TESOL Connections

Focus on Research: IRIS for Teachers and Researchers

by Julia Key, Emma Marsden, & Alison Mackey

Learn about IRIS, a not-for-profit digital repository of materials used to collect data for research into second and foreign language learning and teaching. IRIS aims to bridge the gap between second-language research and practice; find out how to use IRIS for classroom-based action research. 

Instruments for Research Into Second Language Learning and Teaching (IRIS) is a digital repository of materials used to collect data for research into second and foreign language learning and teaching. Since its launch in August 2012, it has attracted considerable interest internationally, with more than 10,000 hits and around 2,500 downloads. One of the aims of the project, which benefits from a wide support network of leading journal editors, research and teaching associations, is to make  instruments used to collect second language data more easily accessible for teachers, as well as for novice and experienced researchers.  

Benefits of IRIS for English Language Teachers
The difficulties of designing materials to collect data in second language research are well documented. Proven, useable research tools are not always easily accessible, and teachers in particular may not have the expertise—or the time—to produce effective stimuli or design experimental teaching materials. Despite this, it is widely recognised that the quality and reliability of such materials are a key element in successful research.

IRIS aims to bridge the gap between the L2 research community and those “at the chalk face.” Recent years have seen significant advances in the sharing of actual data on second language learning, but less in terms of  “upstream”—how those data were actually collected. The methodology of data elicitation instruments is not very transparent. Some of the instruments that hold the most appeal for EL teachers—sound files, pictures or videos, interactive online games—clearly do not lend themselves to reproduction in academic journals or textbooks, but can easily be contained within a digital repository like IRIS.

IRIS also does much to encourage replication studies—these follow the same design as the original research, but focus on, for example, a different group of learners, or different first language. Without these kinds of “spin-off” studies, it can be hard to draw meaningful conclusions about certain aspects of second language teaching or learning, and to see the “bigger picture.” This, in turn, can hold back the development of more effective teaching practices or education policy. So, while IRIS allows materials to be adapted to suit different research aims or contexts, it also, eventually, facilitates cross-linguistic or cross-contextual comparisons.

What’s more,  IRIS has a  built-in feedback loop in the system, so those who download data collection instruments are encouraged to let others know how useful or generalizable to other contexts they are, how they have been adapted, and to add details of any new peer-reviewed publications that have emerged as a result of their research. In this way, IRIS can evolve organically, to achieve its goal of becoming an increasingly useful resource for the L2 teaching and research communities. 

Materials on IRIS
IRIS holds data collection instruments from a wide range of theoretical and methodological perspectives. These include, for example, questionnaires about motivation, attitudes, learning strategies, and intercultural understanding; experimental teaching methods; classroom observation and interview schedules; teaching tasks; sound and video files; word lists; pictures for encouraging learners to use specific structures; language tests for different skills and types of knowledge… and many more besides.

Each instrument in the database is tagged with a number of clear descriptors, allowing for easy searching. You might be interested in a particular research area (fluency, say, or pronunciation or grammar), a certain type of data collection tool (such as an information gap task, a grammaticality judgement test, a motivation questionnaire, or some experimental teaching materials such as Processing Instruction activities), or perhaps you have a target linguistic feature in mind (the use of questions, for example, or pronouns). You may want to search by the first or second language of the learner, the author of the instrument, or even the name of an academic journal. Although IRIS already spans a wide range of target languages, proficiency levels, and research areas, it is still relatively early days for the database, and the creators are keen to encourage even greater variety. The classification system itself is organic too, because it allows the community to suggest new labels. Over time, it will grow to reflect emerging sub-areas of the field, as well as exciting new research priorities and developments.

All of the materials held on IRIS are linked to one or more peer-reviewed publications or an approved PhD thesis, and the repository is independent of country, publisher, funder, or journal. This independence, along with its open-access status and in-built quality assurance mechanisms, make it a valuable resource for both academic and teaching communities.

From Teaching to Research…
Although you may not realise it, as a committed EFL teacher you probably already conduct a fair amount of classroom-based research yourself—really! You are naturally curious about how your students learn, what motivates or challenges them, where the stumbling blocks are. You observe their behaviour, and identify problem areas; you fine-tune your teaching, then step back and consider the results. Perhaps you share your experiences and discuss successful methods with your colleagues. All effective, reflective teachers do this quite instinctively.

Action research goes one step further: it’s simply a more formal and systematic approach to understanding what goes on in the foreign language classroom, and then using that knowledge to improve your teaching and, ultimately, student outcomes (Chamot, Barnhardt, Dirstine, & Kevorkian, 1998).

So how might IRIS help teachers? The data collection materials it holds span such a wide range of areas that something is likely to be of interest to teacher-researchers: classroom interaction, learning strategies, motivation and attitudes, learner progression and knowledge of specific structures, task-based learning and teaching, linguistic identity… to name but a few. The variety of first and second languages covered by IRIS is equally broad, with a current total of 24 different languages and 38 different language combinations. Teachers may find an instrument already designed for the combination of first and second language that interests them, or might adapt other IRIS-held materials to suit the language background of their students and/or reflect their learning needs.

More specifically, classroom-based action research can take the form of “process studies,” which are designed to provide insights into the learning or teaching process (via, for example, questionnaires, interviews, uptake sheets, diaries), or “product studies” (commonly using language tests and questionnaires, among other things). Alternatively, “process-product” studies seek to determine the efficacy of particular teaching interventions or treatments. In fact, research of this kind can often be successful when designed along experimental lines—learners are divided into two (or more) groups, as randomly as possible, and exposed to different conditions (“typical, regular” practice and a more innovative teaching method, for example). Taking “before” and “after” measurements of a specific linguistic feature, say, can help to determine how effective—or otherwise—the intervention was in improving the learning outcome.

IRIS represents a starting point, a source of inspiration and freely accessible materials, and, as noted earlier, a means of bridging the gap between the second language research and teaching worlds—for all those seeking to conduct practical, classroom-based ESOL research.

IRIS has been described as “one of the most interesting and potentially widest-impact second language acquisition projects in a long time… ground-breaking” (IRIS, 2013), and “one of the most progressive projects in applied linguistics currently and probably ever” (IRIS, 2013). IRIS is not aimed solely at the academic community. It has been conceived with a much wider audience in mind, including language teachers, teacher educators, and students undertaking research: all can benefit from this innovative and freely accessible online resource.

IRIS is developed and curated by the Digital Library at the University of York, and directed by Emma Marsden (York, UK) and Alison Mackey (Georgetown, USA/Lancaster, UK). It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy.


Chamot, A. U., Barnhardt, S., Dirstine, S., & Kevorkian, J. (1998). Conducting action research in the foreign language classroom, Northeast Conference 1998. Washington, DC: National Capital Language Resource Center.

IRIS. (2013). What people are saying about IRIS. Retrieved from

Burns, A. (1999). Collaborative action research for English language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wallace, M. J. (1998). Action research for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watson Todd, R., Why do action research?

Download this article (PDF) 


Julia Key is a graduate of the Universities of Sheffield and Edinburgh and a qualified translator/interpreter. After working at conferences for the U.K. government, EU institutions and NGOs, she became a French and EFL teacher, editor, and consultant to the BBC. She is currently working to support the IRIS digital repository project, alongside its codirectors.

Emma Marsden is Senior Lecturer in Second Language Education at the University of York, United Kingdom. Previously, she taught French and Spanish in schools in the United Kingdom, and EFL in Chile, France, and Spain. She has published research on grammar learning and teaching, and research methodology. Her recent publications include coauthoring the new edition of Second Language Learning Theories (Mitchell, Myles, Marsden, 2013).

Alison Mackey is professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and of applied linguistics at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. She has published 12 books and numerous articles and chapters in top presses. Her interests are research methodology, instrumentation, and corrective feedback in L2 learning, as well as cognitive variables, linguistic outcomes, and, most recently, second dialects and identities. She is the editor-in-chief of the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics.


TESOL Governance Review: Preliminary Findings

The TESOL Governance Review Task Force has been appointed to evaluate the current governance of TESOL International Association and—if warranted—propose changes to improve its efficiency and efficacy at meeting the needs of the membership. Following an extensive period of research and study on association governance, the task force began collecting and analyzing data about TESOL’s own governance system. Here are their preliminary findings. 

As reported in the March 2013 and August 2013 issues of TESOL Connections, a task force has been appointed by the TESOL International Association Board of Directors to evaluate the current governance of TESOL International Association and—if warranted—propose changes to improve its efficiency and efficacy at meeting the needs of the membership. Following an extensive period of research and study on association governance, the task force began collecting and analyzing data about TESOL International Association’s own governance system.

Data Collection and Analysis
To conduct their research, the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) focused on three specific tasks.

Task 1: Review of Governance Documents
The first task was a review of all the relevant documents that relate to the governance of the association. Primarily, this focused on the Standing Rules of TESOL International Association, which serve as a form of internal legislation. The Standing Rules cover many of the main components of the association, such as committees, interest sections, councils, resolutions, and affiliates, and only the Board of Directors has the authority to change them. In addition, the GRTF reviewed reports from committees, councils, and interest sections; governing rules for the interest sections; and other documents such as handbooks and procedures. All of the documentation was reviewed through the lens of the Framework of Governance Principles that was developed by the GRTF.

Task 2: Input From TESOL Leadership
The second task focused on collecting input from current leaders about their experience within the association. This was done through a survey sent to committees, interest section leaders, and members of the Interest Section Leadership Council and Affiliate Leadership Council. The survey asked leaders to respond to a series of statements about their experience with the governance of the association, using a Likert Scale. Here is an example of those statements:

  • I understand the decision-making process within TESOL International Association.
  • The work I do on behalf of TESOL International Association makes the best possible use of my knowledge, skills, and experience.
  • I understand how knowledge and information are cultivated and disseminated throughout TESOL International Association, and the role my committee plays in that process.

Depending upon the leadership position held, some participants were also asked a series of short-answer questions along the same themes. All participants were given the opportunity to provide additional comments on the survey.

Task 3: Input From TESOL Board and Staff
The third task focused on the experience of the Board of Directors and the staff of TESOL International Association. For this, the GRTF held several focus groups around the October 2013 meeting of the Board of Directors in Alexandria, VA USA. As with the document review and the surveys, the Framework of Governance Principles was the guiding framework for the questions and discussions. Led by members of the GRTF, the focus group discussions were recorded and analyzed for their responses.

Emerging Findings
Based on the analysis to date, the following findings are emerging from the data that have been collected:

Emphasis on Structure and Process Over Strategy
The document review revealed that the present governance within the association is focused on structure and process without a clear strategy. There is a great deal of information about the duties, responsibilities, and requirements of member groups and components (i.e. interest sections and committees) but very little information—if any—as to their strategic purpose. In other words, the Standing Rules go to great lengths detailing how to submit reports, how many meetings are to be held, and so forth, but provide little information as to how member groups and components contribute meaningfully to advancing the strategic direction of the association, outside of having sessions at the annual convention. Moreover, the various elements of the association appear to have been created in an ad hoc manner; there is little information on how the various member groups and components are to work together as a system.

Great Need for Clarity
Leaders responded that they in large part had a sense of where in the governance system their member groups or components fit, but did not really understand the system as a whole. Leaders also indicated they needed more clarity in terms of their responsibilities, their authority, and their role in the strategic direction of the association. Moreover, leaders in large part did not have a clear understanding of the decision-making process within the association, and their role in that process.

Inefficiencies in the System
Much of the information collected indicated significant inefficiencies in the governance system. Specifically, many leaders pointed to a lack of continuity in TESOL work. As leadership changes, the work and direction of a committee or member group can change direction drastically, with little continuity from one year to the next. In addition, there is no clear mechanism for the cultivation and distribution of knowledge and information between components and member groups. Most often it is driven by personnel rather than process. Lastly, while there are some small-scale instances of training for specific roles, there is an overall lack of training and orientation within the association for leaders and volunteers. 

Desire for Meaningful Contributions, Acknowledgement, & Accountability
One clear finding was that regardless of their role, leaders have a strong desire to contribute to the work of the association. Many leaders indicated that the work they are asked to do is primarily administrative, and not as meaningful as it could or should be. In addition, leaders expressed a strong desire to be acknowledged for the work they do, and for accountability in both directions. Leaders also expressed a desire to learn more about leadership, have opportunities to exchange information, and to collaborate outside of the annual convention.

In December 2013, the GRTF hosted a webinar for leaders to present these preliminary findings in more detail. A recording of the webinar is available online.

Next Steps
The GRTF is continuing to analyze the data it has collected and will be producing a formal report on the findings by February 2014. After it is published, the GRTF will host a webinar for leaders and other interested members to discuss the findings in more detail, and they will present the findings and provide opportunities for feedback at the 2014 TESOL International Convention in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Additional resources from the GRTF, including previous updates and documentation, is available online.

Grammatically Speaking

by T. Leo Schmitt
In the January Grammatically Speaking column, grammar expert T. Leo Schmitt discusses when to use a present or past participle in a hyphenated adjective, including teaching tips and language notes. 

If you have a question for Grammatically Speaking, please send it to GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org. We welcome all types of language questions.

How do I know when to use a present participle or past participle in a hyphenated adjective? Example: well-liked or well-liking? Native English speakers automatically know this from hearing the phrases from childhood. But how does an ELL know when to use which?

Sylvia Summers, IEP instructor

Dear Sylvia,

Thank you for this question. Many students seem to find this a vexing issue and I am happy to address it. It pains me on more than one level to hear students telling me things such as “I was very boring on the weekend.”

As you note, native speakers automatically know this from childhood. There are competing theories to explain first language acquisition and our grammar sense, but there is a pattern here. Nonnative speakers, on the other hand, may rely more on individual words and fail to grasp the grammatical patterns at play here, thus conflating words such as “bored” and “boring.” Adding in hyphenated or nonhyphenated adverbs complicates things further.

Traditional Grammatical Explanation
English verbs can take multiple forms such as eat, eats, eating, ate, eaten. Two of these can follow the verb “be”: the so-called “present participle” (or –ing form) as “He is boring me lately” and the past participle (or the –ed or third form of irregular verbs, e.g. drunk, seen, etc.) as in “474 things to do when you’re bored.” The latter is the passive construction. The difference between the present progressive (or present continuous) –ing form and the passive or –ed/irregular should be easy enough for students to grasp.

In many cases, the participle can be transposed to the front of the noun where it behaves much like an adjective, modifying the noun. Indeed, they are sometimes called participial adjectives. Thus we can have “boring student” from “the student was boring” and “bored student” from “the student was bored.” Because they are related to two very different constructions (the present progressive and the passive), their meanings are not surprisingly different. A bored student is one that receives the action (i.e., one that is bored by something or somebody). A boring student is one that performs the action (he/she bores somebody). Note that the –ing form can also be a gerund, which behaves very differently (e.g. “Now modern teachers are waking up to the fact that boring students is not a good idea.”)

Once we establish that the meanings of these –ing and –ed/irregular modifiers are different and understand that difference, we can then move on to the hyphenations that you mention. There are few definitive rules on the use of hyphens. Generally speaking, though, we do not use them with adverbs ending in –ly. Thus for the examples you give, there are fewer possibilities, such as “well-cooked broccoli,” “hard-fought battle,” or “fast-moving fire,” which use non –ly adverbs modifying participial adjectives. That does not stop us from using –ly together with participial adjectives in phrases such as “quickly forgotten,” “happily married,” or “quietly working”; they just do not take hyphens. The notes about collocations below apply equally to –ly adverbs.

In all of these cases, the learner should look at the participial adjective to see if the noun is receiving the action (someone is cooking the broccoli and someone is fighting the battle) or doing the action (the fire is moving). That should answer the question of using –ing or –ed.

Teaching Tips
This is certainly the kind of issue that is best spread out over several lessons, with increased depth and reinforcement each time it is broached.

I have found that “boring” and “interesting” are some of the first participial adjectives that students learn. Those can be great for clarifying the differences. At beginning levels, it may make sense to start off with “interesting” and leave “interested” to a later stage, where both can then be contrasted. For example, at intermediate and advanced levels, I emphasize that there are two different participial adjectives: “boring” and “bored.” We then examine what can be “boring” and what can be “bored.” It is often possible to elicit that only people (and sometimes animals) can be bored. I then ask students to consider why, and they should see that this is because only people can feel things, and thus receive the boredom. This emphasizes that the –ed is something received.

On the other hand, if you know teenagers, you know that anything can be boring (with the possible exception of grammar columns!). That is, anything can give the feeling of boredom. Once this is clear, we can extrapolate the idea to all participial adjectives. Those that end in –ing give or transmit the action or feeling, while those that end in –ed or third form irregular (eaten, shot, found) receive the action. We can then practice this through some simple cloze or “choose the right form” exercises, moving on to sentence generation when the students feel comfortable with the pattern. This helps students recognize the difference between –ing and –ed. There are a number of exceptions to this general rule, such as “vanished cities” or “well-read students,” where nobody vanishes the cities or reads the students. It is useful to explain that there are such exceptions to the general grammatical pattern.

The rule that –ly adverbs do not usually take a hyphen to join them to the following word is worth sharing.

Students can then review the subset of adverbs that do not end in -ly to see which ones they might effectively join with participial adverbs.

It is, however, very important to point out that it is not simply a matter of taking a non –ly adverb and tacking it onto a participial adjective. There are issues of collocation that students need to be aware of. For example, we do not usually “yawn hard,” so “hard-yawning” would not be mainstream usage. Even more complex is the fact that some adverbs may collocate with the verbs, but the adverbs might not also collocate with the participial adjective. For example, while we can do most verbs “well,” we rarely use it with the –ing participial adjective. Well-meaning is the most common, followed by well-paying, but there are only a few others. We would not, for instance, usually say “I saw well-playing Shaun Livingston,” even though we can easily say “Shaun Livingston is playing well.”

Even for the –ed form, there is not always a full corollary. If you make something well, it is “well-made”; but while you can see something well, “well-seen” has a different meaning. Other formations are much rarer than their verb-adverb cousins. Thus, “he started well” is a very common phrase, yet “well-started” is much less common. Teaching students how to differentiate common and uncommon phrases, such as through an online concordance, can help enormously in helping them produce text-appropriate language.

Language Notes
While most non –ly adverbs remain intact when joined by hyphen to participial adjectives, often does not. It is generally reduced to oft as in “oft-repeated.”

Last Month’s Brain Teaser
Look at the two sentences below. What traditional rule of grammar do they both appear to violate? How would you explain this to an English learner?

  1. I see email being used, by and large, exactly the way I envisioned.
  2. Space-age polymer technology and their unique design allow them to swing silently and with low friction to their closed position.

This was a very tricky one, and I apologize if you burned some brain cells on this. Both of these offer an apparent violation of the parallel form rule. Briefly, this rule says that if you join two or more ideas with a conjunction such as “and” or “or,” they should be the same part of speech or in the same grammatical form.

By and large seems to join an adjective and a preposition (though its origin goes some way to explain why these are joined). It is at this point a fixed phrase in the language.

The second example joins an adverb with a prepositional phrase. It would follow traditional grammatical rules better if it were rewritten as “…to swing in silence and with low friction.” Many writers are less exact with maintaining parallel form as rigorously as grammatical purists might like.

These examples serve to show that while the parallel form may be a very productive pattern, your students may come to you with questions about exceptions such as those above. 

This Month’s Brain Teaser
Look at the two sentences below. What traditional rule of grammar do they both appear to violate? How would you explain this to an English learner?

  1. Mary is loving her experience on The X Factor, but had trouble with Louis' choice of song for her this week, and has been forced to change her song at the last minute.
  2. For the last two years, my grandmother has been hearing this loud noise in her head almost continually.

The best correct answer will be published in the next column of Grammatically Speaking.
Please e-mail your responses to GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org.


When writing to Grammatically Speaking, please include your name and location (city and state, province, or country). If your question or response is selected for publication, your name and location will be printed unless you specify otherwise.

Examples cited in this column are authentic examples of language use and are not the
author’s creations.

10 Characteristics of Highly Effective EF/SL Teachers

by Christine Coombe
Former TESOL President Christine Coombe shares her thoughts, based on experience and research, on what makes an effective English language teacher. 

The question of what makes someone a good teacher is relevant for all teaching contexts, but it is especially important in the field of English as a foreign or second language (EF/SL) where teachers can be hired simply for being a native speaker with a bachelor’s degree. Most people, if asked, would be able to express an opinion on what makes a teacher good or effective. These opinions would be based primarily on their own experiences in the classroom as students (McDonough & Shaw, 1993). When prompted, most people would offer up adjectives like caring, fun, interesting, and flexible.

Review of the Literature
The earliest studies of teacher efficacy defined it as “the extent to which the teacher believes he or she has the capacity to alter student performance” (McLaughlin & Marsh, 1978, p. 84).

Since then, a considerable amount of research has been done over the years, yet very basic questions still persist. Educators have failed to reach agreement on answers to questions like:

  • What is effective teaching?
  • How is it defined?
  • How may it be measured?

Many researchers in the field believe that consensus on the above-mentioned questions is not possible.

What the research has found, however, is that the overall expectations of a “good teacher” have not changed drastically over the years but how they are manifested in the classroom has (Larsen-Freeman, 1986). Much of the research conducted has sought to identify characteristics, factors, traits and/or classroom behaviors of “effective teachers.”

A number of F/SL educators have come out with lists of characteristics which describe effective teachers; see the Resources section for a few.

My Top 10 Characteristics of a Highly Effective EF/SL Teacher
In preparing my list of top 10 characteristics, I initially began with 26 characteristics. Because 26 characteristics were a bit unwieldy, I narrowed my focus to the 10 I believe to be most important. Consequently, this list (like all the others) is not exhaustive or comprehensive. It is simply what I feel constitutes characteristics of excellence in our profession based on my experience as an English language educator, my observations, and on my research.

1. A “Calling” to the Profession
My top 10 list is in no order of importance, except for #1. Effective teachers are driven and passionate about what they do and feel a “call” to teach as well as a passion to help students learn and grow. Without this mission, or calling, teaching is just another job—and a tough one at that. Central to this calling is the idea of a positive attitude. Effective teachers recognize that teaching is demanding. Despite this, they exhibit a sense of pride in what they do.

2. Professional Knowledge
Shulman (1986) has identified seven types of knowledge that highly effective teachers must have. According to him, teachers need knowledge about

  • the content they are teaching;
  • the curriculum, materials, and programs;
  • the broad principles and strategies that constitute classroom management and organization;
  • the student population;
  • the particular educational context they are teaching in;
  • educational aims and values, and
  • pedagogical content knowledge, which is a special mix of content and pedagogy unique to teachers.

According to Pasternak and Bailey (2004), teachers need both declarative and procedural knowledge to function effectively in their classrooms. Declarative knowledge refers to knowledge about the content area they are teaching whereas procedural knowledge refers to the ability to do things in the classroom.

I believe that the right credentials and sound professional knowledge are of paramount importance in determining effectiveness. That means a Master’s degree in TESOL/applied linguistics for teachers teaching at the university level or a Bachelor’s degree with a TESOL specialization or certification for those working in primary/secondary schools. As a part of sustaining sound professional knowledge, teachers must recognize the importance of professional development and keeping up-to-date with technology.

3. Personality/Personal Qualities
To what extent personality factors relate to teaching effectiveness has been the topic of numerous empirical studies. Weinstein (1998) conducted a study which identified 10 characteristics “good teachers” were thought to have (as cited in Brown & Rodgers, 2002, p. 153). Seven out of the ten characteristics related to personality. The Weinstein study found personality factors like patience, warmth, creativity, humor, and outgoingness to be indicative of effective teaching.

Additional validation of the importance of personality characteristics comes to us from an unlikely source, Hollywood, which shows that teachers who have believed in their students, offered them guidance and support and went the extra mile to ensure their success, were the ones that were dramatized in movies like Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Dead Poets Society, and Freedom Writers.

4. With-it-ness
The concept of with-it-ness (McEwan, 2002) is defined as the state of being on top of things, tuned in to the teaching/learning environment, and in control of the different facets of classroom life and our jobs. A “with-it” teacher is one who can organize and manage their classroom, engage students in the lesson, and keep up a fast-paced momentum. Teachers with this quality are ones who can multitask, use their time most effectively, and adapt to the changing needs and demands of their job and the profession.

5. Instructional Effectiveness
For many, if teachers possess the requisite qualifications and years of teaching experience, being a good teacher is considered a given. However, we all know and work with teachers who have good credentials and lots of experience but have the same one year of teaching experience 20 times (as opposed to having 20 years of teaching experience). Knowing your content area and being able to deliver effective lessons matters. Study after study confirms that students who have high quality teachers make significant and lasting learning gains. Those with less effective teachers play a constant game of academic catch up.

6. Good Communication Skills
Highly effective teachers must be good communicators as they are required to articulate ideas, talk about issues, and express their beliefs and values about teaching. Because teachers take on numerous roles in their classrooms and in the workplace, they must be skilled at conflict resolution as well.

7. Street Smarts
Street smart teachers are those who have knowledge about what is happening around them (knowledge of the students, the school, the community, and the cultural environment), and they combine this knowledge with common sense to solve problems. Street smart teachers are also politically savvy in that they are familiar with their institutional culture and they know which materials and topics to avoid both in class and in the workplace, and which battles to fight.

8. Willingness to Go the Extra Mile
For teachers to be considered effective, they need to believe in their own ability to make a difference in their students’ lives. Their expectations of their students are always high. Moreover, they show a willingness to inspire and motivate their students through example.

9. Commitment to Lifelong Learning
Lifelong learning is now recognized by educators, governing bodies, accreditation organizations, certification boards, employers and the general public as one of the most important competencies that people must possess (Collins, 2009).

Effective teachers are concerned with their self- and professional development and regularly reflect on what they do in their classrooms. They also engage in strategic career planning, which, for many teachers, means assuming a leadership position.

10.  Life Outside the Classroom
A multitude of sources in the professional and self-help literature cite the importance of not being too consumed by the job. Research also shows that people with hobbies and friends outside of their profession suffer less stress, which in turn increases an individual’s productivity at work. So my final thoughts on this are that teachers should find something else that defines them outside of the workplace.

There is really no “secret” recipe to being the perfect teacher, nor is being perfect even realistic. As you read through my list of top 10 characteristics and the lists of others who have come before me, I encourage you to reflect on what you feel constitutes effectiveness with your students and in your particular educational context. There is probably no teacher out there who is uniformly strong in all areas. Like me, you will recognize your strengths and you will probably take note of some areas that need work. This reflective self-evaluation is, I feel, yet another essential characteristic of effectiveness. Indeed, the most important characteristics of effective teaching might not appear on any list.

This idea is best expressed by de Saint-Exupery (1943) in The Little Prince: “That which is essential cannot be seen with the eye. Only with the heart can one know it rightly.”



Brown, J. D., & Rodgers, T. S. (2002). Doing second language research. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Collins, J. (2009). Lifelong learning in the 21st century and beyond. RadioGraphics, 29(2), 613–622.

de Saint-Exupéry, A. (1943). The little prince (Trans.). New York: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1986). Techniques and principles in language teaching. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

McDonough, J., & Shaw, C. (1993). Materials and methods in ELT: A teachers’ guide (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

McEwan, E. K. (2002). 10 Traits of highly effective teachers: How to hire, coach and mentor successful teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

McLaughlin, M. W., & Marsh, D. D. (1978). Staff development and school change. Teachers’ College Record, 80(1), 69–94.

Pasternak, M., & Bailey, K. M. (2004). Preparing nonnative and native English-speaking teachers: Issues of professionalism and proficiency. In L. D. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and teaching from experience: Perspectives on nonnative English-speaking professionals (pp. 155–175). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Schulman, L. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teachers. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4–14.



Download this article (PDF)


Christine Coombe is faculty member at Dubai Men’s College in the United Arab Emirates.  She chaired the TESOL convention in Tampa, Florida in 2006 and served as president of the TESOL International Association from 2011 to 2012.


New Year's Resolutions for English Language Teachers

Compiled by Tomiko Breland
People the world over make resolutions at New Year's to better themselves; use this list of ELT resolutions as inspiration for your own 2014 goals.

It is believed that the practice of setting New Year’s resolutions began some 4,000 years ago, with the ancient Babylonians. At the beginning of the year, they would make promises to their gods in order to have good favor bestowed on them for the rest of the year. Today, people the world over make New Year’s resolutions to better themselves in some way, personally or professionally; English language educators are no exception.

Here are just a few of the 2014 New Year’s resolutions set by English language teachers from around the world with the hopes of pursuing excellence in English language education. What will your New Year’s resolution be this year?

I resolve…

…to spend more time with students to get to know them as people rather than as numbers.” 
Sarah McGregor, San Jose State University, California USA

…to commit myself to creating a learning environment that favors reflective practices and teacher autonomy.  In 2014, I would like to support professional development through the creation of a teachers’ association to promote teacher autonomy and to encourage research-based activities within the teaching community.”
Vino Sarah Reardon, CFS, University of Buraimi, Oman

…to focus more on the students instead of the final outcome. As a teacher, I want to push my students to a higher proficiency level, but oftentimes I forget that I am teaching students who have emotions and needs. I will be patient, and I will let them know that I am there to help them.”
Judy Ma, Brigham Young University, Utah USA

…to sing more with my students.  Music can give us courage to stand up to injustice. It can help us as TESOL educators to link teaching English with social responsibility. As we witnessed in the tributes to Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom songs inspired people around the world to get involved in the movement against apartheid. A song can lift our spirits. In the language classroom, singing can help students who are tongue-tied and self-conscious.  Music can energize students and teachers alike—especially those who have all worked long hours before coming to class! Music is a great motivator.”
Shelley Wong, George Mason University, Virginia USA

…to cull through 20 years of resources and handouts. Then, define and use a more efficient and organized method to store teaching resources.”
Cristin Boyd, San Jose State University, California USA

…to continue to help all teachers understand that English learners can respond to higher-order thinking questions no matter what English language development (ELD) level. We, as teachers, can be more creative in our approach to facilitating learning for all learners.”
Judith B. O'Loughlin, CATESOL Education Foundation, USA

…to flip my class in the new year, making use of my university Moodle in addition to teachem and showme. This idea will help my students regulate their learning.”
Mohamed EL Zamil, Ajman University of Science & Technology, UAE

…to use more student-centered teaching methods in the New Year. I am already to increase student involvement by requiring several projects throughout the semester and as a final exam in my oral English classes. With classes averaging about 50 students, team work will be needed."
Gayla Baker, Hangzhou Polytechnic College, Zhejiang Province, PRC

…to enjoy teaching more by stressing about it less.”
Sarah Jackson, San Jose State University, California USA

Download this article (PDF)