ELT terms - defined and referenced!

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

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A state in which someone is totally involved in, focussed on and motivated by what they are doing. This state is considered to be an optimum one for learning, and said to be encouraged by meaningful challenges this notion was popularised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.


Sometimes, usually when you’re doing something you enjoy, you manage to focus just on that, nothing else distracts you and you feel completely absorbed in what you’re doing. It’s a very rewarding and satisfying feeling that is sometimes called ‘flow’.

Further reading

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1998) Finding Flow. New York: Basic Books.

Egbert, J. 2003. A study of Flow Theory in the foreign language classroom’. The Modern

Language Journal, 87/4.

van Lier, L. 1996.Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy &

Authenticity.Harlow: Longman.





This refers to those parts of learners’ language which are used incorrectly but which do not seem responsive to correction or open to improvement. Many learner errors correct themselves automatically over time, but some seem resistant to change. These latter are called fossilized errors.


Many advanced learners will be very fluent and accurate but have some recurrent errors which refuse to disappear. This phenomenon is known as fossilization.

Further reading

Candlin, C. and Mercer, N. (2001). English Language Teaching in its Social Context. Abingdon, Oxon.: Psychology Press.

Doughty ,C.J. and Long, M.H. (2008). The Handbook of Second Language. Hoboken, N.J.:

John Wiley & Sons.

Han, Z. (2004) Fossilization in Adult Second Language Acquisition. Bristol, UK: Multilingual


Thornbury, S. The de-fossilization diaries:  http://scottthornburyblog.com/2013/08/18/the-de-fozzilization-diaries/





A genre refers to texts (spoken or written) that share the same conventions e.g. structure, vocabulary, register, grammar. Students often need to be aware of the characteristics of particular genres in order to produce them well.


Genres can be very different from one another. In speaking, for example, lectures and conversation are two quite different genres with different structures and registers. And in writing the genre of emails is quite different from that of essays.

Further reading

Allison, D. (1999) Key Concepts in ELT: Genre. ELT Journal, 53/2.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Cameron, L. (2008) Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics, Oxford:

Oxford University Press.

Martin, J. (1989) Factual Writing: Exploring and challenging social reality (2nd ed.), Oxford:

Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, M. and Carter, R. (1994) Language as Discourse: Perspectives for Language

Teaching, London: Longman.

Paltridge, B. (2001). Genre and the Language Learning Classroom. Ann Arbor: University of

Michigan Press.

Swales, J.M. (1990)Genre Analysis: English in academic and research settings, Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2005). Beyond the Sentence: Introducing Discourse Analysis. Oxford:





Inductive v deductive

These terms are used to refer to ways of learning. Inductive learning takes place by the learner extracting or working out rules from examples or data whereas deductive learning works by learning rules then applying them to examples or data.


The grammar translation method made heavy use of a deductive way of learning, presenting learners with rules and then asking them to use them to complete exercises.  The communicative approach relies much more on an inductive approach in which second language learners hear or read language around them, in much the same way as first language learners do, then unconsciously devise rules about how different aspects of language work.

Further reading

Doughty, C. & J. Williams (eds) (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language

Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gollin, J. (1998). Key Concepts in ELT: Deductive vs Inductive Language Learning. ELT Journal, 52/1.

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

Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




This term is used with two different meanings. One meaning refers to classroom interaction in which the focus is on the students as opposed to the teacher, and which involves heavy use of pair and group work.

The second meaning refers to involving learners in decisions about their own learning. These can include decisions about curriculum content, ways of learning and ways of assessing.


When I learnt a foreign language at school the teacher was in command of and at the centre of everything – interaction, choice of what and how to learn and also how to assess. In some foreign language learning these days there is much more learner-centredness – sometimes learners make decisions about the curriculum and assessment, and often there is an emphasis on student participation in the classroom, with the teacher taking on mainly a monitoring role while the learners take over the role of language user and inputter.

Further reading

Holliday, A. (2005). The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. New York:

Oxford University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching from method to post-method.

London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Nunan, D. (1988). The Learner-Centred Curriculum: A Study in Second Language Teaching.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(2012). Learner-Centered English Language Education: The Selected Works of David

Nunan. Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge.

Nunan, D., & Lamb, C. (2001). Managing the learning process. In D. R. Hall & A. Hewings

(Eds.), Innovation in English language teaching (pp. 27-45). London: Routledge.

Williams, M., & Burden, R. L. (1997). Psychology for Language Teacher: A social

constructivist approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Lexical approach

In a lexical approach to language teaching, learning lexis is a principle goal, thus influencing syllabus design and classroom activities. Lexis in the lexical approach includes not just single words but collocations and chunks, and lexico-grammatical aspects of lexis as well as purely semantic.


One way of implementing the lexical approach in the classroom is to work with spoken or written texts and use various techniques to make students aware of the collocations and chunks the texts contain.

Further reading

Lewis, M. (1993). The Lexical Approach, Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Lewis, Michael (1996). Implications of a lexical view of language. In Challenge and Change in Language Teaching, Jane Willis and Dave Willis (eds.). Oxford: Heinemann.

Lewis, M. (1997). Implementing the Lexical Approach: Putting Theory Into Practice. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Lewis, M. (2000). Language in the lexical approach. In Teaching Collocation: Further

Developments In The Lexical Approach, Michael Lewis (ed.), 126-154. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Schmitt, N. (2000). Key Concepts in ELT: Lexical Chunks. ELT Journal 54/4.
Thornbury, Scott (1997). Reformulation and reconstruction: tasks that promote 'noticing'. ELT Journal 51/4.             

(1998). The Lexical Approach: a journey without maps? Modern English Teacher 7(4).

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

Willis, D. (1990).The Lexical Syllabus: A New Approach To Language Learning. London:

Collins ELT.




Lexical priming

The idea behind lexical priming is that as we learn words, we begin to associate them with certain contexts of language in use, so that later, when we meet these contexts again, they are likely to trigger the word, i.e. particular contexts prime us to use particular words.


What word would you put into this gap? These days politicians are no longer highly……….

Respected, paid, employable, moral, polished, amused, skilled, regarded and other words are all possible completions for the blank but lexical priming suggests that we would choose one of the first two words as the likely completion.

Further reading

Hoey, M. (2000). A World Beyond Collocation: New Perspectives on Vocabulary Teaching. In

Lewis, M. (Ed.). Teaching Collocation: Further Developments in the Lexical Approach. Hove: Thomson-Heinle.

Hoey, M. (2005). Lexical Priming: A New Theory of Words and Language. London: Routledge.

Hoey, M. (2009). A Review of “Lexical priming: a new theory of words and language.

Language Awareness 18/1.

Pace-Sigg, M. (2013). Lexical Priming in Spoken English Usage. Basingstoke, Hampshire:

Palgrave, MacMillan.



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.




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.






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.



Patterns of interaction

This term refers to the patterns of who interacts with who in a classroom. The main patterns are: student(s) to teacher, teacher to student(s), student(s) to student(s), student alone. A teacher can choose which is the most appropriate pattern to use in order to achieve the learning aims of different activities.


I started the class with a teacher to students interaction pattern as I gave all the students some information. The students then did some pair work followed by some individual work, and then the lesson ended with them doing some group work. So across the lesson we used four different kinds of interaction pattern.

Further reading

Harmer, J. (2012). Essential Teacher Knowledge. Harlow: Pearson Education.

McDonough, J. and Shaw. C. (2003) Materials and Methods in ELT. Oxford: Blackwell.

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


Seedhouse, P. (1995). Classroom interaction: possibilities and impossibilities. ELT Journal


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

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tsui, A.B.M.(1995). Introducing Classroom Interaction. London: Penguin.





This term refers to a grammatical process through which lexical items or grammatical structures are replaced in texts by other lexis or structures in order to increase the cohesion of the text, or avoid repetition.


The words in bold in these sentences are all examples of substitution:

Ben saw Kate last night. She was on the same train as he was. (lexical substitution)

Some say that the earth will be destroyed by global warming. I find this so difficult to take on board. (grammatical substitution).

James lost his job and so did I. (grammatical substitution).

The minister’s press secretary always worries about reporters but it seems the minister rarely does. (grammatical substitution).

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. (2005). Beyond the Sentence – Introducing Discourse Analysis. Oxford:  Macmillan 2005.

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




Substitution drill

A substitution drill is one in which students replace one word in a sentence by another word/ other words of the same part of speech. The substitute word is given to the students as a prompt by the teacher. Substitution drills formed an important part of the audio-lingual method. They provide controlled practice and it was thought they gave learners the opportunity to learn new language by repetition.


Here is an example of a substitution drill:

Teacher: Can you repeat after me ‘The girl is walking’.

Students: The girl is walking.

Teacher: singing

Students: The girl is singing

Teacher: doing her homework

Students: The girl is doing her homework


Further reading

Baker, J. and Westrup, H. (2003). Essential Speaking Skills. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

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

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

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.








This term is used in two different ways in English language teaching. Sometimes it refers just to a list of the items/areas which students are meant to learn and the teacher to teach over a course of study e.g. particular language skills or subskills, particular lexis or topics, particular tasks or grammatical structures. This list is presented in the order in which the items/areas are intended to be taught and is usually incorporated into an official school or ministry document and often forms the basis of course books.

The term is sometimes also used synonymously with ‘curriculum’ (See curriculum), where it includes not just the items/areas to be learnt but also learning outcomes, general educational objectives, assessment aims and methods and teaching approaches.


The map of the book at the beginning of a coursebook contains the syllabus for that coursebook.

Further reading

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

Volume 3.  New York and London: Routledge.

Knapp, K., Seidlhofer, B. H. G. Widdowson, H.G.. (ed.s), 2009. Handbook of Foreign

Language Communication and Learning. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Nunan, D. (1988). Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CEFR 2001 http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/source/framework_en.pdf





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.



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.






A school of psychology very popular in the Western world in the middle of the 20th century. It claims that learning occurs through the establishment of fixed responses to given external stimuli, and that to establish these responses or behaviours, they need to be constantly repeated and reinforced. Behaviourism had a strong influence on language teaching in the audio-lingual method. It lost credibility when it was understood that language was too varied to be learnt simply by reinforcement and repetition, and that repetition was not enough to ensure all learning.


Drilling, the avoidance of mistakes and of using the L1 in class are influences from behaviourism that can still be seen in English language teaching.

Further reading

Harmer, J. (2007). The practice of English language teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

Howatt, A.P.R. with Widdowson H.G. (2004). A history of English language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, M. and Burden, R. (1997) Psychology for Language Teachers: A Social Constructivist Approach. 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


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.

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 




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