If you ask most stds learning English
which areas they find most difficult they are likely to say
listening, speaking & vocabulary. Listening tends to top the
charts & rightly so. Generally speaking, apart from you talking,
the stds tend to listen to cassettes or if they are lucky
the odd video. The cassettes are very difficult as there are
no paralinguistic or situational clues available i.e. you
can't see the speakers, the setting & all the messages that
body language convey.
Here are a few ideas to help 'lighten the
load' for your stds & make it more success oriented & enjoyable:
1. Sink the stds into the theme - warm them
up to the what they might hear e.g. if the text is about schools
then you could brainstorm vocab connected to it & briefly
chat about their school experiences. They'll be more relaxed
& receptive to the listening activity.
2. Pre-teach crucial vocab - i.e. the vocab
which is necessary for meaning & the tasks.
3. Give an extensive task - we always listen
for a purpose - a couple of questions that require them to
listen very generally to the text first time they listen.
4. Make the tasks challenging but manageable.
5. Let them compare their ideas in pairs
each time before general class feedback.
6. Choose interesting texts for the stds.
7. Tell the stds which skills you are helping
to develop with the tasks you are setting so that they know
why they are doing them.
8. Keep telling them about 'prominence' -
the stressed words - they don't have to understand everything.
9. Match the task to the text - think about
what a native speaker would do when listening to the text
& transfer that to the tasks you plan.
10. Get them used to a lot of listening.
11. Try to pitch the texts you use well -
don't make them too difficult - it can be demoralising. Think
about speed of delivery, cultural familiarity, background
noise, accents of the speakers .
12. Take into account the stds on the day - are they tired,
hot? etc. - & act accordingly.
13. Have the scripts at hand if you are worried
they may find it too challenging - they can then listen &
read at the same time.
14. Be sympathetic to their problems with
Back to the contents
Do you timetable your lessons? It's
easy to let the coursebook do it for you but that's not really
taking full responsibility for the course you're providing
- the coursebook writer didn't write the book for your particular
group of stds. You need to see how your stds' needs are being
met & how a balance & variety of skills & input are being
Here's a timetabling procedure to start
1.Draw up a grid - make a box
for each lesson over the 2/3 week period.
2.Put in the fixed things like time in the library, computer
room, language lab, tests, project work etc.
3.Think back to what you've
done over the past two weeks.
4.Think about what your stds
need re. language, skills & interests.
5.Look at what's coming up next
in the coursebook.
6.Decide what might be useful
& what to discard.
7.Decide if there's anything
from the last two weeks/month that you can incorporate - recycling.
8.Fill in the skills work -
the listening, speaking, writing & reading.
9.Fill in the 'input' - the
language work - grammar, function & vocabulary.
10.Look at the balance & change
11.Write 'Provisional' at the
top of the page! Try to follow it but be flexible at the same
12.Give a copy to each std -
they can then mentally prepare themselves before each lesson.
Apart from being a logical stage
in the course planning, it saves a lot of time in the long
run. All you have to do each day is plan the lesson, rather
than run through the timetabling decisions every day.
to the contents
Promoting specific language
use in freer oral activities
You've designed a freer oral activity
but the stds don't come out with the language you wanted them
to practise. They use language that they are comfortable with
& not the newer language you introduced in the last lesson/week.
So what are your options? There are several things you could
A: Give them some planning
time. Let them think for a couple of minutes about what they're
going to say. This does make it more of a controlled activity
but the classroom is a place for rehearsals. (1)
B: Tell them that after the
activity you're going to choose a pair to re-do the activity
in front of the class. This will make all of the stds pay
much more attention to what they are saying - it puts a bit
of healthy pressure on. (1)
C: Before the activity focus
the stds directly on the language areas you want them to practise
- by eliciting or telling. Why wait to see if they can come
out with it - just tell them the aim of the activity - e.g.
'I'd like you to use 'going to' to talk about your plans -
do you remember we looked at this in the last lesson'. This
again will focus them a lot more than just leaving it to chance.
D: While they are doing the
activity go round & handout slips of paper to the stds with
the bits of language you want them to practise. Give different
pieces of language to different stds - in this way you can
deal with the different level stds in the group i.e.. Give
the more able stds more complex items. You could even give
them the paper before beginning with the instruction that
they must use their piece of language at least two/three times
in the activity.
Try them all & experiment.
(1) For more on these points check out articles by Pauline
Foster & Martin Bygate in 'Challenge & Change in Language
Teaching' - eds Willis & Willis (Heinemann)
the Past Teaching Tips