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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Wait time

This is the amount of time teachers give students to answer questions. Research indicates that leaving more time leads to more students wanting to answer, fuller answers and more questions from other students, too.


I don’t think I give my students enough wait time when I ask questions. I’m going to record myself in class to check how much time I leave on average, then leave more time and see what difference, if any, it makes to the students’ answering.

Further reading

McDonough, J. and Shaw, C. (2003). Materials and Methods in ELT. Oxford: Blackwell.

Nunan, D. 1991. Language Teaching Methodology. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.

Thornbury, S. (1996). Teachers research teacher talk. ELT Journal 50/4.





A warmer, or warm-up activity, is an activity which takes place at the beginning of a lesson and aims to ‘warm the learners up’ i.e. to get them focussed on and energised for a lesson in general or its specific content.

Further reading

Malderez, A., Bodsczky, C. (1999) Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Ur, P. (1992). 5 minute Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






This is a term (in the US more commonly referred to as Backwash) used in testing and assessment to describe the effect on the classroom of tests that the learners will take. Washback may affect e.g. the syllabus, methodology, interaction patterns, attitudes to learning etc., and can be positive or negative.


In some countries education authorities deliberately introduce new elements into tests so that they will be used in the classroom. In other words they are relying on the washback effect of a test to bring about change in the classroom. Examples of this might be the introduction of speaking tests or the use of tasks in speaking tests. Washback is sometimes known as ‘Backwash’ and is contrasted with ‘Impact’.

Further Reading

Bachman, L and Palmer, A (1996) Language Testing in Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hamp-Lyons, L (1997) Washback, impact and validity: ethical concerns, Language Testing,14/3.

Hughes, A. (1989) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Messick, S. (1996). Validity and washback in language testing. Language Testing 13/4.

Taylor, L. (2005) Key Concepts in ELT: Washback and Impact. ELT Journal 59/2.



Word class

See Parts of speech

Word cloud

A word cloud is a jumble of words from a text produced by computer by calculating the words’ frequency in the text. Teachers can make their own word clouds by entering texts into a word cloud programme. Word clouds can be used in class to, for example, aid vocabulary learning, revise texts, warm up to reading, listening or discussion lessons, generate ideas for writing lessons etc.


Here is a word cloud created from the above definition of ‘Word Cloud’:

Further reading








Word family

This word is used in two different ways. It can refer to words which all derive from the same base word e.g. produce, productive, production, product. Many test items are designed round changing a word in a word family to another in the same family.

It also refers to words that share a form in pronunciation, such as the words in many nursery rhymes.


Here is an example of a test item focussing on changes to base words in word families:

Word family elt.oup



Here is an example of a nursery rhyme based on words with shared pronunciations:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again

Further reading




Bauer, L. and Nation, P. (1993). Word Families. International Journal of Lexicography 6/4: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/1993-Bauer-Word- families.pdf 

Nation, P. and Waring, R. Vocabulary Size, Text Coverage and Word Lists in in Schmitt; N.and  McCarthy, M. , (1997). Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 




Word form

A word form is a lexical term referring to the different forms that derive from a base word (lemma) e.g. take, takes, taking, took, taken from the base word ‘take’. Word form refers to form and not to meaning.


If you were trying to work out how many vocabulary items a student knows, would you count just the base word or would you count all the different word forms?

Further reading

Crystal, D (ed.). (1995).The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Hirsh, D.; Nation, P. (1992), ‘What Vocabulary Size is Needed to Read Unsimplified Texts for Pleasure?’ in Reading in a Foreign Language 8/2.

McCarthy, M. (1996). Vocabulary. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Nation, P. and Waring, R. Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists:




A piece of paper, or electronic material, which contains tasks, exercises or problems for the learner to complete or solve. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with the term handout, but for some there is a difference as a handout provides materials for reference only rather than activities.


"The teacher always gave us worksheets for us to try and apply in practice what she had just told us about 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.

Ur, P.  (1999). A course in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.