Restructuring teacher development: experimenting with Teacher Activity Groups in Maharashtra

The newly initiated three year TEJAS project aims to assist in revolutionising the way that teacher education is delivered, experienced and supported in the state of Maharashtra. The British Council, working in partnership with Tata Trusts and the state government, will develop the English language teaching skills of 18,000 teachers in nine districts using an innovative model and leveraging technology and social media.

Writing recently in LiveMint, Anurag Behar, CEO of Azim Premji Foundation stated that in India, ‘teachers’ capacity and their effectiveness need to improve. But that will happen only with structural and systemic changes in teacher education and professional development.’ Historically, teacher education in India’s government sector has adopted a cascade model: teacher educators are trained, they deliver the training to a group of teachers and, in some cases, these teachers cascade the delivery again to a further group of teachers until the training has been ‘received’ by the entire cohort.

However, there are a number of problems inherent in this model, not least that the training events are often one-off, with little or no follow-up once teachers return to their classrooms. Certainly teachers may gain useful skills and knowledge that they can use to improve learning in their classrooms, but there is no doubt that there is a need to amplify the continuity of professional development that this training aims to provide. The TEJAS project in Maharashtra is adopting an innovative model of Teacher Activity Groups to try to achieve this, along with developing the skills of a selected group of State Academic Resource Persons (SARPs). The SARPs will become the prime resource for the state of Maharashtra responsible for planning and executing all teacher development initiatives in English language teaching.

TEJAS coordinators are introduced to the concept of Teacher Activity Groups

TEJAS coordinators are introduced to the concept of Teacher Activity Groups

What are Teacher Activity Groups?
In this model, Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs) are semi-formal, localised teacher meetings that are initially supported by trained TAG Coordinators. The aim is for them to become largely self-facilitated by members of the established group, encouraging teachers to take the initiative for their own development. Teachers will be able to choose from a wide range of curated resources to decide the course of their own progress. It is anticipated that this more localised, needs-based and democratic approach to professional development could replace the centralised approach to teacher education previously implemented within the state.

The TAGs will be networked through the use of WhatsApp and other social media tools to help create communities of practice to share ideas, challenges and successes. This also provides a channel for new resources to be shared and for data on attendance and activities to be collected for monitoring and evaluation purposes.

How will the State Academic Resources Persons lead the TAG initiative in Maharashtra?
The initial training programme for the State Academic Resource Persons (SARPs) focused on the concept of TAGs, exploring how they will be able to support TAG coordinators in establishing them and familiarisation with social media including Twitter. The SARPs were encouraged to build their own social media footprints in order to access the wealth of knowledge and ideas that is available, with the intention that they will in turn enthuse the TAG coordinators and teachers to establish their own professional learning networks (PLNs).

The SARPs enthusiastically experienced what a real TAG meeting looks and feels like, the type of resources teachers will use and discussed the intended outcomes. In the coming months, they will be involved in developing and supporting the TAG Coordinators and working closely with the project partners to identify solutions to challenges and encourage participation by teachers. They will also develop their own English language teaching expertise and teacher education project design and management skills.

What challenges do we foresee?
To implement a change of this kind and on the scale required there are clearly a number of challenges which will need to be addressed. These include buy-in at all levels; motivation of teachers to attend; interpersonal relationships between members of the TAGs and tracking progress and impact. The TEJAS pilot offers the opportunity to explore these challenges and potential solutions, while also documenting lessons learned to inform future programmes or state initiatives which may look to adopt similar methods.

Updates from the project will be shared on a regular basis through the project website. Project activities can also be followed on Twitter using the hashtag #Tejas4Ed.

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Is social media the place for science?

As we set the stage for the India debut of FameLab, world’s biggest science communication competition that brings together science enthusiasts onto a common platform, our guest blogger Subhra Priyadarshini shares her thoughts on talking science on social media.

FameLab: The world's biggest science communication competition

FameLab: The world’s biggest science communication competition

Years back, when I made the switch from reporting science for the mainstream media (newspapers, magazines, news agencies) to an online medium Nature India, I was inundated with questions from well-meaning peers. Must I renounce the glamour of the printed word to embrace the vastness and click-or-miss anonymity of the cyber world? Doesn’t a story in black and white with the morning cuppa have a more lasting impact than one on an android phone or tablet on the go? Concerned colleagues advised helpfully: online is the future, yes, but the romance of print will never fade. And one science journalist of repute gave me a clear disapproval: ‘You are going to blog and tweet too? That’s not journalism!’

Having swum in online waters and having passionately peeped into the crevices, I am happy to report I have survived. And blogged and tweeted my head-off too. Which is one of the points of this blog series – what has the journey been like, should scientists and science journalists blog and use social media to communicate science, and where is this enormous information explosion in science communication headed for?

Before I get into these mind-boggling details, I have to admit: If there were no science bloggers and tweeps, science would not be as glamorous and widespread as it has become in the last few years. Hats off to this informed, funny, adorable and quirky brood which has made life on the internet worth living.

So why blog? The evidence is clear: science sections in newspapers are shrinking. Television wakes up to science only during a nuclear disaster, a satellite lift-off or a Higgs boson. There are very few widely read science magazines simply because they do not make great commerce. Science coverage in mainstream Indian media, like many other issues of merit, has traditionally been minimal, primarily because of advertorial pressures and the space crunch.

The obvious SOS route: go online. Report, comment, give opinion, analyse or put all that together and just blog. Or if you are the cryptic type: use the 140-character route to tweetdom.

Next up: Part II: Why are scientists taking to the blogosphere?

By Subhra Priyadarshini, British Chevening fellow 2006-07 and Editor, Nature India
This post was first published in Current Science, and has been edited to suit the blog format.

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#MeetTheTeacher – Shailaja Mani

This Monday we bring you one of our wittiest and most spontaneous Teachers of English from our Chennai English Language Centre as she talks about her days as a student, a new word she learnt and much more!

Premila Lowe, Teacher of English at British Council, Chennai

Shailaja Mani

Priyanka (PC): Let’s start with an anecdote! Can you tell us an interesting anecdote that you recall from your days as a student?

Shailaja (SM): I remember not doing my Maths homework and having to sit on the floor outside the classroom to finish it. It was easier to finish it in groups and we missed the lesson for the day which meant we couldn’t do our homework the following day either! The only problem was we got caught one day when the principal, Sister Agnes, came around on her rounds. I think we did all our homework perfectly after that day!

PC: Why did you become a Teacher of English?

SM: I’ve always loved teaching. I think it’s what us Apha-types do when our families stop listening to us! We find a bunch of unsuspecting people who can’t escape our clutches and unleash our teacher-self on them!

PC: What are students at the British Council like?

SM: A mixed bag, as students everywhere are.

PC: We have a lot of students asking us how they can improve their speaking skills. What is your advice to them?

SM: Take risks! To master a language you must use it.

PC: Have you learnt a new word recently? Tell us about it.

SM: Yes! A student at the intermediate level used this word in class- Sprezzatura: it means doing something with a studied nonchalance that makes it look effortless.

PC: If you got a chance to go #BacktoSchool as a student, what is the one thing that you would like to learn and unlearn?

SM: I would like to forget that I ever had to learn something called Calculus! I would love to learn at least two more languages- Italian/ Spanish and Arabic!

By Priyanka Chandan, Marketing Manager, English Language Centre, Chennai.

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#MeetTheTeacher – Premila Lowe

For your Monday of #MeetTheTeacher, Priyanka Chandan, Marketing Manager, Chennai caught up with the oldest, yet the youngest Teacher of English at our Chennai English language centre.

Premila Lowe, Teacher of English at British Council, Chennai

Premila Lowe

Here are five questions with Premila to get to know her better!

Priyanka Chandan (PC): Let’s start with an anecdote! Can you tell us an interesting anecdote that you recall from your days as a student?

Premila Lowe (PL): Something that I would always remember was the way I learnt to speak  English in school. It was long, long ago, when English was the sole medium of instruction and communication in Chennai schools. It was compulsory for us to speak in English on the campus. We actually had teachers going around the premises during breaks to ensure that we spoke only in English. God forbid if we didn’t, as we got knocked on our knuckles with their rulers. As they said, “Practice makes perfect” – it sure did!

PC: Why did you become a Teacher of English?

PL: I’ve always loved teaching and have been a teacher / trainer in all the professions I have been in. Added to that, a passion for teaching English overtook the challenge of being part of the Corporate World. Hence, the move to teaching English.

PC: What are students at the British Council like?

PL: Students at British Council are a lovely, mixed bunch – some eager to learn, some forced to be there, some just to be there with their peers. All of them ultimately benefit from the courses here, simply because of the way we teachers interact with them, encourage and support them. We become their best friends by the end of the course.

PC: We have a lot of students asking us how they can improve their speaking skills. What is your advice to them?

PL: One of many would be to speak to people in  English, irrespective of errors in grammar and vocabulary. This will help them gain confidence, as a lot of students don’t speak because they are afraid of being laughed at. Once they have a conversation with someone else, they should ask the other person to correct any errors they find.

PC: Have you learnt a new word recently? Tell us about it.

PL: Oh yes! I came across quite a few new words that were added to the dictionary to celebrate the author Roald Dahl’s 100th birth anniversary. One of them is “Dahlesque” which means something that resembles or is characteristic of Dahl’s works.

PC: If you got a chance to go #BacktoSchool as a student, what is the one thing that you would like to learn and unlearn?

PL: If I had a chance to go back to school as a student, one thing that I would like to learn is to pursue my interest in theatre, as opportunities those days were few. There is nothing that I would like to unlearn, as life in school and the learning gained were the greatest experiences ever.

By Priyanka Chandan

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#MeetTheTeacher – Ananya Banerjee

For your Monday of #MeetTheTeacher, we have today Ananya Banerjee, Teacher of English at our Kolkata English language centre. Ananya also contributes to our English in India Facebook page, and you will see a lot more of her this September.


Here are five questions with Ananya to get to know her better!

Shivangi Gupta (SG): Why did you become a Teacher of English?

Ananya Banerjee (AB): I’ve always been fascinated with the English language and the impact it can have in a spoken or written conversation. My love for books have been instrumental in making me fall in love with the English language which eventually lead me to do the CELTA and become a teacher.

SG: What is one thing that you like most about your job? And what do you like least?

AB: I love the mix of students that I get each batch. My students have ranged from retired professionals to children as young as seven years. I’ve had students from across the country and even from outside India from all walks of life. Each of them is strongly motivated and their enthusiasm is contagious!

SG: What are students at the British Council like?

AB: They’re highly motivated learners and are goal oriented. They believe in the power of the English language and as a teacher, I learn from them as well!

SG: If there was one study tip that you could give to your students, what would it be? 

AB: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Making mistakes is part of the entire learning process and will only help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Also, read, read and read! The more widely you read, you will pick up the nuances of the language better.

SG: Complete the sentence, “If I wasn’t a teacher, I’d be…” 

AB: “…a writer or a journalist.”

So tell us about your favourite teacher this Monday on our English in India Facebook page using the hashtag #MeetTheTeacher!


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Four English apps you need to download today!

Are you vying for a promotion? Or you want to do well in your exams? Whatever your reason may be, if you want to learn English, your mobile phone can be your personal tutor! All you need to do is to download these British Council apps.

Mobile appsLearnEnglish Audio & Video Long commute to work or university? Podcasts are the perfect way to beat your commute blues as you learn. This British Council app features podcasts and videos on interesting topics such as famous stories and poems, UK food and culture as well as everyday life situations. A moving audio-script and pitch control in this app help you with listening and understanding the podcasts. These podcasts come with comprehension questions, a tape-script and glossary.

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge Are you super competitive? Then this app is for you! Beat the clock and answer as many spelling, vocabulary and grammar questions as you can in this 60-second quiz! Earn Grammar Guru, Word Wizard and Supreme Speller badges by completing all levels. Beat your score to earn the ultimate Johnny’s Gold badge!

LearnEnglish Sports World Have the Olympics hangover? Now you don’t have to wait four years for your next dose of sports! In this app you can learn hundreds of sports related words with this highly addictive hidden object and word game! Explore a beautifully illustrated sports scene to find 290 hidden sports objects. In addition to finding the objects, you will have to recognise and correctly spell them to earn medals!

LearnEnglish Grammar (UK Edition) This is our number one educational mobile app and is the best way to improve your English grammar at home, on the move, or just about anywhere! This app is designed for all learners, whether you’re a beginner or an expert! In this app you can answer over 1000 practice questions across 10 unique activity types, including fill-in-the-blanks, reordering words and labelling, to achieve better grammar accuracy.

Feeling app-tastic? Go download these apps today!

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Happy teachers’ day!

Teachers are some of the most impactful people in our lives. Some say, and I agree, that teachers hold the future in their hands!

Today we celebrate teachers; remember our favourites and even the ones we always got in trouble with. Today is Teachers’ day!


Teachers are at the front of the transformational work we do in teaching English and teacher training; I am in constant admiration of their work.

Here are excerpts from an interview with two teachers I have worked very closely with this past year.

Neenaz Ichaporia is an Academic Manager with the British Council. She started her journey with the British Council as a Teacher of English with the English Language Centres and now manages the teaching team for myEnglish, our innovative blended learning course.

Avinash Govindarajan is Teacher of English and has taught at the English Language Centres and now teaches myEnglish.

Why did you become a Teacher of English?

Neenaz Ichaporia (NI): This may sound like a cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, as long as I can remember. I tried out other things but in my heart I knew teaching was what I wanted to do. So one day, I took some leave from my job and tried out the CELTA course. I loved it… and the rest is history.

Avinash Govindarajan (AG): I chose to teach English because I love the language and the possibilities it holds. It helps in expressing yourself and also builds better relationships if used well. I like sharing this interest with other learners and celebrate them when we’re rewarded with progress.

What is the one thing you like the most about your job?

NI: I love the feeling of satisfaction when students write to you saying that what they learned in class has been helpful to them in some way in their lives. For instance, a student from one of my speaking skills classes wrote to me saying how thrilled he was because he felt much more confident dealing with an interview and group discussion he had after the course. He also got extra credits for showing them the British Council certificate from his course and he was offered the job! This made me really happy, knowing that I helped change someone’s life for the better, even if it was in a small way.

AG: Things I like most about doing my job are the language feedback sessions with the learners in my class. Dealing with questions about English is immensely challenging and extremely rewarding (provided you know the answer!).

What are students at the British Council like?

NI: It’s been a wonderful experience teaching learners from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. I’ve taught learners from India, Burkina Faso, France, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, South Korea, Spain – the list is endless! I’ve taught adults both younger and older than I am. I’ve taught children as young as eight years old and I’ve taught teenagers as well. The one common thread between all these learners is their desire to learn English because they feel it will help them in some way or the other.

AG: They’re probably the most motivated learners I’ve encountered in my life. They are positive, open to feedback, and realistic in their expectations. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve listened to or read our learners’ work and have had a broad smile on my face. Pride in others’ achievements is a wonderful feeling to experience.

If there was one study tip that you could give to your students, what would it be?

NI: Stay positive and develop some independent learning skills. Independent learners try to find opportunities for study outside the classroom. They plan their time well and take every opportunity they get to speak the language they are trying to learn. Most importantly, they do some research to find answers to their language questions themselves, rather than always relying on someone else for support. For instance, an independent learner may use the British Council’s weekly Facebook Language Clinic to ask questions or may check the LearnEnglish website for answers.

AG: Experiment and seek feedback! One shouldn’t be afraid to try new things out while learning English. The more you try, the easier it is to recall the next time. Feedback is an essential part of this; so make sure you get feedback from a trusted source (like a teacher or a friend), otherwise you always have the internet!

Complete the sentence, “If I wasn’t a teacher, I’d be…”

NI: …a journalist (I’ve already done that) or a lawyer.

AG: …picking at a guitar string somewhere, trying to make some music.

What were your teachers like? Tell us about your favourite teacher on our English Facebook page by using the hashtag #TeachersDay.

Submitted by Shivangi Gupta
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5 common words that have different origins

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How international is English? Over the centuries the English language has assimilated words and phrases from a variety of other languages.

Here are 5 common words that have different origins.

Veranda/Verandah: A sheltered gallery or terrace attached to a house or some other building. The word began to appear in the English language early in the 18th century. In Hindi, the word varanda has a similar meaning. This is not the source of the word, however, as it is thought to derive from the Portuguese word varanda meaning a balcony.

Kudos: An ancient Greek word that means “glory” or “reknown”. In ancient Greek culture, glory was found on the battlefield, much like every other civilization. When a solider was refused his earned due, or kudos, it was considered a very serious insult. One of the most famous examples of kudos is in the Iliad when Agamemnon takes the maiden Briseis from the soldier Achilles as a gift of honor- kudos earned from his glory in battle.

Glitch: A word for “slip up”, glitch is believed to be a conglomeration of two words, both that meant to slip or slide, around 1962: “glitshen” (Yiddish) and “glitschen” (German). It was first used in English by American astronauts when there was a spike in an electrical current, and then broadened to other technical mishaps. (Image: GLITCH – Designing Imperfection.)

Assassin: The origins of this Arabic word date back to the ninth century, when an Islamic sect was led to overthrow the Suni Muslims.  Yemeni Shiite Hasan-I Sabbah was the founder of the group and set about his mission by targeting the enemies’ leaders. The group was given the name Hashshashin, meaning hashish-eaters, and was converted into English in 1603 as “assassin”.

Déjà vu: “I’m having déjà vu” has somehow secretly slipped into English to solely describe an inexplicable instance that may have never actually happened.

“Already seen,” is the English translation of the French phrase with which we associate that weird feeling of reliving the same past experience. In France you’ll hear this word on a daily basis, because it’s used to express “having re-seen” a person, place or things, not in another life or dimension. In other words, it’s a factual encounter.

The French do believe in the weird phenomenon, but have a different way of spelling it (with a hyphen), déjà-vu. There is no difference in pronunciation though, which is why context is always key!

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7 free ways to meet your #VocabGoals



What is your vocabulary score on this fun test? I got 3560/4000 on my first try!

Learning new words is a great way to improve your English. We come across new words every day and can easily add them to our repertoire. In case you are wondering, here is the meaning of repertoire!

Here are 7 free ways you can meet your #VocabGoals and get a better vocabulary score than mine!

Read. A lot. There is just no substitute for reading as an excellent way of acquiring new words. Underline any new words you come across while reading, unless it’s a book from the library! Guess what they could mean by reading the text and thinking of the context in which they have been used. Now see the dictionary. How off were you? Not much? Very good! Now note down the meaning of the word in your personal word journal.

Listen to podcasts. Don’t have time to read? Podcasts are your new BFF! What’s great about them is you can subscribe to the ones you like and can listen when you please; driving your car, riding the metro or even cooking! Do remember to write the new words you learn in your word journal. Don’t worry about finding podcasts, there are tons to good ones.

Download a vocab app. Learn on the go using any of the thousands of vocabulary apps which you can download on your phone. Try out activities, play games, rank on leader-boards. Learning was never this fun!

Play word games. Can you complete the daily crossword in less than 20 minutes? What about Pictionary? Word games are a great way to make things fun and challenge yourself. Once you are confident playing on your own, try some multi-player games. For now here are some good ones you can start with.

Use social media. Join an English language learning Facebook page like the British Council’s English in India page or the LearnEnglish British Council page.  These pages post a number of words, vocabulary learning tips and games every day. You can also participate in contests, interact with other learners and ask questions. Learn, with a little help from your (social media) friends!

Set a vocab goal. Nothing like a goal to work towards and motivate yourself. Set yourself a target to learn a certain number of words every week. How many weeks in a row can you learn 21 new words, three for each day of the week? Post your words of the day on your Facebook page to keep count. This way you can also share what you are learning with your friends. And don’t forget to reward yourself once you achieve your #VocabGoals.

Use new words. Practice makes perfect. Use the new words from your word journal while you are writing or speaking. Think of if they had the desired effect on your reader or listener. Did they make your communication better? Use them again, this time with more accuracy and confidence! Now they are part of your repertoire. See what I did there?

So, what are your waiting for? Go get your #VocabGoals!

Post by – Shivangi Gupta, Head Business Development English (Customers) India, English

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Multiple perspectives on multilingualism

Seventeen of the scheduled languages are featured on Indian rupee banknotes

India boasts one of the largest number of languages for any country on earth, with 22 languages awarded official status and referred to as ‘scheduled languages’. English is termed an ‘associate official language’. Depending on how they are counted (and who is doing the counting) there are as many as 6600 other languages spoken and used across the country – some by very small percentages of the population which can still equate to large numbers in a country of 1.2 billion people.

The British Council is well-known for its work relating to the English language, including working with teachers to improve the way that it is taught within education systems. Our position is to support the development of English as a skill alongside the development of learners’ mother tongues and other national languages. To this end, we actively support research into multilingualism and English as a medium of instruction in order to facilitate a shared understanding of what works in practice and where there are significant challenges. This has been realised in several ways in India, including by hosting a roundtable event on multilingualism in 2014, hosting the Language and Development Conference in Delhi in 2015 on the theme of multilingualism and development and most recently through a partnership on a research project initiated by the University of Cambridge and the University of Reading in the UK.

This project, Multilingualism and multiliteracy: raising learning outcomes in challenging contexts in primary schools across India was recently launched through a consultation event at British Council Delhi. Alongside the team from the two UK universities, led by Professor Ianthi Tsimpli and including Professor Jeanine Treffers-Daller and Professor Theodoros Marinis, co-investigators from key institutions in India, Dr Survana Alladi from Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences and Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay from the English and Foreign Languages University Hyderabad, and representatives of other partner organisations also attended. This breadth of representation from different sectors, cultures and organisations led to a rich discussion on the issues surrounding multilingualism in India and the impact that this can have on learning.

These questions will continue to be explored through the research study, focusing on young learners in Bihar, Hyderabad and Delhi. In particular, the project seeks to contribute to the body of knowledge around how different mediums of instruction can impact on literacy, numeracy and higher level cognitive skills. The study will also examine the extent to which geographic and socioeconomic factors affect development in these areas. Furthermore, the research project includes a strong focus on capacity building for all involved – including a network of research assistants and PhD students – and seeks to drive impact through a range of dissemination events and channels as the research gets underway. The project will run from 2016–2020.

Watch this space for further updates.

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.  Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.
Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)
Also present but not pictured: Dr Vasanta Duggirala (retired from Osmania University, Hyderabad); Dr Dhir Jhingran (Language and Learning Foundation); Dr Suvarna Alladi (Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences), Debanjan Chakrabarti and Amy Lightfoot (British Council India).

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