Freer Practice: Ways of Getting Ss to Use Target Language – an #ELTchat Summary 16/10/2013

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Freer Practice: Ways of Getting Ss to Use Target Language – an #ELTchat Summary 16/10/2013

This is the summary of the #eltchat on October 16th, 2013 and was written by Rachel Appleby  –  @rapple18 

Full title

Freer practice:

Ways of really getting sts to use TL (vocab, grammar, phrases) in tasks / exercises, and/as a means of showing visible progress (Sp, Wr)

photo by @Marisa_C

photo by @Marisa_C

Getting students to talk – really communicate with each other in English in a meaningful way – is always an issue for me for a number of reasons. So I was delighted that this topic was chosen for a recent #eltchat.

In the precious hour we had for the chat, I felt we covered a lot of ground, from clarifying what we meant by freer practice, to talking about how we get students to use new language, as well as giving feedback and evaluating students on the way (two different things, it was noted!)


How much time for freer practice?


One of the first issues brought up was the amount of time we allow for freer practice activities, and immediately the problem of ‘getting there’, namely making enough time in the lesson for freer speaking, was raised. As a trainer, this is something we’re looking for in trainee lessons towards the end of the CELTA course, and also for whether the trainee is able to pick up on and deal with 1-2 student mistakes. That also came into chat – but more on valid feedback (or rather, correction!) later.


In general, it was felt that freer speaking practice is important, whether it’s by way of lead-in chat at the beginning of a lesson (@Theteacherjames), during the lesson, or towards the end.


One suggestion from @sandymillin was that we reduce controlled practice to make more time, (which, for me, requires working backwards on my lesson plan timing!); @theteacherjames pointed out that it’s important to let the class go with the flow, so sometimes a class might have a top heavy focus on freer speaking at the beginning.


@HanaTicha mentioned that in this case the teacher can focus on language to be worked on later in the lesson, or in the next slot. Although some of us had in mind a traditional PPP lesson, resulting in the third ‘P’ for freer practice sometimes finding no space, it was also mentioned (@Marisa_C, @jo_sayers) that in a task-based lesson (TBL; § reference below), freer speaking comes earlier on as part of the task @LeaSobocan / @LizziePinard).


How to get Ss to use the Target Language


Discussion then slid, in true #eltchat manner where threads overlap, into ways of getting students to use the target, or new language (TL). Whereas in TBL this will emerge according to learners’ level and needs, in a more traditional lesson, students will usually be required to practise new language within a controlled context, before moving on to something more free.


A brief brainstorm on #eltchat came up with the following:

  • have one student as the official listener, or monitor, to tick off TL vocabulary / structures (many, incl. @jo_sayers)

  • put TL on individual slips of paper to throw away / turn over / pick up when used  (many, incl.  @mary28sou, @ sandymillin)  or even get students to make their own cards through which they also recycle language (@Shaunwilden)

  • phrases on strips of paper to swap (in a mingling activity), or as a “hidden phrase” to include, seamlessly into a conversation; if listeners don’t detect it, the speakers win! @jo_sayers (see Klippel, CUP, below).

  • putting TL on the board for students to refer to as necessary (@MicaelaCarey)

  • TL on the board can also be wiped off bit by bit  (@Sandymillin @jo_sayers), rather like a disappearing dialogue; this certainly puts the pressure on the students to note or log the language mentally so that they can recall it when needed!


Task repetition, when time is available, was also strongly recommended, especially if students have time for reflection after the first round, as this encourages students to use the TL more (@Marisa_C).


As @mary28sou mentioned, “3 cheers for task repetition” , such as speed dating activity styles, which are naturally suited to this.


Dealing with Feedback


It was pointed out that feedback (FB) and correction were different (@Theteacherjames) and that while feedback might focus on content and language (and pronunciation, @HanaTicha), correction can, and perhaps should, be handled differently.


@jo_sayers also stated that feedback that is explanatory is often better than simply corrective. Both, however, can involve the student him/herself, peers and the teacher. It was noted that sometimes the most focused part of the learning for students comes in the feedback stage (@rapple18), requiring perhaps a more “high demand” approach from teachers (see ‘getting sts to use the TL above’). Everyone, I think, agreed that sometimes FB can be overlooked, and is often missing (time constraints?), but is extremely valuable.


It was noted (@sandymillin) that there is a fine line between the joy of speaking, and evaluation, so teachers need to be sensitive not to launch in too soon with feedback, and destroy meaningful communication, yet also be sure to praise students and not simply point out areas for correction. (@Shaunwilden)


Encouraging self-reflection was deemed important, especially if lessons include task repetition (@Marisa_C).


From self-to peer evaluation: getting students to indicate on a pie chart how much each of the 3-4 people in their group speak can be beneficial: if the task is repeated, a much more even allocation of time usually follows, with the students making more of an effort (in my experience) of using phrases for interrupting and bringing in others, without the teacher having to actually focus on those specific phrases (@rapple18).


Peer feedback can be used to maximize interaction (@LeaSobocan). While this is very valid, some students need help in using appropriate language for commenting on their peers, not simply – as with the teacher – being reminded to mention the good as well as what they might advise, but the language itself (e.g. avoiding phrases such as You shouldn’t have … ) (@rappe18).


Some participants record students: this can be used to get the students to transcribe what they hear (@muranava) in order to raise their awareness of the language, or perhaps simply ‘listen and notice’ language used (@Shaunwilden). @jo_sayers mentioned this could result in a shift from fluency to accuracy, which may or may not be the aim.

It was also mentioned that feedback from peers can be more effective than if always from the teacher.


Teacher feedback and correction: Some teachers put language on the board to be corrected (@Theteacherjames). Another option is to deal with FB later, which could be in the next lesson, or on a voice thread, handout, or powerpoint slide (Marisa_C).


Natural & Appropriate Language Use


Much discussion was included about the need to ensure students use language in an appropriate, natural and meaningful way (all three words were used – I understood – to mean the same).


@LeaSobocan mentioned that this can be particularly difficult at lower levels, where students try to use the TL, but can sound like robots, but can also be an issue at higher levels with an overuse of phrases, for example, for dis-/agreeing (@sandymillin). It was also mentioned that it takes a long time for students to feel comfortable with new language, and it’s quite a tall order to expect new language to be meaningfully practised within a 50’ (or even 90’) lesson (@rappe18).

2013-10-22 13.48.57

photo by @Marisa_C

We certainly didn’t exhaust the topic, but I felt it was very useful to see a few old chestnut ideas resurfacing again as reminders, as well as thinking of ways to ensure freer speaking does happen in the class, naturally, and with valid feedback. Many thanks to you all!



Suggested resources for good communicative activities included:

Ur, P. (1981) Discussions that Work, CUP: some of the tasks are so involving that students forget they are using English (@mary28sou).

Klippel, F. (1985) Keep Talking CUP @Marisa_C


Rachel Appleby  @rapple18


2 Responses

  1. Jayashree says:

    Dear Marisa
    I will be a celta certificate holder in a few days time. I’m looking for websites and blogs where I can keep myself updated post celta. I would like to join your group. Hope you grant me permission.

  2. You are very welcome to join our #ELTchat discussions, suggest topics `(there is a call for topics on every week and one going on right now), vote for your chosen topic suggestion every week as well as to browse through our blog, post comments and offer to write summaries

    The #ELTchat community is spread all over the world and is renown for its generosity and sharing spirit.

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