Tag: English studies

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Students’ worksheet: click here. .

Teacher’s notes: click here..


A speaking warm-up activity that allows learners to speak about themselves provides the input for them to start analysing the difference between facts, opinions and stances. The analysis is prompted by guiding questions, which avoid a too theoretical approach. The three terms are then introduced explicitly and students asked to match then up with their own analysis of different types of information.  In the following task, this understanding is applied to a reading text – an authentic excerpt from an academic paper on English as a Lingua Franca, an interesting and relevant topic to most ESOL learners – where learners seek out facts and stance in a demonstration of their understanding of the terms and their critical reading ability.

As extension tasks, students are guided to decide which reporting verbs would be appropriate for reporting facts and stance information, and then find and correct mistakes with citing information from the English as a Lingua Franca text. (Note: These mistakes are taken from actual students’ work in my classes.) Finally, they are asked to paraphrase facts and stance statements from the ELF text, using reporting verbs appropriately.

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Student worksheet: click here.

Teacher’s notes: click here.
AIMS: By working through this worksheet, which can be done independently or in class, students will be guided to notice some key features of definitions, in terms of content and language, and be able to replicate these in producing their own definitions.  Through the specific examples in focus, students will also practise talking about prejudices in a neutral manner and further develop their intercultural communication skills.



1 – Particularly in EAP, students often need to define terms used in their field of study, usually in order to clarify the term’s meaning to non-experts or to indicate which definition they are working with, and sometimes also to demonstrate understanding to an examiner.

2 – Because prejudices and biases are controversies often discussed, and perhaps even faced, in academic contexts, the focus here has been consciously placed on defining and discussing potentially controversial/taboo topics, in order to increase intercultural communication competences.


LANGUAGE FOCUS: defining relative clauses, some vocabulary for prejudices with -ism, some vocabulary for definitions.


LEVEL: B1 upwards.  According to www.vocabkitchen.com profiling, the texts of the definitions should be easily understandable for learners at/above the B2 level on the CEFR; I would suggest they could also be used with B1-level learners if vocabulary support is given or dictionaries allowed. (Words above B1 level: belief, treatment, wealth, social standing, superior, arising.)

Review (part 1) – Keynote

Review (part 1) – Keynote

I’ve recently been given two inspection copies of the “Keynote” series by National Geographic Learning / Cengage and am considering whether I should adopt it as a set text for my EAP classes. In case anyone else out there is thinking about using it, here are my first thoughts of a review!

keynote adv 1

The series, like Cengage’s other title “21st Century Reading”, takes TED talks as the basis for the topic of each unit. The “Keynote” books train all four skills, as well as pronunciation and grammar. They include authentic listening tasks and critical thinking exercises, which I think make them quite appropriate for university classes, but actually the series seems to be targeted at a rather broad audience, especially regarding topic choice. I’ve been informed that National Geographic won the tender to use TED talks commercially thanks to their previous materials based on authentic input, and I do think that “Keynote” continues this tradition of good work. Each book has 12 topic-based units, and the topics are based on TED talks.  The talks are mostly by native speakers of different varieties English, though in the more advanced books some talks by non-native speakers have been included. These all have very clear diction, and thus provide some (though rather limited for such advanced levels!) practice at understanding various accents. The talks are not slowed down at all, but they are sometimes abridged, especially for the lower-level books. My initial impression is that the talks and excerpts are well chosen and well prepared for use in this textbook series.

In what I’d describe as ‘classic textbook manner’, the units start off by focusing on the TED talk, and then develop the language beyond this. The structure of all units is the same, which may be good for learners who like to have a common routine, though could also become repetitive. The first section of any unit focuses on comprehending the main idea and supporting evidence from the TED talk. This is followed by grammar and language noticing and practice, with activities which work towards spoken production and include some well-conceived communicative practice. The third section of each unit focuses on extensive reading, which often incorporates critical thinking skills and vocabulary work. And finally, each unit closes with functional oral/aural exercises, which move towards writing skills with some nicely modern and motivating tasks such as writing blog posts or  online profiles. After every two units there is a review section, which usually takes a case-study approach. For my taste this is a few too many ‘review sections’, but this may be appropriate in other contexts. I think it’s important to mention here that only the first section of each unit really uses the TED talk – far less than I was expecting from the adverts for this series! The rest of the sections work with authentic materials adopted from National Geographic publications, in a similar manner to their other textbook “Life”.

What I like about the “Keynote” series is that every student’s book comes with a DVD containing all of the video and audio material, sometimes with sub-titles. This is definitely a bonus over other series where there is just one DVD included in a class-set of books, and makes the series particularly appealing for those of us teaching classes where the number of credits requires a substantial amount of work from learners beyond the lesson time. The tape-scripts are also included at the back of the books, as are some role cards for extension activities, and a brief grammar reference section. The textbooks really feel like textbooks and not like workbooks – so learners can’t really write their answers into their books, in contrast to other series such as “21st Century Reading”. For university classes and adult education I find this more appropriate anyway, though that might just be personal taste. “Keynote” is also available as an e-book, and there is also an interactive workbook and other additional e-materials which can be purchased separately (I think a licence is for 12 months). What I find frustrating with the teacher’s book is that the answers to tasks are interspersed with other input and instructions in the description of each unit, which makes them sometimes time-consuming to locate and not practical for photocopying to allow learners to check their own work.

keynote 2

Overall, the “Keynote” series has more of a feel of preparing learners for professional use of English, so I’m not convinced that it is the best choice for academic settings, though the skills and grammar practised are generally appropriate. The amount of time a class would need to complete one level of “Keynote” would probably be about a year, at one-two lessons per week, depending on the amount of homework given; sadly this is another factor making it impractical for use on one-semester university modules. I am also a little disappointed that the biggest selling point – working with TED talks – has turned out to make up only about a quarter of the textbook. So I think my initial decision will not be to adopt this as a set textbook, though for Part 2 of my review I plan to try out some of the units with different class groups, and perhaps the students will convince me to use “Keynote” after all! Watch this space!

#BridgingtheGapChallenge – Coping with Academic Reading


As part of the #BridgingtheGapChallenge, here is a summary of: Hirano, Biana. ‘I read, I don’t understand’: refugees coping with academic reading. ELT Journal, Vol. 69/2, April 2015: 178-187. written by my dear colleague Carol Ebbert!

This study collected data over two semesters via interviews, class observations and written documents on seven refugee students who despite not being ‘college ready’ were attending a small liberal arts college in the USA in order to identify coping strategies they developed to deal with academic reading.

Overall, the students found many aspects of academic reading at the college level challenging. They were expected to read independently and to be able to apply what they had read, not just recite facts from the readings. The amount of reading was also challenging, as well as the language issues they had, often relating to vocabulary and older texts (such as Shakespeare or texts from the 18th and 19th century). Finally, many felt that they had insufficient background knowledge to understand the texts fully.

The students developed several strategies to cope with the readings, which included relying on the lectures and PowerPoint slides in lieu of completing the reading either because they did not see the readings as important, it was too complex, or they lacked time. They also employed selective reading strategies such as skimming, reading according to the PowerPoint slides, or reading according to the study guides (i.e. using either the PowerPoint slides or study guides to help them identify which sections of the readings were most important). Finally, they also worked on finding places that were conducive to reading, read with peers, used a dictionary while reading, reread texts after lectures, sought tutor support and asked professors when they had specific questions after reading.

These strategies had different levels of usefulness. After the first exams, the strategy of relying on the lectures and slides was found to have resulted in poor grades. Rereading texts and reading with dictionaries were considered to be too time-consuming and were therefore rarely done. Other strategies seemed to have helped the students succeed in their courses.

While this research was carried out with refugee students, it can be applied to all students who start higher education while still in the process of learning English. In a broader sense, EAP instructors can use these findings to encourage students to try out various reading strategies and to discuss with their students strategies that may be more effective than others at helping students master the course material and successfully pass assessments.

My Own Thoughts
Reading strategies are perhaps a skill often ignored in EAP teaching, as we perhaps assume that having finished secondary school, students will know strategies for reading (e.g. from reading in their native language) that they can apply to reading in English. This does not always seem to be the case. Students should be made aware of the role of reading in higher education, that they will not be able to rely solely on lecture content, and what strategies exist to help them master the complex texts they are being assigned.

Summary by C. Ebbert, Trier University.

The Role of Wikipedia in EAP – Take Two

I realised after publishing my previous post, and turning on my critical thinking brain a little too late, that I had actually written about using Wikipedia in university/academic essays – and had (*embarrassed cough*) actually ignored the EAP aspect altogether. So I sneakily changed the previous post’s title… and am writing this new post now to address the EAP issues in the Wikipedia debate!

So, what are the aspects of using Wikipedia that might be specific to EAP students?

In the previous post, I made the point that Wikipedia can function as a good starting point for some initial research. However, EAP students are perhaps more in danger than other students of not continuing their research from Wikipedia to proper academic sources; depending on their educational and cultural background, and English language competence, they may see no reason, or also no way for them to find further, more academic sources for their work. I don’t think a ‘one size fits all’ explanation works here, and each teacher will know their own students and the potential traps or hurdles they might face. From my own experience and a few stories from colleagues, I can share the following possible dangers of Wikipedia for EAP or EFL students:

– Some students use it somehow as a translation tool, believing that the article on their research topic in their native language is simply a translation of the English article. This, as you can imagine, can cause all sorts of problems, and can make students’ essays practically unreadable!

– Some students see the fact that there is no author stated as a free ticket to copy and paste as much as they like (–> “It’s not plagiarism because I haven’t stolen another author’s work” !!) [Note: I have only experienced this with students who have a weak understanding of plagiarism anyway, and who come from a culture where it is regarded somehow as less serious.]

– Some students, perhaps those really new to academic study in a culture that values critical thinking and students’ own voice in their writing, believe that the summary of published research provided by Wikipedia is so good (i.e. it makes the key concepts in the area clear to them as non-experts) that they don’t need to read the original sources and can ‘blindly’ trust Wikipedia to give them the information that they need.

– Some, perhaps lower-level, EAP or EFL students may be impressed by how ‘well written’ the Wikipedia article is and think that they could never hope to do a better job, especially with their limited language skills, and therefore end up over-relying on the wording of the Wikipedia text when writing their own work.

– It may be hard for some students to find academic sources such as journal articles due to limited vocabulary: in order to use a library catalogue or search a digital article database successfully, it is helpful to know a few key items of vocabulary on your topic, but also synonyms for these words that might also have been used in titles or tags – this may represent a challenge for EAP students.

– Some EAP students understand (sole?) the purpose of their EAP classes to be improving their English language skills, and not study-skills which they intend to learn within their degree subject/discipline. Therefore, they prioritise the actual writing of their essay (for example) over doing sound, academic research, when it comes to assignments for their EAP classes. It may be the case that they know how to research properly and that Wikipedia is perhaps not ideal as a source, but for these ‘minor’ (?) assignments which will usually not count towards their grades, they choose to take the ‘easy route’ when researching, and concentrate on writing an essay in their best English.


Reading this list of students’ difficulties, mistakes and misunderstandings highlights once again, I think, the actual root cause of the problem: Lack of Understanding. Some of the points above bear witness to some students’ misunderstanding of the aims of academic work as ‘knowledge gathering’, rather than striving to understand arguments and engage with the evidence in order to critically assess it. Moreover, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of what Wikipedia is and aims to do. That is the point that I also wanted to make in my first blog post on the topic – that it is important to know what Wikipedia is and to use it accordingly. You can find the previous post explaining that here.) EAP tutors have an important role to play in nurturing this understanding; especially if working with students from academic cultures and traditions where critical thinking is perhaps not stressed as strongly as in Anglo-American academia.

In an ideal world, then, perhaps we as teachers would not be banning Wikipedia with no explanation of why, but bringing Wikipedia into the classroom and encouraging our students to explore, and critically assess its usefulness and limitations for their work. I would say that Wikipedia is perhaps even more useful as a research starting point for EAP students than for native or proficient English speakers, as they can use the article not only as an introduction to the topic, but also to the vocabulary and language used to talk about the topic. Once they have encountered these vocabulary and langauge items in the Wikipedia article and understood them in context, they will be in a better position to access and comprehend academic sources on the topic of their research.  In fact, EAP tutors could even plan to employ Wikipedia articles in this way – though introductory text-books also do the job of introducing vocab, they don’t open the door for the discussion on using Wikipedia in academic work; and that, to me, seems to be the key aim that has emerged from my ponderings and posts on the role of Wikipedia in academic writing. 

The Role of Wikipedia in Academic Essays

My essay class are doing their first assessed essay this week and they’re a bit nervous. They’ve got lots of questions. But one question really struck me. A student asked ‘Is it OK to cite Wikipedia?’ My standard answer is, ‘if you use it, you should cite it’ – as with any source. But this simply prompted the next question:

‘Is it OK to use Wikipedia for a university essay?’

The answer to that one is slightly longer and requires a bit more cautious language! This question, and a few blog posts I’ve read recently on the topic, inspired this post; on understanding role of Wikipedia in academic essay writing.

I’ve often heard stories of colleagues who ‘ban’ students from using Wikipedia. The argument I hear most commonly against using Wikipedia for essays is that ‘anyone can write anything they like on Wikipedia’. Well, yes, that is true, it is a community-written and community-edited resource; but really I think the number of people reading Wikipedia means that any nonsense will quickly be edited out, so actually the risk of finding incorrect information is probably comparatively low.

For me, the bigger issue that anyone (Especially students!) using Wikipedia needs to understand is that it is not an academic source. Wikipedia even says this about itself! (See ‘Wikiepdia: Academic Use’) And students (and teachers) need to understand why not:

it’s an encyclopaedia!

As far as encyclopaedias go, it’s actually probably a pretty good one; with up-to-date information and a huge variety of entries, presumably (although that in itself is of course a problem) written by people who know something about the topic. But just as we wouldn’t expect academics to cite the Encyclopaedia Britannica, because its target audience is not academics in a certain field but the general public wanting a brief introduction to a range of topics, so we rarely find academics citing from Wikipedia. There are of course some more specific encyclopaedias aimed specifically at certain academic audiences, where the question of being an ‘academic source’ has different considerations, but Wikipedia is not one of these. No matter how good, an encyclopaedia is not necessarily the best source for academic writing; it can’t substitute for reading the original research and discussion publications in the field.

–  it (usually) presents things as fact:

One of the fundamental bases of academia is that published academic sources are basically all arguments, i.e. the authors are arguing in favour of their approach/view/procedure/findings/etc. As text-books and encyclopaedias are generally expected to do, Wikipedia presents ‘neutral’ (well, ish) overviews or summaries of topics, which are often presented as fact, but which are arguably always an interpretation of the original arguments by the person who has written the overview or Wikipedia text. If an essay, or any piece of university work, is to engage in and contribute to academic discourse, it needs to demonstrate an analytical treatment of the previously published arguments, which can really only be achieved through a close, critical reading of the original sources, and not from an encyclopaedic overview.

– it lacks systematic review:

Academic publications are usually subject to some sort of editorial process or peer review by other experts in the field before they are printed or published. This is especially true of journal articles, where peer review aims to ensure that the most sound, best-quality research and scholarly inquiry is published. Now, you could argue that this quality control is given in Wikipedia, as other users edit articles to remove ‘incorrect’ information. The problem is rather that we can never be sure whether the version of the article we are reading has been written and reviewed by an expert in the field – and that is a fundamental criterion for a source to be considered as academic.

it lacks attribution:

The ides in an academic source can be attributed to certain authors, and most academics would agree that the value of uncredited information is rather dubious. Since there is no named author of a Wikipedia article, it doesn’t fulfil the criteria of an academic source. That said, most Wikipedia articles do a good job of citing their sources and linking to further reading (actually, quite an academic quality for an encyclopaedia; praise where it’s due!), and so can provide a wealth of resources that are more suitable for academic writing.

It therefore comes down to not WHETHER Wikipedia can/should be used, but HOW it should be used. People need to understand what Wikipedia IS, and then make informed decisions about how to use it for their work. In my view, a ‘ban’ does not lead to a full understanding of the points I’ve made here (and probably ineffective anyway, since students will probably continue to use Wikipedia, uncritically, despite any ban!). Wikipedia can/should be used as what it is: an encyclopaedia. Encyclopaedias, just like text-books, can function as a starting point when someone is researching a topic new to them; they can provide a good place to start finding the key debates or latest research and ideas in the field.

And yes, I think it is OK for an academic essay to cite from Wikipedia, if there is a justified reason for doing so, and if the author does so in full understanding of the points above. This may not yet be particularly common in published academic articles, but it is not unheard of. But it is important to remember, though, that Wikipedia should  not be cited as an academic source, but perhaps used for background information or a rationale for discussing the topic. Just as dictionary definitions can be used to delimit the scope or approach to a certain topic (e.g. ‘aggression’ – are we including in our definition and essay only verbal, or also physical aggression?), so Wikipedia, and perhaps more interestingly the edits, can be used to demonstrate the actuality, relevance, and/or controversial nature of the essay’s topic. The fact remains, though, that it is not an academic source in our general understanding of the term and its usage in academic work should be limited accordingly. 



This website provides a great demonstration of things to look for in an academic source before deeming it suitable for scholarly work: “Anatomy of a scholarly Article”

For more discussions on Wikipedia and other ‘myths’ surrounding EAP, see here: “20 Myths about EAP”

#BridgingtheGapChallenge Hand-Written vs Emailed Corrective Feedback on Writing

As part of the #BridgingtheGapChallenge, here is a summary of:

Farshi, S.S. & S.K. Safa, ‘The Effect of Two Types of Corrective Feedback on EFL Learners’ Writing Skill’, Advances in Language and Literary Studies, Vol 6/1, February 2015.

This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of giving hand-written or electronic (via email) feedback on EFL learners’ written work.

Participants & Procedure

Thirty-five adult participants were involved in the stud; Azeri-Turkish speakers, who were learning English at a language institute in Iran. They were divided into three separate class groups, which met twice a week for 7 weeks and taught by the same teacher. All groups covered the same material in class and were given a writing task each week based on the lesson’s focus. Depending on which group participants they were in, they received feedback on their work in a different format: Group A: Submitted paper-versions of their work and received hand-written feedback. Group B: Submit their work by email and received their feedback electronically. Group C: Submitted their work either on paper or by email, but received no feedback from the teacher. Groups A and B revised their paragraphs using the feedback they received. Before the study, students completed pre-test writing tasks (writing two separate paragraphs), graded by three teachers, and the KET proficiency test and were found to have comparable levels of proficiency in English. They post-test score was also based on two written paragraphs, graded by three teachers. The pre-test and post-test scores were given in numerical format, on a scale from 0-20 (where 20 is good).


A paired-samples T-test (test of significant difference) was used to compare participants’ pre-test and post-test scores. On the pre-test scores, there was no significant difference between the three groups. On the post-test scores (i.e. the grades students achieved on the assessment after having received the various feedbacks on their work for 7 weeks), both Group A’s and Group B’s scores were significantly higher than those of Group C, who had received no corrective feedback on their writing. The researchers conclude that both hand-written and electronic feedback therefore have a positive impact on students’ writing skill. The key finding, though, is the significant difference between the improvements shown by participants in Groups A and B; where Group B (who had received electronic feedback) scored significantly higher than Group A (hand-written feedback), which would seem to show that feedback received electronically is more effective at improving students’ writing than hand-written feedback is.

My Own Thoughts

I can postulate various explanations for the benefit of giving feedback electronically: it feels more personal to the students, the teacher can perhaps include more detailed feedback, it is motivating for students to use their electronic devices for the English learning, etc. It would have been interesting to see what the researchers thought were the explanations for their findings.

It would also be good to know what kind of level their learners were at in their English proficiency – perhaps the effectiveness of certain feedback formats depends on level?

And also, what kind of feedback exactly was given – actual corrections? simply underlining? Comments to start a dialogue? Use of a correction code? I wonder whether these differences might have an even more significant effect on students’ improvement than simply the mode of delivery of the feedback?

#BridgingTheGapChallenge: Bridging the Gap between Researchers and Teachers

There is SO MUCH research going on into language teaching methods, approaches, etc. But the sad fact is, it has turned into a big jumble of research strands, hard to untangle and find the right connections!
An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015.
An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015.

Let’s be honest, how many classroom teachers have access to it? And time to read and digest it all? Probably very few! SO where do teachers get their inspiration and lesson ideas? Well, online a lot of the time. And so I came up with a blog idea, which will hopefully turn in to a challenge which lots of people participate in… #BridgingTheGapChallenge

THE CHALLENGE: Teachers or researchers reading this: grab (or click on!) one ELT-related journal you have access to. Read one article that interests you, and post a quick, readable summary for other teachers to read, who are too busy to read the full article or do not have access to that journal or magazine! 

The aim is for us to build up a nice bank of summaries that are easy to access and bridge the gap between published research and classroom practitioners!

You can post the link to your blog post in the comments section below, or tweet your blog posts @Clare2ELT or with the #BridgingTheGapChallenge  If you don’t have your own blog, please feel free to add your summary to the comments below, or send it to me and I’ll publish it as a guest post on my blog! 🙂

Let the bridge-building begin!

Questions for Readers – Where are you coming from? Where are you going?

Once again, I’ve been inspired by Joanna Malefaki’s post with an idea for using my blog for a bit more active / interactive networking. So instead of just writing and putting my thoughts “out there”, I’m using this post to ask questions to get to know the wonderful people who read my blog…! Please post your answers in the comments section below, I look forward to hearing from you!

(And yes, this is a piece of unashamed “market research” so I know who I’m writing for in future!! 🙂 )

I would love to know…

… your current teaching context

… your teaching/career background

… what you like to read on my blog and what you do with the thoughts I share.

Continue reading “Questions for Readers – Where are you coming from? Where are you going?”

Optimising Active Participation – A Discussion

I was recently inspired by an article in English Teaching Professional to host what I call a “Professional Development Discussion Round”, where all of the participants are seen as ‘experts’ so there is no one person giving input and ‘telling’ the other teachers what/how to do things. I can highly recommend this format as an in-service training event! This post is a summary of what we discussed, to show you how productive the session was. The aim of the post is to encourage more discussion (e.g. in the comments section below), and perhaps to encourage more teachers to hold their own Discussion Rounds!

If you’d like to do it yourself, here’s how I set it up: The topic was decided in advance, and participants invited to submit questions they would like to discuss or receive input on. These questions were sent around in advance, and everyone was left to prepare in whatever way they felt most appropriate, or had time for! Some read relevant published articles, others dug out their teaching handbooks and reference books, and others simply reflected on their own teaching practice and examples from their own classroom. The questions were used as a basis for the discussions, and I took notes to be able to send around a summary of the points covered afterwards, especially to those who could not attend.

A little note on my teaching context: I teach within the English Studies Dept. at a university in Germany, where our class groups often include around 30 learners. Other participants were my colleagues from the department and from the university’s Language Centre, as well as secondary school teachers of EFL who also work with us on training new teachers. Nonetheless, I think the topic, and our discussion, is very relevant to many different teaching contexts!

Our Discussion: Optimising Active Participation

Below is a summary of the questions and discussion from our Professional Development round. Some of the points overlap, or are relevant to different questions, but I have attempted to present them in a readable order. The ideas are not all my own, but the results of our discussion, and often other colleague’s contributions. Sometimes, our discussions actually threw out even more questions that are also worthy of discussion! If you have more to say about any of the questions, please do use the comments section below to continue the discussion!

Why is Participation important?

  • It is sometimes a course requirement – this should be made clear from the start.
  • Students need to practice speaking English, to improve their fluency and to be able to get feedback to improve the accuracy of their language.
    • Because of this, it is important to stop certain students from ‘over-participating’ and dominating the class, so that a) everyone has a chance to participate and receive feedback, and b) other, quieter students do not get used to not participating and rely on others to carry the discussions etc.
    • One idea to ensure the students who most need it get feedback is to ask for suggestions from students who feel their answers are not good – then encourage others in giving constructive feedback. The emphasis should be placed on receiving feedback to aid their learning. This requires a comfortable, constructive class atmosphere, see below.
  • Participating keeps learners engaged – but there may be ways to participate other than speaking a lot: Participation of some sort is important to keep students engaged, but it could also be e.g. active listening.

How can we create an atmosphere to encourage participation?

  • Learners must feel comfortable speaking in class, and also not afraid to make mistakes – as these mistakes are what allow them to receive the most helpful feedback.
  • The teacher should make the purpose of speaking and receiving feedback clear from the start. They can also explain how they correct/give feedback and why they have chosen this technique.
  • It helps if the teacher knows the students’ names, and if the students are encouraged to get to know their fellow learners and address them by name. This helps students to feel personally valued as part of the course group and can encourage a ‘community feeling’ (see below).
  • Errors can also be approached in a positive manner, for example with a joke or anecdote as a reminder of the correction. This may help students to see participating and having their mistakes corrected as a normal (and not negative) part of the learning process.
  • Creating a community feeling among the course group also generates a constructive and encouraging atmosphere. It may help if the teacher tries to reduce the hierarchical distance between themselves and the students.
    • e.g. by referring to “our goals” “things we need to do” or “our weaknesses” (instead of “you need to…”)
    • e.g. by showing that the teacher understands the learners’ problems and process of learning, maybe with an anecdote about their own language learning experiences.
    • e.g. by encouraging the learners to help each other constructively to fix their errors or address their weaknesses – for example listing errors on the board at the end of a lesson and getting the class to correct the ones they know.

How can we nurture students’ intrinsic motivation to participate?

  • This can be achieved by highlighting the long-term benefits of participating actively.
  • e.g. by explaining the expectations they may face in future if they put this course on their CVs
  • e.g. by getting students to consider why they are doing the course, what they hope to achieve by taking the course, and what they need from the lessons in order to reach these goals.

What, if any, difference does it make that we are teaching adults?

  • Learners’ intrinsic motivation and the community feeling can be strengthened if we have an appreciation of the fact that we are teaching adults, who also have lives and responsibilities outside of the classroom.
  • The teacher needs to respect that their students have varying priorities and responsibilities, especially outside the classroom. It may be helpful to be open with students about one’s own life, workload, etc. so that mutual respect can be built up – the teacher may also function as a role-model.
  • Nonetheless, a balance must be achieved so that certain students don’t get used to using their outside lives as an excuse for not completing work or assessments for their classes; especially as others may be facing the same difficulties/stresses but nonetheless make an effort to complete work on time. One idea is to make it clear that as long as the student has handled the situation maturely and talked to the teacher in advance about, for example, missing a deadline, then they will be granted help/extra time, etc.
  • Though our students are adults, many of them still need support transitioning between school and university, including preparing them to learn well in the face of diverse teaching styles they will encounter.
  • With young adults, we should make an effort to cultivate self-direction.
    • e.g. they should be encouraged to ask questions – especially in class if they feel other students could also benefit from the information.
    • e.g. if they have questions, problems or require extra guidance, they need to learn to ask for it in advance. For example, for their very first presentation at university, students could be required to submit an outline in advance on which they are given feedback to improve before they give the (assessed?) presentation. This may show them the kinds of feedback they can expect to receive and how helpful it is, so that they learn to ask for feedback by themselves in future.

How can we organize students into groups effectively?

  • The quickest way is to assign students to groups according to where they are sitting in the classroom (e.g. the rows turn around to work with those behind them), so that not too much moving around is required. However, this may mean that students always work in the same groups. An unanswered question here is how helpful/important it is to separate friends who only ever work together.
  • Other options include:
    • Count off the students according to how many groups are needed, e.g. need 5 groups, count around the room 1,2, 3, 4, 5 and get all the 1s to make a group, all the 2s, etc.
    • Similar to counting, students can be handed out playing cards and ask to make groups according to the suits, numbers, etc. (Hint: Make sure they know the names of the suits and picture cards!)
    • Grouping students by ability; either high achievers together and lower achievers together, or mixed-ability groups, depending on the aims of the task.
    • If groups are going to work on a longer project, it may be wise to allow students to find their own groups according to, e.g. interests, times they have to spend on their English work, degree programmes, etc.
  • To organize groups quickly and effectively, it may be advisable to put them into groups first, and then give the instructions for the task.


How can we address an imbalance of input into group work?

  • Students can be grouped according to how talkative they tend to be, to avoid quieter ones being dominated.
  • Activities that include information gaps, or expert groups, lead to authentic communication to share information and help to ensure that every group member is responsible for providing a certain amount of input.
  • If the imbalance is created by certain students dominating group discussions, time ‘credits’ can be set that each student is allowed to ‘use up’ (e.g. 2 minutes per person), or students can be given/make tokens with which they ‘pay’ each time they contribute – and when their tokens are all gone, they will have to let the others have their turns to speak. However, these techniques may affect the authenticity of the discussion/group work.
  • For whole-class activities, students can be picked randomly to participate (recent studies have shown that teachers often think they do this, but indeed their ‘random selection’ is in fact often rather biased.) Techniques to make the process really random include popsicle sticks, dice, picking contributors based on their birthday, etc.
  • One reason some students may not participate as much is that they might need longer to think about and formulate their answer. Some ideas to allow them this thinking time include:
    • Think-Pair-Share (students think about their answers alone, discuss them with a neighbour, and then share with the class)
    • Asking everyone to put their hand up once they think they know the answer, and waiting until everyone is ready. Students can then be allowed to put their hand down again if they do not want to share their answers with the whole class, but often if they have ‘bothered’ to figure out the answer, they will leave their hands up, and so the teacher can call on the quieter ones to answer.
  • Another suggestion is to talk to the quiet students individually outside of the lesson to find out why they don’t seem to participate very much – and then to work on strategies to help them talk more in class.

(How) can we assess participation effectively?

  • This discussion comes down to quality vs quantity when assessing spontaneous language production – if assessment is only based on prepared contributions (e.g. presentations), we may miss mistakes a student makes when they speak spontaneously. It is particularly a problem if oral participation contributes to students’ grades for a class.
  • Keeping a tally list of students’ participation is a good way of keeping track of the frequency with which they talk in class: though it mainly focuses on quantity, more tally marks can be given if a contribution is particularly good, and if a student only offers a simple answer in order to receive a tally mark, they can be given no or just ½ a mark. This method has the advantage of showing students that it is OK to make mistakes in class, as they get tally points for trying.
  • Including a lot of pair-work activities in the lesson will ensure that most people actually speak, but it is hard for the teacher to actually assess the language competence of individual students.
  • Suggestions of activities to include spontaneous, individual speech in the lesson are hot seat activities, expert panels, role plays, mad discussions etc. Since only one or two students will be speaking at any time, it is easier for the teacher to make a note of any errors.
  • Finally, a controversial question is whether we can or should even assess oral participation; perhaps it is more important to encourage students to make the most of participating in class for their own learning process and move them away from the attitude of chasing grades. (Though this is a problem if the oral participation contributes to their course grade!)