– Can you teach me English fast? 

– What do you mean by fast?

– 3 classes.

– Do you believe in magic?

The term ‘magic’ (‘mageia’) came to Greece from the east and referred to rites and ceremonies performed by magi (‘wise men’). According to some sources, the magi were not only authorities for all religious matters but were also responsible for the education of the emperor-to-be. The Greeks believed in magi, however, they often looked upon them with disdain and tended to criticise them quite a bit. After the ancient government discovered a perfect mechanism of control – panem et circenses (‘pancakes and circuses’), magic shaped itself into something related to what we call ‘magic’ in the modern sense, i.e. the appearance of achieving supernatural effects.

Teachers are magi of the present day in a way. Their everyday magic often stays invisible, which leads to subjective interpretations of their performance and a daily portion of criticism. However, even the most die-hard sceptics like to believe in magic.

Learners believe in a magic teacher who has supernatural powers to make their learning effortless and super fast, ideally when they are asleep. The myth of a magic teacher is often intertwined with the myth of a native speaker with a backpack covered with magic dust who rubs off their native language on anyone who happens to be around. Parents believe strongly in the myth of kids learning languages like sponges, feeding their belief that their precious snowflakes might perform so much better if they had a magic teacher. Would they know if they had one?

– Hello, I’m Piff the Magic Dragon.

– What do you do? 

– What do you mean? I’m a magic dragon. I do magic.

(America’s got Talent, 2015)

Teachers’ everyday magic appears to be not much different from that of magicians. As Melissa from Teacher Hacks says, “like many things, it’s the result of intentionality, planning, practice and effort – all things that are invisible to the eye of the student or the classroom visitor”. (Teachers and Magicians). There is one crucial difference though: teachers’ magic acts reach their ultimate wow only when the process is made visible for learners.

Visibility is based on sharing clear and unambiguous learning intentions and success criteria with learners, i.e. ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ they learn what they learn and what success looks like.

Here are some practical activities that may be used to make learning more visible.

Get your learners to keep a portfolio of their work and invite learners to reflect on their progress over time. 

The portfolio may form a part of the activity. Here is an example of the requirements to the Company Game Portfolio that my students get before they start working on the Company project:



Before and After

Have your learners make a list of words associated with the topic before the lesson. Get them to add new vocabulary (using a different colour) to the list as the final activity. How much did they learn?



Have you learners make a speech on a particular topic before they learn new skills/vocabulary, etc. (e.g. FOUR SQUARES FOR BETTER SPEAKING) and use their smartphones and record their answers. Repeat the task as the final activity of the lesson. Ask them to listen and reflect on their improvement.

Make a video: get learners to record their experiences over time.

Engage learners in self and peer assessment.

Make learning more colourful

Colour highlighting gives learners immediate visual feedback showing where they have met certain criteria for successful task completion.

After your students have drafted their essays, ask them to highlight the parts showing they’ve met the criteria set. For example, to get a high score for coherence and cohesion, students should use a range of appropriate linking phrases/words. Before they hand in their essays, have your students highlight all the linking phrases/words they used and reflect on how they used them – Are there too few linking words? Too many? Do they serve their purpose?


Play the assessment game

Make a list of criteria for a good dialogue/speech/summary, etc., e.g. grammar, vocabulary, and structure. Split students into small teams (about 3 students in each), assign the criteria to the teams (one per team) and ask them to listen and assess the dialogue against the criteria they have. Ask them to give points: for example, for the ‘vocabulary team’, the criteria might be as follows: 3 points – at least 5 adjectives used; at least 3 phrasal verbs used; a few interjections used; no mispronounced words; 2 points – good, but there are several vocabulary mistakes; and 1 point – ‘at least you tried’. After the students have acted out the dialogue, get the teams to discuss a) what they liked about the dialogue; b) assess the dialogue against the criteria and c) decide on the number of points they’ll give. Ask each team to say what they like about the summary and give their points. You can also choose to discuss other language items after the teams have given their points. Assign other criteria to the teams in the next round.

This way, your students will learn to assess tasks against success criteria, focus on particular language areas and listen to their peers. You can also introduce one ‘wow’ point to be awarded when the students really liked the effort and delivery.

To make the game more interesting, before the teams have announced the results, write your final score on a sheet of paper but don’t show it to your students before they announce the total number of points. Compare the points you awarded.

Differentiate and set individual learning targets

Silvana Richardson described a few practical activities in her IATEFL talk Beyond demand high: Making quality learning happen for all. I particularly liked the idea of getting learners to set their own targets (e.g. the target time as in the example below) and assessing their performance against the success criteria and the target time they set for themselves.

success criteria

(Watch the talk here)

Make the progress of the whole group more visible.

Ask your students to give their answers using a special form (e.g. ‘ladders’). Collect the ladders and put them together on the desk, or stick them to the board. To make sure students do not experience any discomfort when displaying their results to the whole group, they are not required to write their names on the ladders (I usually ask my students to write their initials on the rungs (if they play the Ladder Game in pairs), or initials on the back side for me to design individual tasks for them).LC

Have a class feedback session: see which questions were most challenging. See more here HOW TO DO MORE BY DOING LESS. 

Ask your students to keep their ladders in their portfolio and reflect on their progress over time.

How do you make learning visible?


* * *

‘Just because we’re magic, does not mean we’re not real.’ 

Image: Julian Povey, creative commons, Flickr.com

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