TEACHING BLOG

18. Which should be the main focus of your planning: vocabulary, grammar, exam technique? – How about the students!

As I am writing this post I am also listening out for my new born son and my (slightly jealous) 3 year old, so if there are any typos, please forgive me.

This may sound like a bit of a boring answer, but as you can imagine teachers should focus their classes on a bit of everything. What I do consider to be a bad idea is the over use of exam material in class. What I am going to do in this post is discuss the benefits of centering learning goals on several different areas, specifically on the needs of the learner, and calling on personal experience to do so.

Vocabulary

One of the advantages of focussing classes on specific vocabulary points is also one of its main drawbacks. The English vocabulary is vast (see 16. Vobabulary acquisition and how it has changed – a message to language learners). When I consider starting off a new unit of study, I always get the same old feeling of, where to begin? It is impossible to cover all the bases but what is good about vocabulary is it is a great way to create interest and give the impetus for language learners to go out on their own and investigate, experiment and use language. It is also a great way to get context (see 17. The importance of relevance). Through focussing on vocabulary we can easily recreate real life conexts with which to use language in the classroom, it is easy to make it real and, therefore, easy to make it fun. What I like to do currently is focus B1/2 level classes on specific ‘key’ words, such as take, get, go, make or do and from here build expressions, phrasal verbs or idiomas, with which to create activities. Teachers can also take specific topics like education, employment or leisure time and do the same. The importance is to cover all the necessary skill sets and capture the interest of the learner. What teachers need to do is lead the class in an innovative way so that learners enjoy what they are doing and have a shared vision of what the learning process should be, prioritizing the learners needs themselves. Teachers should spend time to get to know their students to make sure that they are gaining their interest and trust to be able to ensure progression.

Grammar

What I don´t like is the assumption that grammar is boring and therefore needs to be  taught in a boring way ( See 4. Making grammar dynamic). There is nothing wrong with teaching grammar as a focal point of the class as long as there is context and interest. What I do suggest is the awareness of what is theory and practise. I think it is really important for teachers to be aware of what students need to be aware of and what they don´t. I think it is essential for achieving fluency tht students do not need to sieve through a massive collection of grammar rules and theory to be able to find the correct grammar form during speach. Teacher need to have one point in mind, ‘will this be useful in the actual use of language?’. If the answer is no, my opinion is, why complicate things. I like to set out grammar structures into bite-size chunks of two or three parts and focus on the application of grammar to enhance the student´s ability to use it. Through enough use of language, from hearing it and speaking it enough, learners know if something is correct because it just sounds right. This is why many native speakers cannot explain grammar points, I call it ‘the just because explanation’. What we need to avoind is lecturing, meaning only ‘Teacher centred learning’. Students need to feel as though they are part of the learning process and thus, learning needs to be active and participation based. Give students choice to ensure that all learners are stimulated. Teachers need to be creative in their methods and ensure that learners look forward to their classes and that their enthusiasm for language is maintained.

Exam technique

When we learn a language it is important to differentiate what studying for the exam is and what actually learning the language is (see 12. Learning languages for enjoyment or preparing for exams: Where is the balance?). To be able to pas an official exam both things are important. But what is essential is interest and enjoyment. What I do see as necessary is the understanding of how languages are learnt and how students can take advantage of their current skills and interests to best make use of their time (see Study skills -How we learn). I honestly do not believe that there are people who are unable to learn a language, maybe they haven´t found a suitable method of the right teacher for them who has the necessary skills with which to guide them. Humans as a species have a talent for learning languages so we need to use our personal tastes to reach our full potential. If a stuent´s potential is achieved, the process of atually passing an exam should just be a formality. What I do see in my students is that motivation is key, if a learner believes they are improving or even good at what they are doing in class, their progress sky rockets- Teacher need to find ways of helping learners to achieve this (see Do you have a talent for learning languages?). Everyone likes to learn, what we need to do is set up our classroom to facilitate learning and make it the best possible experience that it can be. As teacher we need to create synamic and participation based activities that develop the necessary skills that are needed to not only be able to pass an exam but also to know how to use language in a fun and natural way that will be useful both inside and outside the classroom.

What I see as an essential part of planning and teaching is research. Teachers need to take the time to research their students and various teaching techniques, to make sure that learners are stimulated and that their interest in language is brought to life. This is fundamental for creating a good teaching-learning environment. We need to move aay from this process of the teacher being the all knowing expert and therefore must be the centre of all learning, teachers have now become more of a leader that is there to be able to maximise the learners potential, it is more work (I know) but it is worth it.

Well, that´s all for tonight.

Teaching tip: Stay positive and focus on what your students are doing well, from this point it is easy to fill holes in their knowledge to ensure that they progress as desired.

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