To all practitioners

Jim Scrivener



Who is he?

Originally from Surrey, United Kingdom, Jim worked as an ELT writer, consultant, educational leader, teacher and trainer. He is now (mostly) retired and living on the Sussex coast.

Professional life

Jim has been Head of Teacher Training at IH Hastings, Director of Education for IH Budapest, Head of Teacher Development at Bell International and their Teacher Training Ambassador. Jim also worked for Cambridge ESOL, including design work on TKT and DELTA.

He has consistently sought personal, usable, engaging, practical classroom teaching techniques that encourage more learning to happen more often for more students. Over the course of his career he has worked in a variety of countries, including Kenya for two years, the Soviet Union for three years, and Hungary for seven years.

He has written numerous ELT books, including Learning Teaching (ARELS Frank Bell Prize 1995), Teaching English Grammar (Duke of Edinburgh / English Speaking Union ‘Best Book for Teachers’ prize 2010), and Classroom Management Techniques (Duke of Edinburgh / English Speaking Union Overall Winner 2012 and Ben Warren-International House Trust Prize 2012).

Jim Scrivener

Recommended books

English in Situations

Robert O’Neill

1970, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (source)

This kind of detailed structural work seems to be so out of fashion these days – but there is a lot here to admire and learn from. Essentially a collection of meaning-focussed drills with excellent concept checks and attention to common traps.

Straw for the Fire – From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke

1972, Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press. Arranged and selected by David Wagoner. (source)

A poet’s muddled notebook of random thoughts – but he was also a teacher and the curious insights into the daily job of teaching are beautiful and thought-provoking.

Freedom to Learn For the 80s

Carl Rogers

1982, Columbus OH: Charles E. Merrill. (source)

Changed my teaching completely. Threw everything upside down. But it’s repetitive. You don’t need to read it all. I was most caught by chapters on the Challenge of Teaching, “Can I be Myself?” and the Politics of Education.

Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective and Drama Activities for EFL Students

Mario Rinvolucri

1984, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (source)

The first activity recipe book I met that challenged me not to stay on the safe straight and narrow path of obvious practice. A subversive and dangerous book that has had a profound influence on ELT in general. Don’t come here looking for straightforward pair work.

How We Learn and How We Should be Taught Volume 1: An Introduction to the Work of Caleb Gattegno

Roslyn Young, Piers Messum

2011, London: Duo Flumina Ltd. (source)

An inspiring survey of Caleb Gattegno’s thinking on education – centring on the key notion of “subordinating teaching to learning”. (I found this book much more approachable than the man’s own writings). The kind of book that makes you seriously reevaluate all that you do. Sadly, there is no Volume 2.

Place in HLT

Together with his friend Adrian Underhill, Jim has proposed the idea of “Demand-High Teaching”, a suggestion that very small changes in teachers’ attitudes and classroom techniques might lead to significant improvements in student learning. The key change is for teachers to become more aware of learning itself and to start noticing when it is (or isn’t) happening in their lessons. While he proposes a teaching style that focuses on learning over teaching, at the same time he argues that good teaching does intervene, where appropriate, to gently push students to upgrade and improve their language skills. He contrasts this with much contemporary ELT that seems to hope that progress will somehow happen “by magic” after a certain amount of pair work.

As part of Demand High's commitment to changing learning culture, the approach poses questions such as: Are my students capable of more? Could they be challenged more? Would demanding more lead to more learning? Has the ELT class become too ritualised? In place of the constant need to cover more and more material, might more learning take place if the teacher focused on the potential for a deeper kind of learning? What small tweaks or shifts can the teacher make to what they are already doing to transform the focus of teaching towards bringing about an upgrade in the student’s performance?

Jim and Adrian have proposed two key ways to increase the challenge for students and ultimately to improve their learning. These approaches revolve around how teachers provide feedback and how they handle language exercises in class.

Over time, Jim’s conception of the role of the teacher has evolved: traditionally considered as a ‘giver’ in a teacher-led classroom,  the teacher is now seen as someone who provides ‘learning-centeredness’ in a learner-centred environment. When he talks with teachers, he suggests that they prepare their lessons, but not plan every step; he asks them to give themselves enough freedom and time to listen and respond to the learners.

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