An Interview with Lindsay Clandfield

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Robert Sheridan, Kindai University; Kathryn M. Tanaka, Otemae University

Our second interview is with Lindsay Clandfield, an award-winning writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and international speaker. He has written more than ten course books for language learners and is the co-author of various methodology books for teachers, including the new book Interaction Online by Cambridge University Press. He is also involved in self-publishing projects, notably The Round <> and Extreme Language Teaching <>. Mr. Clandfied was interviewed by Robert Sheridan and Kathryn M. Tanaka at the JALT2018 International Conference in November. Robert Sheridan has a Master’s degree in TESOL and is a tenured lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture at Kindai University in Nara. He serves as the program chair of Osaka JALT. His research interests include vocabulary acquisition, CLIL, extensive reading, motivation, and culture in education. Kathryn M. Tanaka has a Ph.D. in Japanese literature from the University of Chicago is a tenured lecturer in the department of Cultural and Historical Studies at Otemae University. Her research interests include illness and human rights in modern Japanese literature, and the place of human rights education, culture, and literature in EFL and CLIL courses. They can be contacted at:;

Robert Sheridan/Kathryn M. Tanaka: Thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts on ELT materials design. To start, could you tell us about how you came to the field and how your work has evolved over the years?

Lindsay Clandfield: I started as a language teacher from a liberal arts background. I studied international relations and politics at the University of Toronto, then I travelled around Latin America. I decided that was where I wanted to settle down, so I went back to Canada in order to get a teaching certificate. After teaching at university in the south of Mexico for a few years, I moved to Spain. I chose Barcelona because in the late 90s/early 2000s, Barcelona was one of the hotspots for teacher training. Scott Thornberry was just starting out there at the time. There were also a lot of authors of course books who were based in Spain. There was International House Barcelona and other teacher training schools, so it seemed to be a place that was developing exciting new things. After a few years in Barcelona, I wrote my first articles for a Macmillan website called Onestopenglish (<>) when it was just starting out—it’s huge now. I wrote my first two course books with Macmillan. I then moved to the south of Spain to teach English and to focus more on teacher training. CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is a big thing in Spain, so lots of the teachers have to learn English in order to teach other subjects. Now, I teach a lot of methodology and do many talks on this, which has led me to do a lot of travel. That is the evolution of my work—starting off being a teacher in Mexico, and then becoming a writer and teacher trainer based in Spain.

You mentioned that Barcelona in the late 1990s was cutting edge, so I wonder where you would say is cutting-edge now in English language pedagogy.

I don’t think it’s Barcelona anymore. There are a few places where there are cutting-edge things happening. For example, for quite some time, Brazil was the place to study technology and English language teaching. There was a huge influx of interest in learning English when they got the Olympics—just like I anticipate may happen here in Japan. Brazil actually got the World Cup and the Olympics back to back, which also helped. A lot of money, interest, and motivation—those are all of the ingredients that are perfect for people to try out new things. Turkey is another place that has some cutting-edge ELT research, however, recent political events have dampered that a bit. Japan and Thailand seem poised to be the next big loci of EFL pedagogy and research in Asia. We should all be paying attention to Japan, with the Olympics and World Cup approaching.

What kind of teaching methodologies/theories do you incorporate into your work?

I’ve always written four skills coursebooks, which are integrated with a heavy emphasis on speaking, usually at the end of every lesson. The coursebooks that I have written have been with big publishers, so there has been a tendency to follow the PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production) methodology. I do think PPP has a lot to offer, but I am also excited to see other textbooks use different methodological things like task-based learning—I have heard that is being explored more here in Asia than in Europe.

You mentioned that your favorite book to teach with might be the book called Studio (Campbell & Clandfield, 2019) that you are working on now. Could you tell us about this?

It is highly communicative. In this book, we go from topic-based units to topic-based lessons. Every topic is a lesson tied to a channel, so we had 12 channels, which means you have lots of topic variety. One thing that frustrated me as a teacher was when books became more unit oriented. One unit could cover four lessons, so you had four classes on sports, for example. It could be too much, so our approach was to view each lesson as its own thing, allowing for frequent changes of topics. I also enjoyed doing the video work for this book because we used the video in some innovative ways. For example, the actors did the video in front of a green screen with the background projected behind them. At the end of the video, we include that background with sound effects so the teacher can project the scene on the board, and then they can use our video backgrounds for students to reenact our role-play or create their own. It gives a lot of freedom for creative use. This book will be out in early 2019.

When making a textbook like this, are there any things that you try to avoid?

For all of my books, I impose a ban on using celebrities. Teachers think students enjoy learning about the life of someone like Madonna, David Beckham, or Richard Branson. I see three problems with this. First, it dates the textbook. Second, the students don’t always know who it is. Third, the celebrity could do something really bad. For example, there is a popular EFL textbook that includes a lesson on Oscar Pistorius, and he went from hero to murderer. That text is no longer a feel-good story, but a dated tragedy. This is especially true when you have to write things in simple English like, “He is a hero.” I try to avoid this type of writing as much as possible, and I recommend this in my teacher training courses.

What inspired you to move into online work?

It was not so much what inspired me; it was where the field was going. I feel that anyone in this line of work who wishes to advance their career needs to eventually do something technology oriented. Today, to advance the curriculum at university, many classes need to have some form of online platform or online activities. It’s getting harder to avoid this in any class.

What should educators pay attention to when they create material for use online versus traditional paper materials?

This ties into one of the books that I wrote with Jill Hadfield for Cambridge, a methodology book called Interaction Online (Clandfield & Hadfield, 2017). We were frustrated when we were asked to do more interactive activities in our online courses. To us, interactive activities meant writing or speaking to one another. However, our universities thought interactive meant putting in a Quizlet-style (<>) quiz or a test in Moodle (<>). Although there is a place for all of that, this is a weak form of interaction for language classes. When making materials for online courses compared to traditional paper-based materials, we are in danger of forgetting about communicative language teaching. For example, to say the app Duolingo (<>) is a new model for language learning is like saying “let’s just forget about pedagogical shifts from 1970 onwards toward communicative language teaching and go back to scaffold drills.” The only difference now is those scaffold drills are more attractive because they are online and look great. We are forgetting about the messiness of communicating with each other, something that a computer still has a lot of trouble correcting. So, for language teachers who are creating online materials, it is important to not just include things such as quizzes that can be easily graded, but also to include activities where students have to communicate with each other.

Another thing that we have learned, and social media has taught us, is that people enjoy communicating online. They enjoy writing to one another and they also enjoy reading when somebody else has commented on something. There are ways this can be meaningfully incorporated into online classes.

Could you give us an example of an online communicative activity?

Here’s an example for a forum. The traditional or default model for a forum tends to be, “Read this and post a comment about it.” What always happens with something like this, based on years of experience, is: (a) no one posts anything, or (b) if they are forced to, they do it on the very last day. Or another problem with this is the keen student posts a really good comment, and then everyone just agrees with it. This is the model that almost every university discussion forum uses. This is equivalent to a language teacher saying something like, “Okay everyone, let’s talk about sports,” but we don’t do that. We know learning is more successful with some kind of support and structure to an activity. So, here is one example to support a forum task. The instructor asks students to post their thoughts about an article, and at the end, they must ask a follow-up question. The next person that comes along reads that question and after answering that question, asks a new question. To recap, your task is two-fold: you need to answer the question in the post above you, and then ask a question for the next person to answer. This way the question is constantly changing, and you don’t get the stuff like, “That student already gave the perfect answer.” Also, it is important to tell students that everyone must participate by a certain day. It is important to give a clear deadline and instructions. You could also stagger it so that you put a list of the students’ names and begin by asking the first student a question, and then they add to the question and write a follow-up question for the next person on the list and continue that way. Also, it is important to set a time limit so everyone knows that they have to check in regularly to see if it has reached their turn. Doing it this way means that everybody will be able to see the flow of the conversation. The teacher could help to facilitate this activity by giving a summary of the conversation or maybe even correcting common errors. This is just a simple model from a large variety of methods that can be done.

A good reference book for types of activities like this is Interaction Online (Clandfield & Hadfield, 2017). It is an activity book that also has a full chapter called Tasks Design for Online Instruction that gives models of interaction patterns. Another type of weeklong forum activity/game that you could play is something like, “Where in the world am I?” This is where one student posts a photo online and the other students have 25 questions to figure out where it is. The student who posts the photo is only allowed to answer “yes” or “no.” Therefore, the other students need to form close-ended yes or no questions. If anybody guesses the correct answer before the 25 questions have been asked, it becomes their turn. It continues that way for a week.

You have a lot of innovative and engaging ideas for activities. I think that this is also reflective in your new Extreme Language Teaching series (Campbell & Clandfield, 2018). Could you tell us more about it?

Well, it started with a frustration I was having while trying to write an introductory book where my co-author and I had to write something about the grammar points, using “There is/There are,” and food. We both thought it’s going to be another fridge check again, isn’t it? To change things up a bit, I started thinking that we could actually do it in a post-apocalyptic situation. For example, two people have encountered an abandoned house, and one person is standing guard while the other goes to check the fridge and the pantry for supplies. The person standing guard calls out, “Is there any water? We need to find water! What about food? Are there any peaches?” At first, my coauthor and I were joking about it, but then we thought that it could actually make a very interesting lesson. From there we started thinking about how we could use every day English and put it into these really weird and unique situations. Instead of the typical “Meeting people for the first time” lesson, we changed it up to meeting fellow survivors. Instead of asking where they are from, we have them ask, “What did you do before this?” For asking directions, we could change the scene to using this grammar point to escape out of a ruined city. The students say things such as, “We need to get out of here now. Do you know how to get to the highway?” or “It is too dangerous that way!” We also thought such a textbook could be fun if we modeled it on a “found” military manual, like the training manuals they use that just teach basic language that you need in order to survive. So, we created a book using non-traditional situations with traditional methodology: read the dialogue, repeat the phrases, listen to the audio that extends the story, and create your own dialogue. We also did English for an alien invasion as a follow-up. We have moved into using English in adventures. For these, we created PowerPoints with music and sound effects as well as board games, so you are adventuring into places like a tomb, or having to survive on a deserted island.

Thank you so much for your time.

Thank you! I hope to have more chances to visit Japan in the future!


Campbell, R., & Clandfield, L. (2018). English for the Zombie Apocalypse. Elche, Spain: Extreme Language Teaching.

Campbell, R., & Clandfield, L. (2019). Studio. London, UK: Helbling Languages.

Clandfield, L., & Hadfield, J. (2017). Interaction Online. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.