Adventures in Podcasting

Timothy HampsonAdventures in Podcasting

Timothy Hampson


I decided to start my podcast, ELT WTF (the WTF, naturally, stands for ‘What Tim Feels’) while listening to the TEFLology podcast. In the past I had blogged, but I was never sure that I had much of interest to say. On the other hand, I am always full of questions that I want to ask people. Starting an interview-based podcast was a solution to both those problems; I wouldn’t have to come up with things to say each week, just a list of questions. Besides, the TEFLology crew seemed to be having a good time and their episodes were really interesting. I wanted to be having similar conversations.

Getting started

I had the idea to start a podcast at around eight pm one evening and by nine I had ordered an all in one recorder and sent some emails asking people to be guests on the show. One reason for starting the pod was wanting an opportunity (or perhaps an excuse) to have more conversations about English language teaching. Another was a desire to scratch that creative itch that many teachers have. I was also interested in having a chance to give a platform to people and causes I believe in.

One thing that is certain is that podcasting can open doors. I can’t imagine emailing someone to say “Hi this is Tim Hampson, a teacher without much experience. Fancy a chat about teaching?” However, an email asking someone to appear on a podcast is certainly doable. I feel really lucky to have been able to talk to, and even meet, some of my TEFL heroes and even more lucky to get to ask them exactly the questions I wanted to without having to share their attention with anyone else.

My favourite podcasts so far are ones where I’ve honed in on a specific topic rather than having a broad chat. When I interviewed Reiko Yoshihara, it was after seeing her speak about feminist language teaching at a conference. After her sessions I had a list of questions I wanted to ask her but didn’t get the chance. I also thought what she was talking about was something more people should hear about. I was really proud of how the interview turned out because I think that shared interest came across.

Investing in equipment

It’s a little cliché to say ‘You don’t need a lot of equipment to start out’, but it’s a cliché for a reason. It’s totally possible to start out recording everything on a mobile phone. If you’re interviewing someone by Skype, you can both wear headphones and both record your respective sides of the conversation on your phones. When you start out podcasting, you will most likely be annoyed with yourself when you listen back to your tape and hear yourself going ‘mmmm hmmmm’ in agreement with everything your guest says. This two phones and Skype setup makes it really easy to edit out all those extra noises. Given how many podcasters Skype and only record on their side, this will already result in better audio than 75% of what’s on the market.

If you’re anything like me though, you’ll want to splash a little cash on your set up. The good news is that, compared to videography or photography, a little cash goes a long way when you’re shopping for audio equipment. My first recorder was a Zoom h2n. This set me back about a hundred US dollars. This isn’t peanuts, but compared to the cost of a ‘decent’ camera, it’s a steal. More recently I’ve upgraded to a Zoom H5 recorder with a Rode NH4 microphone which cost around $400 in total. Once again, not cheap, but I think the audio quality is so good to professional podcasting equipment that only the snootiest of audiophiles would be able to tell the difference.

Organizing your podcast

My process for producing a podcast is based around seasons. In the past I’ve been very ambitious about seasons and wanted each one to be seven episodes long. The two that I’ve done so far have ended after the fifth episode and so I think this is maybe a more managable amount. Seasons work for me because I can record a bunch of episodes back to back and then edit them in batches too. I’ll start a season by making a list of people I’m interested in interviewing and then sending out emails to everyone. I always carry a notebook with me and so I’ll write down questions as they come to me in the time before the interview. The night before I’ll usually write down a condensed version of the list and try and put them in an order that makes sense. I always start off the interview by going through a checklist of things I tell every interviewee (“Take as much time to think as you’d like, I’ll just edit it out.”, “If you don’t like a question, it’s no problem to skip it.” and so on). I try and warm up the guest with some more general questions to get them comfortable and then take a deeper dive into a specific area.

My experience has been that it’s better to pick one or two themes to go into in depth rather than try and talk about everything. When going through your interview questions, you might find a segue that breaks up the order of questions you have. I think it’s always a good idea to take that segue and for that reason I’ll tick off questions as I ask them. This gives a nice visual guide to what’s left to go into in the interview. I often find that follow up questions that come up in the interview are often more interesting than the questions you had written down. Feel free to go off piste if you want to change your questions mid-interview.

Editing your audio

The last part of the process is the edit. This is my favourite part, not because the process is fun, but because a good edit can make even the most ineloquent host (i.e. me) sound professional, More importantly it’s the part where you get to make your guests sound great! There will probably be a lot of ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ and other noises that you don’t want in your recording. You may also find yourself wanting to edit your podcast for brevity and clarity. The good news is that modern editing software makes this process very easy and relatively quick. Editing audio isn’t that much more complicated than using word processing software, but good editing, like good writing,is a skill that takes a bit of time to hone. One of my first interviewees told me that I’d edited out so many of his pauses that he sounded like he had taken speed, so don’t try and over edit and you’ll be doing better than me.

Podcasting as a professional development tool

I hope that this article has convinced you that not only can podcasting be a great tool for professional development for teachers, but that it can be an easy and fun way to produce great content for other teachers in the community. Imagine a world where there were hundreds of great podcasts about language teaching. Having that much access to teachers having intelligent conversations about teaching would be a huge boon to the profession. It would allow good ideas to spread and for teachers to have debates important issues. I’d also hope it would allow for a more diverse group of teachers to have a voice.


The ELT Workshop

Timothy HampsonThe ELT Workshop

Timothy Hampson


When Mike Griffin (of the ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections blog) and I started The ELT Workshop, under an unofficial slogan “ELT coursebooks for people who hate ELT coursebooks,” we had big plans. There were ideas that we might make a thousand dollars in the first year, we had a list of about 20 books that we would produce, and we even put a manifesto on our website. 

Three years on, we have realized the process of getting books published is hard and full of setbacks, and that making money doing it is even harder. So when I got the opportunity to write this post about starting an ELT publishing company, I decided to talk about some of the difficulties we’ve had and some of the ways we’ve solved those problems. 

Time turned out to be the biggest issue we’ve had with the business. Ideas for books are plentiful, but having the time to actually get those onto the page is difficult. I have found for myself that working on the company projects often ends up being the first thing that doesn’t get done when times get busy. For a classroom teacher, there are always unexpected things that need to be done urgently, so The ELT Workshop ideas get put on the backburner. When you’re working with a partner and an author, you might all end up being free at different times, which means work that requires any kind of back and forth – and takes forever.  

We have also learnt there’s a lot to learn in publishing. There were a lot of “known unknowns,” such as learning to typeset well or advertising a book. We knew we’d have to sink some time into learning these skills to run the company. At the same time, there were a lot of things we didn’t know we didn’t know. As an example, making a Kindle book look good and be easy to read isn’t as easy as you’d think. While we have quite a good handle on them now, we spent a lot of time learning these skills that we didn’t know would prove to be so important.  

Another problem has been that following the blueprint of large publishers hasn’t worked for us, especially in terms of sales. We originally took quite a “if you build it, they will come” attitude to sales and advertising. This didn’t play out so well for us at first. As a small company, be prepared that people don’t notice it when you put something out as much as they might for a larger company.    

Despite all of these setbacks, I’m feeling very optimistic about the future of The ELT WorkshopWe recently published our first book “Teachers’ Toolkit: Presentation Based Activities by Tim Thompson. Seeing something you were involved in making feels great and has motivated me to do more. The company’s start has been slow, but we have found some solutions from the publishing process. In terms of organizing our time, we have learned to batch tasks to avoid back and forth. We can do all of the editing first and then all of the typesetting, which would mean less time spent waiting for replies. We have learned a huge deal from our experience so far and we are more ready than we were before.   

If you’re considering starting up a side project in ELT, please don’t let this article put you off. It is important to try and be realistic about what might be difficult.  

Punk, DIY, and the Art of ELT Conferencing

Timothy Hanson

Punk, DIY, and the Art of ELT Conferencing
by Timothy Hampson.


When people think of punk, they think of mohawks, boots and safety pin piercings, but they often forget punk’s DIY ethos. Punks were making their own clothes, making their own album art, and self-publishing records. This gave them a huge amount of control over their own output and independence from a society they felt was overly consumerist. While I don’t know any English language teachers with safety pins through their ears, there is definitely is a very strong punk DIY ethic in the ELT community. In this article I’ll draw from my experiences of founding and organising an ELT conference to give three lessons for anyone interested in DIY ELT.  

My own experience being part of the excitELT conference team was definitely DIY. The conference started from a frustration with “traditional” conferences which were often overpriced, overly academic, and overly cliquey. We wanted to change the way conferences happen and, like the punks, we weren’t afraid of a bit of DIY to make that happen. With a small team (varied in size between two and four), we’ve all had to learn new skills to make things happen. Over the last two years I’ve taught myself web and logo design, typesetting, advertising, scheduling, management, and many other skills. 

The first thing I’ve learned from excitELT is that you can make small changes that have a big effect and that it’s okay to think small. For example, if your dream is to start your own academy, that doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, get a mortgage on a nice piece of property and hire a full teaching, HR and advertising staff. Instead, it might be a better idea to start taking on private classes, building word of mouth and slowly reducing the amount you work for your primary job. Similarly, if you want to change a curriculum, you can, but improving the worst 2-3 classes of a curriculum is a good way of making some positive change without committing to a complete rewrite. 

The original plans for the conference were small; although we had 80 attendees for the first conference, we had originally never imagined having more than 30. The changes we made to the “traditional” conference format were also not huge but ended up being very effective. Switching out hour-long lectures for short plenary speeches and hands-on workshops didn’t take any more effort for the organisers but it changed the whole tone of the conference. Forcing speakers to trim their speeches to ten minutes forced all of the plenaries to be “all killer no thriller.” When selecting workshops, we deliberately picked the ones that were hands-on. As a result, the main feedback from the conference was that the whole day was engaging!  

We really wanted the conference to be a more audience-focused and social experience. Simple things like ditching conference booklets in favour of large schedule posters created congregation points for people to ask, “What are you going to see next?” and build new friendships. For the second conference, we introduced the “hangout” as a session type based around conversation on an issue, drawing the focus away from the presenter and allowing teachers to meet one another. Making sure that someone from the organising committee was on the registration desk at all times meant everyone at the conference met at least one of us during the day. The day before the conference there was a social gathering in the park to hang out for the afternoon, and I met lots of teachers that day that I’m still in touch with now.  

The second lesson is that you should ask for help. If you do want to change something about ELT, it’s likely that other people feel the same way as you do. In my experience, people in ELT are extremely willing to help one another and are very responsive to twitter messages and emails. You might be surprised by how much traction your ideas get. People might be willing to give advice, or they might be willing to help out in a bigger way. 

The more I spoke to people, the more people wanted to help out. Wonderful people volunteered to help with the organization and offered their expert advice on everything from general goals to graphic design. Incredibly prestigious speakers like Scott Thornbury and Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto volunteered their time and gave inspiring presentations. The amount of time and effort that people were willing to contribute astounds me and I think shows how giving the ELT community is. 

The last lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t need to be an expert to get things started. Often the willingness to make a change is more important than ability. One of the beautiful things about DIY is that you learn as you go along. You might find yourself learning all kinds of skills you never knew you were interested in and these skills might find their way back into your classroom practice. For example, after using blogs for conference advertising I’ve used blogging as a task in class. 

One of my mentors jokes that I’m a person who “went to an ELT conference and decided he could do that too” (which is deeply unfair: I’d been to two ELT conferences). No one on the excitELT team had a background in organising conferences, but all cared deeply about the conference and were willing to learn the skills that they needed to make the conference happen. If we can do it ourselves, you can definitely do it yourself, too. If you do, remember that your that your first steps might be small; that if you’re identifying a real problem, people will be willing to help out; and that you don’t need to be an expert to make things happen.