6 real-life lessons about taking the DELTA

In this article we will be considering six real-life lessons to help you not just survive, but thrive on the DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages). The decision to undertake the DELTA may seem daunting to many experienced teachers, and understandably so – it is a significant undertaking whether you decide to do it full-time, part-time, or distance. However, it is an incredibly rewarding experience and, with a little preparation, it does not have to be as stressful as it may seem.

The chances are that if you are considering taking the DELTA, you have already completed your initial teacher training certificate (such as the CELTA) and gained a few years’ classroom experience. That makes you the ideal DELTA candidate! So let’s look at six real-life lessons to help you get the most out of your experience.


Real-life lessons for before beginning the DELTA

1. Organise your pre-reading

Although reading up on some of the key areas may seem obvious, many people begin their DELTA qualification without having opened a book. Some, on the other hand, will have already gotten through mountains of ELT literature. At the end of the day, you will be reading a serious amount during the course, so it’s good to get a head start, or at least know where to turn for the quotes you need.

For the first real-life lesson, I recommend organising your reading so that you cover all the bases without having to read every book ever written on a particular topic. It is a good idea to figure out some of the key texts in each of the language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and systems (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and discourse), then select two or three from each area.

Many DELTA training centres will have their recommended reading lists online. Some planned pre-reading will help you get to grips with the key terminology needed for the Module 1 papers, and give you a good idea of what the main issues are in each area.

2. Build a habit of self-reflection

The ability to reflect on your teaching is a key skill on DELTA, mostly because it is the skill that will enable you to continue developing as a teacher long after you have received your certificates. It is therefore a good idea to get into the habit of reflecting on your lessons – and not only on the negatives, but the positives too!

One way to do this is to simply scribble down three positives and three negatives at the end of each lesson. Consider the reasons behind each one and what you might have done differently, for example, if you were teaching a different age group or level.

3. Create an academic phrase bank

This is a real time-saver, especially if you haven’t written academic essays in a while! When writing lesson plans on my young learner extension course, I noticed that I was repeating myself a lot, especially when writing stage aims. This led me to create a bank of phrases from which I could select the most appropriate aim for the stage or task, and then copy and paste into my lesson plan.

Phrases like these can range from sentence starters (“to encourage learners to…”, “to develop an awareness of…”) to entire sentences that relate to different lesson stages (“to activate learners’ prior knowledge about...” was a particularly useful one for lead-ins!).

Many universities have academic word lists available online that are categorised by function (e.g. ‘referencing previous research’). These come in handy when writing background essays and ensure that your writing is appropriate and fluent without too much repetition.


Real-life lessons during your DELTA

4. Make use of scheduled tutor time

Your tutor is there to help and support you throughout the course. However, your tutor may also be responsible for up to five other candidates, and may even have a life of her/his own outside of the DELTA! For this reason, it is essential that you make the most of any time you have scheduled with your tutor.

Firstly, always come to tutor time with a list of questions. Don’t expect answers to these; a good tutor will want to tease out your own thoughts and opinions, but questioning is essential if you want to get the most out of the course.

Secondly, listen! Observation feedback can at times be hard to swallow – you may have spent a week working late into the night to write an essay and your lesson plan may well be 32 pages long, but that’s no reason to get defensive! Feedback from an experienced professional is one of the most valuable parts of any DELTA course. And what’s more, if your tutor questions your approach to grammar, the chances are they will be looking for ways in which you have addressed these comments in your next assignment!

5. Use the background essays to inform your lessons

The background essays on the DELTA are a great way to really explore an area of ELT. One lesson I learned early on was the need to make a strong link between the background essay and your lesson. This is perhaps because I went about it backwards, that is, I knew what I wanted my lesson to be before having written the essay (I probably had a really good activity I thought would impress my tutor).

When done well, the essay should suggest a few very good options for lessons. For example, a background essay on interactional speaking will include sections on opening gambits, interruptions, holding the floor, inviting someone else to speak, etc., each of which would make a well-focused lesson. And whatsmore, a good background essay will explore some of the key problems associated with the area you will teach, along with suggesting possible solutions!

6. Write achievable lesson aims, then use them!

Every good lesson begins with a strong lesson aim. Despite this, many teachers go into their lessons without an explicit aim in mind. Even the most diligent among us, when asked what we did in class today, may respond with a page number. However, somewhere deep down in our subconscious we understand that our job, if we really boil it down, is to teach our learners something new, then give them an opportunity to use it.

This is a lesson aim – all we have to do it find a way to frame it in a way that will tick all the boxes and show your tutor exactly what you want your learners to achieve. Luckily, this can be done by including the following elements:

  1. A time limit;
  2. The language/skill focus;
  3. An achievable outcome;
  4. A brief explanation of how the aim will be met.

A lesson aim for a lesson on buying a train ticket will therefore look something like this:

  • By the end of this lesson [time bound], most learners will be able to [achievable] employ question forms [language point] in order to buy a train ticket [outcome]. They will do this by way of a sentence transformation and role play activity [how].

Linked to the idea of lesson aims is one of the easiest and most useful lesson planning techniques I have ever come across: planning backwards. It really is as simple as it sounds – start with your last activity and work backwards, taking into consideration everything your students will need to do the final task well.

For example, if, as before, your final task is for learners to buy a train ticket, what phrases or vocabulary will they need to know? Do they need to review question forms? Is there any pronunciation or intonation that they might need to practice? When put into a logical order, these are the elements that will ensure that your students will be able to meet the objective, meaning that you will have achieved your lesson aim!


The DELTA is a challenging course, no matter how much experience you have, but by using these real-life lessons to form some positive habits you will be sure to start on the right foot.