9 Strategies for 21st-Century ELT Professionals

Recently, I gave a keynote talk at the Thai-TESOL 36th Annual Conference (January 2016). It was a well attended conference as Thai-TESOL leaders always do a fantastic job in organizing their annual event. The theme was “Empowerment Through Glocalization,” with the objective focused on how to empower ELT professionals in the changing landscape of ELT. After some contemplation, I came up with nine strategies as number nine is a lucky number in Thai culture. I encourage you to share your thoughts after reading this blog.

Strategy 1: Value the Changing Perspectives on ELT
About 50 years ago, the ELT field started to see changes in our views of English language learning; this has become more evident over the last 20 years. The old term of ESL has been changed to ELL or EAL (English as an additional language) as ELT educators recognize that many learners know more than two languages and English is not their second language anymore. Code-switching was seen as language error, but now has been recognized as a valuable bilingual and translanguaging resource. An accent, instead of being viewed as deficiency, now reflects identity. Today, standardized assessments utilize different accents in their listening comprehension tests. The purpose of English learning has moved away from mimicking “inner circle” speakers as closely as possible to successful use of skills and strategies to be effective and competent communicators for a globalized workforce.

Strategy 2: Embrace Changes in Goals of English Teaching and Learning
With the changing perspectives on ELT, the goals of ELT have also changed from focusing solely on developing language skills and mimicking native English speakers to fostering a sense of social responsibility in students. Recent research and educational programs have focused more on the importance of developing English speakers as fully competent language users, critical thinkers, and constructive social change agents.

Strategy 3: Integrate 21st-Century Teaching/Learning Approaches
In recent years, more schools have put the 7C skills, outlined by Trilling and Fadel (2009) in their book 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, at the center of learning. The seven Cs are:

  1. critical thinking and problem solving,
  2. creativity and innovation,
  3. collaboration, teamwork, and leadership,
  4. cross-cultural understanding,
  5. ccommunication and media literacy,
  6. computing and ICT literacy, and
  7. career and learning self-reliance.

In addition to the seven 21st-century skills, the ELT field nowadays is also referred to as the Postmethods Era, where the focus of teaching is on eclecticism (Kumaravadivelu, 2001, 2006; Brown, 2007; Larsen-Freeman, 2000; Mellow, 2002). Eclecticism involves the use of a variety of language learning activities, each of which may have very different characteristics and may be motivated by different underlying assumptions. Some “hot topics” nowadays are Common Core, “glocal” needs, standards, pathways, ESP/EAP, flipped classes, project-based learning, and integration of digital literacy in language teaching and learning.

Yilin Sun

Yilin Sun

Strategy 4: Understand Changes in Research Approaches
The research field has witnessed significant transformation over the last 20 years. ELT research studies have moved from a sole focus on the designs and methods of quantitative empirical research to the inclusion of qualitative and other alternative approaches, with designs that incorporate both quantitative and qualitative elements. Today we see more mixed-method studies and the field as a whole has also become more open to hermeneutic (nonempirical interpretive) inquiry. New alternative theories and perspectives have emerged from research; these can be seen in SLA, SLW, and ESP studies.

Strategy 5: Expand the Dimension of Communicative Competence
Recent research publications illustrate the expanding framework of communicative competence. Some scholars have introduced their new way of looking at SLA as “multi-competence” (Cook, 2012). Others (Byram, 1997, 2009; Corbett, 2003; Kohn, 2013) focused on the importance of intercultural communicative competence. The implication here is that when teaching intercultural communicative competence, teachers need to teach both local and international cultures. The goal is to produce effective language users to use English as a global Lingua Franca, not just learners who mimic the “inner- circle” countries’ language and culture.

Strategy 6: Teach and Learn in a 21st-Century Context
There are rapid changes in the skill set needed to compete in today’s workforce: technology; globalization; workplace; demographics; and personal competence, risk, and responsibility headline these changes. Individual performance is evaluated on leadership ability, working collaboratively with others, and problem-solving skills. In a globalized world, it is just as common to form a team of four people from four different continents as it is from four departments of an institution. Educators need to be aware of the changes to better prepare students with 21st-century skills to compete in the competitive globalized workforce.

(L to R) Dr. Thanaporn Pantawi, Maneepen Apibalsri, Leslie Barratt, Yilin Sun, Suchada Nimmannit

(L to R) Thanaporn Pantawi, Maneepen Apibalsri, Leslie Barratt, Yilin Sun, Suchada Nimmannit

Strategy 7: Apply Macro Strategies to Enhance Assessment
Many schools have implemented standards-based assessment programs, which measure success based on student learning (achievement of standards) rather than on compliance with rules. Darling-Hammond, Hightower, Husbands, LaFors, and Young (2002) advocated that the reform of assessment of student learning needs “top-down support for bottom-up reform.” Once this happens, educators will be empowered to apply macro strategies to enhance assessment. The assessment tools should be designed to engage students in active learning and demonstrate their skills in real-world performance-based projects.

Strategy 8: Be Ready for Rapid Development and Integration of Information Technology in ELT
Rapid developments in technology and the use of cell phones and multimedia devices have opened endless possibilities for English teachers to access information. The Internet, YouTube, Web.2.0, and e-books have helped teachers prepare lessons and classroom activities. With ready-made materials with the stroke of a key it is possible to bring real life into the classroom. Appropriate integration of technology in the classroom encourages students to use language in different ways and brings real-world issues into the classroom. Learners from different parts of the world can get connected and exchange ideas. Many students may know more than their teachers about how to use technology, and yet they need proper guidance from the teachers on how to select, analyze, and utilize the right information to achieve their learning goals.

Strategy 9: Embrace Changing Roles and Increasing Responsibilities of Teachers
In the 21st-century classroom, teachers have multiple roles and responsibilities as facilitators of student learning and creators of a productive classroom environment in which students can develop the skills they will need for the 21st-century workforce. Many teachers integrate content-based, project-based approaches, and changes in classrooms such as coteaching, team-teaching, and collaboration with other teachers have shown advantages. These innovative approaches are providing educators with excellent resources and opportunities. Teachers need to embrace new ideas to effectively teach in our ever-changing societies. This also prepares teachers to be reflective practitioners and constructive social agents in the world of globalizing the English language (Sun, 2014). It’s more important than ever that teachers receive real institutional support with funding and time to attend professional development activities.

These are nine strategies that I want to share with you; in return I would like to invite you to share your thoughts.



Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching by principles. New York, NY: Pearson Longman.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Bristol, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

Byram, M. (2009). The intercultural speaker and pedagogy of foreign language education. In D. K. Deardorff (Ed.), The Sage handbook of intercultural competence (pp. 321–332). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Corbett, J. (2003). An intercultural approach to English language teaching. Bristol, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

Cook, V. (2012). Multi-competence. Retrieved from  http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/Writings/Papers/MCentry.htm

Darling-Hammond, L., Hightower, A. M., Husbands, J. L., LaFors, J. R., & Young, V. M. (2002). Building instructional quality: Inside-out, bottom-up, and top-down perspectives on San Diego’s school reform. Unpublished manuscript for AERA annual meeting. Retrieved from https://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/PDFs/InProgress/SDCS-Reform-AERAdraft.pdf

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2001). Towards a postmethod pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 35, 537–560.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching: From method to postmethod. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kohn, K. (2013, March 15). Intercultural communicative competence: An English as a lingua franca perspective [PowerPoint]. TESOL Arabia. Retrieved from http://www.sprachlernmedien.de/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Kohn-2013_ICC-an-ELFperspective_TESOL-Arabia_STZ.pdf

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Mellow, J. D. (2002). Towards principled eclecticism in language teaching: The two dimensional model and the centring principle. TESL-EJ, 5(4), 1-19. Retrieved from http://tesl-ej.org/ej20/a1.html

Sun, Y. (2014). Major trends in the global ELT field: A non-native English-speaking professional’s perspective. Language Education in Asia, 5(1).

Trilliing, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21st century skills: Learning for life in our times. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About Yilin Sun

Yilin Sun
Yilin Sun has served as president of TESOL International Association, as chair of the TESOL Affiliate Leadership Council, and president of Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages (WAESOL). In 2011-2012, Dr. Sun was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Taiwan at the National Taiwan Normal University. Dr. Sun received her doctorate in applied linguistics/curriculum and instruction from the University of Toronto, Canada. She has more than 28 years of experience in the field of TESOL as a teacher educator, a researcher, a classroom teacher, and a program leader with various institutions of higher education in China, Canada, and the United States. She is the author and co-author of books, book chapters, and research papers in refereed professional journals. Her research interests include curriculum development, program assessment and evaluation, L2 reading, vocabulary learning, classroom-based action research, teacher education, adult education, teaching English to young learners, World Englishes, ESP and nonnative English speaking teachers (NNEST) in the ELT field.
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6 Responses to 9 Strategies for 21st-Century ELT Professionals

  1. Marice says:

    May I have your email?

  2. Sutrisno says:

    Hello Dr. Sun,

    This is a great article. English teacher should refer his or her paradigm to this article.

    • Yilin Sun Yilin says:

      Dear Sutrisno,

      New Year’s greetings! Very best wishes to you and all the ELT colleagues for a happy, peaceful, and successful new year!


  3. Chris James says:

    Hello Dr. Sun,

    This is an excellent article I will do doubt read several times during my studies. I have been reading Kumaravadivelu’s article, “Towards a post method pedagogy” in terms of metacognition and autonomous learning. When discussing autonomous learning, the teacher must also be autonomous, in that they are independent thinkers ready to try implementing their own theories of teaching and learning in the class for their learners’ benefit. This sometimes can be challenging in an overseas context. Do you have any suggestions as to how to kickstart combining two of the 3rd strategies ingredients, cross-cultural understanding and collaboration? How does a western expat best go about facilitating a collaborative inquiry process within an East Asian educational institute?

    If you have any thoughts on the subject at all, I would love to hear them.

    All the best,


  4. Hilda Lucia Rosario Vereau says:

    Excellent Material for English teachers.

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