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Teaching Tips 128

Stop cards

Red, amber & green
Getting it right at the beginning


Stop cards

Last week's Tip 'Red, amber & green' with the students showing the teacher how they feel about correction reminded me of the past Tip 'Stop Cards' - here it is:

Henny was telling me about an experiment she tried out recently with her beginner group. It has to do with the age-old problem of encouraging the students to speak in English & not reverting unnecessarily to their native language.

Henny had the idea of giving each student a card with 'In English, please' written on it. These cards were nicely presented on coloured card & plastified, helping to increase their value.

When in pairwork, if their partner was speaking too much Spanish, the student would simply hold up the card. So instead of just asking each other to speaking Spanish, which they rarely would, this way of doing it means less loss of face for the 'offender' & more chance that they will ask each other to cut down on the native language.

It was working well. The students were enthusiastic about using the cards & time spent in the class was being maximised.

Another important use for the cards is for the students to also use them for the teacher if they feel the teacher is using too much of their native language. Democracy at work, empowering the learners. Try it out & see.

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trafic lights

Red, amber & green

Last week we looked at some techniques for correcting oral mistakes during more controlled tasks. Although students tend to be very trusting, it is clear that a teacher's correction policy is an area where dialogue is necessary. There are students who want to be corrected by you all the time & others who don't want any correction. You need to decide on where you stand & talk to the students about the when & why. The controlled oral task = direct correction & freer oral task = delayed correction distinction is a good starting point. As suggested last week, there are other times when you might want to correct - when you are getting feedback on a task, when dealing with an individual or pair during an activity etc..

Here's an awareness activity for students who feel they would like correction all the time or none of the time:

Cut out & paste together some stand up triangles - one for each student in the class. Colour each of the sides in the colours of traffic lights: red, green & amber. Put a triangle on each desk.

Each colour represents the amount of correction they want: green means 'correct me all the time', red means 'don't correct me at all' & amber means 'correct me at your discretion'.

As the students show the side they want, follow their instructions. They usually begin by wanting to be corrected all the time & then switch to no correction. After a while, in theory, the students should be fed up so they then put their triangles on amber & let you correct at appropriate times.

You can use different coloured cuisenaire rods, buttons etc - anything that they can use to show how they want to be corrected. Try it out & see.

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Hand correction

Getting it
right at the

A quick revisit to correction of oral mistakes this week. When the students are involved in a controlled speaking activity, practising some specific aspect of language, this is the time to get in & correct the problems they are having with this new aspect. It would probably be a good idea to leave the other mistakes & concentrate on the target language. If you're correcting everything it could get a bit disheartening & if the students know they are doing this activity to practise some specific language, they will be putting their efforts into this.

What different techniques for correcting at the controlled stages do you use? Do you stick to a couple or do you vary your techniques? Here are a few in no particular order:

• refer to the board or a time earlier on the the lesson - Teacher: 'Do you remember what José said first? Student: Yes, Have you ever..'

- ask another student to correct - 'José, what do you think?

• say part of speech - Teacher: 'Noun?'

• finger counting - teacher shows fingers for each word of the student's wrong utterance& points to the 'wrong finger'. The student then self corrects.

• checking questions - Teacher: 'Are we talking about the past or the present?'

• pointing to the phonemic chart for sound problems.

• emphasis - the teacher say the student's utterance again but emphasises the word/part that needs correcting. Teacher: 'So you GO to the party yesterday?'

• reformulation - the teacher repeats the student but says it correctly. Hopefully the student notices the mistake.

• signal through facial expression or hand movement that there is a problem & see if the student can self correct.

• specific gestures eg. pointing back over your shoulder for the past, showing prepositions of place with hands etc.
See the past Tip, An Overt Gesture:

Do you just limit these techniques to controlled activities? How about in general class discussions, in feedback on tasks? There are other times where immediate correction is appropriate, & your students will expect it.

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