We all want our teaching to be interesting and effective. I regularly reflect on my teaching practice, and try to consider each of the following aspects of lesson planning*, particularly for grammar and pronunciation lessons. Let me share some tips that help me improve my lessons, and perhaps you will find an idea you could use.
Presenting the point
First, remind yourself of the scope of the lesson; know the needs and abilities of your students, and the time frame and focus of your class session. Aim not to overwhelm your class with too much information, but also not to under-interest your students with too little challenge.
Plan to begin by illustrating your main lesson point in context. Give or generate a piece of real language–oral or written–to show your focus. Ideally, it will be in a context your students recognize and experience. Then you might present some of the challenging aspects of the point to illustrate why it is the focus of your lesson.
Once you’ve introduced the point, decide whether you will present the lesson inductively or deductively. Will you give your students carefully selected examples to help them discover a grammatical rule or pronunciation pattern, or will you teach them the rule or pattern first and then show examples of it? Generally, if students are challenged to figure something out themselves, they will remember it much better than if they are told. If we present material in the form of puzzles or challenges, students are more engaged and interested. For example, with a little help, students can often figure out the pronunciation differences of the +s or +ed suffixes if they are given illustrative examples to sort into columns.
Providing focused practice
Once the point has been presented, focused practice requires students to apply the lesson in varying degrees of difficulty to given sets of data. This helps both to reinforce the regular patterns and to introduce some of the challenges where the pattern isn’t always as expected. (Yes, all rules have exceptions, and I have discovered that it’s best not to over-emphasize them, but also not to ignore them, even when a point is first introduced.)
Typical focused practice activities can include flash cards; various mnemonic activities such as visualization, actions, or sorting; chanting or singing; pencil and paper exercises such as matching, multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks (cloze); or even puzzles, such as word searches or picture searches (on topics specifically chosen to highlight the lesson point).
Remember that these activities inherently have different levels of difficulty. For example, in error analysis exercises, finding a correct usage among two or three options (multiple choice) is easier than finding and correcting incorrect usage. Compare line 1 and line 2 below.
- He is a university student. He is an university student. He is university student.
- Toronto is largest city in Canada.
Be sure to start with easier activities to encourage your students. Then increase the challenge to reinforce the learning.
Challenging students with communicative exercises
Communicative exercises give students an opportunity to use their new skills in less controlled situations: strategically-chosen activities that provide maximized opportunity for practice. Do you have favourite types of communicative activities you frequently or exclusively use? Is it time to try something new?
Potential exercises could focus on conversations; interviews; writing emails; giving advice or opinions; discussing daily tasks or current events; case studies; or games such as board games, bingo, or charades. Again, remember to take care to match the inherent difficulty of an activity to the abilities of the students.
Communicative exercises can be found in many textbooks and on many websites. Often the activities are even sorted by the teaching points they specifically emphasize. Your challenge is not so much to find an activity, but to evaluate its appropriateness for your group of students.
How and when are the questions to consider when thinking about how you provide feedback and correction as your students work through the exercises and activities individually or in small groups throughout the lesson.
Some strategies to consider:
- During the focused and communicative activities, you can closely monitor your students and step in to offer correction whenever you feel it’s necessary.
- You can roam around the room, pausing at groups of students, available to answer questions or provide advice.
- You can observe types of difficulties in a number of students or groups and then briefly call the class to attention for a lesson reminder given to the whole group.
- At the end of the lesson, you can summarize your observations (both positive and negative) for the class.
- At the end of the lesson and/or the next time your class meets, you can review the main points and field questions.
Which of these do you commonly use? Which do you think are most effective?
Consider each of the aspects presented above. Take at least one point that has made you think, and remember it when preparing your next grammar or pronunciation lesson. You can present lessons your students will enjoy!
* This article grew out of the basic framework for a grammar lesson as presented in Techniques and Resources in Teaching Grammar by Marianne Celce-Murcia and Sharon Hilles, Oxford UP, 1988, pp 27, 28.
Carol Blake has a Masters degree in Linguistics (University of Toronto). For 30+ years, she has been involved in teaching various aspects of English and language learning in first language, second language, and foreign language situations.