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The Common Sense Approach—Advanced EFL
Steve Schackne
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The conference section has the teacher meeting the groups and analyzing (perhaps challenging) their findings, and shoring up any factual or logical errors. Are their sources legitimate; that is, are they objective or do they present a pronounced point of view? Are their findings tinged with any bias-- do the students assume a particular outcome which would lead them to interpret data in a prejudicial manner? Is the “factual” material, indeed, factual? For example, is global warming a current climactic condition or is it a possible future consequence of greenhouse gas buildup?

Class presentation is when students not only introduce their work to classmates, but also field questions that may be raised by the presentation.

Although there appears to be quite a bit of teacher-student contact, it is actually a small part of the course, as students are doing a bulk of their work outside of class, and the teacher is basically operating as a resource/tutor.

The projects vary, some (e.g., writing and performing a one-act play) emphasize creativity, while others (e.g., writing an op/ed piece and letting students debate it) emphasize critical thinking skills, but they all involve the three-section format which I label research, conference, presentation, but could easily be labeled thinking, monitoring and revising, communicating, the three processes activated in almost all language events.


Students at the advanced level often don’t relate well to traditional language instruction. They are fully capable of seeking out texts for self-remediation, especially in discrete areas such as grammar and vocabulary. Rather, they need to practice their acquired language in contexts which are interesting and meaningful to them. Furthermore, this practice should involve both creative processing and logical thinking, which are cognitive dynamics that are almost always found at higher language levels. By fulfilling these two requirements, students will get useful language practice in real-world settings and situations.

Appendix I (Three Examples)

Topic Area: Drama/Literature

Project : Write a one-act play and perform it

Research : Students brainstormed storylines and examined them for

interest and dramatic adaptability.

Conference : Teacher and students went over dialog options,

looking at appropriacy, idiom, dialect. Script cues and body language

were also discussed. Teacher made suggestions; students made some

revisions based on suggestions.

Presentation : Play performance


Topic Area: Journalism, Forensics

Project : Write an opinion/editorial article and then let another group debate it

Research : Students brainstormed contemporary issues suitable for editorial treatment. Students read sample op/ed pieces from journals and newspapers. Students reviewed a tutorial on organizational guidelines for argumentation and debate.

Conference : Teacher made editorial suggestions, especially in the areas of usage and logic.

Presentation : Submission and reading of op/ed*

*The subsequent debate could either be considered presentation or an extra, project-related task.


Topic Area : Politics, Public Opinion

Project : Conduct a survey/poll on the upcoming election; present your results

to the class both orally and graphically, and draw conclusions from the results.

Research : Students brainstormed what information they wanted to glean from the survey. Students reviewed two tutorials on designing a questionnaire, one from Georgia Tech University, USA, one from the University of Leeds, UK. Students were directed to a graph generating tool offered by the National Center for Education Statistics, USA.

Conference : Teacher looked at questionnaire, made suggestions to reduce question bias and redundancy. Teacher asked the students to clarify the relationship between individual questions and election information they were seeking. Teacher and students discussed different graph options that could be used to represent survey results.

Presentation : Students presented the results of their survey, drew conclusions based on those results (level of voter turnout, victorious slate of candidates) and supplemented their presentation with bar graphs and pie charts.


Harmer, Jeremy . The Practice of English Language Teaching , Longman, 1991-2000.

Schackne, Steve . “The Common Sense Approach: How One Teacher Organized A Speaking Course For 200 Chinese Graduate Students,” in DevelopingTeachers.Com, 2005.

Schackne, Steve . The Common Sense Approach: Liberate Your ESL Students, Lead Them Out of the Classroom, TEFLAsia Magazine , January, 2006.


Steve Schackne has spent 25 years in the field of linguistics. In addition to teaching, his background includes teacher training, program administration, and online-distance learning. He was educated at the University of North Carolina and the State University of New York, and has taken post graduate language training at Taipei Language Institute and the University of Macau.
His postings have included Taipei Language Institute, Tunghai University (Taiwan), Kansas University, Culver Educational Foundation, University of California--Santa Barbara, Oklahoma State University, University of Macau, Ming Chuan University (Taiwan), and Fooyin Institute of Technology (Taiwan). He has lectured and published all over the world, but is now best known for his educational resource web site, Schackne Online.

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