A web site for the developing language teacher

Teaching Tips 98

Major monitoring

Major monitoring

As teachers, we play many roles; classroom manager, course planner, monitor, corrector, language facilitator, adviser/counselor, motivator, tester
participator, entertainer, representative of the target language culture among others.

Depending on your approach, you might spend quite a lot of your time in the classroom in monitor role. Clearly we do this literally most of the time, gauging how the students are getting on, but here we are referring to monitoring the students while they get on with a task. This ranges from observing a roleplay to looking at a written task the students are doing.

It is often difficult for the inexperienced teacher to decide what to do when monitoring, with the tendency to either stay completely out of the activity or get into it too much to the detriment of the students & the activity. Creating the right balance depends on the students, the task & the stage in the lesson. Sometimes the students would prefer to be allowed to do a task on their own, while at other times they might prefer some intervention from the teacher.

And then how do you monitor? During discussions teachers sometimes find it difficult to hear what's going on due to the noise level. They then move around, sitting near to the group they are monitoring. Depending on the size of the class sometimes it is possible to sit in the centre & listen in to the different groups without moving positions.

Monitoring a written task can be done from in front but can be a bit imposing for the students & uncomfortable for the teacher. Sometimes the size of the room makes this the only way to get around & see how individuals are getting on, but if you have a bigger room monitoring from behind the student may be preferable, making it easier to see the student's work without getting in the way.

The teacher could be making notes for feedback afterwards, especially for the freer speaking tasks. Different task sheets for different activities could easily be designed that help the teacher focus on the students& the task at hand.

The students could be asked to do some monitoring.For examples in the Tip ' Working with Triads', the students are divided into threes, where student A & B do a task which student C monitors & takes notes on their performance. At the end of the task the monitors feed back to the observed & the whole group & the area being monitored can be expanded upon & refined for all.

Students could be assigned monitor buddies for sessions. They monitor each other to see how they go about the tasks given that day. At the end of the lesson the monitor buddies get together & discuss the strategies they used.

Part of Stephen Krashen's ideas on the Natural Approach concerns the 'monitor model'. Adult learners consciously monitor their own output & will try to self-correct before speaking & know some of the mistakes after speaking. Three types of monitor users are mentioned; monitor over-users are those who are very accuracy conscious, monitor under-users are not bothered about making mistakes, & optimal monitor users get the balance about right.

A way of encouraging optimal monitor use for under-users is to ask the students to monitor their talk during speaking activities & encourage them to take notes on when they felt unsure of how to say something or would have liked to have said something in a different way. At the end of the activity students could give each other feedback, you could take questions from the students, or they could be encouraged to put their comments in their learner diaries for written feedback from you. The more often the students take notes the less obtrusive it will be in the activities. For over-users lots of freer speaking activities with the emphasis on fluency with, initially, little correction afterwards can help them to loosen up.

Back to the contents



I was browsing through the book 'Accelerated Learning' by Colin Rose the other day & he gives some interesting stories. Among many is the story of the man who accidentally got locked in a refrigerator compartment & had to spend the night there. Although it was not switched on, he was found the next morning frozen to death. The explanation goes that he was expecting to freeze to death & so he literally did, regardless of the temperature.

Then he also mentions the placebos, fake pills, that are used in research & prescriptions. Quite a few experiments have shown that when a patient is given a placebo, being told that it will ease or solve a problem, it actually does because the patient expects it to.

And then there is the teacher who is told that one particular group is strong, while another weaker, when in fact there is little difference between them. The group labelled as strong is found to perform much better than the other group. This is down to the teacher's expectations & how she handles each group.

Have you taken over a 'difficult' group from another teacher to find that, yes, they are a difficult group to teach? What would have been the case if the previous teacher hadn't said anything? Maybe it would have been a challenge anyway, but then again maybe it might have been different. Before you hand over a difficult group next time, think carefully about how you are going to describe them.

Quite a lot of our adult beginners expect learning English to be a hard task. There's a good chance they have spent a good few years at school struggling with the grammar & they come along to continue much the same, so it's no wonder that the drop out rate for beginners if very high. It might simply be a question of the teacher selling it better from the start.

The same would apply when starting any course. Our learners bring their expectations with them & initially, in the first lesson or two, we have a chance to bend them towards a more positive stance. This is where first impressions really do count.

It's quite common for us to preview a heavy lesson with the cushioning comment ' It's a difficult area but let's see what we can do'. The students are going to expect the lesson to be difficult & it will be. An alternative would be to put a positive & light side to it & say 'Let's breeze through this & have some fun.' OK, some things are difficult but let's not make them doubly so from the beginning.

Expectations are just one variable in the equation, but one that is important & needs considering.

To buy 'Accelerated Learning' at To buy 'Accelerated Learning' at

Back to the contents



We have briefly looked at a few considerations when teaching vocabulary in the Tip 'Lexicheck':

As a continuation of this we also have to consider how we can review & recycle the vocabulary we introduce as it is said that students need to come across a word 8-14 times before it has been assimilated. This is quite a task given the limited contact time of most of the courses we teach, & although some coursebooks attempt to recycle vocabulary, none get anywhere near bringing items up 10 times consistently.

In class we can attempt to recycle vocabulary through carefully chosen reading & listening texts, warmers, games, brainstorming & roleplays. We can also use special activities such as Vocabulary Cards as described in the Tip:

We can also help the process by choosing relevant, interesting vocabulary in the first place. And then we can go on to personalise the vocab by asking the students to make some personal response to it; by talking about it in relation to their lives & experiences. This 'depth' then makes the vocabulary meaningful & more memorable.

At the end of the day though, it is the students themselves who need to take charge of reviewing the vocabulary. Awareness of how to go about systematically reviewing can go a long way. They could become even more organised & create their own vocabulary cards & organise their vocabulary notebooks better.

This reviewing is not the same as providing the different encounters with an item as seeing the items in different contexts will provide new clues as to its identity. New collocations, a more refined meaning & new ways of using items in different forms as in the word family might be noticed. So although it is valuable to review vocabulary covered, it is in the different contexts where the many facets of the words become apparent.

It is in the actual exposure to the language that the 8-14 encounters take place. If learning is taking place in an English-speaking country then the possibilities for contact with the language are clearly much greater than if learning takes place in the students' own countries. This is the very reason for going to a target language country to learn the language. But what about the great majority of learners at home. How can we help them to help themselves accelerate their assimilation of vocabulary?

Extensive reading outside of the classroom is probably the easiest form of exposure to manage. Start with graded readers for the lower levels & guide students to suitably interesting & appropriate material on & off the internet for the higher level learners. For the noticing of new aspects to take place, a degree of 'lexical intelligence' is needed. For example, students need to be able to identify parts of speech & be able to see new collocations. If not, it may well all wash over them.

And then there are other forms of contact outside of class; radio, TV, internet chat, cinema etc to promote. If motivated, students could regularly feed back to the class on the types of exposure they have been getting to English over the last week or so, at the same time recommending where their class mates could go.

The combination of reviewing vocabulary & encountering vocabulary again & again are parts of the process of remembering & 'knowing' a word. If we thought hard enough about it, we would be banging our heads against a wall in despair as it is a long process, but as teachers we can provide opportunities to see & use the vocabulary inside the classroom & strategies & advice for the students use outside of the classroom.

Some past Tips about vocabulary:
Looking It Up 1:
Looking It Up 2:
Favourite words:
Beautiful Words:
Storming Away:

Back to the contents

To the Past Teaching Tips

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