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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Pedagogical theory (n.)

This can be summed up as the philosophical, sociological and psychological considerations that provide teachers with a sound basis for their classroom activities.

Well, Sue is OK in the classroom but I don’t think we can make her Head of Department as she has no real understanding of the thinking behind our policies and syllabus.  

Entry link: Pedagogical theory (n.)

Professionalism/professional/professional skills (n/adj./n.)

The concept of there being particular strategies and approaches that help teachers to improve their own work and also to develop their department, school or the whole profession. Some definitions of these terms also include skills that are not teaching skills but which could help teachers do their job better, for example interpersonal skills or computer skills, while others add generally desirable employee characteristics such as reliability, honesty, conscientiousness and a suitably smart appearance.

John is the most professional teacher I have ever met. So can you timetable him to be teaching in that room opposite the Head’s office when the inspectors come next week? ‘Cos they’re bound to pop into that room. 

Entry link: Professionalism/professional/professional skills (n/adj./n.)

Plenary (n./adj.)

Part of the lesson in which the whole class works together, led by the teacher.

After the group work the teacher brought the whole class together for plenary feedback.


Entry link: Plenary (n./adj.)

Sentence stem lecture or reading (n.)

A way of encouraging participants to listen or read carefully and of checking their retention of input. In this technique participants are required to complete sentence beginnings (stems) with selected parts of the input contents. 

Mariella was a skilled lecturer who often gave her students a sentence stem lecture to ensure they stayed awake throughout the hour.   

Entry link: Sentence stem lecture or reading (n.)

Buzz lecture or reading/buzzing (n/n.)

A way of encouraging participants to listen or read carefully and of checking their retention of input. In this technique the lecture or reading is paused from time to time and participants talk in twos or threes to summarise to each other what the lecturer has just said or the section of the article that they have just read. 

The students seemed to enjoy buzzing as it was much more active and fun than having to remain quiet throughout the lecture.


Entry link: Buzz lecture or reading/buzzing (n/n.)

Pyramid (n.)

A classroom interaction pattern in which learners work in twos on a task and then come together with another pair to compare and reach a consensus on their results. Each group of four then joins another group of four and the group of eight must negotiate to produce a result that represents both groups of four. Finally, the products or outcomes of the work are shared in plenary.

Robert wanted them to come to a decision about the class outing while practising their English and decided that he would set up a pyramid task to achieve both aims. 

Entry link: Pyramid (n.)

Pinboard plenary (n.)

An activity type that allows task results to be shared amongst the whole class in visual form. Each working pair or group puts their points on to a small card, one card for each point. The cards are then stuck up on a pinboard and read aloud. The whole class decides which points are similar and those cards are moved so that they are close to each other. Points can also be evaluated in plenary.  

Sandra decided to get her trainee teachers to work in pairs and write what they knew about giving good instructions as a series of tips on small cards. Then all the small cards would be put up in a pinboard plenary.


Entry link: Pinboard plenary (n.)

Review circles (n.)

An activity type in which the class stands in two concentric circles of equal numbers of learners. The inner circle face outwards and the outer circle face inwards so that each learner is facing one of their colleagues. The teacher or teacher trainer remains outside the circles and gives the class a topic or word to discuss or define with their partner. At a signal the inner circle members move one place to the right so that everybody has a new partner. The teacher decides if they will discuss or define the same topic or word, or a new one.

Tim frequently gets his classes to revise the vocabulary from the last lesson by means of a 10-minute review circles activity.


Entry link: Review circles (n.)

Supervisor (n.)

A name often found in the literature of lesson observation for a person who knows how to analyse teaching and learning, and who works in a professional way with a teacher, observing a lesson or lessons, and giving feedback to the teacher. The goal of the supervision process is to help the teacher reflect fruitfully on their teaching in order to modify or improve it.   

A teaching practice supervisor is supposed to be able to observe and assess student teachers objectively. 

Entry link: Supervisor (n.)

Schema/schemata (n. sing/pl)

The organisation of experience and/or knowledge into conceptual frameworks in the mind or brain. Schemata allow the brain to reference and integrate new knowledge or situations through making connections with what is already known.

Different readers bring different schemata to a text and these are also often culture-specific.


Entry link: Schema/schemata (n. sing/pl)

Summative assessment (n.)

Teacher assessment that is carried out at the end of, or after, a training course. Its purpose is to see how much the teachers have learned from the course.  

Sue decided to test the teachers on their knowledge of lesson planning by getting them to fill in the forms they had studied in the course for their next lessons, and she would grade them. She thought that would provide appropriate summative assessment. 

Entry link: Summative assessment (n.)

Summative evaluation (n.)

Evaluation of a training course at the end of, or after, the course. Its purpose is to find out how effective and/or successful the course was.  

The ministry conducted exhaustive summative evaluation of the new teacher training course using a variety of instruments, some on the last course day, and others by email to the participants three months after the course.

Entry link: Summative evaluation (n.)


This is a phonological term referring to the place in the mouth where some sounds are produced. The alveolar ridge is the ridge behind the teeth. The sounds produced when the tongue makes contact with the ridge are called alveolar. In English the alveolar sounds are /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/, /l/.



I’ve always found that it helps students to be aware of where in the mouth sounds are formed. When students have problems with any of the alveolar sounds I show them a labelled diagram of the mouth then get them to touch the ridge with their tongue as they try to say the problem sound. Then I tell them to practise at home in front of the bathroom mirror!

Further reading

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

Marks, J. (2012) The Pronunciation Book. Peaslake, Surrey: Delta

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




Entry link: Alveolar

Assessment criteria

These are levels or qualities of performance that markers use consciously or unconsciously to grade learners’ performance. To prevent assessment criteria being used randomly or unreliably and to guide markers, assessment criteria are very often written out in the form of analytic or holistic (See analytic/holistic) band descriptors or checklists.


If you look at https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/ielts_task_1_writing_band_descriptors.pdf you will see examples of assessment criteria for writing (Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy). These have been fleshed out to provide band descriptors for nine levels of language proficiency for IELTS writing.

Further reading

Dictionary of Language Testing (1999). Studies in Language Testing 7.Cambridge: University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.

Hughes, A. (2003).Testing for Language Teachers. 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: Assessment criteria

Assessment for learning

This kind of assessment is often contrasted with assessment of learning. It aims at promoting and encouraging learning rather than just evaluating or assessing it, seeing assessment as a means of identifying  what learning needs to be focussed on next. It often takes the form of formative assessment during lessons and encourages learner autonomy as a way of achieving its purposes.


"Sometimes I video students doing group work, then we evaluate their performance using a checklist. Then together we decide what we need to focus on in the next lessons to help them move forward. This is assessment for learning – they like it and so do I."

Further reading

Stoynoff, S. (2012). Looking backward and forward at classroom-based language assessment. ELT Journal 66/4.

CfBT Assessment for Learning: effects and impact https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED546817.pdf

Black, P. & William, D. (2001). Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment https://www.rdc.udel.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/InsideBlackBox.pdf

Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B & William, D. (2004). Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for learning in the classroom https://jaymctighe.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Working-Inside-the-Black-Box.pdf



Entry link: Assessment for learning


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


This stands for the Common European Frame of Reference. It was compiled by the Council of Europe and contains a series of descriptors of learners’ language performance at six different levels of proficiency, A1-C2, across the different language skills. The descriptors are expressed as ‘can-do’ statements. They can be used to set goals for learning or teaching and also to assess students’ proficiency.


A lot of course books these days use the CEFR to define the level of the learners they are intended for and to design their syllabus around.

Further reading

Council of Europe (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heyworth, F. (2006). Key concepts in ELT: The Common European Framework. ELTJournal 60/2.






Entry link: CEFR

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


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






Entry link: Realia


The regular beat at which a language is spoken, and which in English is achieved through the use of stress and weak or no stress.


Try saying these sentences, following the stress marks* given

(ˈ = primary stress; ˌ = secondary stress)

This should help you feel their rhythm:


He had |breakfast

The |news |paper

He |read the |news |paper

|After he had |breakfast he |read the |news |paper

Further reading

Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. and Goodwin, J. (1996). Teaching Pronunciation. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Couper-Kuhlen, E. (1993). English Speech Rhythm:Form and Function in Everyday Verbal Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

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

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


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

Entry link: Rhythm

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