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)

Browse the glossary using this index

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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.






Mandative subjunctive

This is the use of the subjunctive ‘in a subordinate clause that follows an expression of command, demand, or recommendation’ (http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/Mandative-Subjunctive.htm), for example: they recommended that he get some work experience /she suggested he dress more smartly. It is formal in use and contrasts with the formulaic subjunctive in which the subjunctive is used in a chunk as part of a fixed expression e.g. heaven forbid, so be it, come rain come shine.


The mandative subjunctive is rare in English, but not in some other languages. You really need to get a feel for when to use it – in romance languages it’s often used to express doubt, wishes or commands. Is it used in your language? When?

Further reading

Chalker, S. (1995).Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press.

Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. (2003). A Communicative Grammar of English, 3rd edition. Oxford:Routledge.






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.





Metacognitive strategies

These are the learning and thinking strategies we use in order to choose which lower level strategies to use to achieve something. A visual learner might, for example, decide that they would learn much better from looking at a diagram about a process rather than by reading the accompanying text about the process. In this example, looking at the diagram is a comprehension strategy, whereas choosing to look at the diagram is a metacognitive strategy, i.e. thinking about the best way to learn. The main metacognitive strategies are planning, prioritising, setting goals, and self-management.


When teachers teach metacognitive strategies they need to be aware that learners have different learning styles, so what is the best strategy for one student to learn may not be best for another.

Further reading

Cohen, A. D. (1998).Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. Harlow, England:Longman.

Hismanoglu, M. (2000) Language Learning Strategies in Foreign Language Learning and Teaching. http://iteslj.org/Articles/Hismanoglu-Strategies.html

Oxford, R. L. (1990).Language Learning Strategies: What every teacher should know. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Oxford, R. (2003). Language Learning Styles and Strategies: An Overview.


Swan, M. (2008).Talking sense about learning strategies. RELC Journal,39 (2). 




The language and terms that we use to talk abstractly about language and language learning. This covers terms for grammar, vocabulary, phonetics, discourse and learning strategies. Teachers may use some metalanguage to talk to their learners about language or language learning e.g. ‘This is an indefinite pronoun’, ‘Try to work out what the best vocabulary learning strategies are for you’. Some learners, though not all, appreciate learning some metalanguage as they think it helps them to learn better.

The NILE Glossary contains many terms which make up the metalanguage of English language teaching, as does Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT.


"His lessons were full of so much metalanguage that I really didn’t have a clue what he was talking about."

Further reading

Allford, D. (2013). Vygotsky, metalanguage and language learning. The Language Learning Journal, 41/1.

Andrews, S. (2007). Teacher Language Awareness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.t

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





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





A method is a recognised and acknowledged set of teaching techniques and procedures that put into practice a set of beliefs about teaching and learning. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with approach, while others reserve approach to refer to theories and principles of language teaching. Richards and Rodgers (2001) say of the two ‘a method is theoretically related to an approach, is organisationally determined by a design, and is practically realised in procedure’ (p .16). Some prominent methods in English language teaching include Total Physical Response, Task-Based Learning, Grammar Translation. A teaching method covers syllabus, materials and classroom activities.


“Some teachers prefer to teach eclectically, taking techniques and activities from a variety of methods rather than rigidly sticking to one. This is often because they think that different learners learn language in different ways.”

Further reading

Celce-Murcia, Marianne, ed. 2001. Teaching English as a second or foreign language, 2nd edition. Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle.

Lightbown, P. and Spada, S.  (2006). How languages are learned, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




The typical practices, procedures and techniques that a teacher uses in the classroom, and that may or may not be based on a particular method. Methodology can also refer to the study of these practices, procedures and techniques and of the beliefs and principles on which they are based.


"The methodology of the Structural Approach consisted mainly in listening to and repeating strictly graded grammatical structures."

Further reading

Kramsch, C. and Sullivan,  P. (1996) Appropriate pedagogy. ELT Journal 50/3.

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swan, M. A critical look at the Communicative Approach (1). ELT J (1985) 39 (1): 2-12.

Waters, A. (2012) Trends and issues in ELT methods and methodology. ELTJ  66 (4): 440-449.

Widdowson, H.G. (1985) Against dogma: A reply to Michael Swan. ELT J  39 (3): 158-161.




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.


See Skills

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.






See Error/Mistake/Slip

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.




This is the way in which we express our attitude to what we are saying. We often associate modality with verbs (obligation, possibility, ability, necessity etc) but modality can also be expressed through adjectives, adverbs and nouns. This latter is called lexical modality.


In the sentence He may come tomorrow we see modality expressed in the modal verb may. We can use lexical modality to express this too e.g. Perhaps he will come tomorrow (modal adverb), there’s a chance he will come tomorrow (modal noun), it’s possible he’ll come tomorrow (modal adjective).

Further reading

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

Fachinetti, R., Krug, M.G/ Palmer, F.R. (2003) Modality in Contemporary English. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

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




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.



Monolingual learner dictionary

This is a learner dictionary (a dictionary that is graded to suit the learners’ language level and needs) in which the dictionary entries, explanations and examples are all in the target language.


I have tried hard to encourage my students to use monolingual learner dictionaries so that they just think in the target language, but they keep using bilingual dictionaries instead. They say they find them more helpful.

Further reading

Chan, A. (2008).Why do learners prefer bilingualized dictionaries to monolingual dictionaries, or vice versa? Oxford University Research Archive.

Cowie, A.P. (2013). English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schmitt, N. (Ed.) (2010). An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2nd edition. Abingdon: Routledge.





Morphemes are the smallest meaningful and grammatical units in a word.  A morpheme ‘cannot be divided without altering or destroying its meaning’ (Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, p.375). For example, phones contains two morphemes – phone and s; helpless contains two morphemes – help and less; table contains only one morpheme. Many morphemes are suffixes or prefixes, but there are also grammatical morphemes in English such as 3rd person singular s,  past tense –ed, and –ing in a gerund or present participle.


In many vocabulary books you can find activities on word formation that in fact are based on morphemes e.g. deciding on the right prefix, matching parts of compound words, making opposites by adding the correct suffix.

Further reading

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

Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2010). Harlow: Pearson.





This is the study of the use of morphemes (See Morpheme)  to form words. Morphology shows us how different kinds of morphemes combine or operate singly to form words.


Here are a few things we learn from morphology:

-          words can contain just one morpheme e.g. dictate, book, compare, persuade

-          words can contain more than one morpheme e.g. dictation, books, comparison, persuaded

-          morphemes may or may not be able to stand alone e.g. these morphemes can stand alone: on, net, can; these morphemes can’t stand alone : im-, -tion, -ed

Further reading

Carstairs McCarthy, A. (2001) An Introduction to English Morphology: Words and Their Structure. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (1988). Vocabulary and Language Teaching. London and New York: Longman.

Nation, I.S.P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schmitt, N. (2000). Vocabulary in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



’ology 80s retrieved from



Multi-word unit

A group of words (e.g. a verb + adverb particle or preposition) which has a meaning as a whole and for which the meaning of the whole group of words is different from the meaning of each individual word. Multi-word units are often phrasal verbs, idioms, compounds. Examples of multi-word units are fall in love, a hand-set, once in a blue moon, to look after. It is useful for learners to learn these units as chunks rather than piecing them together from individual words. Multi-word units are sometimes referred to as polywords.


"Learners seem to learn phrasal verbs more easily if they see each one as a multi-word unit which is a complete lexical item in itself, rather than as a verb + an adverb or preposition."

Further reading

Laufer, B. (1997). What’s in a word that makes it hard or easy: some interlexical factors that affect

the learning of words. In N. Schmitt and M. McCarthy (ed.s) Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition, Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lindstromberg, S. and Boers, F. (2008). Teaching Chunks of Language. Helbling Languages.

Nattinger, J.R. and DeCarrico, J.(1992) Lexical Phrases and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.