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Teaching Tips 214

The Individual
Passively refreshing
Developing listening

the group & individual

The Individual

Have you ever left a language lesson, as a student, feeling that the content of the lesson wasn't relevant to you? Or that you were not really given much attention during the lesson? Maybe sometimes our students feel the same. One of the jobs we have when dealing with groups is to cater to the individual within that group. We need to work on meeting each individual's needs & interests. You might help by;

- trying to meet each individual's needs & interests at some time & try & make them aware that you are doing it. When planning think carefully about the individuals you have in the group. Combine choosing topics that will reach most students but then do include individual-related topics at times.

- correcting the individual in oral activities.

- giving feedback on written work - make it more than just correction & add in a few comments about progress or something that came up in the last lesson.

- writing comments on learner diaries - create a dialogue.

- elect individuals when feeding back on tasks, rather than just accept those that call out contributions or answers.

- call on individuals to help out based on their strengths. For example a student who has a good knowledge of grammar can be called on to give grammar explanations.

- giving tutorials & spending time with each individual. It is their time with you.

- 'micro-teaching' - when the students are involved in a task, take the opportunity to go round & do some teaching to the pairs & teach them different ways of saying what they're saying or introduce some vocabulary that they might find useful in that particular discussion.

- letting your students work at their own pace - can be tricky if all working through the same material or activity but ...

- related to the previous point, cater to the different levels in the group. If there are marked differences between student abilities, set different tasks to allow all to feel comfortable.

- giving individualised homework - direct the individual to different sources so they can work on areas of weakness or interest.

Be conscious of the individual students, each individual is different so try not to be misled by the coursebook culture that clubs everyone together.

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passive voice

Passively refreshing


Some Days to plan lessons around in November:

November 5th - Bonfire Night
7th - Marie Curie's birth (1867)
9th -Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)
11th - Remembrance Day
In Flanders Field..:

13th - World Kindness Day
16th - International Day for Tolerance
17th - World Peace Day
20th - Universal Children's Day - UN
22nd - JF Kennedy assassinated (1963)
25th - Eid Al Fitr
28th - Buy Nothing Day (varies)
30th - St. Andrew's Day, Scotland
Scotland the Brave:
US Thanksgiving Day - 4th Thurs. in month >>> Buy Nothing Day in US - day after Thanksgiving.

It's World Kindness Day on the 13th. Mark Twain summarised kindness when he said it is "the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see".
A warmer on the day would be to:

1. introduce the Day & elicit/introduce related vocabulary - kind, kindness, goodness, altruism, decency, grace, sympathy, unselfishness ....

2. put some kindness quotes on the board or on a handout - students discuss which is the best, most interesting etc..

"Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others."
William J.H. Boetcker (1873-1962)
"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."
Mark Twain
"A warm smile is the universal language of kindness."
William Arthur Ward
"A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love."
Saint Basil
"A little thought and a little kindness are often worth more than a great deal of money."
John Ruskin

4. students discuss the last act of random kindness that they saw, the last time a stranger was kind to them, what could be done to help people become kinder towards each other, the kindest person they know etc....
You may like to extend this & look for a kindness-related video on YouTube to view & exploit in class.


One of the new articles on the site is 'A Refresher on the Passive Voice' by Tanju Deveci. Here's how he begins:

For many students, grammar seems to be the most important aspect of language learning, which I have personally observed as well in different teaching contexts I have been involved in. I have noticed that students wishing to improve their language skills turn to grammar invariably. Though certain aspects of English grammar are comparatively easy to grasp, some others are likely to cause learners difficulties, one of which is the Passive Voice (P.V.).

"Why do I need to make my language more complicated while I can say things more quickly?" once said one of my learners. It is not that I disagree with him, but I feel that we language teachers may take our learners' interest in such 'complicated' aspects of grammar for granted and expect them to grasp them with ease. Personally, I have had instances where I could not answer some of my students' questions about P.V. on the spur of the moment. Therefore, I feel it might be useful to have a refresher on it.

Tanju then goes on to look at the meaning & forms of the passive together with problems that learners run into & then finishes with how the different approaches from grammar translation through to the communicative approach each has useful & valid ways of dealing with some of the aspects of the passive in the classroom. It is well worth having a read to remind yourself of the difficulties for both learners & teachers.

To read the article:

There is also a passive lesson plan by Nigel McGloin on the site that is centred around a reading text about the paparazzi.

Dictogloss is a useful activity for focussing on the passive. Here you choose a short passage & read it out at the same speed that you would normally read aloud - not at dictation speed. The students have to take notes - as much as they can catch, which will be the stressed, 'content/information' words rather than the 'grammar' words. After one or two readings the students in pairs or small groups have to reformulate the text i.e. write a passage using their notes so that it makes sense.

The idea isn't really to produce an exact copy of the original but a logical, coherent text. While they are getting the passage together you go round, helping out, teaching & correct/introduce alternatives. The groups could then compare their versions to see if they have the same essence.

While you are reading have a look to see how much they are getting down. This will tell you if they need another reading or not.

You could compare the students' versions with the original but this would change the aim & could be demotivating if the students feel their versions aren't very good.

The choice of the text you read out could be based on the theme or the actual language content; grammar or vocab - better if they are both linked in to what you are doing in the lesson/timetable.

For more on this activity, check out the excellent 'Grammar Dictation' by Ruth Wajnryb (OUP):


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Developing listening

It's quite common for teachers when we come across a listening section working with a coursebook to simply run through the procedure & move on to the next thing In the book, feeling that we are catering to the skill satisfactorily. The procedure is usually; sinking into the theme, extensive task, students comparing before feedback, a more intensive task followed again by students comparing & then feedback & lastly there is usually a speaking task related to the topic of the audio. This is a solid enough procedure, a top-down one, & the successful completion of the tasks can boost students' motivation but are we really doing enough to develop our students' listening skills? Some might call it 'jumping through hoops'.

For any of the four skills there are two basic ways of developing them. The first is to do the skill i.e. the more listening you do, the better you become at it. The second is through an awareness & practice of the sub-skills. So we have to guide our studetns to the skills & strategies & help them find out where they are having problems & then together work on those areas. Here are a couple of ideas:

- use the transcript of the audio. The students go through the normal procedure & then listen & read the script to see where they had problems. The more they do this, the more they are able to identify the problems; problems of discourse, vocabulary, grammar etc.. See the past Tip 'Script It' for ideas:

- students could control the audio & stop it when they come across a problem, re-listen & discuss what they hear.

- discuss what is involved in listening with the students, the sub-skills & effective strategies to cope.

- use authentic audios as much as possible & videos when you can as they are much more natural than using audio with no visual clues.

- when going through the answers go to the sections that were difficult for them, help them to understand why it was difficult, ask for justifications of answers.

- with listening more often than not they cannot work out the word boundaries & it all sounds like one string of speech. They need to be made aware of 'sounds in combination' problems. Spend time on phonology awareness in class as it's primarily all about reception & listening. See the Phonology section on the site for lots of ideas:

- among several examples, Jack Richards in 'The Context of Language Teaching' (CUP) in the article 'Listening comprehension' provides a taxonomy of sub-skills & strategies which are useful to refer to, to help identify difficult areas & to help you plan which you are going to look at.

Among many articles, plans & Tips on the site here are a few for you to folllow up:

Grasping the nettle: The importance of perception work in listening comprehension by Richard Cauldwell

The two-sides rule in teaching listening and pronunciation by Richard Cauldwell

Teaching Listening to Advanced Learners: Problems and Solutions by Scott Shelton

The role of the teacher and the learner in the development of strategies and sub-skills to facilitate and enhance listening comprehension by Nicola Holmes

A couple of very good listening books:

Listening (Resource Books for Teachers) by Goodith White (OUP)


Listening in the Language Classroom (Cambridge Language Teaching Library) by John Field (CUP)


Teaching Listening Comprehension (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers) by Penny Ur (CUP)


How to Teach Listening Paperback by Mr JJ Wilson (Pearson Longman)


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