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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Range is a term used in assessment criteria and in syllabus design to refer to the breadth and variety of language (grammar or lexis) that is appropriate for use in a particular genre. For example, the range of language appropriate for use in a text message to a friend about when and where to meet up next is likely to be much narrower than the range needed in a tourist leaflet describing the attractions of an historic town. Teachers are also often encouraged in syllabuses to teach their students the features of an appropriate range of genres.

The semantic range of a word refers to its occurrence across several subsections of a corpus.


"I’ve just marked Pedro’s essay – his grammatical range was really quite impressive-he used all the tenses he needed to use, simple and complex sentences, and a variety of conjunctions and discourse markers - just what was needed in that kind of formal essay."

Further reading

Nation, P. & Waring, R. “Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists” http://www.fltr.ucl.ac.be/fltr/germ/etan/bibs/vocab/cup.html




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







To remember something, often with the help of prompts or clues.


"To recall new vocabulary I often try to use a clue – for example, the Italian for ‘bell’ is campana – if you say it slowly hanging on the ‘n’, to me it sounds just like a big bell ringing. When I hear a bell ringing now, the word campana often automatically comes into my mind."

Further reading

Bilborough, N. (2011).  Memory Activities for Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Takac, V.P. (2008). Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Foreign Language Acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.




These are terms used in relation to the language skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. The first two are said to be receptive as they involve absorbing language while the latter two are known as productive as they involve producing language. Receptive skills are sometimes thought of as being passive while productive skills are thought of as active. In fact, this categorisation is rather misleading, as a reader or listener can be very active in their comprehension and interpretation of language while reading or listening, and of course, much reading and listening takes place interactively with writing and speaking.


I think it’s rather unhelpful to talk of listening or reading lessons. I prefer to think of integrated skills lessons where a focus on a receptive skill often leads into and supports the learning of productive skill.

Further reading

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

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

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




See Pronoun


Teachers recycle language when they deliberately bring items of language that have already been taught to learners’ attention or for learners’ use a second or further time. The purpose of recycling is to give learners further exposure to particular language items.  Coursebook designers often build recycling into their materials, as do syllabus writers who adopt a spiral approach, dealing with the same item again but in greater detail.


"That book is really good because it recycles the main language points, giving learners the chance to extend their understanding and use of what they’ve learnt before."

Further reading

Harmer, J. (2012). Teacher knowledge, Harlow: Pearson.

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



Referential question

A referential question is a question a teacher or student asks because they genuinely want to find out the answer to the question. Referential questions are often contrasted with display questions (See Display Questions), which are asked so as to give the student an opportunity to ‘display’ their knowledge or ability. In language teaching, referential questions are often associated with the warm-up stage of a lesson or with free practice activities. They often lead to a use of language that the teacher cannot predict, and tend to involve use of higher order thinking skills (See HOTS).


In the dialogue below, the teacher’s first question is a display question, asked to check whether the student knows the word ‘architect’. The teacher knows the answer to this question. The teacher’s second question is referential. The teacher is unlikely to know the answer to it, and answering it involves the student in using their own ideas and unpredictable language.

Teacher: What’s the name of the person who draws plans for designing and building houses?

Student: architect.

Teacher. That’s right. Do you think that’s an interesting job? Why?

Student: I’d love to be an architect. To create new buildings must be wonderful.

Further reading

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

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

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




Reflection grid

This is a grid or table often containing columns with these headings:  name, description, aims, comments. It can be used by learners or teachers to record and comment on points in a lesson. It is designed to aid reflection and evaluation on learning / teaching, with a view to possibly introducing changes.


"The teacher gave us a reflection grid and during the lesson we jotted down our feelings and opinions on the different things we had done. Then at the end of the lesson we discussed what we had written. It was a good way of getting solid feedback and thinking about what helps you to learn best."

Further reading

Murray, D. and Christison, M.A. (2011). What English Language Teachers Need to Know, Volume 11. Abingdon: Oxon: Routledge.

Richards, J. and Lockhart, C. (1994). Reflective Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





See Pronoun


Register has two meanings. It is sometimes used to refer to the type of language (particular vocabulary, grammar or discourse features) that characterises particular fields of language use e.g. nuclear physics, hip hop music, football.

It is also used to refer to the degree of formality of language use, with language generally classified as formal, neutral or informal. The study of register is part of sociolinguistics.


"One of the hardest things to learn in a foreign language is using register i.e. what language it is appropriate to use in what context."

Further Reading

Bachman, L. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ghadessy, M. (1994) Key concepts in ELT. ELTJ 48/3 http://www.oxfordjournals.org/our_journals/eltj/keyconcepts.html

Halliday, M.A.K., McIntosh, A., Strevens, P. (1964). The linguistic sciences and language teaching. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.

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




See Pronoun

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.



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: http://www.cambridge.org/servlet/file/EPP_PED_Glossary.pdf?ITEM_ENT_ID=2491706&ITEM_VERSION=1&COLLSPEC_ENT_ID=7



Role play

This is an activity in which learners take on roles (characters) and act them out in a situation. It is used to practise language, often as a free practice activity. It is also used to help students to explore ideas and issues. A role play is different from a simulation. In a simulation, learners are put in a situation in which there is some problem to resolve. They are not given specific roles.

In role plays, learners are often given role cards to guide what they need to say, do or discuss. An example of a role play would be putting students into groups of four with one of them each as head teacher, parent, local shopkeeper or student representative, and then to hold a group discussion in their roles on design plans for rebuilding the school. Role plays can also be used to prompt writing, reading and listening, for example, when learners are given different roles in which to receive and react to information from a text.


"Some of my students really enjoy doing role plays – they like the freedom that comes with pretending to be someone else, but others just get shy and embarrassed, so I have to think carefully about how often I do role plays and whether they can be done as pair work rather than in front of lots of other students."

Further reading

Crookall, D. & Oxford, R.L. (Eds.) (1990).  Simulation, Gaming, and Language Learning. New York: Newbury House.

Ladousse, G. P. (1987). Role Play. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

Skehan, P. (1998b). Task based instruction. In Grahe, W. (Ed.), Annual review of applied linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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






This stands for Received Pronunciation. It refers to the standard pronunciation of British English that shows no regional features. RP is sometimes known as BBC English. Although RP is subject to change and is spoken by a small minority of British people, it is widely used in recording for ELT materials.


There is not full agreement on what RP is. Some say it is ‘educated English’, some that it is ‘upper class English’. Is the Queen’s accent RP or not, for example?

Further reading

Crystal, D. (2005). The Stories of English. London:  Penguin.

McArthur, T. (2002). The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roach, P. (2004), "British English: Received Pronunciation", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34/2.

Trudgill, Peter (1999). The Dialects of England. Oxford: Blackwell.

Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation? J.C. Wells: http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/rphappened.htm

Academic English – Professor David Crystal on standard vs. non-standard English




Running dictation

In a running dictation the teacher divides the class into groups of e.g. 3-5 students, then places on the wall copies of a text. Members of each group then take it in turns to go (run) to the text and memorise a piece of it, then run back to their group and dictate it to them. Group members must write it down correctly. The activity continues until one group shouts ‘Stop’ after all the text has been dictated and written down. The winning group will have written down the text more quickly and more correctly than the others. Running dictation is believed to encourage speed reading, clear enunciation, careful listening and a focus on spelling and accuracy in writing.


You may need to convince some learners of the value of running dictation. Some see it as just a game with no obvious learning purpose. Others love it, of course!

Further reading

Davis, P. & Rinvolucri, M. (1988). Dictation: New methods, new possibilities. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.