Scott Thornbury: Beyond the Sentence

If you are an English teacher involved in professional development, you have most likely come across Scott Thornbury’s work. I remember that when I was chatting with other teachers right after finishing my Delta Module One exam, one of them found something relevant on his phone and exclaimed, ‘Bloody Thornbury again!’ He has written so many books, articles and blog posts that when you search for ELT-related information on Google, Thornbury’s name will probably appear

What I really like about Scott Thornbury is that he isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. His ideas inspired me to start experimenting with the Dogme approach in my classes, which seems to work surprisingly well even when teaching online. I also recommend that you read his article Window-dressing vs cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture. It’s common to encounter texts dealing with those topics now, but Thornbury wrote it in 1999, and I think that he deserves a lot of respect for that. All in all, he comes across as a genuinely good guy. He has written plenty of good books, but if I had to choose one that I enjoyed the most, it would be Beyond the Sentence.

Scott Thornbury: Beyond the Sentence

When I was at university, I took one semester of CDA (Critical Discourse Analysis). Since I studied journalism, we focused mainly on the media and analysed how one event is reported differently depending on the newspaper’s political leaning. Even though I found it quite interesting, I still didn’t fully understand what discourse was. It started to make sense to me only after becoming an English teacher. When I decided to study for Delta Module One, I knew that it was necessary to explore the subject of discourse much more, and Beyond the Sentence was recommended to me as a must-read.

As its name implies, this book invites you to go further than individual lexical and grammatical items. We use language to achieve something, and focusing only on single sentences isn’t enough. This has clear implications for language teaching because we have to think of the context in which communication takes place. Asking students to fill out exercises full of random sentences without any connection to each other probably isn’t the most motivating way to teach English.

I think that discourse is one of those ideas that aren’t that easy to grasp because it involves so many concepts. Fortunately, Thornbury is very thorough when it comes to terminology and providing practical examples. Words like cohesion, coherence, theme and rheme don’t sound very exciting, but Beyond the Sentence makes their importance perfectly clear. I guess that all Delta candidates are familiar with the phrase ‘activating schemata’, which is something we use in our teaching practice all the time.

What I really like about this book is that there are some genuinely funny moments in it. Scott Thornbury is a frequent speaker at conferences, and as you can see in this talk about methods, he is a very witty man. He can’t resist including humorous comments in his books, and that’s always nice to see. In Beyond the Sentence, he points out how contrived and unnatural some coursebook texts are, so there is no need to take them too seriously. Even if you are expected to use a coursebook in your classes, you don’t have to use the texts exactly as they were intended. When I see a stilted dialogue in a coursebook, I sometimes ask my students to create a backstory for the characters or come up with an alternative ending, which is always good fun.

Thornbury seems to enjoy referring to news articles, particularly from tabloids, which is another way of making English learning a more interesting experience for your students. Authentic texts, if utilised correctly, can definitely serve as a helpful resource. Even when you are supposed to teach something like the passive voice, showing real-life examples of how and why it is used is better than just doing gap-fill exercises. Beyond the Sentence also deals with ideology in texts, which is another area worth exploring.

I really like the fact that the book includes useful text-adaptation strategies and other ideas that can be used in your teaching practice. Beyond the Sentence has provided me with plenty of inspiration for my own lessons, particularly when it comes to teaching writing. I was a little worried that a book about discourse might be a bit too academic for me, but Thornbury managed to write it in a way that helps you understand the subject and its practical implications. Beyond the Sentence is a great book for developing teachers and you certainly won’t regret reading it.

My bumpy ride with Delta Module Three

If you are looking for general information about the Delta, you should read this post about Module One. In short, I recommend pursuing this qualification if you are interested in making progress as a teacher. Delta requires a lot of hard work and commitment, but it’s worth the effort. My Module One experience was very positive, and I believe that it is perfectly possible to pass the exam without taking a preparatory course. Well, let me tell you that I will refrain from making comments like that about Delta Module Three because I found it much more challenging.

Cambridge Delta Module Three

After passing the Module One exam without major difficulties, I felt confident about facing a new challenge. Since Module Three consists of writing an essay that is sent to Cambridge as a Word or PDF file, you can simply submit it through any authorised centre in the world. There are many useful courses you can take, but you are also allowed to complete your assignment without any assistance. You just need to contact a provider and arrange this option with them. I contacted several centres in Latin America, but for some reason the Cambridge fee in this region is almost twice as expensive when compared to other centres. I found out that you can find the most affordable option by contacting the distance learning providers listed here. Some of them even offer limited tutor support if you don’t want to pay for the full course.

There isn’t an easy step-by-step manual for passing this assignment because its content depends on what you find out during the process. At first, you have to select a topic, research it and identify key issues. It is recommended to write about an area that you are involved in, so I chose ‘Teaching monolingual classes in Colombia’. You need to have access to students in order to perform a needs analysis and a diagnostic test. The results are then used to design a 20-hour course which includes assessment and evaluation. There is a strict limit of 4,500 words for the main body of the assignment, so you can expect to use plenty of appendices to support your ideas.

It is necessary to read the Delta handbook to see what is expected, and I highly recommend going through the 2020 Examination Report as well. There is a lot of useful information provided by ELT Concourse, Lizzie Pinard and Sandy Millin. Every assignment follows the same outline, but you can’t just read someone else’s work and use the same principles in your own essay because your teaching context and students will make it a unique piece of writing. All stages need to be logically connected and you have to justify your choices, which makes this module very challenging. In fact, it took me four months to complete it while working full-time.

My decision to work on Module Three independently wasn’t very smart because I had to resubmit my assignment. I felt sorry for ITI because they let me submit my work through their centre without any tutor input and I damaged their statistics a little bit. Fortunately, the examiner’s report showed that only one section of my assignment wasn’t good enough, so I didn’t need to redo the whole essay. I eventually passed Module Three after submitting it through NILE, whose tutor generously offered to read my draft at no extra cost. The tutor confirmed that I had taken the examiner’s feedback into account, and that put my mind at ease.

If you want to make your life easier, you should pay extra money for a Module Three course. You can decide to work on it alone, but in that case I recommend that you ask someone to read your assignment before you submit it. Although an experienced tutor would be the best option, it could also be someone who is familiar with the way Module Three is graded because Cambridge assessors expect you to present the information in a specific manner. You have to state the obvious and make explicit references to other stages of the assignment, which is quite tricky when you have a strict word limit. If you make the same choice like me and try to tackle this module before completing Module Two, you may find the writing process very challenging.

Asking someone else to read your essay is beneficial in terms of proofreading as well. My tutor pointed out a couple of embarrassing mistakes that I had made. While I find it easy to spot issues in other people’s texts, I can’t seem to transfer that skill to my own written production. I am pretty sure that there are errors in my posts on this blog, but my brain is simply incapable of detecting them.

Even though my road to obtaining the Delta Module Three certificate was far from straightforward, it was a very rewarding experience. I learnt a lot about curriculum design, which was an area I hadn’t explored before. Analysing my students’ needs was really enlightening, and it made me think about the way I can make my courses more personalised. Designing a course and a series tests from scratch was very helpful because I had to think of my choices all the time and consider how my students would benefit from that. You have to jump through a lot of hoops to successfully complete it, but this Delta module is very beneficial for your teaching practice.