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10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #10 Present the tasks properly

Female teacher holding out her left armFollowing on from his first post, 10 Commandments for motivating language learners, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at the last of the 10 Commandments: Present the tasks properly.

Another of Dornyei’s and Czizer’s motivational Commandments is one I wouldn’t have come up with myself. It reads: Present the tasks properly.

Mmm. I absolutely know how not to present tasks properly – for a clear set of instructions of what not to do I need only think back to my younger days in the job (far enough away now in time and place for the thought not to be too embarrassing). This list includes being unfocused, unclear, repeating myself, not explaining everything the students need to do or know and generally waffling unforgivably (all sins I’m sure I still commit often but not on such a regular basis. I hope).

That’s a lot of negatives.

We can put things more positively: we should be clear, we should make sure the students know which language they will need to do the task, and the reason for doing it. So, I suppose, we can give answers to all the wh- questions. What are students doing and using, which language, how long will it go on for, why are they doing it, and who are they doing it with. That may be a beginning to explaining things better. But I wonder what it looks like on the ground…

Here’s an exercise taken at random from New English File Upper-Intermediate. It reads:

e  In pairs or small groups, discuss the questions:

1  What do you think are the strengths of your nationality?

2  What are the weaknesses?

In what way would you say you are typical?

(Aficionados won’t need telling that it’s part of a larger lesson on national stereotypes, p. 20.)

Looking at my own advice, I guess I would present the task something like this. ‘OK guys, it’s time to have a talk about these things. Take a look at the instructions. Any questions? … No, OK. I think this is a useful thing to do because it gives you a chance to use some of the new words and ideas we’ve been working with. I think about five minutes is enough in your buzz groups. At the end I want you to be able to report back on one of your colleagues.’

Would you do the same or different?

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