A web site for the developing language teacher

Is My Map To Scale?
by Mark Wilson

Task Sequence 2: Limits Of Validity

Good teaching is not just a matter of assuming there are certain "good things to do in the classroom" and then applying them uncritically. It is a question of constant watchfulness and decision-making, prioritising options for optimal effect, choosing the most appropriate next step at each point. To a large extent this can happen at the planning stage, but to a certain extent it has to happen on the spur of the moment in the classroom itself. Over time, the better I develop my instincts for such decision-making, the less meticulous I need to be in planning. These instincts can perhaps best be developed by questioning the limits of validity of any given procedure.
Here is a list of things which are often regarded as "good practice". For each of them, think of as many ways as possible of completing the following sentence, then discuss with colleagues:

......... is/are valid for ....... but not if ..............

  • brainstorming
    drawing timelines
    getting students to compare their answers
    setting tasks and activities
    getting students to predict
    getting students to read aloud
    explaining grammar
    getting students to explain language points to each other
    using dictionaries in class
    going over homework in class

Obviously the list can be extended, adapted and constantly updated. It might take several sessions to cover all of it in satisfying depth. Through such discussion, and perhaps by comparing with results obtained from previous discussion groups, teachers come not only to question their own practice but to feel part of an emerging consensus as to what is and isn't valid in their particular teaching context. And where controversy arises, that too is part of the process: simply add a rider to the framework-sentence so that it reads:

".... is/are valid for ..... but not if ......; but ..... or .....?"

Teachers then explore the controversy in their subsequent teaching.

In practice, it is of course useful for the session leader to have sketched out their own "suggested answers" in advance, and then to seek an appropriate blend of elicitation and guidance during feedback. If you would like a set of already road-tested "suggested answers", contact me on

The results of a discussion on the first item - brainstorming - might look like this:


is valid for

- getting Ss thinking about a given topic as a lead-in to a task (reading, listening or writing)
- diagnosing how much vocab they already know in a given area
- confidence-building
- reinforcing/extending what Ss come up with by adding a collocational element

but not if

- it goes on too long
- teacher doesn't clearly distinguish between diagnosis and input (i.e. assumes that what they come up with is all they need)
- not challenging enough
- teacher automatically puts everything up on board regardless of how new or useful
- teacher doesn't fix new items on board and get Ss to copy in notebooks
- T doesn't check that what is written in notebooks is in fact correct
- teacher doesn't check that all Ss understand (and hear!) the items that come up

And so on for the other listed aspects of classroom practice.

Task Sequence 3: Four Truths Of Teaching

Task 1: For each of the four statements below, discuss:
To what extent is it true? What should be done about it?

1. What you put in doesn't necessarily go in.
2. What goes in doesn't necessarily stay in.
3. What stays in doesn't necessarily come out.
4. What comes out wasn't necessarily put in.

Key concepts:

Task 2: Extend each of the four statements by adding "because..." or "unless..."


Mark Wilson is a DOS and teacher trainer at International House, San Sebastián. He previously worked in the UK, Indonesia, India and the Dominican Republic.

Back to the beginning of the article

To the print-friendly version

Back to the articles index

Back to the top

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us Online Development Courses    Lesson Plan Index
 Phonology — Articles Books  LinksContact
Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2016© Developing