To pre-teach or not to pre-teach
Before you give out a task with a reading
text or a task when playing a listening text you have to
decide if any vocabulary needs pre-teaching. If the students
don't know some of the vocabulary then they might find the
task very difficult. OK, but what criteria do you use to
decide which vocab needs pre- teaching?
A very nice model I've come across is from a very old Modern
English Teacher (Vol II, No. 3, p15) in an article by Carmen
1. First of all decide which items are known to the students
& which are unknown.
2. Then, focussing on the
unknown words, decide which are essential to comprehension
& which are not.
3. If they are essential to
comprehension, divide the items into those that can be inferred
from the context (A) & those that can't be inferred
4. If the items are not essential
to comprehension, decide on those that are high frequency
items (C) & those that are low frequency (D).
(A) - essential & inferred
from the context - for these items give some inference
task - the students are guided to work them out from the
(B) - essential & can't be inferred - pre-teach
(C) - non-essential & high frequency - focus
on these in specific vocabulary tasks.
(D) - non-essential & low frequency - ignore
these or explain them if asked.
to the contents
A bird's eye view
Do you always tell your students the truth,
the whole truth & nothing but the truth? Bet you don't.
What rule do you give your
elementary students for 'some' & 'any'? That we use
'some' in affirmative sentences & 'any' in negatives
& questions. OK, fair enough but what about the following:
I like any music.
I don't like some music.
Michael Lewis looks at this
in 'The English Verb' (LTP) & gives the following rule:
I like some music = part
I don't like some music =
I like any music = whole
I don't like any music = whole
This is a more accurate description
but maybe that's not the whole story either.
This different way of looking
at rules is described by Martin Bygate in 'Grammar' (OUP).
He talks of imagining you are looking at the ground from
30.000 feet up & seeing the bigger picture, getting
more detail at 10.000 feet & so on. The first rule for
'some' & 'any' is a 30.000 feet rule while the second
is a 10.000 feet one.
There is a time & a level
for the different rules you might give. Is it such a good
idea to give a detailed but accurate rule to lower level
students? Could it confuse them more than it might clarify?
You might think it patronising not to give the 'real' rule.
As they progress in their learning they'll only realise
you weren't telling them the whole story. On the other hand,
you are helping them generalise & progress by giving
simplified rules & other aspects can be added on as
they progress - after all, they are paying you to design
a manageable course. Your decisions will depend on the students,
the level, their capabilities & the language item in
Whatever your thoughts, do
your research & be in full possession of the facts -
the rules - & bear in mind the type of rule you are
giving. Don't blindly follow the coursebook view - it may
be the wrong one for your particular situation.
to the contents
Knock on wood
One of the most useful things we do in the
classroom is to give our students exposure to the language
through listenings or readings, especially if the students
are learning in their home country. Through this exposure
we are providing 'input' - we want the students to take
it in, mull it over, add it to what they already know &
come out with it in the future. It's not really enough to
leave it at that as we have to convert this 'input' into
what is called 'intake' i.e. the student consciously notices
certain aspects & draws it in. We can do this through
With reading texts, a typical noticing task is to get our
students to underline certain language. We have been looking
at a newspaper article & have predicted the content
from the headline, read to verify the predictions, followed
on with a more detailed comprehension task & before
the 'response' to the text - the discussion or roleplay
- we ask the students to underline all the examples of the
past simple in the text. This is the 'noticing'. This can
act as a memory jog or be a springboard for a more in- depth
look at the area.
What do we do with listening texts though? OK, after the
extensive & intensive listening we can then give out
the script & the student underlines specific language.
Alternatively, again after the extensive & intensive
stages, we can ask them to listen out for specific language
& tell them to say 'stop' when they hear it. The stronger
student will shout out first. Then you can highlight it
I would do it a bit differently first. Play it all through
without stopping & as they listen get them to knock
on the desk when they hear the items. You are then able
to see who is getting it & who isn't & act accordingly.
If there were general difficulties, go back, stop &