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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This is an acronym for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms and Pork. It refers to the common practice amongst publishers and exam boards of excluding sensitive or taboo topics from the content of their products so as not to give offence and to facilitate the sale of these products.  Some people believe that this practice is one factor contributing to the lack of real meaning and relevance that is sometimes noted in ELT materials.


When you get to know a class, you become aware of their sensitivities and interests. You’re then in a good position to judge how much or what parts of PARSNIP to adopt or ignore when choosing materials or topics to use in class.

Further reading

Gray, J. (2002). ‘The global coursebook in English language teaching’. In Block, D., and Cameron, D. (Eds.) Globalization and Language Teaching. London: Routledge.

Block, D. and Cameron, D. (2002) . Globalization and Language Teaching. London:Routledge.

Harwood, N. (2010).  English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Meddings. L. (2006). "Embrace the Parsnip" http://www.theguardian.com/education/2006/jan/20/tefl4




Part of speech

A part of speech is the grammatical function a word or phrase has in a sentence or utterance. Parts of speech have distinctive grammatical or morphological features.  In English, common parts of speech are: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, exclamation, pronoun, conjunction. Words can function as more than one part of speech e.g. a record, to record. Another term for part of speech is word class.


"You have to work out the parts of speech of ‘that’ in this sentence before you can understand the sentence: That that that that man used was right." (E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.)

Further reading

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

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ur, P.  (1999).  A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




This is a grammatical term that refers in English to two parts of a verb: the present participle(e.g. studying) and the past participle (e.g. studied). Participles are non-finite parts of a verb, meaning that they don’t in themselves indicate time.


Here’s an example of a mistake my students often make with the grammatical meaning of the present participle: Walking along the beach, the sun was bright and hot.

With the past participle their main problems seem to be remembering irregular forms, and their pronunciation and spelling too.

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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





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.




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.




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.  

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.





Perfect aspect

See Aspect


This is a teaching technique which involves the teacher using materials or teacher talk that makes a clear link to students’ own lives, interests or attitudes. The idea behind personalisation is that students will become more motivated and learn better when they can see that language has relevance to themselves.


"We read a text about space travel then had a discussion about who amongst would like to do space travel, why and why not. This personalised the topic and made it real for us."

Further reading

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

Ur, P.  (1999).  A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





This is the smallest unit of meaningful sound in a language. A phoneme can distinguish one word from another e.g. /bæd/ vs /bed/. In English Received Pronunciation (RP) there are forty-four phonemes, twenty-four are consonants and twenty are vowels.


Learning the phonetic script and understanding the phonemic chart can really help you teach individual phonemes to students. Often there are just a few phonemes that students have trouble pronouncing - usually because they don’t exist in their L1.

Further reading

English Pronunciation in Use, Elementary/ Intermediate/ Advanced. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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







Phonemic chart

A chart showing the phonemic symbols for a particular language arranged according to whether they are vowels or consonants and their place and manner of articulation.


The British Council’s Sounds Right phonemic chart can be downloaded for the iPad from https://itunes.apple.com/app/sounds-right/id387588128?mt=8 and for the PC from http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/TEphonemic.zip

There are different ways in which the phonemic chart can be used to help learners with their pronunciation.

Further reading

Kelly, G. (2000). How to Teach Pronunciation. Harlow: Longman.

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

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





Macmillan Pronunciation Skills videos with Adrian Underhill


The Phonemic Chart, Part 1:

The Phonemic Chart, Part 2:



Phonetics and phonemics

Phonetics is the study of all the speech sounds used in all human languages. The IPA chart (See IPA) represents these sounds. Unlike phonemics (also known as phonology - see Phonology), phonetics is not concerned with the sounds of individual languages. It studies the production, transmission and reception of speech sounds in all languages. Phonemics studies those sounds which are meaningful (i.e. which may distinguish between one word and another) within one language.


We learn from phonetics that there is a sound called a glottal stop. But we learn from phonemics, not phonetics, that the glottal stop does not change meaning in standard English and that it is therefore not a phoneme in standard English, but an allophone (See Allophone) of /t/.

Further reading

Carr, Philip (2003).English Phonetics and Phonology: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Ladefoged, Peter. (1982).A Course in Phonetics (2nd ed.). London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Roach, Peter (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology, 4th edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



This term has various meanings. The Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics defines it as follows:

1     another term for PHONEMICS

2     (for some linguists) a cover term for both PHONETICS and PHONEMICS

3      The establishment and description of the distinctive sound units of a language (PHONEMES) by means of DISTINCTIVE FEATURES

(The Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, p.435)


As a teacher of English I found it very useful to study phonology. It helped me to understand what sounds there are in English and where and how they are pronounced. This helped me develop ideas for how to help my learners with their pronunciation.

Further reading

Carr, Philip (2003).English Phonetics and Phonology: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Ladefoged, Peter. (1982) A Course in Phonetics (2nd ed.). London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, 4th edition. Harlow: Pearson.

Roach, Peter (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology, 4th edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://linkingphonetics.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/cambridge_p_roach_english_phonetics_and_phonology_nopw.pdf

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




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.





A phrase is a group of words making up a meaningful unit in a clause. There are different kinds of phrases such as a verb phrase, a prepositional phrase, an adverbial phrase, a noun phrase. A phrase may or may not contain a verb.


In this sentence there are four phrases all marked in different colours: Nobody wearing sandals will be allowed into the restaurant after 8 o’clock.

Further reading

Batstone, R. (1994) Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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




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.



Pitch is usually defined as “the rate of vibration of the vocal folds”, which is responsible for sounds being produced at higher or lower frequencies, or higher or lower pitch. Pitch can vary across a word or a whole utterance. Varying our pitch in conventionally agreed ways makes it possible for meaning to be expressed through intonation. For example, in English, in Wh- questions the pitch of the voice starts higher then falls.


In English we change the direction of the pitch of our voices on the most important syllable in a word or tone unit. We can see this from the contour line in this example:



Take the train, not the bus – it’s much quicker.

Further reading

Roach, Peter (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology, 4th edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary: http://www.cambridge.org/servlet/file/EPP_PED_Glossary.pdf?ITEM_ENT_ID=2491706&ITEM_VERSION=1&COLLSPEC_ENT_ID=7



This term is often used to refer to a meeting or conference in which all members are present. In English language teaching it is sometimes used instead of whole class to mean those moments in a lesson during which the teacher gets all students to focus on her/him so he/she can give the same input to everyone at the same time. This is sometimes called teacher-fronted plenary.


"The danger of using too much plenary teaching is that it puts learners in a passive role of listeners only, while the teacher talks or inputs in some way."

Further reading

Andrews, S. (2007). Teacher language awareness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nunan, D. Nunan, D. (1989) Understanding Language Classrooms: A Guide for Teacher-Initiated Action. Prentice Hall Publishers.

Schwab, G. (2011) From dialogue to multilogue: a different view on participation in the English foreign‐language classroom. Classroom Discourse Volume 2Issue 1.

Scrivener, J. (2012) Classroom management techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walsh, S. (2011) Exploring Classroom Discourse: Language in Action. Abingdon: Routledge.



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.



A plosive is a type of sound produced by air popping on one of the speech organs as it is released (See Speech Organ). The plosive sounds in English are /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/.


In my experience learners of English rarely have problems producing the plosive sounds. Is that what you have found with your students, too?

Further reading

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

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

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





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