Top 5 tips to prepare and ace CELTA or CertTESOL course


The Trinity College CertTESOL and the Cambridge CELTA courses are well known for their intensity. Still, course graduates almost unanimously agree that they have some of the most rewarding experiences because of the hard work that they put in.

The most successful trainees on these courses are the ones who are well-prepared and ready for the academic, professional and personal development that they undergo during the 4-12 weeks that they are training.

So how can you best prepare for the rigors of these prestigious qualifications?

Here are 5 ways that you can make the most of your time on these initial teacher training experiences.

1) Clear your diary and know how to manage your time

These courses are labeled as ‘intensive’ for a reason. The level of accreditation that they possess (level 5 on the Ofqual Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF)) means that the few weeks that you will spend on the course are equivalent to a full second year of an undergraduate degree.

As you might expect, this means that there is a very high workload in a relatively short space of time.

During the course, you will attend input seminars for at least half of every day. It is likely (depending on the course timetable) that you will be engaged in your own and your peers’ teaching practice lessons.

This schedule is followed at least every other day of a full-time course and for an entire day every week on a part-time course.

Besides, you will have at least two hours of homework every night as you prepare your lessons, write assignment work and research the language and teaching methods that you will need to know for the various responsibilities of the course. This means that time management is key for success.

From experience, the trainees who face the biggest problems on the course are those who have unavoidable family, personal or work commitments to balance at the same time as attempting to focus on the workload required for the course.

It is almost impossible to keep up with much outside the course duties for the duration of your training, so make sure that you have support with anything else that you have in your daily diary.

Get support from family or friends and stay focused on the required workload for the time you are on the course, and you will be able to manage things to your own time.

The course represents a large financial and time commitment, and it is very unlikely that you will be able to transfer or refund course fees if you have significant problems. So make the most of your time to get everything done in good time and stay focused for your own success.

2) Start working on your language awareness

Knowledge and application of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation theory are the biggest learning curves for most course trainees. So another effective way to prepare for these courses is to start working on your language awareness as soon as possible. This will give you an advantage when the course begins because you will be dedicating a huge amount of time for the assignments, teaching and learning activity and lesson planning.

The field of TESOL involves a lot of very specific terminologies which you will be expected to know and use by the end of the course. The sooner you can start getting familiar with the technical language you will need, the better.

Your engagement with language is a key point that is the focus of a typical pre-course interview. You will be asked to complete a pre-interview task that will probably involve some language analysis tasks. So get to grips with these before you begin the course, so that your experience on the course will be much less stressful overall. 

There are a lot of good resources out there to help you identify and analyze language (the center will be able to tell you which books they recommend for their version of the course). These areas of knowledge are important for success in assignments, teaching practice, and direct assessment of linguistic knowledge through a language awareness exam.

3) Be ready for a frank and honest feedback and reflection

A further aspect of these courses that you should be prepared for is the level of reflection that is required of trainees. Reflective practice is essential to any teacher’s development, as it is only by thinking about what we do that we can make any improvements in our classroom practice.

Although you may be new to the teaching profession, you will be required to think and talk about your teaching in a deep and specific way from your first teaching practice lesson.

You will receive feedback from your co-trainees and your observing course tutor, who will see things in your teaching that expose what you are doing and why.

Given the time pressures of the course, it is not always possible to sugar-coat this feedback, and you will often have to take direct criticism on the chin, reflect on it and respond appropriately in your subsequent taught lessons.

This is all part of your development as a teacher, and the benefits of direct feedback will be clear as your lessons get more effective, you spend less time planning and more time enjoying what you do in the classroom.

However, it does take some mental preparation, especially as all of this happens in a high-stress environment where emotions can run high. Be objective, take feedback on the chin and work to address key points that your tutor and your peers on the course raise, and you will demonstrate your development as the course progresses.

4) Get familiar with some lesson structures

One thing which all trainees struggle with towards the beginning of the course is lesson planning. I always advise my trainees to aim to spend less time planning than teaching, though in reality, the first few lessons typically take many times longer to plan than to teach.

It is not uncommon to come in to the classroom to see three teachers looking worn-out and pale, having spent all night planning a 50-minute lesson. This is simply counter-productive to you and your students. Yes, the course requires detailed and well-structured lessons, but everyone knows that these lessons will not be perfect, and the damage done by stress, lack of sleep and therefore lack of focus is much greater than the problems that we see in a typical teaching practice lesson. 

To help you with this aspect of the course, get familiar with some standard lesson structures (PPP, ESA and test-teach-test are a good starting set) to use as frameworks for your teaching.

If you understand the different stages of these lesson structures, you can slot in almost any content to deliver sound lessons before getting more creative later in the course when you have gained some experience with the type of teaching which we expect to see.

Cut down on lesson planning time, and you will get more sleep and be able to function to a higher level during the day.

5) Do some reading around

Finally, it is a good idea to get some background to the TESOL field by getting hold of some initial teacher education books focusing on grammarpronunciation and teaching methodology, to give yourself a head start in these technical areas of the job. The more knowledge you can bring to the course, the less time it will take to get to grips with the sheer amount of new information you will need to process from week 1.

Don’t feel you need to know everything inside out, but at least get a handle on some terminology and teaching theory, to stay a step ahead of the workload.

In summary, it pays to be prepared for an intensive course like the CertTESOL or CELTA. It is up to you to keep the learning curve as shallow as possible, and take control of what you can research before the trainers hit you with the new information that you need for the course specifically. Do the work early on, and you will reap the rewards by the end of the course.

This article was originally published in Nov-2019 and was last updated in Jul-2020.

Author: Tom Garside

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