Learning strategies and how best to make learners aware of them – #ELTchat Summary 19/10/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Learning strategies and how best to make learners aware of them – #ELTchat Summary 19/10/2011

  This week’s summary is contributed by Edith Occelli, @EdithOccelli on Twitter.

October 19th’s ELTChat nighttime session was all about learning strategies: What are they? and how can we best make learners aware of them? As usual, the discussion followed several interesting strands. Here is my attempt at weaving them all together ^^

The session started off with chatters sharing their conceptions about LS:

  • “learning strategies = choices we consciously make about how to sudy/manage learning”
  • “I think Learning strategies are steps taken by students to enhance their own learning”
  • “I think learning strategies are anything ss do to help them learn more efficiently and effectively”

 Until someone cited Rebeca Oxford’s definition:

“Specific actions, behaviours, steps, or techniques that students (often intentionally) use to improve their progress in developing L2 skills. These strategies can facilitate the internalisation, storage, retrieval, or use of the new language. Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvement necessary for developing communicative ability.”

A complete explanation everyone agreed with, and which helped move the discussion forwards to issues like the distinction between learning strategies and learning activities ( just “doing stuff” to learn vs. doing it with a specific learning goal in mind).

  • “So is doing stuff but being explict abt the mechanisms of learning – what works best”

This obviously raised questions like the degree of intentionality or consciousness required for using LS

  •  “are they strategies if they’re unconscious? (genuine question!)”

And even the maturity necessary to develop strategic competence (the ability to use strategies for learning), given the fact that kids often apply strategies naturally.

  •  “agree…self evaluation and critical thinking comes with maturity – one hopes!”
  • “but maturity does not = age”
  • “7 yr old finds it easier 2ead if she sings the words – strategy she found 4herself – she uses it consistently & it works “

With all those comments in mind, it was almost inevitable that someone would raise the following question:

Can Learning strategies be taught?


Here opinions varied widely, but the general agreement was that it depends on the type of strategy (some being more difficult to model than others).

  •  “So some can be acquired, others not so easy to”
  • “some can, depends on the learner and the strategies (sorry NOT helpful!)”
  • “definitely. As a learner i’ve refined my strategies for learning throughout my studies, especially regarding vocab.”
  • “what abt obvious ones we can teach like good dictionary use?”

Moreover, chatters also seemed to agree in that, although some learners instinctively develop their own strategies, most can also benefit from explicit instruction.

  • “I think some people are natural but that they can also be learned from direct instruction and practice” 
  • “I did a short online “mini-course” on the best way to read academic journals – major change in thinking, think ss can 2″ 

If only because the majority isn’t used to thinking / reflecting about their learning when precisely that “awareness” is what helps them most.

  • “I think so, sometimes the act of becoming aware of a different way to learn helps enormously” 
  • “It’s interesting because I think most Ss probably haven’t given it much thought before.” 
  • “It’s interesting how my students are always surprised when I spend some time on HOW to learn. It’s always the first time for them”

Therefore, conclusions centered on the importance of encouraging reflective learning and active experimentation.

  • “agreed that diff strategies work for diff students. That’s why we should show ss range and let thm pick” 
  • “it’s all about giving learners options, then they cn see what works or doesn’t for them” 
  • I think sts need 2B told they have the rt 2 reflect on their own learning style. > tru & B given tools 2″

As a result, the discussion moved on to briefly considering the idea of learning styles as a complement to learning strategies.

  • “Yes, I think awareness of one’s own learning style and using it would prob be part of what we re talking about”
  • “sytles and strategies are different things but they do depend on each other. Strategies chosen suit your L style”

Finally, having agreed on the importance of heightening students’ awareness of learning strategies, chatters went on to discuss how best to do so.


How can we best make learners aware of learning strategies?


Here is a selection of the top tips:

Set the stage: Introduce the concept early.

  • “Starting from Day One, Ss need to know you are just as keen to help them with the way they learn” 
  • “I have a lesson on it at the beginning of a course” 
  • “I spent the first week of my course giving students some ideas for learning vocab, practicing reading etc outside class”

Sell it: Talk about the benefits.

  • “Normally don’t discuss them as ‘strategies’ per se, more ‘ideas to help you learn better’ 
  • “I think many students are hungry for the “fastest” “best” way to learn, my learners usually very happy to get tips” 
  • “I think that most learners are intensely interested in their own learning – so if you decide to do this they usu respond”

Find out what they use and take it into Build from what they know: account.

  • “Do you use similar quaires when you do a needs analysis or profile your classes? I think this a great starting point” 
  • “One idea – invite one/more successful ss to give ur ss a pep talk and say what helped them” 
  • “how about having ss “tweet” or write a tip for their classmates each.. something that has worked for you to learn Eng?”

Embed:  Integrate strategies into every lesson.

  • “Like phon, LLS in dangr of being isolated in special lessons. Shld be stitched in fabr of every lesson” 
  • “I think it’s important to incorporate strategies in what you are teaching, little and often” 
  • “LLS definitely need to come up all the time… so many different activities so many ways to learn and share” 
  • “Mostly raise awareness by demonstrating them wherever and whenever they fit into class” 

Allow for choice: Provide different strategies for their consideration.

  •  “I try to provide a balance of activities so there’s smthg 4 everyone”
  • “yes I think the teacher shld model different learning strategies 4 the difft activities & let lrnrs choose what works”
  • “I try 2 offer a variety of different ex types, so each can pick / choose the style they enjoy (watch a video/write a blog/grammar)”

Be a model: Share and demonstrate your own strategies.

  • “I show them examples of my own vocab learning e.g. Coloured notes. All my students have highlighters and coloured pens now!” 
  • “If U model ur LS for yr students they take them more srsly -because they’ll know U do them yourself” 
  • “Have 2 explain 2 sts Y U do things the way U do, so they understand the strategy (sometimes not obvious)”

Remember the 3 -TIONS: Experimentation, Reflection, and collaboration.

  •  “often giving space to discuss frustrations with strategies/activities they don’t like can help them find ones that work 4 them?”
  • “learning journals R gr8 ways 2 aid meta-cognition2
  • “somewhr  we learn from peers best, not teachers, so get ss to share LLS in class – a LLSchat if you like – keep out of it!”

All in all, chatters widely agreed that it is the teachers responsibility to raise students’ awareness of learning strategies, and there are many different ways of doing so (E.g. questionnaires, think-alouds, diaries, discussions, etc).

The specific strategies were not really discussed but things as varied as ways of recording vocabulary, finding opportunities to use English outside the class, reflecting on strengths/weaknesses, reading skills, and ways of using technology were all mentioned.

To round it all up, chatters also discussed some obstacles and problems faced such as:

-Lack of time

  •  “timetables to complete the c/books do not allow time for this < Gd point. When to teach Ls these LSS??”

-Lack of support

  •  “I teach the IPA without my bosses knowing …on the side! SS appreciate it and we just fit it in”

 -Inadequate teacher training

  •  “Excellent point, some teachers don’t know good learning strategies themselves! Should be part of Cert. training?” 

-Limited student autonomy

  • “Started my first self access – only after I enforced its use did my Ss start practising their autonomy! Lol”

-Strategy Overuse

  • “I see lots of sts on the bus here highlighting – about 3/4 of the page!”

Unfortunately, there was no time to propose any solutions. Maybe the topic for another #Eltchat?

Well, I hope I haven’t missed something important 😉 It was a great chat and, once again, I thank you all for your great contributions =)


Links shared:


Q-aire which serves as comprehensive list of LL strats –  http://t.co/mnkKWv4U

Overivew article on LLS – lots to take issue with (if you like): http://t.co/5s7htlWv

We’ve been talking autonomy all week in my UpperInt Class.  The classblog entries this week show it. v proud http://t.co/gP8tsayB

Rivera-Mills and Plonsky on Language Learning strategies – no concrete tips but worth a read 4 reflection & PD http://t.co/HLxlCPVi

Here is a link to Rebecca Oxford’s great book on Learning Strategies on Google Books http://t.co/SEIoe9me

worth spending time discussing with learners ‘what makes a good learner?’ ‘what do they do?’ – gr8 post here http://t.co/hCT6fRlL

cognitive vs metacognitive strategies + good Lang learner strategies http://t.co/fokDtEQj

The Learning English Video Project http://bit.ly/bwXzBo

Lessons from Romania – great video of students talking about how they learned English and giving tips http://youtu.be/rcr6af-Vc1s

I am preparing a wesite for tecahing learning strategies as a part of my PhD u can navigate it http://t.co/EMNJ6M1B

another gr8 post http://t.co/1HtVXjQf) all part of the learning strategy

Article on what a classroom might be like with LLS sharing going on http://t.co/ToYfwuqm


 by Edith Occelli