Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


#EFLproblems – Revising, reflecting, adapting, improving

Teenage students in classWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Verissimo Toste responds to Juliana Mota’s Facebook comment about how to connect one lesson to the next.

Juliana wrote:

How should we review lessons learned and make a connection with the new class?”

The first obvious answer is, “It depends.” But that’s not very useful. So let me propose some ideas and activities which you can adapt to the age of your students, their learning preferences, and their different abilities.

It’s their responsibility

From the very beginning, I try to make any revision the students’ responsibility. Once we have finished work on a unit or a module, I give them time to go back through the work we have done and ask any questions. This, of course, is easier when the class is based on a course book. Students leaf through the pages and are reminded of the work done. I then ask them to assess how they feel about the work in grammar, vocabulary, and the different skills. This assessment differs from class to class depending on the age and level of the students.

Students make a test

I ask students to make the test for the work we have done. Usually students leaf through the pages and suggest activities from the class book and the workbook. I ask each student to do this individually then compare their suggestions in pairs. Then, I ask them to work in groups of four. At this point, they compare their suggestions, but they must also agree on one test for the group. This generates a good discussion on the length of the test and what content is most important. More importantly, however, is that it creates a context for students to revise the work done, to prioritise that work, and to assess how they feel they are doing.

With the test based on their suggestions, students get a clearer idea of what they need to do in order to prepare. Giving them time to revise the work done generates more questions, leads to some revision exercises, and helps them notice their strengths and weaknesses. This is further reinforced when they get their test back.

Connect learning

When possible, connect new learning with language students have already learned. For example, you can base presenting the past simple on a daily routine. The daily routine gives the teacher an opportunity to revise the present simple, both the grammar and the vocabulary. Teaching adverbs can present opportunities to revise adjectives, as well as verbs. A text on the events of a very bad day can revise past forms and lead to teaching the conditional, “If they hadn’t …”

Skills lessons

Lessons with the aim of developing skills can, and should, focus on language learned. A listening or reading text will, most likely, use language students have learned. Once you have worked on the skill itself, guide your students to notice the language used in the text. Noticing language is an important learning tool that will help students improve their English.

Developing the productive skills of speaking and writing, will also provide students with an opportunity to revise language they have learned. Speaking activities are usually based on language students have just learned. Controlled practice activities will give them a chance to correct any mistakes. Writing tasks can give students an opportunity to use the language they have learned. Unlike speaking, students have more time to reflect on their mistakes and opportunities to correct through the writing process.

Project work        

I am a big fan of project work, whether the projects are small, taking little time, or larger projects spread over a greater length of time. Project work offers students the opportunity to use the language they have learned. As they share their work with others in the class, they will be exposed to the language in different contexts to communicate real information, usually about them and their experiences. The project will give them opportunities to reflect on the language they need. As the projects are meant to be shared, students are careful about mistakes, motivated to correct them before the project is presented to others.

The activities I mention here are based on making revision an integral part of the class and not necessarily based on any particular language point or skill in which students have difficulty and thus need more work. The activities give students the opportunity to revise what they have learned, reflect on their progress, adapt their learning based on the reflection, and finally, improve their English.

Invitation to share your ideas

Do you have anything to add on the subject of revising language? We’d love to hear from you! You can respond directly to this blog by leaving a comment below.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks.

Leave a comment

Six levels, six stages – in sixty minutes

How is the ‘Can Do’ ethos of Headway linked to the aims of our students and the CEFR bands? Stacey Hughes will be exploring this question in the webinar: “Six Levels, Six Stages – in Sixty Minutes” on 28th November 2013 at 9:30 and 15:00 (GMT).

In the past, learning a language involved learning more about language than learning to do things with the language. What pedagogical issues does this shift in focus raise? How does it link to student expectations in the kinds of tasks we set for them?

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) focuses on what students are able to do at different levels; in other words, what they are able to talk and write about and what they are able to understand from reading or listening. It is this focus on what learners can do with language – how they can effectively use language for communication – that Headway brings into its activities.

When aiming to help students achieve their learning goals, we also need to consider who our learners are and what are they learning English for. What kinds of activities and topics can course books utilize that will improve students’ ability to communicate effectively in a language? How can we extend this learning outside of the classroom?

These are some of the issues we will explore in the webinar. Using some of the CEFR level descriptors, we will identify language skills from six different level bands. We will also look at Headway’s approach to learning and see how it links to the practical application principles in these descriptors.

As teachers, we know that students gradually build up proficiency. However, students need frequent, reachable goals to see their progress. They also need to see the connection between what they are doing in a course and how it is useful for them in using the language. This webinar will show teachers how they can join the dots between activities in Headway with ‘Can Do’ objectives.

Register for the webinar now.

Webinar times

1 Comment

A New Year Resolution Worth Investing In

Young man reading on the trainIn this article, Margaret Deuter, a managing editor in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press, considers how to really make a fresh start this New Year!

7 a.m. on a damp winter’s day. Commuters standing around on a dark railway platform, trying to read the free newspaper in the pools of inadequate light shed by the station lights or cradling cups of coffee (or is gingerbread mochachino something else?). But wait – there’s someone lying on the ground! Before anyone can rush up to offer assistance, he’s hoisted himself onto hands and toes – he’s doing press-ups!

In my pool of light I’m just reading about the Edinburgh barber who’s offering a free haircut to anyone who can do thirty pull-ups. Perhaps our man’s in training for that. It would be a long way to go for a haircut, though. So I dismiss it as New Year Syndrome: here is someone who has made a resolution to get fit and is using every spare minute in pursuit of his goal. It’s a true test of our resolve that in the northern hemisphere, the season of good resolutions coincides with the coldest, darkest part of the year. Hardly surprising that most of us give up after a week or two.

But not all resolutions involve physical discomfort. Personally I don’t want to have any closer contact with the wet tarmac than is strictly necessary, but brain gym – well, that’s another matter. Lots of us use the feeling of optimism around a new year to start learning something new, or to get more serious about our learning. And it feels good to think that we commuters are not wasting the time we spend on the train or the bus, or in the car, but using it, for example, to improve our language skills. Are you one of those people?  Do you listen to English on your MP3 player or take a notebook to revise vocabulary on the bus? If you’re in the car you have the advantage of being able to practise speaking out loud without other people around you wondering whether you’ve gone mad. Perhaps you have an app on your phone to practise your English?  Do you play language games or test yourself on grammar or new words? We’d like to hear from you.

When I was at school we were warned NOT to do our homework on the bus, and frankly, it was quite a struggle to do a good diagram of a Liebig condenser on the back seat of a double-decker, but there are advantages to using travelling time for learning, particularly now that we have the mobile devices to help us. Language learning benefits most from regular practice – a few minutes a day is likely to help us improve more than a single bout of an hour a week, so using the commute to work or college is a good way of finding a slot in our otherwise packed schedules.

I know we should all be thinking about getting fit, but really, isn’t it boring doing all those physical jerks? Why isn’t there someone out there offering free haircuts to people who can learn 100 new words, or conjugate a particularly tricky verb?  There’s an easy answer to that – lots of us can achieve it. The Edinburgh hairdresser knew he wasn’t going to be ruining his business, because most of his customers can’t manage thirty pull-ups. Learning a language in bite-size chunks is a much more manageable goal. You can even do it while you’re jogging…

Good luck with the good resolutions!

And if you need a little help along the way, take a look at our range of mobile apps to aid your language learning.

Bookmark and Share