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Teaching Tips 24

To pre-teach or not to pre-teach

A bird's eye view

Knock on wood

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 Nair.

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 (B).

4. If the items are not essential to comprehension, decide on those that are high frequency items (C) & those that are low frequency (D).

Action plan:

(A) - essential & inferred from the context - for these items give some inference task - the students are guided to work them out from the context.

(B) - essential & can't be inferred - pre-teach these items.

(C) - non-essential & high frequency - focus on these in specific vocabulary tasks.

(D) - non-essential & low frequency - ignore these or explain them if asked.

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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 = part

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 question.

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.

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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 'noticing' tasks.

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 for all.

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 & highlight afterwards.

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