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Teaching Tips 17

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Cognitive & Affective Confusion - April Fool's Day Tip
Working with triads

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This one's a bit different & more serious than last week's Tip.

A usual procedure for dealing with error correction & freer speaking activities is for the teacher to take notes on errors that s/he hears while it is going on. These instances are then put on the board & students are invited to correct their mistakes. They tend to be things that they can correct if their attention is drawn to them.

How about varying it sometimes? Instead of focusing on the negative, include some examples of 'good' utterances that the students came out with during the activity. The students first decide on the correct & incorrect utterances & then go to the correction.

Or put up all correct utterances that are examples of things you have covered during the past month. A pat on the back all round! Spend a week with all of your classes just giving feedback on the good things they come out with & see what happens.

If asked, students would put error correction near the top of the list of reasons for attending a class. It is important but don't forget the good contributions - it's much easier to find the negative rather than the positive.

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Cognitive & Affective Confusion - April Fool's Day Tip!
According to studies carried out by the linguistics department at the University of Soto del Real in Spain, learners have been found to make more progress when given negative feedback as opposed to praise & positive feedback. So even if the student comes out with something good it is not such a good idea to praise.

If the student thinks that s/he has said something correctly & then the teacher gives a negative reaction this will then provoke what they call 'cognitive confusion'. This will provoke the right hemisphere brain cells & get the student to reassess the utterance. The greater the cognitive confusion the better, apparently. If you are inconsistent in giving affective feedback - e.g. non-verbal through facial expressions & body language - scowling & smiling - at the same time then all the better as this reinforces the confusion.

If at the end of the lesson the students are in a state of  'near-the-edge breakdown' then you have achieved your aims satisfactorily. The 'over-the-edge breakdown' state is recommended for the end of the course.

One of the advantages to this, the researchers point out, is that we now no longer have to pretend we are in a good mood. We can now actually take our bad mood out on our students & come out of the lesson feeling much better about life & at the same time maximise learning for our students! It's comforting to know that my intuition is backed up by solid research evidence.

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Working with triads
No, I'm afraid it's not a job advert. Don't you get a bit fed up with putting the students into pairs all the time? More to the point, don't they get fed up? We try & vary it by moving the students around so they get to talk to someone else but it can all be a bit predictable.

Putting the students into threes is a versatile option. It helps with group dynamics & gives a breather from predictable pairwork.

Roleplays become a lot more interesting in threes as it becomes much more than a two-sided conversation. Write your rolecards carefully & you'll find you won't be able to stop them.

There's a lovely activity in 'Conversation' by Nolasco & Arthur (OUP) that shows how triads can be used for awareness-raising activities. The students' briefs are; student A has to talk about some anecdote, student B has to interrupt as much as possible & student C has to write down all the instances of interrupting that s/he hears. Student A doesn't know what the other two are doing. The pair talks for a while, student C makes notes & at the end C explains the notes s/he made & then a general class
feedback takes place with the ways of interrupting being collated
on the board.
You have shown the students how much they know about an area of the speaking skill & now you can go on to some tape work to introduce more ways of interrupting. It is a bit of 'test-teach-test', with the first 'test' highlighting the students' needs. A technique that can be used again & again when looking at the sub-skills of speaking (e.g. techniques for
holding the floor, getting back to the point etc.) & listening (ways of asking for clarification, signalling that one is listening etc.).

Problem-solving activities are more interesting. Imagine you've got your elementary students discussing the differences between the present perfect & the past simple - one of the three is likely to have the answer. Ah, but one of them is going to take a back seat & let the other two do all the work, I hear you cry! It doesn't really happen like that - and it all depends on how you set it all up. And anyway, why not let them take a back seat at times. A friendlier approach to a challenging task.

Any pairwork activity can be changed into a three & as well as providing a change of interaction, it will probably end up being more productive.

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