These boots were made for presentin’ | A presentation activity

Inner shoes.png

I designed this creative visualisation activity on a project where it was ultimately not used and I’ve got permission to share it here. It could potentially be included in a workshop on presentation skills or as a stand-alone activity run in a team huddle or meeting.

Have you ever used creative visualisation? What sort of visual imagery do you incorporate?


Creative visualisation may help presenters manage their nerves through calming visual imagery, a technique borrowed from acting. This particular activity also uses shoes as metaphors for qualities associated with confident presenters. The technique can be used to calm nerves before a presentation. It puts presenters in a positive mind frame by focusing the inner voice on something productive instead of negative self-talk.

The handout offers a range of visualisation prompts because different people have different sources of anxiety and they’ll need to find a visualisation that works for them. Each visualisation begins with putting on a pair of ‘inner’ shoes and ends with a destination or goal that represents success.


  • Use creative visualisation as a way of managing nerves just before a presentation.


  • Pair off participants and ask them to look at the shoes in the handout and suggest how wearing these different types of shoes might make them feel.
  • Point out to participants that wearing ‘inner’ shoes could potentially boost their confidence in a presentation.
  • Get them to discuss the sorts of situations they would want to wear these inner shoes in. For example, you are nervous and you feel really cold and stiff at the start of a presentation at an industry meet. Imagining yourself in football cleats might help you kick your presentation off with some energy. Some possible responses are given below.
  • Ask participants to recall a presentation where they experienced some nervousness. Get them to close their eyes and talk them through the following creating visualisation:

Your presentation starts in 5 minutes. Your mind is racing and you can’t focus because you are thinking about a million things. You reach out grab on a pair of your inner flip-flops and put them on. Feel the tension melt away from your body. Relax your shoulders. Take deep breaths. When you feel your breathing starting to slow, let your hands hang loose by your side. You’re walking on a soft sandy beach. Feel the sand between your toes. You hear waves in the distance. You look up and see a calm blue sea stretching out in front of you. As the tide goes out, you walk towards the rising sun on the horizon.

  • Have participants work in pairs to look through the other visualisation prompts in the toolkit and choose one that they find useful. Participants then practise the creative visualisation prompt with their partners. Encourage them to add details that make the visualisation feel more real.


  • Use the following questions to debrief the activity:
    • Why is this kind of visualisation useful when you’re nervous?
    • Our inner voices sometimes trigger nervousness through negative self-talk. How does the visualisation of ‘inner’ shoes help with this?
    • Why does each visualisation end with a destination or a goal?

Suggested responses 

  1. Flip-flops: relaxed, casual, calm
  2. Sneakers: comfortable, easy-going
  3. Rain boots/wellingtons: persistent, determined
  4. Cowboy boots: self-assured, poised, strong
  5. Football/soccer cleats: dynamic, active, energetic
  6. Hiking boots: adventurous, daring

Download the handout from the following link ⬇️

Image attribution: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Illustrations from images | Shapes in Adobe Capture

Adobe capture

Here’s a quick post about an app I’ve just started exploring. Adobe Capture is a free smartphone app with in-app camera that lets you do a lot of really interesting graphic design edits. I’ve been looking at the ‘shapes’ function which converts images into pen and ink-type illustrations. Here are some examples of things I took pictures of.

Shape 4

Shape 1

Shape 2 (1)

What’s interesting is that it does a pretty good job with fairly complex objects with lots of details and contours like this statue.

The app is fairly intuitive but here are the steps I followed to convert some keys on my kitchen counter. You can get rid of the background and any other distractions (you can see my shadow in the first couple of images) using a combination of the contrast slider and the wand. Any bits and bobs that are left can be erased. A smoothing function will make things look regular – in this case it actually gets rid of some nice details so you’ll need to play around to get the best results.

The final image gets saved as an SVG file in your own Adobe library but you can export it as an SVG or PNG file. Although I haven’t quite figured out how – you can also export assets as vectors which could be really useful.

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These illustrations would look quite nice in print materials and create a cohesive visual look across say a participant guide, addressing issues associated with printing colour images in black and white. They could also work well in online layouts to create a minimalist course look.

Adobe Capture is available for iOS and Android phones.

Black water | The curious tale of a 19th century Indian learner of English

Indian English.png

I recently met Dr Atanu Bhattacharya who has an intriguing hobby; he’s been collecting English language learning resources published in India in the pre-Independence area. While I think that’s a fascinating area of research, I’m more interested in the experiences of early English language learners from the colonies of the former British Empire. In a sense, people like me – the English speaking folk of Kachru’s outer circle in places such as India, Kenya, Nigeria, Singapore and Belize, are the product of a process (for better or for worse) that began with language learners in colonial times.

My great-grandfather was probably the first person in his family to learn and speak English. It’s possible his father spoke English as well but we have no records or memories of it. I know for certain that none of the women spoke English well into the first half of the 20th century because they were a profoundly patriarchal people, and orthodox in their observations of ritual and custom, which of course included some less than progressive attitudes towards women.

I’ve always wondered how the experience of learning English and becoming an English speaker changed my great-grandfather. Living as he did in British India, English must have improved his career prospects (as it continues to do today) and perhaps social standing in his little town. What impact did it have on the intensely religious world he lived in? Was there suddenly a dichotomy between an English worldly life and an Indian spiritual existence? Did he keep the two apart or did each influence the other? Or did one recede as the other grew in strength?

In the 19th century, a man of some learning named Muhammad Jafar Thanesari fell in with some extremists who were attempting to mount an insurrection across Northern India. In 1863, he was caught, convicted and sent to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, a British Indian penal colony to serve an 18-year sentence. Here, Jafar did two remarkable things. He learnt English and collected a set of experiences which would eventually culminate in an autobiography written in Urdu, published a couple of decades later in Delhi. His book, Kala Pani: Tavarikh e Ajeeb – The Black Water: a Strange Story describes his time in the Andamans and also documents his experience of learning English. The black water in the title refers to the Bay of Bengal across which the Andamans lie. I came across Thanesari in Charles Allen’s book, God’s Terrorists but for this post I’ve referred to an English translation of selected chapters from Thanesari’s book published in The Annual of Urdu Studies.

Thanesari devotes two chapters of Kala Pani to the English language. The first, ‘Learning English’ describes how he got started on his language learning journey and the professional opportunities and corresponding financial benefits he then had access to.

In 1872, on the exhortation of Rām Sarūp, who knew English, I made an earnest effort to learn the language and I gained reasonable fluency in speaking, reading, and writing. My facility with English improved rapidly since I used to tutor the British officers in the Persian, Urdu, and Hindi languages and spent much time conversing with them in order to explain the lessons and while checking their English translation exercises. Also, at that time, due to the shortage of clerks, other government employees were not prohibited from preparing applications and petitions, so I too started writing these documents in English. This additional work was not only instrumental in my acquiring advanced linguistic skills, it also resulted in my collecting thousands of rupees. Indeed, with these two occupations, tutoring the officials and writing petitions, my total monthly earnings were never less than a hundred rupees (Thanesari, 1884: Ch. 30).

The chapter continues in this optimistic tone and Thanesari describes how he was able to use his new English skills to help other convicts, perhaps even saving some of them from the hangman’s noose.

Being the only Muslim who was conversant in English, I could assist fellow Muslims in their dealings with the courts, and I managed to get many of them acquitted from terrible allegations and trials. That my knowledge benefited many people is likely to be remembered for a long time. Certainly, those who were exculpated and escaped death by hanging will not forget me for the rest of their lives! (Thanesari, 1884: Ch. 30).

He goes on to highlight the ostensibly beneficial changes that English triggered in the way he saw the world, through ideas that are perhaps oddly familiar to us and could have been expressed by someone learning the language today.

Having learned English, I visited many large libraries and browsed through hundreds of books on a variety of disciplines and arts. Perhaps no language exists whose grammar English authors have not compiled, nor any country whose history has not been described in great depth and detail in some English books. The English language is the abode of sciences and arts. A person who does not know English cannot be fully aware of world affairs. Unless one learns English, one cannot be business minded and dynamic. Nor can a person earn a living these days without learning English (Thanesari, 1884: Ch. 30).

“Nor can a person earn a living these days without learning English” – some things really haven’t changed! But this cheerful outlook doesn’t persist in the subsequent chapter where Thanesari talks about the inner struggle of being pulled in different directions by two very different worlds. 

I stopped attending Friday assemblies and other congregational prayers. I lost all interest in reading or listening to the Qurʾān or the Traditions. All I wanted to do instead was read some English book … Thus I was on the precipice of infidelity, and was about to fall in (Thanesari, 1884: Ch. 31).

And he comes to a startling conclusion. 
But while this language offers much worldly benefit, the harm and peril it poses for the faith are graver … (Thanesari, 1884: Ch. 30).
In the times we live in, it’s easy to write off Thanesari as yet another fanatic. But having read all the sections of The Black Water: a Strange Story that are available in translation, I think he comes across as a very thoughtful, complex and nuanced person. He also for instance describes the indigenous Andaman islanders (who the British and settlers from the Indian mainland have driven to near-extinction) in objective, almost ethnographic language. He suggests sympathetically that while the islanders “do not practice any religion, or have any priests or religious authorities, … they are an honest, upright, truthful, and sincere people, with a certain morality and humaneness of their own.”
Towards the end of his account, he celebrates the melting pot of cultures and peoples he experienced in Port Blair.
I think that perhaps no other place on the surface of this earth has more ethnic diversity than here. … God has indeed created a marvel by raising a crowd here unmatched elsewhere in the world.
When a Bengali man weds a Madrasi woman, or a Bhutanese man weds a Punjabi woman, and so on, the husband and wife do not understand each other’s native language. When they disagree or quarrel with each other, and curse each other in their own tongues, they create a bizarre scene. When invited to a wedding, the women from various ethnic backgrounds dress in their native costumes, perform different rituals and ceremonies that belong to their own traditions, and sing and dance differently. This is, indeed, another sight worth watching!
The sectarian and ethnic prejudices that chronically plague Indians in India have disappeared here altogether. (Thanesari, 1884: Ch. 39).
I am deeply moved by Muhammad Jafar Thanesari’s story and in particular the paroxysms of doubt and spiritual turmoil he experienced as he tried to negotiate his beliefs and values with the new identity he thought he was assuming through the English language.
To hear this Indian learner of English from the 19th century speak to us in his own words through the ages is quite incredible and there must be countless others in the Subcontinent and across the globe who’ve documented their language learning experience and the impact it had on the many worlds in which they dwelt. I hope Thanesari is the first of many I’ll encounter.
Kala Pani
Pages from the Urdu version of Kala Pani: Tavarikh e Ajeeb – The Black Water: a Strange Story in the Nastaliq script

Image attribution

The two images in this post are in the Public Domain.

IATEFL book haul | Paragraph blogging

elt books

I bought a number of books from the stalls at the IATEFL exhibition in Liverpool. In fact, most of these are from Multilingual Matters who I’ve been following for some time on Twitter and it was only at the conference that I’d discovered that they had their own publishing house. As I was rearranging them in a new bookshelf, I suddenly realised how revealing they were of my current interests and potential future avenues of employment. If you’d asked me just a year ago about the sorts of books I would have picked up at a conference like IATEFL, these would’ve been very far from the titles I’d have named. You can plan and reflect all you want but you can’t always the control the direction you’re headed towards professionally. I pay lip service to the idea of iterative professional development but living it is entirely a different matter


Life after CELTA | An interview with Vaidehi Kenia

Vaidehi Kenia

I joined the course looking for a way to learn something new, but I came out having found my passion … my calling.

I am interested in the professional experiences of former CELTA trainees for lots of different reasons. It might be because of their academic backgrounds, their prior teaching experiences or the sorts of jobs they end up in. With Vaidehi, it was her single-mindedness about going to the UK to do an MA. As she mentions in her interview, she’s a bit of a workshop junkie and that’s how we met 🙂 I remember her asking me about Master’s programmes on a workshop for YL teachers that we’d both participated in. A couple of months later, I found her on a CELTA course I was tutoring on. On the course, Vaidehi decided to do a degree in TESOL instead of literature which is what she’d been gunning for initially.

Although I’d made a mental note to check in with her, I never got around to it. So you can imagine my surprise when I found her working the registration desk at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool. Clearly, Vaidehi had been busy in the year and a half since she’d done the CELTA. She’s about to finish an MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL and it sounds like she wants to do another one!

What motivated you to do the CELTA?

While I was in degree college, I attended many learning and teaching workshops. The first course I ever attended was about teaching through the art of storytelling. Learning about this amazing pedagogy made me realise how such a simple shift in the traditional chalk and talk method can create a huge difference and make the process more interesting for learners. Soon, I took every opportunity that came my way and attended various workshops that taught different methodologies for effective teaching. I was introduced to CELTA through one of my mom’s colleague. I did some research to find out more about this course and was soon blown away by all that the course entailed. By now I was getting quite serious about my passion and when I realised that this internationally recognized qualification would be my gateway for getting into the world of ELT, I grabbed the opportunity and got enrolled at the earliest.

 You did the CELTA at the British Council in Bombay. What were your expectations and did your experience on the course meet these expectations? 

Going in, I had this idea that I would be trained by these incredibly talented mentors/tutors to apply different strategies and approaches while teaching. I was in it for the fun. I was in it for learning. And most importantly, I was in it for the experience. I was warned about the demanding nature of the course and that I wouldn’t be really getting much time for anything else while on it. I guess I really underestimated this advice!

During the first week, I got a gist of how packed the next three weeks were going to be. I had never been on any kind of formal pre-service teacher training course before, nor did I have any teaching experience before doing the CELTA. Everything I learnt on this course was new to me. We were pushed hard. It was demanding. But the fruits we reaped were sweet!

Today when I look back, all I can think of is that the power-packed structure of the course helped me more than anything. It just made all of us do the work and fight deadlines. The CELTA polished us to some extent and prepared us to do things like lesson planning or evaluating/adapting materials which we as teachers will be required to always do on the job. I would say that the CELTA beat us all into shape. What running 5 miles daily for a month will do to your physique, the CELTA will do for your mind.

The course encouraged us all to reflect on all that we did, a concept I had never really done back in school or even in degree college. As a student doing the CELTA and as a teacher now, reflection has helped me analyse and monitor my own activities. It is a never-ending process and only gets better with time.

To sum up, I would say I joined the course looking for a way to learn something new, but  I came out having found my passion … my calling.

 Why did you decide to do an MA in TESOL so soon after your CELTA?

English isn’t my L1. At home, we spoke in our L1 and I learnt English at school. However, at school English was always taught to us as a subject and never as a language. Though I am able to communicate well in English, I believe I can do better, read more and adopt various ways of improving my language. With globalization English has become the lingua franca and therefore, its importance has increased exponentially.

I have seen students who’ve been in English-as-a-medium of instruction (EMI) schools for over 10 years, struggling to speak in English. I wanted to know what the difference was between studying English as a subject with a set syllabus and learning it as a language. I thought this Master’s programme would help me fill this gap in my understanding.

Teaching and making a career out of it immediately wasn’t on my list.

To what extent has the CELTA helped you with your Master’s? What sort of backgrounds do your peers on the course have? Have they also done an initial certificate course?

The teaching approaches that we were introduced to on the CELTA are key literature on the MA. So I already had something to contribute when we talked about the text-based or task-based approach or other such things. We have a core module called Advanced teaching practice- a reflective practitioner. On this module, we’ve had to teach students (Erasmus and residents of Durham) and we were required to make lesson plans and were asked to keep a reflective diary. The little things like TTT vs STT or accuracy vs fluency which I first looked at on the CELTA were a topic for detailed discussion here. For me, planning lessons (keeping in mind the students’ needs) was easier when compared to my peers. I was quite comfortable using different approaches while planning my lessons. We are a bunch of 12 students on the Applied Linguistics Programme of whom only three have CELTAs. Eight of them are from China (of course!) with around 2-3 years of teaching experience. Three of them are from England with around 7-8 years of teaching experience.

Tell us about your Master’s programme. What have been the highs and lows so far?

When I compare it to the programmes my friends are on (like law, creative writing or business studies), my course is really very busy. The idea of having lectures just twice/thrice a week is not true for my course. There were days during the first and the second term where I had lectures and seminars for 6 hours back to back. The ongoing pressure of doing one thing after another is a constant. We had to make lesson plans, teach, attend long hours and read intensively. I thought I might skip reading but since we are a small class, our teachers always asked us questions to understand our knowledge after reading. So, it was quite busy.

I had never done academic writing before and the way we are assessed in India is very very very different from the way we are assessed here. Initially, I had issues with citations and referencing. Each department has a different guideline for referencing at Durham University, but with the support of my department, I got it right. Also, I would suggest (which I did to the University too) that we should have formatives for the core modules. Feedback from the formatives would be of tremendous help before we submit our final assignments.

A lot of ELT professionals are reluctant to invest time, money and effort in an MA programme because they’re apprehensive about what they might get out of it. What are the benefits of doing an MA in TESOL? Has it changed your beliefs about teaching? Has there been an impact on your teaching practice?

Well, there were times I thought “what are we learning?” Or are we learning enough? But having talked to my Indian friends about how we feel about our respective programmes, I understood that each of us believed that we were not taught enough. Having reflected on it, I feel we are so used to spoon feeding and rote learning that when we actually understand things by reading or discussing it, we feel nothing/not enough is done. But now if I have to talk about something, I have so much to share and talk about.

As I mentioned earlier, my aim was to learn and understand how the same language is taught and learnt across different countries. The literature that I read here is based on teaching and learning in various contexts. The context where I have taught is quite different due to obvious reasons, but much of the knowledge I’ve acquired can be applied in my context. I might have to adapt it or modify it but the different methods, approaches and teaching patterns I learnt about will help me teach the English language in a more fun way where I could also measure the results using the tools I read about.

What are the advantages of doing a face-to-face programme? Are there any drawbacks?

Though the online programme is easier to access and one can do it at his/her own pace, I would say go for a face-to-programme for sure. The face-to-face programme enables you to learn from your peers and I strongly believe that peer-teaching is really helpful. There can be times when your tutors are not available, you can always reach out to your peers who might be as confused as you are and the entire class can come up with some sort of a solution. Also, studying as a full-time student in any University helps you grow in many ways and not to forget the access to the library! I am not sure, but I don’t think students taking online programme have access to a massive university library.

I can’t think of any real drawbacks but it can ‘sometimes’ be challenging to attend a 9 am lecture back to back for three consecutive days. Either reach late or go hungry.

How have you found the experience of living in the UK as a student? How’s life in Durham? 

My friend Jason who I met on the CELTA told me about Durham University (he graduated in 1998 from Durham) and I can’t thank him enough for actually pushing me to choose Durham University over the University of Birmingham. I was afraid that I might feel lonely as Durham is such a small county and I am from the city that actually never sleeps, But I was wrong. After coming to Durham I realised how much value this University holds in the UK and is in the league of Cambridge and Oxford. In fact, it is the third oldest university in England. Life in Durham is beyond beautiful and I can’t really put what I feel into words. I feel so emotional every time I talk about this place. We don’t have a campus here. Durham is a collegiate town and is extremely safe for students. As a student, life is quite good. We have many college events and different societies that keep hosting events through the year. Transportation, food, and shopping is quite economical and affordable. It’s a place you can never get tired of.

Besides the reading and coursework for the MA, how have you been developing yourself professionally?

I attend various workshops/talks organised by other departments if I find the topic interesting and or of relevance to me. I also attended the 53rd IATEFL Conference in Liverpool this year which was a key milestone for me. I was a steward there and after my working hours, I was allowed to attend the talks and sessions. This experience helped me immensely. I feel grateful for having gotten a chance to meet authors whose books I’ve been reading. This experience cannot be put into words and I look forward to attending the next IATEFL conference in Manchester.

Where are you headed to next (after graduating)?

I am in two minds, to be honest. I have been selected for an English teaching job in the UAE. So I might go ahead with it or do another degree in Education just to understand teaching and learning in a broader sense, something that’s not limited to English language teaching. Working and getting international work experience is on my list for sure but I am unsure about whether I should work after completing this Masters or study further and then work.


Pseudo-design titles | An activity for pre-sessional students


This quick activity uses Pseudo-design titles, a website that lampoons the often florid and bombastic job titles people have in the UX/design industry. It could be used with learners on a pre-sessional course who are heading into a design/technology focused degree or  more generally with business learners. It’s probably best for an upper-intermediate or advanced group because there’s lots of high-level vocabulary and tongue-in-cheek expressions.

  • Ask learners to work in pairs to discuss the designations or job titles they would like to have when they start working.
  • Get learners to access on their phones. The site randomly generates job titles so everyone’s likely to get a different title.
  • Learners work in groups to discuss what these job titles imply and how this might be different from the sort of work they might actually do. For example, ‘an analyst of archetypal visuals’ sounds like a role that involves innovative work but might in fact be someone who selects stock visuals from an existing image bank.  A ‘multidisciplinary convincer of futuristic predictions’ could be a sales and marketing person.
  • Lead the learners in a discussion about why people try to bolster their ‘value proposition’ with exotic job titles and the impact of this. Ask learners to identify other ways of enhancing their value to prospective employees or within a job.

I have to confess that not all of the titles make sense but some of them are hilarious. Which one of these would you want to have for yourself? Have you come across similar job titles in ELT?

  • Chief Assassin of Colours
  • Neural Arranger of Visualization
  • Whiteboarder of Quintessential States and Post-Human Practices
  • Arbitrator of Design
  • Cognitive Designer of Theoretical Ideas
  • Stimulist for Accessibility
  • Explorer for Heuristic Best Practices
  • User State Mentor

The image in this post is sourced from and I found out about the site from a tweet by Ajay Pangarkar (@bizlearningdude).