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Teaching Tips 81

The Motivation Shuffle - part 2
Anyone for tennis?

The Motivation
Shuffle - part 2

In the Tip 'The Motivation Shuffle' we briefly looked at integrative, instrumental, intrinsic & extrinsic motivation. To see the Tip:

A student's motivation can change as the course progresses & we have to try to pick up on it. An enthusiastic, motivated group at the beginning of a course can lose momentum as individuals feel the strain for one reason or another. If we keep this in mind & continually try to promote motivation then we can preempt these drops. Here are a few practical ways to really help with motivation in the classroom.

  • Interest -
    1. make your lessons interesting by choosing interesting & relevant texts. If the text in the coursebook are not going to grab your students, look for another or make your own. Make speaking activities interesting by providing a communicative purpose, a reason & outcome for the activity.
    2. Personalise the language & topics you are looking at. The more interest, the more depth there is & the more memorable it all becomes.
    3. Show an interest in the students as people, treating them as people before students. A bit obvious but something that can be lost in the race through the coursebook.
  • Fun & challenge - balance the lessons out with fun & challenge. Learning has to be enjoyable if progress is to be made. See the Tip 'Arouse, confront, dare, stimulate, provoke... ' for ideas on challenge.
  • Clarity - in all aspects, explaining what you are going to cover at the beginning of the lesson & review what you have covered at the end of the lesson. Set realistic aims & make your classroom management efficient.
  • Explain why & how - elicit or explain why you are asking your students to do the activities. If they are going to read a text quickly to get the gist, do they know why you are giving them 45 seconds to do this? If you are asking them to guess meaning from context, talk to them about strategies for doing this efficiently. This clearly helps with developing autonomy & independence.
  • Decide together - this refers to you & the students discussing what is to be covered & directions to take. You are the expert & they are the ones doing the learning. Combine the two for harmony & again promote independence.
  • Provide space - this can be through the points above & through things like going at the students' pace . See the Tip 'Space' for ideas on this:
  • Support - put yourself in your students' shoes & help them to feel comfortable & in control of the process through the above points.

An on-going activity that you could try is a motivation graph. Each student makes a graph in their notebook with the weeks marked on one axis & 1-100% motivation on the other axis. Set aside a time each week for them to mark on the graph where they feel their motivation is for that week. They could then compare with a partner, discussing the reasons for the placement. A general discussion could then open up - maybe a general change has taken place, the weather changing, something in the news etc that has affected everyone. One of the students might want to disclose about something that has happened to her that week. An interesting thread running through the course that helps you stay on top of how the students are feeling about their learning.

One of our important roles is that of the motivator & although there are other areas that can help with motivating learners, if you bear these fundamental points in mind in your lesson planning & in the actual lesson, you'll be sure to be providing interesting, motivating experiences for all.

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There was a time when it was thought that the way to teach the language was to contrast English with the learners' language, assume the similarities between the languages were transferable, & teach the differences. It seemed to make a lot of sense. This 'contrastive analysis', coming from behaviourist ideas of learning, was found to be full of holes; for example, problems were found where there were similarities & likewise, no problems were found where they were expected.

These interlingual errors were put on the backburner & intralingual errors, those within English, were given prominence with categories such as overgeneralisation, incomplete rule application & overcorrection.

However teachers have long recognised that transfer is a significant factor & it is slowly being recognised more & more in ELT literature. Negative transfer is easier to spot than it is for positive transfer as it is easier to see the error than it is to attribute correct production to transfer from the native tongue. The inclusion of positive transfer helps us talk more of performance analysis, than error analysis.

As teachers when we plan our lessons, we make assumptions about what the learners may know that we can build on, & we also try to anticipate any problems they might have, together with solutions if they arise. Within these two areas we take into account the transfer from the mother tongue & the effect it will have on what we are teaching.

For example, when teaching 'used to' for talking of discontinued past habits & states to Spanish learners, it is usual to point out that 'used to' is only used in the past & the present idea would use 'usually'. In Spanish there is the one verb 'soler' that covers both. This is preempting a problem of negative transfer.

Another example is with false friends. When teaching the word 'library', you need to point out that 'libreria' is not the same as this is 'book shop' in Spanish. For a list of Spanish false friends & an activity:

On the other hand, a knowledge of positive transfer can speed up the process; 'going to' is similar enough in Spanish to be useful so a presentation that uses this can work as a shortcut, leaving more time for practice & focus on phonology.

And it's not only meaning & form, phonology can clearly be transferred. With multilingual groups this is more difficult but books such as 'Learner English' by Swan & Smith (CUP), plus numerous websites easily found on Google, help us see how our learners' language deals with a similar aspect.
To see a review of 'Learner English' by Swan & Smith (CUP)
To buy the book from To buy the book from

There are difficulties with a contrastive analysis approach but, at the same time, it can be a useful tool in both the day to day planning of our lessons & when correcting some of our learners' problems.

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Anyone for

There have been many comparisons made between the teaching of English language & the teaching of other subjects. Which of the following do you think most closely relates to our job:

driving a car
riding a bike
using a computer

There are clearly aspects in each that are related to what we do in the classroom. Watching my younger son play in a tennis match today, I was reminded of the 'tennis clinic strategy'. Helen Johnson, in an ELTJ article, uses this metaphor to highlight a way of helping learners who are fossilised, learners who have reached a point in their learning where they can cope quite happily in their everyday situations but rely heavily on communication strategies for the unknown, & who could perform much better. This typically comes about at intermediate/upper intermediate levels with the learner seeming to stay at the level.

In her article Helen Johnson talks of how the traditional PPP lesson (presentation, practice, production) & the deep end strategy (test, teach, test) both fail to help the fossilised learner. The tennis clinic strategy takes the following form:

1. Communicative goal is set.

2. Students plan what they will want to say, including the things they need to learn.

3. Students learn (through communicating individually with the teacher).

4. Students communicate.

Defossilising by Helen Johnson ETLJ Vol. 46/2 April '92

So basically, you set up the task, telling the students what they are going to be doing. They then spend some time planning, individually, how best they are going to carry out the task. They might be consulting the coursebook, dictionary, grammar book at this stage. Then there is the consultation with the teacher - the tennis coach - who offers guidance on language & strategies to use. The students finally carry out the task.

The advantages of this approach is that it is a more motivating approach, the students themselves work out ways they can accomplish tasks, with the teacher guiding in the background. The classroom is the place to rehearse & this approach attempts to optimise learning & the execution of the task.

Helen Johnson recognises the difficulty of this approach with large groups. Splitting into pairs or small groups, the members preparing the same role in the forthcoming task, would be a way of dealing with this.

This brief mention of the tennis clinic strategy does not do justice to Helen Johnson's article. Read the article & add the approach to your range of options.

I wonder if there's anything we can learn from the tennis strategy that my son is now being encouraged to take by his coach? He is at the stage where a defensive strategy is apparently the way to win games. He does not yet have the sophistication or strength to win a game through winning points, so he plays off his opponent, waiting for him to make a mistake & lose the point. It worked very well for him today - he is now playing more with his head than trying to play with his strength. Changes of strategy can work for us & our learners as well. When we find that an approach doesn't work for a particular group, rather than plough on with more of the same, we have to use our heads.

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