Back to classroom basics
Ask questions about the language you’re teaching to generate connected language.
Whether you’re checking the answers to vocabulary exercises or simply explaining new language that’s come up in texts, it’s a good idea to work the language a bit and see how much students really know about it.
The extra language can be the source of real humor in class sometimes and also allows you to give students more language to say what they want to say using the language you’ve been testing them on.
Move away from asking “Are there any words you don’t know?”
A better question to consider after doing texts in class is “Did you notice how these words worked in the text you’ve just read?” More language-oriented post-text tasks include things like: matching verbs from the text to the endings they collocate with; creating gapped sentences from the text which students then try to complete from memory, and so on. This both encourages noticing and also actually teaches some new language.
SET GOALS FOR LANGUAGE
Make sure even skills-based lessons have a language goal.
No matter what teachers think texts in the classroom are for, students tend to see them as a source of new language. We need to respect this and make sure that once we’ve done any comprehension questions or skimming/scanning tasks, we still extract some useful new language from the texts and do something to connect it to our students.
NO SINGLE WORDS
Don't write single words up on the blackboard.
Remember that there are two main sources of new language that students go away from class with — the language they meet in their course books and the language we write on the blackboard. The latter can be tailored more to their realities and their experiences and can give them something meaningful and relevant to revise from outside class. As such, it’s better not to write single words up on the blackboard. Also to be avoided are things like “to keep fit” or “to get sacked”. Try to write up examples of how you actually use this language — and how students might actually hear it being used outside of class. “I try to keep fit by going to the gym twice a week” or “He got sacked for being late all the time” model usage far better — and the extra language serves as a useful memory aid.
TRIPLE “EX” RULE
Use your class to expand upon the examples you put up on the blackboard.
Once you have examples like the above on the blackboard, you can ask the class “Anything else you can do to keep fit?” and “Any other reasons why people get sacked?” Use their ideas to add to these examples, so you end up with things like this:
I try to keep fit by…going to the gym twice a week.
…cycling to work.
…going swimming as often as I can.
He got sacked for…being late all the time.
…drinking in the office.
…telling his boss to get lost!
One easy way to think about all of this is to EXplain new language, give EXamples of usage and to then use the class to EXpand upon these — the triple “EX” rule!
Model speaking tasks for students.
As a lead-in to student talking time, it helps if we give students an idea of exactly what kind of turn we now expect them to take. I usually give my classes a few minutes to read any questions I want them to talk about and, before getting them to talk to each other, I simply tell them my own answer to one of the questions. This helps to root me as a human being in the class and also clarifies for students the kind of thing they can now aim for.
Make sure you revise language.
Students need repeated comprehensible exposure to language over time if it’s going to stick. This means we need to take responsibility for revising in class. Activities we can do include:
Getting students to translate lists of sentences from previous classes.
Getting students in pairs to act or draw expressions from a list for their partner to guess.
Getting the class to organize expressions into groups.
Looking back at a previous exercise. Ask students to check any expressions they’ve forgotten.
Put students in pairs and ask them what they remember about a text. Then reconstruct it together, re-using some of the new language it contained.
Accept the inevitability of translation.
At almost all levels, but especially pre-advanced, students translate — whether we like it or not. Rather than see this as a problem, it’s better to see it as an opportunity — both to make students aware of the perils of translating grammatical structures and single words and to raise awareness of the importance of translating chunks or even whole sentences.
Why not give students a daily list of 10-20 expressions from class and get them to translate them? They can then use the translations to try to recall the English at a later date.
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