Working with difficult language areas

Published on 2nd September, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

This week’s tip is related to the previous one: our teaching is not synonymous with students’ learning. Here are some ways to help students gain a fuller understanding of tricky new language, some of which might help to ‘activate’ it too:

• ‘Little and often’ is a useful motto. When ‘new’ language that you have focused on comes up in a later lesson, perhaps incidentally in a text, or when a confident student uses it (consciously or unconsciously), then quickly draw attention to it. Refocus on the new language in lots of mini ways at relevant points. For example, if you have clarified the present perfect, then you could at the end of subsequent lessons routinely get students to quickly brainstorm news events, in five-minute slots.

• Highlight relevant genres where newly taught language occurs: for example, if you are teaching the passive, use genres where it occurs naturally, eg newspaper articles or guidebooks, and inform students why.

• Highlight how the language works discoursally, eg show students where it occurs in a given genre and why. For example, if you are focusing on past continuous, you could highlight that this often occurs at the beginning of an oral or written story to set the scene.

• Point out to students words which are often associated with a given structure. For example, by the time is often used with either past perfect or future perfect; as, while and at the time are conjunctions/adverbials often used with past continuous; the present perfect has many associated adverbials such as just, yet, already, etc. These can act as helpful signalling devices to students.

• Use generalisations to talk about language. Avoid giving over-simplistic statements about language rules. Expressions like generally, on the whole, etc are a necessary part of a teacher’s repertoire because they reflect the grey areas, the subtleties and the ever-changing nature of language?