Thursday, February 16, 2012

Following on from Richard’s superb TD session on demos we thought we’d look at another popular mode of input….the workshop.  A quick straw poll round the staffroom suggested that workshops  are a love them or hate them phenomena. But why? So what exactly is a workshop? What can we usefully workshop on teacher training courses and how can we avoid the hate it response?

What is/isn’t a workshop?

We found this very difficult to define so in the TD session we concentrated on what it isn’t to see if it could get us any closer to a definition.  Have a go on the task below before listening to ideas that came up in the session.


See how many different ways you can complete

these sentence heads.

A workshop isn’t…….

You can’t workshop……

It won’t work that well if …..

Don’t forget to ….


Here are some of the ideas that came out of the TD session


Example workshops

Here are three different workshops that I’ve done on CELTA courses.  Talk a look at them and consider what you like about them and what the possible pitfalls are.


Workshop 1: Teaching in different contexts


Trainees get into groups according to where they would like to work. Each group is given a task card describing that particular context, e.g. teaching Italian pilots. The card provides information on the working conditions, resources and the students. The group work together to analyse the pros and cons of the context, the implications of any cons and how they might deal with them.

As they are working, the trainees make a poster (cue coloured pens) recording their ideas. At relevant stages of the workshop, the groups gallery their posters and add comments/queries. At the end of the workshop, there is a plenary stage where the class collate and categorise general tips for coping with different contexts. The trainer provides a handout.

Trainer roles: facilitator and resource

Time: 1 hour

When: Week 4


Workshop 2: Evaluating lesson shapes

Critical thinking

Trainees are split into groups and given the same page of a coursebook (preferably from one of their TP books). Groups brainstorm what they would do with it and why with a particular class in mind, e.g. their mid int TP class. Each group is then given a lesson plan which follows a particular shape (PPP, TTT, TBL, Language from a text) and using guided prompts, they discuss the planning decisions the teacher made. They record their answers in a table in preparation for an exchange with members of the other groups (jigsaw). Prior to the jigsaw, the trainer may hand out a check list and give time for further discussion. In their new group they have to decide which lesson shape would be most appropriate for their students and provide a rationale. Trainer provides a handout with the pros and cons of each shape.

Trainer roles: facilitator, resource and prompter

Time: 1.5 hours

When: Weeks 2/3


Workshop 3: Spoken fluency

Ideas sharing

Trainees are split into groups.  Groups A and B brainstorm their language learning experiences, problems they had with fluency and successes they had.  They record the problems on cards.  Groups C and D brainstorm all the successful speaking activities they have seen in live observations, DVDs or peer observations so far.  Each member of the group needs to record these activities in their notebooks and note down why they were successful, e.g. task set up, personalisation, interaction patterns.

Groups A and B are given the role of ‘teacher’ and groups C and D are told to be ‘directors of studies’.  The teachers deal out the cards so that they have 3 or 4 problems each and go and see their DOS.  The DOS gives advice based on their notes.  They all go back to their original groups and summarise what problems students have with fluency and what you can do in class to help them.  Whole class feedback.  Trainer provides a hand out.

Trainer roles: facilitator, resource and prompter
Time: 1 hour
When: End of week 3
Resources: you may wish to provide a list of speaking activities for the DOSes and issues for the others.  It depends on the trainees and at what stage of the course you do the session.


 Characteristics of a successful workshop

I’ve had varying degrees of success with these and other workshops, but when they are successful it is due to a combination of factors.  In the TD session we summarised these as:

  • Group work, exchange and sharing (gallerys, poster making, presentations, jigsaws etc)
  • An end goal/outcome, but the space/autonomy for trainees to take valuable diversions
  • A resource bank for trainees to refer to. You are also a resource, but providing trainees with information to work from or consult is another step towards autonomy and getting them doing the thinking.
  • Clear task cards, helpful prompt questions and recommended timings. Assign a timekeeper, scribe and chairperson if appropriate.
  • Tasks that involve brainstorming, critical thinking and/or problem solving skills.
  • Careful monitoring.  Be aware of the different monitoring roles you may take on at any one time in a workshop and what you need to do to fulfill them. Don’t get sucked in to one group or one person in a group.  (One way to avoid this is to set up a consulting table and they come to you and report back to the group.)
  • A whole class stage at the end where the trainer draws together the threads of the session.  This and a handout is crucial so that people go away knowing what they have gained from the session.
  • Coloured pens and A3 paper (Never leave the staffroom without them)


Remember the trainees have to be working from their knowledge base so avoid trying to workshop something you suspect is new to them.  Experiment with your workshop design and see whether you can add to any of the above characteristics. There are always going to be some people who find workshops quite trying. It can be difficult if the group dynamic isn’t right, a trainee prefers to told or shown what to do or because people work at different paces. That is why we have multiple modes of input on our teacher training courses.  Perhaps we can exploit this one more?  Take a look at the sessions on your Celta/Delta or TT course and sketch out a workshop.  If you are happy with it, why not upload it to this post.



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