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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Subordinate clause

See Clause

Entry link: Subordinate clause


See Skills

Entry link: Subskills


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.




Entry link: Substitution

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.







Entry link: Substitution drill


See Affixation

Entry link: Suffix

Summative assessment

The assessment of learning that takes place at the end of a course of learning to see how much of the syllabus covered each learner has learnt.


"It’s quite difficult to design summative tests – they’re meant to reflect what you have taught from the syllabus, but some things are really quite difficult to test, so the test doesn’t always reflect the syllabus well enough."

Further reading

Bachman, L. (1990). Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Monitoring learner progress through formative and summative assessment:



Entry link: Summative assessment

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.)


A superordinate is a lexical term. It refers to a word which is the name of a category, for example, fruit is the superordinate for oranges, apples, bananas, melon, strawberries etc. The things which make up the category are called hyponyms (See hyponym)


Lots of games you play in class are based on superordinates. There is one called categories for example, where you give students a grid with a list of superordinates, then call out a letter of the alphabet. The first person to complete the grid with words beginning with that letter is the winner. Here’s an example of the grid:


























You can see the superordinates at the top of the columns. Mind maps are often based on superordinates too.

Further reading

Berry, R.(2010). Terminology in English Language Teaching: Nature and Use. Bern: Peter Lang.

Cook, V. (2013). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Routledge.




Entry link: Superordinate

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.)


See Segmental and Suprasegmental

Entry link: Suprasegmental


See Strong/Stressed and Weak/Unstressed Syllables

Entry link: Syllable


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





Entry link: Syllabus


A synonym is a word with the same or very similar meaning to another word e.g. simple / easy; quickly / fast. Words are rarely complete synonyms of one another, differing in style or collocation e.g. to spend time with v to hang out with. An antonym is a word which is the opposite in meaning to another word e.g. rude / considerate; get off / get on, but, once again, there are not many complete antonyms because often they cannot be used as alternatives in all contexts.


There are lots of games, puzzles and exercises in ELT based around synonyms and antonyms. Learning a word’s synonyms or antonyms does give you the impression that you know that word better, in my opinion.

Further reading

Burns, A. and Richards, J. (2012). Pedagogy and Practice in Second Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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




Entry link: Synonym/Antonym


This is the way in which parts of speech are arranged in fixed sequences in sentences in order to make grammatical structures and meaning. What is acceptable syntax varies from language to language. An example of syntax in English is the inversion of subject and verb in question forms, or the order in statements, the positioning of adverbs or adjectives.


"The grammar of some languages relies heavily on morphology to show meaning, whereas other languages make greater use of syntax to achieve this."

Further reading

Howatt, A. P. R. and Widdowson, H.G. ed.s. (2004). A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Swan, M. (2005). Practical English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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




Entry link: Syntax

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