Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Teaching and learning English in difficult circumstances

Presentation for Scholars' Association of Nepal, 26 April 2020

Powerpoint slides here

Suggested further readings (from Anderson, Padwad & Smith forthcoming):

Kuchah, K., & Shamim, F. (2018). International perspectives on teaching English in difficult circumstances. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

A thirteen-chapter edited volume of perspectives on teaching English in difficult circumstances from around the world, in four sections: 1. Policy decisions and the creation of difficult circumstances; 2. Developing contextually responsive pedagogy and materials for teaching English in difficult circumstances; 3. Difficult circumstances in non-mainstream ELT: Contexts of confinement, conflict and special needs; and 4. Approaches to teacher development in difficult circumstances. Kuchah’s comprehensive introduction provides an authoritative overview of the history of research in the area of TiDC, as well as analyses from relevant current perspectives within English language teaching, while Shamim’s conclusion considers potential future directions for the field. The range of authors and perspectives covering contexts as diverse as prison education and refugee camps is a reflection of the true diversity of difficult circumstances worldwide.


Ojha, L. P. (2015). Teaching English in difficult circumstances. Special issue of NELTA ELT Forum. Online:

This special issue of the online ELT Forum journal of NELTA is dedicated to the theme of teaching English in difficult circumstances and contains articles by practising teachers on how they have tried to deal with various practical challenges in their teaching contexts. These include teaching large classes, coping with a lack of resources, developing learner autonomy, improving strategies for reading lessons and a personal teacher’s perspective on developing her own language proficiency for English language teaching. The issue also contains an interview with Richard Smith in which he discusses common concerns associated with difficult circumstances and suggests some ways of addressing them.


Shamim, F., Negash, N., Chuku, C., & Demewoz, N. (2010). Maximizing learning in large classes: Issues and options. London: British Council. Online:

This accessible, practical resource was developed by teachers and teacher educators at a Hornby regional school in Ethiopia. It includes a six-chapter introduction to large class contexts, challenges and potential solutions that draws extensively on the expertise of African and Asian teacher educators, including foci on increasing student involvement, managing large classes, assessment and feedback in large classes and maximizing use of resources. This is followed by 27 useful activities submitted by local teachers but potentially of use to language teachers around the world working in difficult circumstances, requiring few, if any resources. The book is written in non-academic English, making it accessible for all.


Smith, R., Kuchah, K., & Lamb, M. (2018). Learner autonomy in developing countries. In A. Chik, N. Aoki, & Smith, R. (Eds.), Autonomy in language learning and teaching: New research agendas London: Palgrave Pivot. Online:

This chapter provides a rationale for encouraging learner autonomy in language learning in difficult circumstances, summarizing findings from historical and exploratory research in a range of low-income contexts around the world (e.g., Bangladesh, Cameroon, India and Indonesia). It discusses the nature of out of class learning, exploring the emerging role that ICT, especially through mobile phone use and participation in online social networks, is playing in facilitating autonomous learning. It also looks at participatory approaches to research in learner autonomy conducted both with and by teachers and learners. The chapter calls for more research, firstly into IT-mediated autonomous learning outside the classroom, secondly into grass roots projects developing learner autonomy, and thirdly for research both with and by teachers and learners themselves.


Smith, R., Padwad, A. & Bullock, D. (2017). Teaching in low-resource classrooms: Voices of experience. London: British Council. Online:

A free resource that gives voice to 34 teachers of English working in difficult circumstances in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, who share their perspectives, challenges and solutions directly in this edited volume. It reports findings of an “enhancement approach”, building on positive stories of success which document practical strategies and ideas that other teachers may benefit from. The book also includes stories of teacher inquiry, including both practical research questions and potential solutions regarding issues such as managing group work in large classes, correcting large quantities of written work, and teaching learners from diverse backgrounds in the same class. In line with the overall bottom-up approach of the TELC network, the editors promote the idea that “there is particular value in teachers in difficult circumstances collaboratively sharing examples of successful teaching as a starting point for their own further development” (p. 3). Associated website and video resources are freely available online: