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Teaching Tips 64

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It's St Patrick's Day on the 17th & there is a lesson idea & some links from last year's Tip at:

This week we're looking at an idea that came out of an interview in the ELTJ (47/4) with Leslie Dickinson (no relation). Leslie has written several books & articles on learner autonomy & talks about helping students with 'metacognitive strategies' - the strategies the student uses before, during & after language tasks - the planning, what happens during the process & reflection afterwards. Leslie gave the acronym GOAL to use with students in class. This is what it means:

  • G = Goal - what am I supposed to learn from this?
  • O = Objective - what is the specific objective of the task I am about to do?
  • A = Act - how am I going to do it? What strategy is the best? Is the obvious one, the one I really want to use?
  • L = Look - monitoring the strategy in use & self-assessment. How have I done? OK? Do I need to do the task again?

So the idea is to introduce this to the students & talk about learning strategies before & after. Also mentioned is the sharing of these strategies between students. At the end of the lesson, devote 5/10 minutes to the students chatting about how they got on with the different stages & activities in the class, basing their discussions on the GOAL acronym. Try it out & see.

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If you are teaching monolingual groups it is clearly very useful to know the mother tongue of your students as you can pre-empt some problems they might have. But actually using the mother tongue as a teaching tool has been a different story as teacher training courses used to banish it to ELT oblivion & we used to ignore the poor student who was desperate to translate, encouraging them to 'think' in English. Nowadays it is recognised as a useful & natural tool in the process of language learning. There is still a case for not using it on the initial training course as some teaching skills might not be developed if translation were relied on. Here are a few translation activities:

1. Same day articles - for news stories that have international appeal, get hold of copies of the English story & the students' language story - newspapers, internet, radio.
- predict the content of the story.

- read the English version & picking up on any useful language.
- students translate the story.
- they then compare their versions with the mother tongue version.
- they could also then compare the mother tongue version & the English versions, looking at style & content.
The shorter the article the better!

2. False friends - picking up on them as they crop up or in warmers/coolers. There is a page about Spanish/English false friends on the site.

3. New language consolidation - after the presentation & before the practice, elicit & have a quick comparison with the mother tongue version of the target language to highlight the similarities or differences. This can be a very comforting stage for the students.

4. To provide variety to your array of techniques, use the Community Language Learning (CLL) procedure now & then. Very basically, this involves seating the students in a circle with a tape recorder in the middle. They have a conversation, preferably about a subject of their choice but you could lead into it from the current theme, & all of their contributions are taped. When they have a problem, they call on you & you whisper to the student the English version of what they want to say. They then say this in the conversation. This technique can be used at all levels, & is especially useful at very low levels. If you don't speak the students' language, then you could do all of this in English although the students would need a level of English to be able to tell you what they would like to say.
Before the next lesson, transcribe interesting parts of their conversation & use it for analysis & consolidation.

5. Word-for-word versions - good for the translation obsessed student. Give out a literal translation of a short article or conversation & the students translate it into their language & discuss how it could be more naturally expressed in English.

The important thing about using translation in class is that it is used in a principled way - you know why you are using it, the students know, there are times when it is OK & when it is not. The alternative is a lazy use of translation where both the students & the teacher become reliant on it. Discuss these issues with your students.

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Badge Aid


March 1st is St David's Day, the patron saint of Wales, as good an excuse as any for a lesson centred around the often forgotten country of Wales. Here are a few links:

St. David's Day - Dydd Gwyl Ddewi information

St. David's Day Quiz

For the very young learner there are instructions for making a St David Doll, plus template, & some colouring pages.

Welsh Tourist Board

'Wales on the Web' is a subject gateway to high quality websites about all aspects of Wales

A more light-hearted Tip this week. I was browsing the Past Tips the other day & came across the Tip 'Human Billboards' which looks at using an article about a company renting out students' forehead space for advertising. This got me thinking about using name stickers & how useful they are & how often they can be used, apart from the obvious use in the first few classes so all can remember each others names as quickly as possible. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • to hand over identities at the beginning of the lesson - these could be names & jobs on the stickers & the students invent backgrounds for themselves as the lesson proceeds - incorporate lots of personalised activities to bring this out. This technique comes from Suggestopedia. Younger learners could become their cartoon character, helping to lessen the embarrassment of speaking English.

  • for roles in roleplays if there are a few people involved or if the roles rotate after a certain time, so all can see at a glance who is who & not have to remember lots of characters.

  • to designate teams - all with the same colour or name.

  • for correction - to be used sensitively & all must be involved. The sticker could contain an area that the teacher thinks the individual needs to work on & that the others in the class correct her on when it comes up eg. regular past tense ending mispronunciation, must to go …. The usual mistake that can be self-corrected when noticed. Could be a pronunciation area such as a phonemics problem - different nationalities in the class get different sounds to work on. Possibly better to get the students to write their own sticker & when others hear the mistake being made they knock on the desk. Could find everyone knocking at the same time & noone knowing who is being indicated! Fun with the right group.

  • for the very young learner, give small stickers of different colours. Some of the class have one colour, another part have a different colour & they put the stickers on their fingers. When you say the colour the students with the corresponding colour have to put their hands up or when you describe something in a particular colour, that group have to mime/act it.

  • stickers the students can't see - on their foreheads or on their back. These are good for:
  • sounds on the foreheads - when reviewing some sounds, put one on each sticker & each student has a sticker on their foreheads. They mingle & have to discover their sound by listening to the others who try to use, as naturally as possible, the sound they see on the others' foreheads. (Stickers on the foreheads of younger learners might not be a good idea as you might find that one of them has an allergic reaction!)
  • famous people roleplay . The students have a famous person on their backs & are in a cocktail party & have to mingle to discover who they are by the clues others give them in the different conversations. They must be very indirect so as not to give the names away straightaway
  • stick animals on the back of younger learners & they have to go round asking questions to see which they are eg. has it got four legs? has it got a big nose?

I'm sure there must be many more uses for stickers but I wouldn't go as far as this explanation for the popularity of leeks in Wales - 'A popular legend tells us that St. David advised the Britons on the eve of a battle with the Saxons to wear leeks in their caps so as to easily distinguish friend from foe.' Rather than a vegetable on their heads, a sticker should be enough for our students.

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