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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.


How to boost your students’ chances in an oral exam

In this post, Paul Davies, co-author of Solutions 2nd edition talks about boosting your students’ chances in oral exams.

Pity the poor student who has to sit an oral exam. Speaking in public is daunting enough – but in a foreign language? On a topic you haven’t chosen? With the knowledge that a poor performance could adversely affect the rest of your life? What a nightmare!

But sit them they must. So how should you help them prepare? Everything you do to improve their general level of English will contribute to success, but only if they manage to show off what they know come the big day. Here’s how to give them the best chance of doing that:

  • Resist the temptation to over-correct in class or fill every silence. Students need to get used to the sound of their own voice – including the sound of their own voice petering out. You’ll never learn to swim if you don’t take your armbands off.
  • Cover the topics you expect to come up in the exam. Sounds obvious, perhaps, but there is a temptation to gloss over some of the more hackneyed topics like recycling, education, childhood memories, and so on, in search of areas that are more stimulating and original. Be careful: off-beat topics are likely to generate little that is transferable, and well-worn topics are very likely to crop up in the exam.
  • Get them talking in pairs and groups. Not only will some students be more forthcoming in the relative privacy of a pair or small group, but also it increases the total amount of speaking that each student can do within the time available. You can’t monitor every conversation – which may not be a bad thing in itself – but you can spot check.
  • Whatever topics you cover, expose students to a range of ready-made opinions and insights. Examiners do not give marks for original thoughts, mainly because they have no way of detecting them. So don’t be hard on students who repeat verbatim what they’ve just heard or read – just make sure they understand it!
  • Teach set phrases for the functions they’ll need in the exam: presenting opinions, justifying yourself, presenting counter-arguments, and so on. And practise them until they are second nature. For example, arm your students with three or four different ways to frame an opinion: “To my mind, …”; “The fact is, …”; “The way I see it …”. (To really sound like a native speaker, opt for ungrammatical constructions like: “The key thing is, is that …”)
  • Discuss the details of the exam format. Some people love surprises, but this is not the time or place. Make sure your students know exactly what to expect, and when you practise exam tasks, do it in a way which is as close to the actual exam format as possible. And as the big day approaches, they need a few dry runs in exam conditions.

Once you’ve done your bit to boost their chances, the rest is in the lap of the gods – and your students’ own hands.

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