YLT iatefl

IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers SIG is one of IATEFL’s 16 Special Interest Groups and a key part of the Association’s worldwide network of English language teaching professionals.  As the YLTSIGs History below shows, our special interest group has developed over the past 30 years to redress the general ‘adult’ default focus in English language teaching.  The SIG’s position is that children and teenagers have varied sets of needs, rights and age-related differences which need to be carefully prioritised in YLT English language teaching.

Our Committee

The SIG is run by a team of geographically dispersed volunteers who form our Committee. Members are required to have a proven track record in YLT as well as in their particular responsibility areas. The Committee comprises the following members:

David Valente
Coordinator / Publications Editor

I’m the Coordinator of YLTSIG and Editor of the SIG’s publications. I work as an independent educational consultant, teacher trainer and materials developer specialising in primary and secondary ELT. I’m also a tutor for the Cambridge English CELT-P and CELT-S awards.

My 20 years’ ELT experience has included authoring teachers’ handbooks and courses for primary and secondary curriculum development as well as methodology training in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Australasia. I’m also an online tutor for Bell Delta Modules 2 and 3 courses, specialising in training candidates who teach children.


David Dodgson
Web Coordinator

I’m the Web Coordinator for the SIG and currently work as ICT Coordinator at the British Council in Bahrain, one of the largest teaching centres for YLs in the Middle East. I hold an MA in EdTech and TESOL and the Trinity DipTESOL.

I have worked with primary and secondary YLs in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. During that time, I have designed courses focused on developing communicative skills, and preparation courses for Cambridge YLE exams. I have presented at numerous conferences and online events. I am also a regular contributor to teaching magazines and an avid blogger.


Joan Kang Shin
Online Events Coordinator

I’m YLTSIG’s Online Events Coordinator. I’m also an Associate Professor of Education at George Mason University in the United States and Academic Coordinator of the Teaching Culturally & Linguistically Diverse & Exceptional Learners Program. I have worked in ELT for over 20 years as a teacher, trainer, author, editor, and professor. Through the years, I have provided both online and face-to-face professional development programs to English teachers in over 100 countries. My areas of specialization are teaching English in global contexts to young learners and utilizing online spaces to build international virtual communities of practice for teachers.

Lia Testa Teismann
Joint Events Coordinator

I’m the SIG’s Joint Events Coordinator and also Academic Manager of a British Council early years and primary learners’ centre in Singapore. In this role, I manage a team of young learner specialists and design syllabuses and materials specifically an ESL context. I also organize regular educational events for the professional development of teachers. I host events to involve parents/caregivers in their children’s learning and have run PR events for universities and open houses.

I am a Cambridge DELTA-qualified secondary specialist and have worked in ELT for the past 12 years. I have presented on a range of secondary topics and on using storytelling in the early years and primary English classroom. I am also a tutor for Trinity TYLEC and Cambridge CELTA and have trained teachers in international schools as well as in ESL/EFL contexts.

Leticia Moreas
Joint Events Coordinator

I’m Joint Events Coordinator for the SIG and Academic Coordinator at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo, Brazil where I’m responsible for the design of courses for children and teenagers. I’m also involved in teacher training initiatives, especially those which involve young learner teachers.

My 15 years’ experience in ELT has involved teaching young learners and adults, as well as dealing with setting up and organizing training, preparing materials for courses and open houses. I am also involved in professional development events, which reach more than 500 teachers, and in the selection of proposals for mini conferences.

Vinnie Nobre
Business Development Coordinator

I’m the Business Development Coordinator of the SIG. I am also the Academic Manager of Associação Cultura Inglesa São Paulo, a not-for-profit language center in Brazil. I have been working in ELT for over 20 years as a teacher, teacher trainer, course developer, author, CELTA and ICELT tutor and assessor, Cambridge examiner and business consultant. I have written course books for children and teenagers and provided training courses to teachers in Brazil and abroad.

I hold the Cambridge Delta, an MA in ELT and a post-graduate certificate in Business.  I’m Past President of BRAZ-TESOL and former leader of the Education and Development Group of the British Chamber of Commerce in Brazil. I’m especially interested in educational management, teacher development, teaching children and teenagers, and YL course design.


Shay Coyne
Social Media Coordinator

I’m the Social Media Coordinator for the SIG. I currently work as an independent educational consultant in Barcelona, Spain. I have worked in ELT for almost 20 years as a teacher, trainer and consultant. In Japan, I worked as the YL coordinator teaching early years, primary and secondary aged students, as well as training new YL teachers. In Spain, I have continued to specialise in all three age groups as a teacher and trainer, both online as a tutor for International House World Organisation, as well as working face-to-face with YL teachers’ continuous professional development. In my previous role as ADoS, I was responsible for syllabus and assessment for primary and secondary aged students.

I have also collaborated as an author for early years teacher training programs online and summer coursebook materials for primary aged students, and I contribute to online newsletters, journals and blogs which focus on YL pedagogy. I attend and present at international ELT conferences and online webinars. I’m active on Twitter and often participate on the ELT Ireland Twitter chat. I hold a BA in Psychology, the CertTESOL and a MA in Applied Linguistics. My areas of specialisation are teacher cognition, and lesson planning for students in early years programs.

Our History

History of the SIG Contributed by Shelagh Rixon
(Special Pearl Anniversary Newsletter, 2016)

The SIG filled a long-felt and also rather ironical gap in IATEFL affairs. Conferences were the main, almost the only, activity of the Association during its first 18 years. As President (called ‘Chair’ at the time), Bill Lee would continually lament in his Conference reports in the IATEFL Newsletter (the only publication of the time and the ancestor of Voices) that there had been little or no discussion of teaching children or teenagers. The irony was that in most other matters at that time Dr Lee had a major influence and that there were already members with distinguished reputations in young learners teaching. However, this was one ambition that he was not able to fulfil while Chair.

The second IATEFL President, Professor Peter Strevens, who took up office in 1984, was keen on the idea of setting up sub-groups within IATEFL to reflect the different concerns of members in a similar way to the specialist groups within TESOL. A number of long-standing members, including Opal Dunn, Leonora Fröhlich-Ward and Andrew Wright, remember talking with him in his early days as President about setting up a group for teachers of children and teenagers. Informal discussions at the 1984 Groningen Conference seem to have been the next step. Andrew Wright says that a key conversation took place when a number of like-minded people, including Edie Garvie, were thrown together on a rather long conference bus-ride!

Then, a notice appeared in the IATEFL Newsletter (no. 85 October 1984 p. 13) entitled ‘Specialist Interest Group in Young Learners’, saying the following:

A number of participants at the IATEFL conference in Groningen expressed particular interest in the teaching of English to young people. Everyone concerned agreed that it would be good to meet at Brighton during the next IATEFL conference and discuss the possible formation of a Specialist Interest Group in Young Learners.

The notice requested expressions of interest, and suggestions for what it should do, to be sent to Andrew Wright.

At the Brighton 1985 conference (Newsletter 87:3), a meeting was held to discuss what was then called a ‘Specialist Group for those with an interest in Young Learners. Founding figures were Leonora Fröhlich-Ward and Opal Dunn along with Andrew Wright who had started things going with the Newsletter announcement. Thirty-two people signed up in Brighton. Bill Lee, delighted that his ambition had at last been realised, was amongst them and took an active interest until his death in 1996. No formal committee was established but Andrew Wright agreed to act as ‘liaison person’.

There seems to have been no further meeting until the 1986 Conference, where there was a discussion on reading, led by Edie Garvie, followed by a ‘discussion and decisions on what the Group is and what it intends doing during the following year’ (Newsletter 90:3).

The next event – on bilingualism and testing – was held in late 1987 in the UK, as were all of the early meetings. Around 40 people attended. From there things took off rapidly.  It is probably true to say that one of its major contributions at that time was to the professional lives of those concerned with children in state primary schools. These were years in which many countries were deciding rather rapidly to lower the age of starting foreign languages which in most cases meant introducing them at primary school, with English the most popular choice. Many teachers were about to face new challenges.

YL at that time was such an under-researched area that the applications of core educational processes such as assessment needed exploring, as did issues like the role of literacy in language learning. Cooperation with others interested in testing, Learner Autonomy and literature proved particularly important and fruitful.  One reason for the productivity of the SIG is that since the earliest times it has cooperated with others in ‘YL and …..’ events, many of which have led to publications. A ‘classic’ volume from that period (Allen 1995), still much sought after on MA and other YL teacher education courses, is from the Cambridge seminar of 1995, run jointly with the Testing SIG.

SIG ‘tracks’ in Conference programmes started in 1987, making it more apparent to delegates which sessions were likely to be of interest to them. The introduction of conference tracks not only stimulated more YL contributions but made them more visible to the wider membership. Young Learners were about to come out from behind the sofa.

In May 1993, the SIG held its first event outside the UK, with a meeting at The British School in the Netherlands. Wendy Superfine, later to be Events Coordinator (from 1995 to 2001) helped set this up.  The next event was a joint symposium in 1995 held with the Testing SIG in Brno, Czech Republic.

In this period SIG outreach events started to gain in frequency, with very active promotion by Coordinators like Annie Hughes and Wendy Superfine (who combined this role with that of Events Coordinator between 1994 and 1998). In each of the years 1997 and 1998 a major YL conference was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Examples of other events in this period are those in Spain (1998 Barcelona and Madrid); Malta (1999); Poland (Gdansk.1999); Hungary (Budapest, 2000), Italy (Viterbo, 2000 and Florence 2001).

Since 1999, starting with its first PCE on the training of teachers of Young Learners, held jointly with the Teacher Training SIG, the SIG has put on a series of Pre-Conference Events, sometimes working jointly with another SIG and varying between general methodological and specific fields. Topics have included Classroom Research (2005, Cardiff), CLILL, (2006, Harrogate), Literacy in the Language Classroom (2007, Aberdeen), and Drama (2013, Liverpool).

In 1998, the SIG got its first website, set up and managed, until 2009, by Christopher Etchells. This facilitated many new and important activities such as the moderated discussions, initiated by Sandie Mourão a year later. Each had an expert ‘fielder’. The discussions were later facilitated by Wendy Arnold and then Dennis Newson and continued until 2013. Records show the titles of over 60 topics, some fielded by stellar external figures as well as by SIG members (demonstrating the high levels of internal expertise achieved by then).  A sample of topics and fielders from these early years shows the variety:

  • Special Educational Needs, David Wilson, 1999
  • Teenagers and Project Work, Diane Phillips, 2001
  • English through Arts and Cultures: A Cross-Curricular English Course for Young Learners (6 – 12), Livia Farago, 2003
  • Songs: valuable teaching resource or just time-fillers? Annie Hughes, 2004
  • Bilingual Education, Stephen Krashen, 2004

Cooperation with other SIGs continued, one of the most distinguished and engaging results being a joint publication (Paran and Watts (eds.) 2003) with the Literature and Cultural Studies SIG on stories and storytelling. Shortly afterwards, there was a conference on story and storybook use held in Munich in 2004 which generated another widely-cited volume (Enever and Schmid-Schönbein 2006). Meanwhile, individual representatives of the SIG were increasingly presenting at overseas conferences. Existing members benefited and new members were attracted to join by these means.

A few years into the 21st century, YL teaching was well-enough established in many contexts to allow reflection and research on aims and means. In January 2008, the SIG was a partner with the British Council in a very significant international conference on YL policy which took place in Bangalore, India. The conference attracted key figures from 26 countries and generated a publication (Enever, Moon and Raman (eds.) 2009) that is by now a recognised classic in educational policy studies. Coming of age or what?

The SIG was now in a position where it seemed to be time to think of sharing expertise further afield, geographically speaking. Outreach events proliferated and now extended way beyond Europe. One example was the enterprising idea of ‘exporting’ the 2007 PCE on ‘Literacy in the Language Classroom’. A version of this rolled out as a one-day seminar the following November, hosted by the British Council in Singapore and two days later in Hong Kong.  There were other key events which took place in China in 2008.

In recent years, clarification of the age ranges the SIG’s members teach has taken place, embodied in the 2015 re-organisation of Newsletter content into sections of interest to teachers of Early Years, Primary, Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary levels. The recent increased focus worldwide on teaching English to Early Years children was recognised by this being the subject of the Pre-Conference Event at the 2012 Glasgow Conference.

Since 2013, the SIG has pioneered another field, that of Webinars. The first one, ‘Researching with Young Learners’ took place on 27 January 2013 in cooperation with the Research SIG.  Since then, efforts have been made to set up a webinar at least every two months.


The first and major achievement has been to give Young Learners and Teenagers teaching visibility within IATEFL itself. From a position of there being little or no discussion of the teaching of children or teenagers, within a year or two of its ‘real’ start in 1986 the SIG had set up a very substantial YLT presence within the Conference programmes and in a growing number of other high-profile events elsewhere.

Secondly, the SIG has played an honourable and effective role in the fight for YL teaching to be taken as seriously as it should be within the profession and the worlds of scholarship and public commentary and we have the reputation and the publications to prove it. Apart from the publications already referenced, mention should be made of the latest SIG book (Giannikas, McLaughlin, Fanning and Deutsch (eds.) 2015) which was launched to mark our Pearl Anniversary at the 50th IATEFL Conference in Birmingham, 2016.

Shelagh Rixon has documented 30 years of SIG committee members and volunteers in this Pearl Jubilee commemorative poster

SIG committee members and volunteers in this Pearl Jubilee commemorative poster

SIG Pioneer

Opal Dunn was closely involved in the founding of the SIG and has remained an active member and avid supporter for over 30 years. Her pioneering work with children's picturebooks in ELT spans
fifty years. Read about her inspiring experience here:

SIG committee members and volunteers in this Pearl Jubilee commemorative poster

Shelagh Rixon’s map poster reflects the SIG’s global reach over the past 30 years

Map poster