This post is based on a very common question I receive so I wanted to answer it in detail to help you and many others like you before you start your course.
CELTA preparation does not need to be hard if you approach it in the right way!
Yes, you can read books and look on many websites and try to read about everything before you start.
However, doing this can be quite inefficient and waste a lot of your time as the lack of focus in this kind of preparation for your course can cause problems later on.
Let me also say here that I was extremely poor in my pre-CELTA preparation.
I rolled onto the course after doing a degree in modern languages, and having done a year-long module in TESOL. But I don’t recall looking up a single thing about the course before starting, which left me chasing my tail from day one!
The only way I made up for this was by spending far too many hours and late nights during the course to figure out what on earth I needed to do!
I rolled onto the course after doing a degree in modern languages, and having done a year-long module in TESOL. The only way I made up for this was by spending far too many hours and late nights during the course to figure out what on earth I needed to do!
What You Should Do for Your CELTA Preparation
With the points above in mind, please take this from someone who should have followed the points in the post below, I know they would have helped me immensely and reduced my stress!
Before you start considering any kind of books to read, the first thing you really need to do is to stop and focus on you.
Consider yourself and your background, specifically as it relates to the course and language teaching or teaching in more general terms.
You can ask yourself the following questions:
1. What teaching experience do you have (formal or informal)?
Ideally, you will have some form of teaching experience, but as you may already know, the CELTA course takes people without experience, so that’s not a problem.
If you have experience in teaching languages, then clearly reading up on classroom management and general teaching practice is not going to be that beneficial for you.
On the contrary, if you have no experience, find out as many tips as you can on dealing with students, the logistics and pragmatic points of being a teacher in the classroom.
This can give you a foundation that will give you confidence before you set foot in a classroom, before you do your first assessed teaching practice, or “TP1”.
Remember that even having some form of informal teaching experience, such as helping out as a volunteer by perhaps teaching a skill to other groups of people, can still help you here.
If you have some of this, try to reflect more on what you found difficult than what you found natural. That can then guide you on topics to read up on as it relates to general teaching practice.
2. What language learning experience/knowledge do you have as a student?
Perhaps you have studied at least one foreign language in your school time or previous education? Reflecting on this and what you did when studying a foreign language can also help you here.
Try to think about all the terms and concepts that you know, and perhaps more importantly, which you are comfortable explaining to others. Do you feel you are good technically, or a great communicator with students?
Even if you didn’t study a language to a particularly high level, you will likely remember some of the instruction and difficult points from your lessons.
The aspects of language you found most difficult are likely to be the ones you will have most difficulty explaining to others when it comes to expressing yourself on the CELTA course.
3. The Big One – Follow the Fear
By far the easiest way to identify what to focus on when preparing for your CELTA is to think about what worries you the most.
You can think of the two main scenarios below to help you identify this: teaching language in a classroom environment or writing academic assignments about language teaching.
For instance, ask yourself whether the thought of standing up in front of a group of people who have a very low level of English, and trying to teach them about past simple irregular verbs fills you with fear?
If this does sound terrifying, then put verb tenses on your list of high-priority topics to focus on.
On the flip side, if the idea of simply presenting and teaching to a group of 10 to 20 people will keep you up at night, then focus on aspects around teaching practice and classroom management.
Also, you will also have to write assignments in a short time with quite specific language teaching questions. Do you feel comfortable writing in an academic way in English, using literature and academic references to support your points? Just in case you need reminding, add this to the list if that also sounds terrifying!
Hopefully you can see that there are any number of scenarios and topics which you will have to deal with on your CELTA.
To get an idea of most of the topics you should consider preparing, check out the official CELTA Cambridge syllabus and look at all the elements in the course.
You can download this as a PDF and identify areas of weakness, but also strengths, reminding yourself that you don’t have to revise topics which you already feel confident in.
4. One Final Thought: Don’t ‘Over Prepare’
Through my conversations with CELTA students preparing for the course, I have often advised them not to try to prepare by reading everything they can before starting.
This is because it is very hard to retain much of the information without putting it into practice immediately, and some of these students I have spoken to have been preparing for months in advance.
Some of them of also told me that they forgot a lot of what they had read and indeed felt quite drained when they started their course. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation and it might even seem like a waste of time.
My antidote to this is to identify books which suit your needs in advance, I have a quick glance at them but don’t try to read them cover to cover.
You can then come back to these when you need them on your course. This is because the just -n-time-learning approach is likely to be the best way of reaching your goals.
Using this approach, you can simply find the relevant information in a timely manner and apply it shortly thereafter.
It’s unlikely that you will remember the finer points of advanced grammar until you actually come to teach them in a classroom!
Trust me, there is no amount of reading that can prepare you for the experience of teaching a confusing grammar point with your CELTA tutor at the back who is studying your every move and taking notes on everything you say and do!
Another point to add here is that many English language teaching books are extremely dull, dry and poorly written. There seems to be a trend with English language teachers who are frustrated linguistics academics and they like to complicate things by going far beyond the required level.
If you are reading books that are basically just full of jargon and academic ramblings this is not going to help you to prepare for your course.
With this in mind, I’ve written a previous blog post about the top 5 books I recommend in preparing for a CELTA, and also posted a video on YouTube about the best grammar book I have found for CELTA.
These books keep things simple and to the point. You don’t need any more for a CELTA course as they are far more vocational and practical than many of the more general ELT books you will see on the market!
In summary, when it comes to CELTA preparation, remember the following points to help you focus and prepare in the best way possible:
- Do a self audit and consider aspects like your previous teaching experience (formal or informal), and also your experience of learning a language as a student.
- Confront your fears: be honest about your own weaknesses.
- Follow the fear and identify the topics from the CELTA syllabus which sound scariest or most terrifying for you and use that to direct your preparation.
- Don’t over prepare as this can mean a lot of wasted time, and stress.
- Identify books and materials which are helpful and clear for you, have a quick look at them, take a note on where to find some of the key information and come back to them when needws closer to the time so that you can apply what is in them shortly thereafter.