The CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course is taught by at least two tutors and takes 120 hours total. At least six of those hours will be for your teaching, six more for the observation of experienced teachers, and the rest will be split between input session, feedback, observation of other candidates, and supervised lesson planning. Outside of the classroom, you’ll also have four written assignments to do on your own.
Throughout the course, you’ll keep a binder of notes and materials, and so will your tutors. The tutor binder will contain all of your final work: written assignments, lesson plans, and feedback sheets. At the end of the course, your tutors will decide if you’ve passed or not (and at what level), but an inspector will also come and randomly audit one or more binders from your course to ensure that the course itself is up to standard and that the tutors have marked candidates fairly.
Input, Teach, Feedback, Repeat. That’s the CELTA sequence. Get used to it because it will be constant while you’re on the course.
Input sessions make up about half of the course. They usually happen in the morning and last roughly three hours. In the input sessions, your tutors will lead a lesson about an aspect of teaching.
Some topics are standard: language analysis, vocabulary, checking understanding, lesson planning, phonology, error correction, functional language. Others are optional and, in my course anyway, candidates can choose. We did a session once on teaching young learners, guided discovery, and even a session using Cuisenaire rods. Input sessions aren’t marked, but you must participate.
The experience is pretty meta since the whole time your tutors are teaching you, they’re modeling how to teach. You’ll be doing all the things you’ll expect of your ESL students: group work, practice exercises, taking notes, participating, and helping your classmates.
The teaching practicals (TPs) are your opportunity to put all the theory from the input sessions into practice.
TPs usually happen in the afternoon, and you should have eight total over the course. You’ll be teaching real-life ESL learners. Depending on your candidate class size and the number of learners, you may be split into two teaching groups.
Whether you’re split or not, over the course you’ll teach both pre-intermediate and intermediate learners. You’ll generally stay with a level for two weeks (if doing full time) and then switch. You won’t change levels day to day.
The length of your teaching session increases incrementally over the course. You start with just 20 minutes, and by the end you are teaching for a full hour. Your tutors will assign the types of lessons you teach each week. They’ll make sure you get experience teaching reading, listening, speaking, writing, grammar, and functional language.
At the beginning, you’ll be told what to do and work from pre-made lesson plans while you master other classroom skills. As the course goes on, you’ll gain more independence and responsibility for your own lesson plans.
You’ll first begin adding additional materials, and eventually you’ll create an entire lesson from scratch. You’ll always have scheduled planning sessions with your tutors where they’ll give you feedback on your lesson plan before TP.
CELTA is very big on lesson planning and requires you to use their template. It must be complete for every TP except the first one. This is a huge part of the course, and every lesson plan you make will be added to your binder and become an essential component of your body of work and pass level. Click here for a copy of my very own TP4 lesson plan from CELTA.
As you go through the TPs, you’ll be expected to do better and better. For example, in the second TP, you can still pass even if you run short on time or the students get bored and aren’t participative enough, but that won’t pass muster for TP 7.
A new skill is added to each TP, and you’re expected to successfully utilize the new skill as well as prior skills. Skills include lesson planning, time management, rapport, comprehension checking, engagement, strategic group and pair work, pronunciation drills, among others. Basically everything you cover in the input sessions needs to be implemented in your TP.
Feedback sessions are built into CELTA throughout the course. You’ll get feedback on everything you do—lesson plans, teaching, written work, participation in the input sessions—plus you’ll constantly give feedback to your classmates and your tutors. You generally do not receive feedback directly from the ESL learners however. They do take surveys and speak to the tutors, but their reviews are only ever relayed to you through the tutors.
To me, feedback is where the magic happens and you become a better teacher. CELTA doesn’t require you to be perfect, just to be sufficient and actively improving. Everyone on the course—the tutors, the other candidates, the ESL learners, the teachers you observe—they all want you to pass the course and become a good teacher.
Be open to feedback and all the different perspectives. The CELTA instructors are highly qualified and their feedback is accurate, targeted, and appropriate. Nothing they say is a personal slight against you, and those that do best in the course are those that are most open to constructive criticism and active in the feedback sessions.
During CELTA you’ll have four written assignments, and they always come in the same order:
- Focus on the Learner
- Language-Related Task
- Language-Skills-Related Task
- Lessons from the Classroom
You also have three tries to pass each assignment, and you can fail one and still pass the course. Of course, all assignments must be well written with correct English usage.
A detailed description of each is a blog post for another day. For now, this is just an overview.
Focus on the Learner
You choose an ESL learner, interview them, and then write a specific plan for them that contains: a learner profile, four distinct errors with rationale about how rectifying these errors will help them achieve their specific goals, and materials/activities to remedy one of the errors. Click here for a copy of my very own Focus on the Learner tasks from CELTA.
This one is more of a written exam, but it isn’t timed and you’re allowed to use references. The course center will provide their version to you. You’ll be tested on linguistic awareness and terminology. This section is often easier for non-native teachers and more challenging for native speakers that have not formally studied language.
You’ll have to identify different aspects of words like meaning, form, pronunciation, possibly issues for ESL learners, as well as identifying and explaining basic grammar. If you don’t have these skills before CELTA, that’s 100% fine. You’ll get what you need from the input sessions before this assignment, so take good notes, ask for help, and you’ll be fine.
You’ll be assigned an authentic English text, almost certainly a written article. Your job is to design tasks using this text. You’ll cover how to introduce it, how you want to use it, and how you’ll practice receptive and productive skills. You need to be very specific in this assignment and develop your tasks completely. Click here for a copy of my very own Language-Related task from CELTA.
Lessons from the Classroom
This is the ultimate feedback assignment. You must write a reflection of your time on the course that includes your strengths, your weaknesses, and how what you observed throughout the course will inform your teaching in the future. This task is there to propel you into your future beyond the course and inspire reflection throughout your teaching career.
You do need a high level of English to complete these assignments. The course center should screen candidates in the interview process. They definitely do not want to fail anyone on the CELTA solely for the writing assignments. If they don’t think you have the English skills to complete these assignments, they’ll tell you so in the interview, possibly give you some resources to help you improve, and then encourage you to reapply later. Click here for a copy of my very own Lessons from the Classroom task from CELTA.
Input, Teach, Feedback, Repeat: CELTA’s Tried-and-True Formula
The course is demanding and oftentimes challenging, but no one expects perfection. If you have a positive attitude and a willingness to grow through feedback, you’ll survive CELTA and become a better teacher.