Death by Demo?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Demonstrations of Lessons: When tutors do a demonstration or model language/skills lesson for you to watch or take part in

Modelling: When tutor uses techniques in the lesson which are used with students in the language classroom (e.g. checking instructions, pair work etc.)

Demonstration and modelling are common features of language teacher training courses.  It is often felt that they are the most effective way of demonstrating teacher behaviour in class and are employed as a means of encouraging trainees to relate to what it is like to be a learner in a language class. However, some trainers argue that demonstration has its limitations.

Take a moment and consider what some of the pros and cons of demonstrations are.

After conducting a small survey of trainers and recently qualified teachers the following advantages and disadvantages were highlighted.


  • Positive model of teacher behaviour (e.g. cl. mgmt., building rapport, stimulating interest ).
  • A clear and controlled way of ‘showing’ Trs what is expected of them as teachers.
  • Allows for noticing of staging of lessons and techniques used to manage the learning process.
  • Allows trainees to ‘feel’ what it’s like to be involved in a class and to be a learner.
  • Highlights the benefits of student participation and interaction in class.
  • Loop input: exposure to inductive learning – learning experientially.
  • Collaborative learning in the unpacking stage (in line with a social constructivist approach to learning).
  • If Trs have some experience to draw from, e.g. observation or TP, then reflection on their own lessons can be encouraged: therefore fostering a culture of reflective practice.
  • Shows how language can be taken from context.
  • Introduces Trs to practical ways of introducing and practising language.
  • Used as a vehicle of teaching trainees about language.
  • Demo lessons can ensure that the session focus doesn’t become too abstract and theoretical.


  • Relies on a ‘craft model’ approach to training in which Trs are encouraged to ‘copy’ a technique but often without knowing or understanding ‘why’. This often results in the ineffective use of a technique (e.g. pointless ICQs or lip service to CCQs).
  • Trs don’t notice or are oblivious to what is being modelled. The focus (e.g. giving instructions and setting up tasks) can also be obscured by a model lesson.
  • Trs often become too involved in the demo and miss what is being modelled – esp. if the language point is something new to them.
  • There is an inauthentic and unnatural and even ‘hammy’ element to modelling, as the lessons are void of context in terms of any series of lessons relating to a group of learners or course, the trainees have to pretend to be learners (maybe at a particular level) and often most trainees are native speakers, meaning the language barrier doesn’t really exist.
  • Trs don’t always take it seriously.
  • Trs are intimidated or demotivated by the teacher’s performance, leading to: I could never do that!
  • Trs feel patronised by the constant use of modelling (e.g. ICQs).
  • Trs have no experience to relate the demonstration to.
  • Demo lessons can be time consuming.
  • There is no definite control (as with all learning) over what will be noticed and absorbed even with careful unpacking.

Clearly the concerns about modelling and demonstration are valid. However, most trainers acknowledge the fact that with limited time on courses such as CELTA and DELTA, showing trainees what is expected of them is highly valuable in their development. So, how do you address the drawbacks within model lessons? What approaches have you found useful?


Here are some common ways of viewing demonstration:

Approaches to Demonstration and Modelling

  1. Whole to part: a model lesson is given and Trs analyse a specific feature of the lesson: e.g. classroom management, staging etc. Unpacking the lesson can be done in various ways, e.g. reordering stages, matching aims and stages. Some Trs can become observers of the model lesson and can be given different observation tasks to complete.
  2. Part to whole: shorter model lessons are presented to Trs, each focusing on a specific element of classroom teaching. Each element presented leads to building up a whole lesson by the end of a series of models.
  3. Observation without involvement: This is a course requirement of CELTA and highly effective in exposing Trs to real classroom events. Some training centres prefer the Trs to observe their trainer teaching a class. The major drawback to this kind of observation on the whole, is that it is difficult or nearly impossible to predict what is going to be seen by the trainee or if the lesson is going to be of use to a trainee at a particular stage in their development.
  4. Micro teaching with feedback and modelling: this can be effective because it can be scaffolded by the trainer, observed/monitored by the trainer; it’s ‘hands on’, provides practice and feedback is immediate. However, this can be nerve-wracking and sometimes a little bit like: ‘you don’t do it like that, you do it like this!’ Some trainees might find this demotivating and even humiliating.
  5. A bad model: The idea behind this is that the trainees will be more aware of ineffective classroom techniques and staging as a result of experiencing what doesn’t work. This technique lends itself particularly well to a listening lesson, but could equally be used effectively to show what’s missing in a lesson, e.g. a guided discovery lesson missing a guided discovery work sheet, followed by the trainees designing one. The danger is that the trainees are unaware of what’s wrong!
  6. Using DVDs: this seems to be the most effective way to draw trainees’ attention to teaching techniques, as the learners can look at the lesson objectively. The trainees are watching a classroom event in progress with experienced teachers interacting with real learners. Specific observation tasks can be given and sections can be replayed and discussed. Although this is particularly good for demonstrating techniques, it is time consuming to view a whole lesson in terms of analysis of a whole lesson and the learners may be passive during the observation stage.


Top Tips for Successful Demos

Following the TT session the following ‘Top Tips for successful use of ‘demo’’ lessons were highlighted: 

  • Use a lesson you have taught
  • Do shorter focused demos, e.g. in post-TP feedback using the language point they’ve just taught
  • Use normal pre-task activities, prediction and ‘top-down’ processing
  • Nominate students to be observers with clear and focused tasks who will then feedback to the ‘students’
  • Make sure they know you’re modelling
  • Relate demos to coursebook material that the trainees are using or even better yet, use the coursebook they are using to create your demos
  • Remote control: have a rewind button, e.g. teacher replays small parts of the lesson or videos the demo lesson
  • Have a pause button so that the tutor can interrupt
  • More questions before and after demo so that students can relate their beliefs and feelings to the demo
  • Get trainees to choose the topic
  • Ensure there is an unpacking stage
  • Make sure that the trainees are given a lesson plan or they have an opportunity to fill in a plan afterwards
  • Open it up: encourage trainees to comment on what else they’ve noticed
  • Don’t do more than one bad demo
  • Don’t do too many!

From Cat: After the TD session, I used my dictaphone to record some reactions to the discussion on demos.  If you’d like to hear what people had to say then just click on the links below.  The debate about whether bad model lessons are constructive or confusing for trainees seemed to provoke a range of responses.  If anyone else would like to be a roving reporter after the next Teacher Training TD session, then please let me know and I can lend you my dictaphone.  We are planning to explore other modes of delivery that can be used in CELTA input sessions, for example workshops and interactive lectures.


Danny         Martin         Paul          Ri        Jess A        Chris      Richard

Further Reading

A Malderez. and M. Wedell. (2007) ‘Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices’. London: Continuum.

Randal, M. and Thornton, B. (2001)Advising and Supporting Teachers’. London:  CUP.



  1. Annie says:

    Very interesting, Mr Chinn and not something i had questioned too much, I always assumed demos were good.
    One thing that I always really liked was getting half of them to observe and half to be students, that way I think you get lots of noticing going on.
    Maybe it would be nice to have a real live ‘remote control’ on the live teacher’s demo as well so that the trainees can have more control over what they’re seeing and to pause when they have questions- does that make sense?!

  2. Richard Chinn says:

    I think that having trainees observe is very useful in terms of noticing too. I experimented with the idea of ‘Play-Pause-Play’ with the current trends group and it worked really well. I know Chia videos demos and replays them for trainees. This is something I want to try next month on CELTA. I’ll let you know how it goes…I need to get over the ‘watching myself teach’ thing!

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