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A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

How to Earn Your CELTA Certificate

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Is the CELTA Course Right for You?

The CELTA is a fantastic qualification to earn and the internally recognised leader in its field. If any of the points below apply to you, then I cannot recommend the CELTA highly enough.

  • You are looking to enter the TEFL industry as a new English language teacher.
  • You are hoping to apply for TEFL jobs in private schools or private lessons around the world.
  • You need the gold standard of TEFL certificates to validate your existing teaching credentials.
  • You are planning a gap year and want to use English language teaching as the foundation.
  • You are looking to develop real confidence in the classroom and provide your students with more value

The Cambridge CELTA is also a stepping stone to the prestigious DELTA (or the equivalent Trinity DipTESOL), which is required for anyone looking to become a Director of Studies in a language school.

Selecting a CELTA Centre

Read my helpful guide to choosing the best CELTA centre – there’s a few things you should keep in mind to find your ideal CELTA school.

CELTA Application Process

I’ve shared an in-depth guide to the CELTA application process already, so if you’re at this stage it’s well worth reading the guide first. It contains a lot of useful tips to making the application process less stressful and offers some real insights into the questions you will be asked and what the tutors are looking for. To summarise, all CELTA applicants will be expected to:

  • English language skills of CEFR C1 (Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced) or C2 (Mastery or proficiency).
  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be educated to the level of higher education entry requirements.

Preparing for the CELTA Course

Assuming you have been accepted for the CELTA course, you will probably have a number of weeks or months beforehand. Do not waste them! Your preparation during this period can make the difference between a potentially stressful, chaotic and expensive fail grade, or a manageable, enjoyable and enriching pass. I know that might sound a bit melodramatic now, but when you’re planning, conducting and reviewing real lessons back-to-back and juggling input sessions, written assignments and an average of 20 hours homework a week, you may come to regret not taking advantage of the quiet before the storm.

Prepare to pause your social life – I recommend you let everyone know you are just not available during your CELTA course. This is especially true of drinking buddies and amorous arrangements. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself unavailable on your CELTA month (if you’ve decided on the intensive course option). On the flip side of this point, it’s probably a good idea to spend some quality time with your friends and family before the course starts.

Improve your grammar – The CELTA course does not require trainees to possess a perfect understanding of English grammar, but you will be teaching real students how to conceptualise the difference between tenses (perfect, continuous, simple etc.), noun types (countable, uncountable etc.), verb types (phrasal, auxiliary etc.) Now I remember once being only one lesson ahead of my students and I can honestly tell you it was incredibly stressful, unprofessional and time-consuming. Imagine how much easier you can make your CELTA experience if you can commit even just half of the tenses to memory before the course begins!

Relax – You’re about to work almost non-stop for four weeks, so do whatever personally works for you to build up some inner peace. I’m not particularly spiritual myself, but I spent more time with my little son and went fishing.

Stay Healthy – You need to avoid falling ill so make sure you don’t neglect vitamins, water, sleep and fresh air.

CELTA Pre-Course Task

As part of your CELTA preparation, you will be sent an official Cambridge ESOL Pre-Course Task. It contains around 50 activities that you’ll need to work through in your own time, and present on your first day of the CELTA course. It’s not really a test; it’s there to help you to start thinking about your motivations, methods and students like a teacher should. It will not be graded or taken into account as part of your coursework.

Luckily, you’ll also be provided with an official Cambridge ESOL Pre-Course Task Answer Key.

Remember that the Pre-Course Task is there to help you prepare, so I highly recommend you go through the task first — without the Answer Key — and give it your best shot. It’s a great opportunity to re-ignite those slumbering academic brain cells!

The CELTA Course Elements

The CELTA course contains the following elements:

  • Minimum of 120 contact hours, which includes:
    • Teaching methodology input
    • Supervised lesson planning
    • 6 hours of assessed teaching practice for each trainee
    • Observation of peers and experienced teachers
    • Consultations with tutors
  • Minimum of 80 additional learning hours for reading, research, assignment writing and lesson preparation.

The CELTA course syllabus consists of 5 broad topic modules:

  1. Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context
  2. Language analysis and awareness
  3. Language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing
  4. Planning and resources for different teaching contexts
  5. Developing teaching skills and professionalism

Spread across these topics, are the 2 main components that trainee teachers are graded on:

  • 4 classroom related written assessments
  • 6 hours of observed teaching with associated lesson planning

Input Sessions

The input sessions are equivalent to normal academic study: The CELTA instructors will share their knowledge and experience of how to teach English as a foreign language. An overview of the 5 topic modules will give you some idea of the aims of the CELTA syllabus.

  • Topic 1 – Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context
    • 1.1 Cultural, linguistic and educational backgrounds
    • 1.2 Motivations for learning English as an adult
    • 1.3 Learning and teaching styles
    • 1.4 Context for learning and teaching English
    • 1.5 Varieties of English
    • 1.6 Multilingualism and the role of first languages
  • Topic 2 – Language analysis and awareness
    • 2.1 Basic concepts and terminology used in ELT for describing form and meaning in language and language use
    • 2.2 Grammar – grammatical frameworks: rules and conventions relating to words, sentences, paragraphs and texts
    • 2.3 Lexis: Word formation, meaning and use in context
    • 2.4 Phonology: The formation and description of English phonemes; features of connected speech
    • 2.5 The practical significance of similarities and differences between languages
    • 2.6 Reference materials for language awareness
    • 2.7 Key strategies and approaches for developing learners’ language knowledge
  • Topic 3 – Language skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing
    • 3.1 Reading
      • 3.1.1 Basic concepts and terminology used for describing reading skills
      • 3.1.2 Purposes of reading
      • 3.1.3 Decoding meaning
      • 3.1.4 Potential barriers to reading
    • 3.2 Listening
      • 3.2.1 Basic concepts and terminology used for describing listening skills
      • 3.2.2 Purposes of listening
      • 3.2.3 Features of listening texts
      • 3.2.4 Potential barriers to listening
    • 3.3 Speaking
      • 3.3.1 Basic concepts and terminology used for describing speaking skills
      • 3.3.2 Features of spoken English
      • 3.3.3 Language functions
      • 3.3.4 Paralinguistic features
      • 3.3.5 Phonemic systems
    • 3.4 Writing
      • 3.4.1 Basic concepts and terminology used for describing writing skills
      • 3.4.2 Subskills and features of written texts
      • 3.4.3 Stages of teaching writing
      • 3.4.4 Beginner literacy
      • 3.4.5 English spelling and punctuation
    • 3.5 Key strategies and approaches for developing learners’ receptive and productive skills
  • Topic 4 – Planning and resources for different teaching contexts
    • 4.1 Principles of planning for effective teaching of adult learners of English
    • 4.2 Lesson planning for effective teaching of adult learners of English
    • 4.3 Evaluation of lesson planning
    • 4.4 The selection, adaptation and evaluation of materials and resources in planning (including computer and other technology based resources)
    • 4.5 Knowledge of commercially produced resources and non-published materials and classroom resources for teaching English to adults
  • Topic 5 – Developing teaching skills and professionalism
    • 5.1 The effective organisation of the classroom
    • 5.2 Classroom presence and control
    • 5.3 Teacher and learner language
    • 5.4 The use of teaching materials and resources
    • 5.5 Practical skills for teaching at a range of levels
    • 5.6 The monitoring and evaluation of adult learners
    • 5.7 Evaluation of the teaching/learning process
    • 5.8 Professional development: responsibilities
    • 5.9 Professional development: support systems

CELTA Written Assignments

There are 4 assessed written assignments in the CELTA course. The CELTA written assignments are expected to be between 750 to 1000 words each, which can make it more difficult in my opinion as it removes the opportunity to broadly cover topics by rambling. These assignments are internally assessed by your CELTA centre and externally moderated by Cambridge ESOL.

Although they may be subject to change in future years, the written assignments are usually:

  1. Adult learning and learning contexts
  2. The English language system
  3. Language skills
  4. Classroom teaching & the identification of action points

Assessed Teaching Practice

As part of the CELTA course, all trainees must complete a minimum of 6 hours observed/assessed teaching to classes of real students. It’s this live teaching practice that gives the CELTA course such high international recognition. But in typical CELTA fashion, there’s a lot more involved than just throwing incoherent trainees in front of a whiteboard:

  • Lesson objectives are given to the trainees, who then go home and work on their own lesson plans, incorporating much of what they have learned during the input sessions.
  • Usually the next day, the trainees and tutors discuss their lesson plans in detail, looking for areas or activities that can be improved and anticipating any problems.
  • The trainees will then be given time to revise their lesson plans accordingly.
  • Then comes the classroom — the part that most trainees initially dread — where a maximum of 12 volunteer ESL students (often mixed nationality) wait patiently for their lesson.
  • Based on the CELTA tutor’s observations during the lesson, the trainee will be given feedback and constructive criticism, which they are expected to incorporate into their next lesson plan.
  • …and the cycle continues as above for the duration of the CELTA course.

Good luck on your TEFL career!