns, Language Testing,14/3.

Hughes, A. (1989) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Messick, S. (1996). Validity and washback in language testing. Language Testing 13/4.

Taylor, L. (2005) Key Concepts in ELT: Washback and Impact. ELT Journal 59/2.



Entry link: Washback

Environmental Print

See Linguistic Landscape



Entry link: Environmental Print

Adverb; Adverbial phrase

An adverb is a word which usually qualifies the verb in a sentence showing how, when, where, to what degree, how often, or with what viewpoint etc the event, action or process in the verb is carried out. An adverbial phrase is a set of words fulfilling the same purpose.


Here are examples of different types of adverbs and adverbial phrases:

Of manner: carefully, in a new way

Of time: yesterday, the day after tomorrow

Of place: there, over the back

Of degree: fully, to a certain extent

Of frequency: weekly, every three weeks

Of attitude: honestly, in my opinion

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.





Entry link: Adverb; Adverbial phrase

Anaphoric and cataphoric reference

These are two terms used to describe words which refer to other words in a sentence or text. Anaphoric reference refers to words that have occurred previously, while cataphoric reference refers to words that come later. Pronouns, determiners and demonstrative adjectives often fulfil these functions, which contribute to the cohesion of discourse.


Try to work out what each reference word refers to in this text. Is the reference anaphoric or cataphoric?

Michael gave Anne a new book for her birthday. She was very pleased with it but forgot to thank him. That upset him. ‘This is what I’ll do’, he decided: ‘I’ll never give her a present again’.

Key: Green = anaphoric, red = cataphoric.

Further reading

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

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

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

Townsend Hall, B. (1997). Key Concepts in ELT: Anaphora. ELT Journal 51/4.



Entry link: Anaphoric and cataphoric reference


This is a term from phonetics. It refers to a process that occurs in connected speech to enable the sounds in speech to flow more smoothly. In assimilation one sound is influenced by a nearby sound and becomes like it in some way.


Fun birthday - fʌm bəːθdeɪ (the /n/ in ‘fun’ is assimilated towards the /b/ in ‘birthday’)

Sandwich - /samwidʒ/ (the /n/ is assimilated towards the /d/)

Further reading

Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English Pronunciation. Harlow: Longman.

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary: https://www.peterroach.net/glossary.html

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Oxford: Macmillan.




Entry link: Assimilation

Auxiliary verb

An auxiliary verb is a verb that helps another verb. It helps it to form e.g. progressive aspect, the passive voice, a past participle, negative, interrogative or emphatic forms. In English the auxiliary verbs are do, be, and have.


‘Have’ as an auxiliary

Having finished his work, he went out for lunch

Has she written that email?

He had never understood

‘Be’ as an auxiliary

It’s been cooked somewhere else

It was made yesterday

She is waiting

‘Do’ as an auxiliary

I do believe you, honestly

How do you do?

When did he get here?

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.





Entry link: Auxiliary verb

Bloom's Taxonomy

This is a classification of affective and cognitive skills that is used to provide learning objectives. It was published by a committee of educators in the USA in 1956. Benjamin Bloom was the chair of this committee. The taxonomy of cognitive skills in particular has been very influential in curriculum and examination design. It was revised in 2000.


Bloom’s taxonomy identifies cognitive skills and divides them into two categories, as follows:

Higher order thinking skills (HOTS): creating, evaluating, analysing

Lower order thinking skills (LOTS): applying, understanding, remembering

Further reading

Airasian, P. W.; Cruikshank, K. A.; Mayer, R. E.;Pintrich, P. R.; Raths, J.; Wittrock, M. C. (2000) in Anderson, Lorin W.;Krathwohl, D. R., eds. A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Columbus, Ohio: Allyn and Bacon.

Bloom, B. S. et al. (1956) ‘Taxonomy of educational objectives’, Handbook I: Cognitive  domain, New York: Longman.

Coyle, D., Hood P., Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL Content and Language Integrated Learning.            Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Unrau, N. J. (1997). Thoughtful teachers, thoughtful learners. Scarborough, Ontario, Pippin    Publishing.





Entry link: Bloom's Taxonomy

Citation form/dictionary form

A citation form is the form of a word that is found as a headword in a dictionary. A citation form represents other forms of the same word. Citation forms are pronounced as full forms. These may sound different when said in connected speech.


Take is the citation form for takes, taking, taken, took

Further reading

Carter, R., & McCarthy, M. (1994). Grammar and the spoken language. Applied Linguistics, 16/2.

Nation, Paul & Waring, Robin (1997). Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists. In

Schmitt, Norbert & McCarthy (eds) Vocabulary: description, acquisition and pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Entry link: Citation form/dictionary form


CLIL (content and language integrated learning) refers to an educational practice in primary, secondary and tertiary contexts where subject teaching and learning take place in a non-native language. The acronym CLIL was first used in 1994 and by 2006 it was recognized as ‘an innovative methodological approach of far broader scope than language teaching.’ (Eurydice 2006: 7) Content was placed before language in the acronym because subject content determines the choice of language used to teach subject matter as well as the language which learners use in order to communicate their knowledge and ideas about curricular content. What differentiates CLIL from ELT and approaches such as content-based instruction is ‘the planned pedagogic integration of contextualised content, cognition, communication and culture into teaching and learning practice.’ (Coyle 2002 in Coyle et.al. 2010: 6) There are different types of CLIL practice depending on the country, region or sometimes the school where it is being implemented.


Subject and language teachers often work together to deliver CLIL classes to support the two core strands of CLIL, content and language.

Further reading

Bentley, K. (2010). The TKT Course CLIL Module. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Coyle, D., Hood, P. and Marsh, D. (2010) CLIL Content and Language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Eurydice (2006) Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) at School in Europe

European Commission





Entry link: CLIL

Compound words

Compound words are combinations of words which together form one part of speech and have one meaning. They are written as one word, hyphenated or as separate words. Compound words can be different parts of speech e.g. nouns, verbs, prepositions, adjectives.


Some people don’t realise that groups of words like in spite of and without are compound words.

 Further reading

Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English Pronunciation. Harlow: Longman.

Lieber, R. & Štekauer P. eds. (2009).The Oxford Handbook of Compounding, eds. Oxford:

Oxford University Press.

Plag, I. (2003) Word-formation in English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, D. (1990). Compound Word Stress. ELT Journal 45/1.

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary: https://www.peterroach.net/glossary.html

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Oxford: MacMillan.



Entry link: Compound words


A conjunction is a class of word which joins words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs. There are two types of conjunction: coordinating and subordinating. The former join equal components whereas the latter join a main and a dependent component. Conjunctions, unlike conjuncts, are part of the sentence they appear in.


Here is an example of a coordinating conjunction in a sentence: I went to the shops and bought something to eat. And, but, and or are common coordinating conjunctions.

Here is an example of a subordinating conjunction in a sentence: After I had gone to the shops I bought something to eat. There are many examples of subordinating conjunctions e.g. after, before, when, although, because, as a result of, due to.

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.



Entry link: Conjunction

Course of study

This term is used in two different ways. It refers to a set of lessons or workshops making up a whole. In this sense it is synonymous with ‘course’.

It is also used to refer to a programme of study into which different courses are integrated.


In this example course is used in both its meanings, which makes the example potentially a little confusing!

The course I took in Italian at university was made up of lots of different courses e.g. medieval literature, philology, etymology, 19th century history.

Further reading

No further reading is provided for this general word.



Entry link: Course of study


This term is used to refer to syllabus (See syllabus), learning objectives, methods of assessment, teaching methods and materials.

The term is also sometimes used synonymously with syllabus.


Writing a curriculum for a particular learning situation involves understanding a lot about the context in which the teaching and learning will take place.

Further reading

Christison, M and Murray, D. (2014). What English Language Teachers Need to Know,

Volume 3.  New York and London: Routledge.

Graves, K. (1996). Teachers as Course Developers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I.S.P. and  Macalister, J.(2010). Language Curriculum Design. Oxford: Routledge.

Nunan D. 1994. The Learner-Centered Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nunan D. 1996. Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. (2013). Curriculum Approaches in Language Teaching: Forward, Central, and

Backward Design. RELC Journal 44/1

Richards, J. (2001).  Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

http://www.professorjackrichards.com/wp-content/uploads/Curriculum-Approaches-in Language-Teaching.pdf.

Tomlinson B. (2012). Language Curriculum Design. ELT Journal 66/2.

White, R. (1998). The ELT Curriculum: Design, Innovation and Management. Hoboken, NJ.:Wiley.



Entry link: Curriculum

Direct method

A method of language teaching popular until the early 1950s. The method advocated the use of only the target language in the classroom, and the use of student-teacher dialogue supported by visuals such as gestures or photos.


When I learnt Russian my teacher used the Direct Method. She would do things round the classroom or talk about objects or pictures she showed us, describing her actions or the pictures and then asking us questions about them. In some ways it was quite similar to the way in which a parent teaches a child language.

Further reading

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

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

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




Entry link: Direct method


Ellipsis refers to leaving out words from sentences where the meaning is sufficiently clear from the situation or the language already used. Usually ellipsis does not lead to a loss of meaning, though students may need training in recognising it and the cohesion it gives to discourse.


There is ellipsis in this sentence Bob often goes on holiday to the sea, and Tom too.  does or goes there has been left out after ‘Tom’  because the speaker thinks it’s not necessary to say these elements.

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




Entry link: Ellipsis

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