The Plan-Link Road to Success in Exams or what passes for teaching


This post may upset you but it is based on fact, not fiction. It first appeared in a local ELT publication and it is based on the evidence of a *notesbook and the learner’s testimony about the methods this teacher used to get him through to the First Certificate. Three failed attempts later, this teacher decided her schedule (at about 30 Euros per hour) was too full to keep teaching this hopeless case and so he fell into the clutches of one of our Diploma trainees who was sure to undo all the good work done up to that point.

The material included IS NOT a fabrication. Neither is the teacher mentioned in the article which follows a creature of a fertile imagination. She is very real and, indeed, has a name, but, for obvious reasons, her identity cannot be disclosed. Italics indicate text written in her own hand and an asterisk (*) any errors in the original.

Some useful pointers gleaned from the Grammar section of her student’s “notes book”

Grammar Teaching

If + present  =  futureRepetition is clearly the mother of learning . So, in order to learn those unruly conditionals, her student was asked to copy the  “formula” for  each type of conditional ten times, like this

If + should, could, would  + infinitive
If + past    should , would, could + PP                                                                                   

How could a student fail to learn them?

The passive voice, on the other hand, a well- known headache for teachers and learners alike, is ideally dealt with through illustrative example and, of course contrast or transformations exercises (sic) with the active voice.  Here are a couple of examples for you to treasure and copy:

Present continuous

You are eating some sweets .
Some sweets are being eaten by me.

Indeed, what a useful phrase to have up your sleeve when , in answer to the question:

Your friend: “What happened to the sweets?”
You:              (cleverly) “Some sweets are being eaten by me”

Admittedly, this might prove a somewhat  difficult answer to deliver with your mouth full, but not impossible if you are well versed in the passive voice.

At the same time you manage to indicate that you don’t have a clue as to what has happened to the rest of the sweets and who they are being eaten by…

The newly-formed future continuous of the passive voice follows on:

Future continuous

You will be stealing a house.
A house will be being  stolen by you.* 

Similarly, instead of accusing someone in the active voice: “You will be stealing a house”  (indicating, too, the regularity of such an occurrence), you can let them know  in no uncertain terms that you well aware of how they will be spending their time , as they have done this often enough in the past! Other houses must have been removed from their foundations and taken to other places and you, in interests of thematic fronting – or is it end-weighting? – would much rather express this interesting comment using the new passive future continuous.

Quite clearly, those of you who have read the famous Dell Hymes article (1976), which defines communicative competence, will find yourselves completely out of your depth here. According to D.Hymes (opus cited), communication entails silly details such as:

“Whether and to what degree something is:

1.       formally possible

2.       feasible in virtue of the means of implementation available

3.       appropriate in relation to a context in which it is used and evaluated

4.       in fact done,  actually performed and what this doing entails”

Vocabulary Teaching                                         

This  is, needless to say, taught in the most effective way known to teacher, i.e. through extensive vocabulary lists prepared in the teacher’s own hand( lest the student make some awful mistake) with useful notes and explications.


self-satisfied= αυτός που ικανοποεί τον εαυτό του
pathetic= παθητικός

Composition Writing:   A Unique System

With hands shaking with envy, I type these lines about the definitive “Plan-Link” system of preparing students for the composition paper of the FCE exam. The advice is simple yet effective and we have copied this “recipe for success” from the cover page of the  composition section as it was written by the teacher herself – for the benefit of this hopeless student:

  Plan-Link outline written by the Teacher  (click to enlarge)

A marked composition following the suggested outline

Feedback  &  Written work

The role of feedback and correction is crucial to the system. Indeed , mere  underlining, or using error correction codes,  such as most of you are sure to do is not sufficient.

The teacher must suggest, add and improve, thus enriching the student’s repertoire with a rich sampling of natural, accurate and authentic language.

Here is a sampling of additions and  “improvements”  to student plans & “incomplete ” paragraphs in the student’s compositions:

*   the unemployment must stop and all the responsible have to come to terms for this problem
*    in the future I believe to have more real and good friends as Costas
* in addition , I have mentioned that computers have taken the human’s position as a result the employers dismiss the employees. Furthermore  the automation have increased the unemployment and the effects are dramatic 

  What follows is the method ‘in action’ …

A composition  based on the Plan-Link outline above with comments and mark. I hope you can read  the scanned original.

Corrected homework

As some of you may have run out of ideas about what composition topics to assign to your students in preparation for these examinations, here is an anthology given by The Private Teacher to be used in the famous Plan-Link way. Inside information suggests that she has a direct “Plan-Link” line to UCLES, whom (as she lets her students know), she regularly advises and helps with ideas for the examinations. This must be so. If you are short of ideas for compositions yourself, here are a few written out for her private student:

* 1. Describe a person you don’t sympathize. Discuss about him.(sic)
* 2. What’s your favourite film that you had ever seen. (sic)
3. You are going to give a party. Write a letter to your friend and invite him/her to  come and be your partner.(sic)
* 4. Discuss about the great disatisfaction that you have taken in your life (sic)

You may have already noted the high emphasis placed on the “discuss about it” (sic) type of composition; indeed, it seems to fall in so neatly with the plan-link outline, that we are not surprised to see its frequency.

Already we have had numerous requests to invite our private teacher to run guest speaker workshops on the famous “Plan-Link” system.   Unfortunately her schedule is so fully booked with “privates” at a minimal charge of what by now would be app. 30 euros per hour, that not only is she unable to comply, but she has had to turn students down (!), including the 24 year old student. This hopelessly lazy individual was abandoned, after failing for the third time, and he has now fallen into the hands of one of our past RSA Diploma trainees who will surely undo all the good work done so far…

You don’t believe me!                                   

Yes, you think I have made it all up!

Sadly, I haven’t. The evidence does not lie and, believe me, it was sometimes hard to decide what to pick and what to leave out!

This article has been obviously written tongue-in-cheek, though it may sometimes read a lot more sharper…

A lot of shoddy private tuition is going on all around us and the ‘client’ is totally unprotected! Most of the teachers I  know do some hours of private tuition, mainly because their hourly pay is not enough to live on.

Some charge reasonable rates, some charge the earth. How many, however, can and do deliver the goods? How many prepare their lessons properly? The usual comment I hear is that private lessons do not need preparation (!!!)

And since the ‘client’ does not have any way of checking either the teacher’s linguistic knowledge/performance, or their technical know-how (methodology), a lot of teachers are paid a lot of money for services of very dubious quality.

By the way, if you have hated this article, sorry, but I have not been able to apply the “Plan-Link” outline, so I shall attempt now to include something  to show for it in the last few lines.

It is now time for  “A look into the future” and the best possible ‘look’  I could think of is the following composition topic gleaned from this teacher’s collection:

“Give some suggestions in order to improve the teaching in your country”( sic)

Is it possible that we might be having the same thoughts?  I leave it with you to think about what the future may hold for FCE candidates if they get this kind of instruction.

Some extremely serious issues arise out of this. How can the ‘client’ learner, whether adult or the parent of a younger learner, be protected against such appalling teaching? And the question of appalling teaching is not at least supported by a good knowledge of the language! It’s exacerbated by an equally appalling knowledge and ability to use the teacher’s subject matter, the English language!

Many parents commit their children into the hands of the ‘young lady/man next door’ to or private tutoring in English, for convenience’s sake, ‘S/He’s cheap’, ‘It costs me more to cart my child back and forth to the language centre’, and so on and so forth. In the long run, with many unqualified and irresponsible teachers abroad, this can prove to be a most expensive option…

I really don’t know what else to say.   Am I being too harsh?

A teacher should know about their subject 

What do you think?  Do you believe that a sound knowledge of pedagogy forgives poor knowledge and linguistic proficiency?

I would really like to know what you think because it is a question which comes up a lot and worries  me very very often in my line of work.


Hymes, D., 1976, On Communicative Competence, in Pride, J., Sociolinguistics, Penguin Education

About the Author

Marisa Constantinides is a teacher, teacher trainer and author; she is the Director of CELT Athens, a Teacher Development Centre offering courses  from Introductory to post-graduate  Cambridge RSA Diplomas in TEFL. Marisa has worked with teachers in the private and state sector for many years and is an RSA Diploma holder (DTEFLA) herself; she also holds an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Reading.

SPECIAL NOTE: This article originally appeared in the CELT Athens Newsletter Issue no 4 . It was later reprinted in an issue of ELT News with some alterations (and hopefully, improvements). The article generated a lot of horrified gasps from colleagues about what passes for teaching English. It did also produce an anonymous but quite accusatory epistle from a teacher (we have secretly suspected her to be the plan-link creator herself but cannot vouch for it…).


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