Jul 13, 2013

Honouring Penny Ur, OBE

Penny Ur was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to English Language Teaching earlier this year and as my last gig for the British Council I organised an event in her honour at the annual summer ETAI conference in Jerusalem. Knowing that events of this kind can easily slide into a sentimental outpouring of endless congratulations and knowing that Penny is not the kind of person who would like that, we were keen to keep it professional, elegant and not too gooey (Amanda Caplan, personal communication, 22 March 2013).

The event opened with footage from Windsor Castle showing Penny receive her award from the Queen. At this point, quite unexpectedly, the packed house broke into a rapturous applause. We wanted to avoid soppiness but this was indeed very emotional and I swear quite a few of us had tears in our eyes. After the standing ovation had subsided, Caron Sethill, Deputy Director of the British Council Israel officially opened the event with a short speech congratulating Penny on her achievement. This was followed by five speakers delivering short papers devoted mainly to Penny Ur's books.

Amanda Caplan shared with us a few activities and tips from Penny's recently republished "Vocabulary Activities". Nava Horovitz, Penny's long-time friend and collaborator  talked about teachers' notes in "Discussions that Work" in her presentation entitled "Penny's gems". Jeremy Day was up next and he shared his experience of working with Penny on the Active Grammar series. The last two papers were devoted to Penny's articles. Michele Ben, chair of ETAI, talked about the importance of crap-detecting which she learned from Penny. Finally I provided my interpretation of Penny's 1997 article "The English Teacher as Professional" in my Pecha-Kucha 20x20 style presentation.

The lights went out again and we watched a celebratory video montage put together by my colleague Linda (immense thanks once again!)

Greetings from teachers and colleagues from all over the world really overwhelmed the heroine of the day and she was literally speechless when she got up on the stage. Penny confessed that she rarely stumbles for words but that was a rare occasion she did.

The event turned out exactly the way I envisaged: tasteful, professional and entertaining - with just a dash of sentimentality thrown in. Many thanks to everyone who helped me organise it.
Photo by Manar Yacoub

For photos from the event, click here

For my other conference reports from ETAI 2013, click here and here


  1. I attended this amazing tribute to one of ELT's living heroes and was moved to tears. Well done Penny and well done Leo for putting together the event.

  2. Thank you for the comment and compliment!

  3. Firstly, I wish to express my sincere congratulations to Penny Ur on a well-deserved award. Congratulations!!
    I had the privilege to be trained using Penny Ur's book: "A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory". And most importantly, I had the honor to meet her in person at the IATEFL-PERU Annual International Conference 2012 in Lima, Peru.

  4. It was a great day, Penny, and I'm glad we received our awards together.

    Simon also OBE

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Simon! And congratulations on your OBE !
      P.S. I was at the CUP reception in your and Penny's honour

  5. What a wonderful event, and much deserved. I agree, 'Discussions at Work' really do work!

  6. What a wonderful teacher and person is Penny Ur. Thanks so much for letting the rest of the world know about this BC Israel event to honour her. You're fortunate to have her!

    1. Yes, she's somewhat of a goddess here.
      Thank you for the comment.

  7. I know I told you at the conference, but just to go officially on record - I thought the even was absolutely perfect! Thanks so much for organizing it!

  8. Wow! I didn't know about this award! Congratulations to Penny Ur on getting this richly-deserved award!
    She is actively present, I'm sure, in so many language classrooms all over the world - through her books.. :-)
    I work for a language school in India and I am rarely out of any resource for my ESL classes because of Penny Ur!
    Thank you So much Leo Selivan for letting everyone know about this!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sushama.
      I am sure what you describe is the case not only in India but in many different parts of the world.
      Thank you for stopping by!

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