Providing a platform to inspire at MELTA

The British Council supported the 2016 MELTA conference, attended by 700+ Malaysian and international educators, in Ipoh, Malaysia from May 30 to June 1.  The conference theme was 21st Century learning in English language education; embracing technology and progressive pedagogy

The British Council team contributed towards a hugely successful event, providing six hours of workshops and presentations exploring inclusivity, the development of critical thinking, primary classroom management, approaches to teaching and learning, and online tools for developing language and educators own CPD.

As well as providing a platform to share best practice and show the best of our own work, the event gave many of the presenters the opportunity to attend and present at an international event for the first time.  

Keith O’Hare, Head of EES, British Council Malaysia said, “We’re looking forward to further collaboration with MELTA; as Malaysia’s biggest English Language Teaching Association, the work they do supporting high quality teaching and learning of English in and out of schools and universities in Malaysia, is hugely important”.  

Bringing the sessions to life

All the workshops and presentations had a very practical focus and we’ve pulled together some of the key learning points from a few of sessions.

Creating the conditions for cognition: Primary classroom management

Yvonne Anthony, a primary school teacher and 2015 graduate of the British Council’s Teachers of English Development Programme, delivered a hugely popular and successful workshop featuring some of the innovative classroom management solutions developed through experimentation in her classroom in Muar, Malaysia.  Yvonne who has been inspired to return next year, with a view to mentoring new speakers, embodies so much of what is good about our work with teachers.  Here are some of the learning points from her session.

Our job as teachers is to create and maintain the optimal conditions for learning.  Some fundamental requirements are motivation, self-confidence and lack of anxiety (Krashen), which should be supported by any classroom management techniques we use.

Setting expectations and managing behaviour

Involving children in the process of making the rules can motivate them to follow the rules because they feel more responsibility for and ownership of them.  Too many rules can overburden the learners, so they need to be chosen carefully.  

Remember to positively reinforce (praise) desirable behaviour rather than only acknowledging negative behaviour


Routines can be reassuring for younger children as they allow them to feel safe, knowing what is likely to happen in class and what is expected of them. Introducing efficient routines can be slow in the beginning, but this time will pay off in the end. As routines also leave learners more aware of how to do certain, everyday things, children are more able to focus on what they are doing – rather than how to do it.

  • Start the lesson in the same way, e.g. always sit around the board; start with a greeting, the register or a song.
  • Get the children to take out their books and pens and pencils and put their bags away before you start the lesson.
  • Have a regular procedure for giving out and collecting in materials and books - collecting or handing out homework.  Get children actively involved in this process.
  • Use a similar procedure for activities, such as story reading or team games, every time they are carried out.
  • Always end the lesson the same way, e.g. with a ‘goodbye song’ or simply a mini-conversation – ‘Thank you. See you next week. Have a good week’, where the children repeat what you say.

Duties/classroom tasks

Classroom duties should not be viewed as chores and given out as punishment. Rather, they should be seen as something that contributes to the smooth functioning of the class unit, the sense of community and working collaboratively.   Consider giving tasks like giving out worksheets, wiping the board and collecting homework as a reward.

What to reward?

Clearly agree what is considered positive behaviour at various stages of the lesson e.g. collaborating with other pupils, using as much English as possible, working hard – and praise/reward that rather than just the person who finishes first or gets the highest marks - this gives everyone something to aim for that seems achievable and is therefore motivating for everyone, rather than just a few.

Developing critical thinking skills: Asking the right questions

Chris Thorn is Senior Training Consultant with the British Council Malaysia and he works to support the continuing professional development of educators.  His session looked at developing 21st Century Skills within the context of the English language classroom.  Here are some key points on effective questioning and its role in critical thinking.

  •  Plan your questions – ensure they require a variety of thinking skills.
  • Design questions and tasks that require learners to solve problems, reason and make decisions.
  • Provide thinking time and discussion.
  • Encourage peer feedback / discussion. 
  • Avoid immediate, prescriptive feedback - or pupils will learn to rely on you for it.
  • Focus on the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ of answers.
  • Model critical thinking yourself!  Be prepared to change your position in light of new evidence.
  • Integrate within your lessons – don’t make critical thinking an ‘extra’ thing! 

Managing your class to include every student: Inclusive learning

Keith O'Hare is Head of English in Education Systems for the British Council Malaysia. He oversees teacher development programmes for English teachers across the country.  He talked about inclusive learning, and how we can strive to include everyone in our learning activities, including students with learning difficulties and gifted learners.

  • Have students copy less from the board (if they need to write things down, allow them to be closer to the text they are referring to).
  • Provide a clear plan of activities and goals.
  • Give instructions in stages (avoid giving long sequences of instructions that must be remembered). 
  • Consider individual’s learning needs and plan differentiated approaches that enable all learners to participate and learn.  Differentiate through content, task, response and support. 

Task-based dogme

Matt Ellman is Senior Teacher for Training and Professional Development at British Council Malaysia and a graduate student at the department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham.  His session focused on how task-based learning (TBL) and Dogme techniques can be effectively combined and implemented in a communicative language teaching (CLT) classroom, with only minor changes to present approaches, benefitting students and teachers by creating a more genuinely communicative learning environment.

  • As offshoots of CLT, Dogme and TBL have a lot in common and can complement each other.
  • Combining the materials-light, student-centred approach of Dogme with some of the structure provided by a task-based approach provides the best of both worlds.
  • One way to do this is with task frameworks  - simple diagrams that can be used to guide and frame discussion (see the picture below).