by Paul Finnerty
I’ve been teaching English for about seven years on and off and have worked in Brazil, Colombia, Portugal and Italy in that time. To be honest, I first did this to have an opportunity to travel the world and learn about different people and cultures. However, a few years ago I started thinking about whether I wanted to take the profession seriously, and realised that the acid test for this is taking Cambridge’s version of a Masters level qualification, the DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
What is the DELTA Diary?
It’s made up of three components. Module 1 involves preparing for two 90-minute written papers focusing on theory, namely language awareness and methodology. Module 2 is the practical part of the diploma, in which you are observed four times and have to meet criteria relating to a background essay, lesson plan and the teaching of the lesson. Module 3 requires you to write a 5000-word essay related to a course you design for a specified set of learners.
Anyway, I’d done Module 1 in 2015 and Module 3 in 2016, via Distance DELTA International House, both done over four months while I was working. Since then, I’d wanted to get the whole thing finished, but would have needed to take time out of work to do so as the course wasn’t on offer in the town of Bari in Italy where I was working. I decided I wanted to do an intensive course, which mostly run in the summer, but this wasn’t an option for me, as missing out on summer work would have been financial suicide. In the end I found a seven-week intensive course at International House Newcastle for £2400 that ran between October and November, so I set fire to my pockets and stumped up the cash.
What is DELTA Diary Module 2?
DELTA Module 2 is assessed through four LSAs (Language Assignments). They comprise background essays, lesson plans, lessons and post-lesson evaluations. Two LSAs must be on Systems (Grammar, Lexis, Discourse, Phonology) and two on Skills (Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing), one receptive and one productive. The first three are internally evaluated by your tutors and the last one is done by an external examiner from Cambridge, who you’ve never met. The essays are 2500 words long and focus on analysis of the system or skill, issues students have and subsequent teaching suggestions, buffered by a short introduction and an even shorter conclusion. The lesson plan is huge (my final one was 60 pages long) and basically covers every detail of the lesson. There is no word limit. Then you do the lesson (between 40 and 60 minutes) and write a reflection afterwards, commenting on strengths, weaknesses and to what extent your aims were met. The latter is vital, as to a degree you can get away with a faulty lesson plan and lesson as long as you know why it failed and how you would remedy it the next time.
This article relates my experience during the course and is taken from a diary that I kept throughout, in a style that accurately summarises the course: breathless!
I’ve applied a little bit late so quite a few things to do. Before I get an interview, I’ve got to do a series of tasks. A twenty-page document arrives. Language awareness: How would you explain the difference between these words without using them? Classroom management: how do you respond if certain students are dominating classroom discussion? Also need to submit a lesson plan. Did all this in a few days. Sent it off.
Got a quick reply. All was good. Now have to look at these tasks before our interview in two days. No big deal. Basically I have to say how I’d use a set of published course book materials. To the interview, and we have a bit of inane chat before looking at the tasks. Most of what I say seems OK. But a question stands out: Why would a student do that in real life? More on purposefulness later. I’m warned my teaching will be ‘unpicked’ and to be ready to change my perspectives on many things in EFL. No problem. Trusting what the tutors say is a mantra I’d follow very carefully in the upcoming weeks.
I’m accepted on the course and take about 15 minutes to press the ‘confirm payment’ button on a wet and windy Friday evening.
Week 1: Getting to know you
Fast-forward two weeks and I’m in Newcastle. I’ve found a room to rent through my only friend in the city and arrived the day before the course begins. Sunday night I look through my old Module 1 vocabulary cards and read the course information I’ve been sent by email a few days before. The last time I’ll have no pending essays and lesson plans for a while.
First day is get-to-know you stuff. Our group is quite man-heavy, seven versus two, and the majority of us in the late twenties to early thirties range, a younger crowd than I’d anticipated. I feel lucky because I’m only doing Module 2, whereas most on the course are doing all three modules, though they have an extra week before and after to prepare for Modules 1 and 3. We receive our timetables.
The first four weeks will be rather busy. Input on language, methodology and basically how to pass the DELTA in the mornings for three hours, then two hours of teaching in the afternoon split between us. We are divided into two groups: upper-intermediate and elementary students (the learner, not us!). I start with the former. For me a typical day will be to get up at 7am, in for 9am, input sessions, lunch, teaching practice, a couple of hours work hidden away in the students’ computer room at school, back home, eat, and study again until about 10.30pm. Long days are beckoning. But keep plugging away and I won’t have to pull all-nighters.
First afternoon we meet our students for the next two weeks. The class with us trainees is free and we get a mix of nationalities ranging from Turkish to Sudanese, Chinese to Spanish. At least they’ll be forced to communicate in English. First class is a simple get-to-know-you. Establishing a rapport here is essential to facilitate the next couple of weeks.
First thing to get out of the way is the diagnostic lesson. It does what it says on the tin. You go away and deliver a lesson the way you normally would and the tutors diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. I do question tags. Strong points are planning, materials and focus on target language. Things to improve are actually things you’re told on the CELTA but perhaps let slip as you start teaching full-time. Mine include over-use of metalanguage, unnecessarily complicated and repetitive instructions, over-involvement and very quick pacing. I think my work in Italy, where students are very loud, extrovert and often chaotic have transformed me into something of an entertainer and crowd-controller rather than just a teacher. The feedback makes sense. It’s nice to get an outside perspective on what happens inside my classroom. And remember: trust your DELTA tutor. They want you to pass and know how to help you achieve this aim.
Doing the diagnostic lesson first makes complete sense; to become aware of what you’re doing as a teacher as soon as possible, so you can work on it during the unassessed teaching practice and then focus on the meat of the course: what you teach and how to teach it.
Thankfully we’d been instructed to draft an LSA before we even got on the course, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do this, as it takes the heat off for the first one. We were told to do it on grammar, as it is arguably the easiest to write for most candidates. I chose Helping higher-level learners describe past habits and states, namely used to, would, past continuous and past simple. It was a lot to pack into 2500 words, but one quickly learns how to trim long essays (lose articles, pluralise, acronyms, cut modality, reduce adverbs etcetera).
My tutor indicates that mine is well on the way and just needs a bit of tidying up. Which means that I can focus on my lesson plan. I start on the procedure (for me the crux of the lesson) and then aims, class profile, anticipated problems and so on, and find that eventually one tweak in one place necessitates a change in another, so as you go on, it begins to take shape.
Following input in the morning and feedback on my diagnostic lesson, the big focus is on making tasks meaningful and context-based. It involves scrutinising every activity you do and thinking whether what you make the students do is actually realistic. For example, simply feeding in language and telling students to use it in discussion questions is not enough. You effectively have to force a situation in which the language is needed, for example, not just telling students to discuss what type of hotels they like, but setting up a context in which they need a hotel, showing them real adverts or websites and telling them to choose their favourite one, all as they would in real life. Basically, away with ‘talk about…using the target language’ and a move towards ‘do this with the target language’.
Unfortunately, as Week 1 comes to an end, we receive our first casualty, one of the trainees deferring the Module 2 course and opting to focus on just Module 3.
And then there were eight.
Week 2 – still warming up – a taste of what’s to come
LSA 1 (past habits and states) was on a Tuesday. I switch with a colleague who is having trouble getting finished on time. I get my essay and lesson practically finished over the weekend and I’m of the mentality that it’s best to get it over with and move on to LSA 2. I find that the later the deadline, the more you work on things, and having spare days means you end up re-reading and tweaking small things that have a domino effect on the rest of your essay and lesson plan but probably not the final mark.
I do my lesson, which I feel was well-planned. As is the issue with many lessons, time slips away, meaning lack of time for the final task (I’d chosen a Task-Teach-Task (TTT) approach). The listening is difficult but I let them listen enough times for it to effectively present target language. As we’ve been given input on ways to concept-check the previous morning, I try throwing in a timeline activity to do this. Doesn’t really work. Time ends up squeezed. I’m worried I haven’t passed. The post-lesson evaluation is important here: I think I correctly identify what went right and wrong.
Luckily I get oral feedback straight away the following day so not long to overthink it. I’m relieved to learn I get a PASS for the lesson plan and lesson and a MERIT for the essay. My tutor says there are lots of things to be happy about. I’ve improved on the weaknesses identified in my diagnostic, and the planning is good. Just a few decisions I make in class could be better.
It’s strange that in everything I do I aim for the best marks possible but in the DELTA, £2400 lighter, I simply want to pass. Merits and distinctions aren’t on the agenda yet. Looking back, LSA 1 was probably the most nervous I was over an observed lesson out of them all. Knowing what is required to pass the essay and lesson and knowing that what I’m doing is right are great reliefs. There is improvement to be had, but I’m comforted in knowing I’m on the right track.
At some point in Week 2 we meet our third tutor, a veteran trainer of an undeterminable age and who I like to refer to as the oracle, such is her vast amount of experience and knowhow. She takes over a lot of the input sessions and tempers valuable knowledge with intriguing asides.
Being on such a course puts a strain on you physically and psychologically. With so much to do and precious little time in which to do it, you feel that any moment you’re not working on your DELTA is a waste of your time. Luckily I still manage to get to the gym two or three times a week to break it up, but my sessions are just an hour-long, half the time I usually like to spend there.
Talking of breaking it up, there’s never a better excuse for a coffee or tea to procrastinate. With free coffee at the school I get a little distracted. The first few weeks I’m quite disciplined in my eating, prepping salads the night before for lunch, but as it gets to crunch time, I get more meal deals and reward my efforts with chocolates and the odd beer (only after LSA lessons). I find it quite relaxing to eat lunch in the student common room, as it takes me away from the busyness of our study room.
By week 2 I have a good rapport with the class and very much enjoy teaching them. However, there is a tendency to put a lot of time into planning your LSAs and therefore the other lessons you do in between receive less and less attention the more the course goes on. For my first two or three unassessed lessons I do detailed lesson procedures and produce materials, but when time becomes tighter because of deadlines, I won’t deny that I throw together a few last-minute classes. Apart from those quite soon before LSAs in which you are testing for students strengths and weaknesses related to your assessed lesson, for example, ability (or not) to use phrasal verbs. Do we need a verb here?
For most of Week 1 I wear shirt and trousers, but given my colleagues’ more casual choice of attire and the lack of motivation to iron, Week 2 welcomes in my jeans and T-shirts. I only dress up for my LSAs from now on. Unfortunately, Week 2 also spells the end for two more of the Deltees, overwhelmed by the workload and intensity of the course, opting to get the input for Module 2, but only do exams for 1 and 3. So we’ve been reduced to six.
Weeks 3 and 4 – things getting easier
A long-standing commitment means a weekend away in between LSA 1 and LSA 2. Loss of a weekend might mean those unwanted late nights. Luckily for me LSA 2 deadline is put back a week. Not knowing this I have read heavily about listening skills. Tutors say listening could be a recipe for disaster. Indeed, other candidates opt for reading as their receptive skill. But always ready for a challenge, I go with my instinct and do Listening to Authentic Texts for my essay, narrowed down to Inferring Meaning of Unknown Words in my lesson.
So the essay and lesson plan can be considered like a funnel. For skills essays you mention a set of relevant subskills (in this case six), and choose some that learners have issues with (four in my case). These then become two or even one subskill in the lesson. I opted for two, but recommend going for just one, as time always goes faster than you can ever imagine.
The essay feels good right from the start, and I’d argue a skills assignment is easier than a systems one. I have ample time to read widely and have learned to make things more explicit and reference my experience with a range of learners more emphatically. In terms of the help the tutors give, we show them our draft copy and ask them if we’re going in the direction. They don’t tell us what to do or how to do it, but zone in on parts of the essay which could be clearer, more-detailed or less-detailed, and we have to go away and try and improve it. And as the course goes on, they help us less and less, the idea being that we have improved between assignments and are able to think like a soon-to-be DELTA-qualified teacher on our own.
One big piece of advice is to use subheadings and bold font and make things exaggeratedly clear for examiners, showing links between different parts of the essay throughout. As well as this, I very keenly read the feedback given to me on my LSA 1 and clearly address this in subsequent assignments. As mentioned before, take on board tutor feedback, and build it into your essay.
I seem to be doing something right, as I pick up a DISTINCTION for the essay.
In terms of the lesson, I’m first up out of everyone, and gladly so, still retaining the ‘get it out of the way’ mentality. I feel that my lead-in task has clear purpose and I create a scenario in which students look at a Facebook profile I’ve created and decide whether to accept a friend request from an unknown person. This feeds well into the focus on listening skills and the activities are well-transitioned. However, the age-old factor of time comes into play and begins to run out, so my final activity (of TTT) is rushed again and leaves me wondering whether I’ve messed the lesson up. However, feedback the following day indicates I’ve passed with a MERIT. Despite the final activity being squeezed in somewhat, I’ve done enough in terms of planning, classroom management, skills focus and meaningful tasks. I’m clearly improving.
By this point, having been together on the course for almost a month, we candidates have developed a good relationship, and we’re helping each other, suggesting secondary reading and teaching ideas. Also, as you get to know someone better, you’re more likely to be comfortable giving them feedback on their lessons. Indeed, someone always has to observe your lessons, first, for us to learn from each other, and second, so you can have them do data collection tasks for your PDA (Professional Development Assignment).
The PDA is split into two parts: Experimental Practice, which entails teaching using an approach or materials you’ve never tried before, accompanied by a 2000-word essay, and Action Research, a kind of self-monitoring assignment of 2500 words where you identify weaknesses in your teaching, devise an action plan to improve, collect data on your progress, and then keep track of how you’re doing. I won’t deny that on an intensive 6-week course it does take something of a backseat to the LSAs, as the PDA is only graded as a PASS or FAIL and feels less important. That said, I manage to churn them both out somewhere between LSA 2 and 3 and will come back and tidy them up in the final week.
For my Experimental lesson I go for teaching articulation of vowel sounds via mime, gesture and the phonemic chart, something I’ve wanted to try for a while and never got round to. I watch an interesting video by Adrian Underhill (2011) on YouTube and use it as a model for my own lesson. The idea behind it is that students should not simply listen and repeat sounds, but respond to visual cues and find the sound themselves, thus making them aware of how the speech organs work. It goes quite well and I come out of it with a lot more confidence in my ability to elicit sounds from students without giving a spoken model.
The Action Research part is not quite as fun and the essay itself something of a plod, especially as background reading and a plethora of collected data is required. I ask other Deltees to record ad verbatim how I give instructions, monitor lesson stage timings, and observe the amount of teacher involvement. I also ask students to give feedback on certain lessons. I keep a teaching diary (sometimes retrospective!) and observe other teachers to see how they give instructions and interact with students in their classes.
I think if the Module 2 course is done part-time over, say, six or nine months, then this part of it could be more fruitful and less seen as a hindrance to getting on with your LSAs.
Week 5 – the only way is up
As we’d been given an extra week to sort out LSA 2, it means that LSA 3 comes around quickly, just a week later. I have to make decisions regarding what to do in LSA 3 and what to ‘save’ for LSA 4, the lesson with the external examiner that really matters. In the months leading up to the course, I’d done quite a lot of background reading, and one of my main focuses had been Speaking, aided greatly by Thornbury’s (2002) ‘How to Teach Speaking’. I’d read all about teaching conversation and even put several ideas about turn-taking, topic-shifting and interrupting into practice in the classroom, so am very confident about this one. I know how to write this essay and just have to back it up with reading, which I know I can easily find. In the end, given the quick turnaround, I opt to go with it, as I have a further two weeks to look into the Systems area I’ll focus on in LSA 4.
I manage to turn around the essay within a couple of days and find it the easiest one of the three so far to write. That gives me a weekend to concentrate on churning out the lesson plan, which by now has grown from 35 pages in LSA 1 to 50 pages this time round, as I become more meticulous and detailed in my planning. By this time our tutors have told us it’s time to step things up and to make our lessons real knock-outs. Basic teachery stuff like classroom management, instructions and phasing are a piece of cake now, and the focus is on giving the lesson real purposefulness, the buzzword of Week 1. I have inspiration and come up with a solid lesson that focuses on topic-shifting in the context of completing booking forms in a travel agency, and believe I’ve planned one of my best lessons ever, with self-made worksheets and PowerPoint presentations to boot.
As an aside on materials, the more you learn about ‘better’ ways to teach students, the more you realise that course books and published materials are weak in many ways and in my second, third and fourth LSAs, all I use from published materials is a single audio. That said, in a full-time teaching job, it is unrealistic to expect to make all of your own materials, so that’s something to consider in my future teaching career.
Back to the lesson, which is now with lower-level learners, as we changed for LSA 3, and I set the context up well, materials are engaging and students really get involved. For the first time, my timings practically come together as I anticipate. However, after the lesson, I have the usual doubts about whether I’ve passed and am worried that students have not really understood why we were focusing on topic-shifters. Again, no need for such thoughts as my tutor gives me lots of positive feedback on the lesson and I come out of it with DISTINCTION in both the essay and lesson.
Which makes me wish I’d left my speaking lesson for the external examiner…
It’s a case of ‘here?we go again’ for LSA 4 and the end is in sight. With just over two weeks to go until the final externally-observed lesson, we allow ourselves a proper night out on the Friday previous, and as a consequence of that and feeling that something of a rest is deserved, the weekend involves less study than previous ones.
Weeks 6 and 7 – the end is in sight
Week 6 is lighter than for the others, as the morning input is focused on preparing for Module 1, so that means a few lie-ins, though I don’t get up any later than 8.30am or 9am. It also means I manage to the get to the gym more frequently and for longer, often going in the mornings. To be honest, although I have no issues getting up early, I’ve never been particularly productive in the morning and tend to get more work done as the day goes on.
I feel that I want everything written as soon as possible. I manage to throw together a draft of my Lexis essay by the Tuesday and get some useful feedback on it from my tutor. With the lesson plan, I once again start by doing the procedure, materials and then the rest, this time opting for phrasal verbs in the context of housework and housemates. The advantage of getting it done early is that you get comments from your tutor and can act on them with enough time to spare, though at this stage it is very much a case of you asking questions rather than them looking over what you’ve written and making suggestions. After a couple of conversations with my tutors, I find my realistic context and manage to put together some tasks which have meaningful purpose, something which many of us on the course realise has become automatic. My final assessed lesson is on the Thursday and by the Monday evening of Week 7 I’ve practically got everything done, and it’s just a case of proofreading and making sure everything is written absolutely clearly.
It must be said here that the idea of all activities having context and purposefulness is something I agree with in principle, but realise that in some teaching contexts, especially those where exams have to be passed with few contact hours, and jobs in which teachers are afforded little free time to think through lessons due to overworking, it may be harder to implement than on a DELTA course where we can effectively teach what we want and respond directly to students’ needs rather than institutional demands.
Anyway, with the pressures of LSA 4 and the majority of focus being on this, I feel that my unassessed lessons with the students have dropped in quality. At the start you use them to work on your weaknesses and test out a few ideas, but by Week 6, whether you like it or not, the time spent on preparing these lessons drops. By the time we get to this stage, there are only three of us in our teaching group, instead of the five that started, meaning a higher workload. At one point I did lessons on nine out of ten days, and throwing together lesson plans that ultimately don’t mean anything becomes an increasingly hard task. I believe that one poor lesson is too much, even if it is with a set of students coming to free classes, and whether my students feel the same as me or not, after two consecutive ‘howlers’, I feel as if I owe them a better lesson, so put more time into it.
A couple of days before the externally-observed lesson, a colleague and I test out our lessons on each other ‘live’ with the aim of seeing if things fit well together and run smoothly. This proves a useful process as it highlights where stage changes could be better, makes me aware of the language I’m using to explain and helps me make decisions on what activities to discard and retain.
After this I have a spare two days to play with and effectively get ready for the lesson, and I don’t know whether the distraction of having to do further work on my Action Research essay is welcome or not. My tutor says I need to make things more explicit, include student feedback and put in more background reading, so that takes a day away from me. My ‘big three’ of Brown (2000), Harmer (2001) and Hedges (2000) play a vital role here, and I’d hazard that I pretty much know these books back to front now. They aren’t necessarily the books I consult for the meat of the essays, but are useful for backing up a lot of general assumptions that come up.
I think the worst part of writing any essay on the course is attaching the appendices. This involves taking photos of selected pages on my phone, converting them to PDFs, uploading them to a computer, reducing their size and copying them into my essays and lesson plans, which with a laptop born in 2012 becomes something of a drag!
Back to the lesson and I’m last to go. The four going before me seem more or less content with how it goes, which gives me some confidence. Now, I’m not one to get nervous in most situations, and decide it isn’t time to start, so figure I’ll just enjoy the lesson come what may. I believe that I’ve planned as meticulously as I can and that my teaching experience will mean I can deliver it effectively.
I’m on immediately after another teacher, so am afforded time to set up and rearrange students. By the time I start it’s seven minutes past, which means I find it difficult to properly keep a track of whether I’m following intended timings accurately. We’ve been advised to include lots of flexi-stages and what-ifs in our lesson plan, so lots of things are going on in my mind. Again following the TTT format, everything hinges on how much the students know after the first ‘Test’ phase of the lesson.
As it happens, many of the target phrasal verbs are unknown to them so require a little more work than I anticipate. Squeezing the MFP (Meaning, Form, and Pronunciation) into a TTT with elementary learners in the space of an hour is a tough task, and lesson length is arguably a questionable aspect of Module 2. However, as throughout the course, I remember that I’m playing by Cambridge’s rules, so there’s no point complaining! I think the activities I include are engaging, meaningful and useful, but as often happens, I run out of time and can’t get to my final production task, which leaves me a little frustrated.
Now, in contrast to other post-lesson evaluations, where I have perhaps been a little negative, I decide to be optimistic and really focus on the strong points of my lesson. Although time ran out, I hope, and believe I did enough in the lesson to show that I’m worthy of a DELTA certificate.
The seven weeks have gone quickly now that I look back, I’ve learned a lot. I’d certainly recommend doing the DELTA as it really makes you rethink how you teach, though I’ve been told that you won’t realise it until you’re back in a job. My biggest takeaway is the idea of giving everything context and making sure students are doing activities for a real-life reason. While I never doubted I could successfully take on the course, I am quite happy that I never had to stay up excessively late and never felt under pressure. Doing as much pre-reading as possible and getting assignments done with plenty of time to spare is a big reason for this.
Although my teaching was ‘unpicked’ at the start, it was for my own benefit, and I’ve always believed that all feedback is good feedback, and that to be successful in anything you need to be ready to improve.
So, seven weeks later and it’s all done. Only two months to wait until I get my result!
Has anyone else done DELTA Diary Module 2 intensively? How did you find it? Would you recommend it too?
- Brown, H.D. (2000) Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy, Second Edition, Longman
- Harmer, J. (2001) The Practice of English Language Teaching, Pearson
- Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, OUP
- Thornbury, S. (2002) How to Teach Speaking, Pearson
- Underhill, A. (2011) Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation Workshop, retrieved on 31 October 2018 from